It is a defeatist notion to accept that modern kids cannot develop respect for a teacher's authority. It's a lot harder to obtain this respect these days, but I think it's still achievable.
Perez's major mistake was improper documentation. In our suit-happy society, everything has to be documented. I'm sure Perez and the teachers could easily have documented suspendable offenses for each of the 97 students if they took a strict interpretation of the district's discipline code; many minor infractions can be lumped under "disrespect of authority.'' If Perez and the teachers hadn't been remiss in their paperwork, they would have had a much stronger case for doing what they did.
Using well-documented, strict discipline will ultimately protect the many good students who want to become good citizens. These are people who deserve our meager educational resources. We shouldn't let administrators and poorly behaved students steal these resources from those who would make the best use of them. We have to give up our egotistic desire to "save the sinners'' and focus our attention on the majority of kids who want to do well. Of course, if schools were given more resources, we might be able to achieve the American ideal of education for everyone, but we still would have to be conscious about whether the education of one unruly individual is costing us the education of many.
I'm not surprised that Perez was labeled a racist. Many middle-class values are perceived as white values. So when one sets middle-class standards, one gets a number of reactions, such as "You're a racist,'' or "How dare you subject my child to white standards.'' In my travels around the world, I have found that most people accept so-called middle-class values, such as respect for parents and teachers.
Our school's security supervisor comes from Eritrea. He is an excellent father who has happy, well-adjusted, polite children. He and his children did not grow up with "white'' values. His kids want to know why American students are so rude and unhappy. Let's wake up. If Third World countries can teach middle-class values to their students, then we can too.
6th Grade Teacher
Horace Mann Elementary
Hoover And Ohlone
"Two Schools of Thought'' [April] was an interesting piece, but neither Hoover Elementary nor the Ohlone School has anything to add to the ongoing debate over educational philosophies because neither school deals with that most challenging portion of the school population--those students who don't want to be there. It's the students who don't want to be in school coming from homes where the parents do not value education who create most of the major challenges in education.
All Hoover and Ohlone elementary schools prove is that when students who are serious about learning are put together with teachers who are serious about teaching, education will occur.
"Culture Clash,'' the article in the March issue about the disappointing performance of some black students at Oak Park and River Forest High School, quoted two white teachers from the school who blamed white teachers for the problem, albeit from exactly opposite positions. History teacher Kevin Pobst says white teachers allow black students to fail by ascribing cultural differences to them, while Ellen Boyer says black students have problems because white teachers don't have enough understanding about their cultural differences.
I don't agree with either opinion. It surprises me how many white teachers buy into the explanation that they are the problem (or maybe they think it's only "other'' white teachers who are being blamed). In my experience, white teachers work as intelligently for black students as they do for white, but they often do not get equal results. Therefore, might it be the students, not the teachers, who need adjustment?
The article described some black students sleeping in class, having to be brought into school by security guards, and having very little regard for the learning process. Their parents moved to Oak Park so that their children could go to a "good school.'' But when their children have the same problems and poor grades they had in schools on Chicago's West Side, they get angry. Wasn't going to a "good school'' supposed to fix everything? Wasn't that fine building and those highly paid teachers going to effect a complete reversal of a dismal educational performance? Regrettably, no--not if the students themselves are bound and determined to sabotage all efforts made on their behalf. If troubled students refuse to abandon their problematic behavior when they come to Oak Park, it is wrongheaded to expect that a different building is going to work a miracle.
I am surprised that so many people believe that transferring from a poor city school to a rich suburban one will solve educational problems that lie with the student. What, after all, makes a school good or bad? I'm afraid I'm one of the few people left on earth who does not think it's money. I think the quality of a school is primarily defined by the majority of students who attend it. Committed, disciplined students will do well anywhere, be it Chicago's West Side or neighboring Oak Park. Where the majority of students are undisciplined and uncommitted, a poor school will be the result, no matter how much money is spent.
Consider the fact that thousands of black students are performing well in schools all over the country, including Oak Park. Are they committed, disciplined students who take responsibility for themselves and their education? Or are they students who have switched schools until they found a wealthy one with no white teachers? I think the answer is obvious.
Oak Park, Ill.
As an educator who has lived in Oak Park for the past 23 years and whose son is a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, I was very interested to read the article on Oak Park and its school in your March issue. In any type of reporting, it is difficult for a person to walk into an environment for a limited amount of time and walk away with a true picture of what is really happening. Therefore, I believe there are a few misconceptions in the article.
The most important is the nagging doubt raised about the quality of learning if a student is not in advanced placement classes. Although my son is in all "regular'' classes, he has never come home with work sheets. While the classes he is taking will not give him advanced placement in college courses, they certainly are academically challenging and rigorous. Thought-provoking class discussions are going on regularly in all classes. The teachers are available from early in the morning until long after the school day is over to help students. They truly demand the best from everyone.
The bottom line for each student is that he or she, regardless of race or gender, must make the commitment to work and learn. Students are ultimately responsible for their own learning.
Oak Park, Ill.
Congratulations--you did it! The article "Culture Clash'' was hard-hitting and somewhat painful but directed at a critical issue for us and the nation.
Oak Park Regional
Oak Park, Ill.
David Hill's article "Tinseltown Teachers'' in your March issue was a fascinating grab-bag analysis of teachers in the movies. However, I take exception to Hill's evaluation of three movies mentioned in the article: Conrack, Teachers, and Dead Poets Society. Conrack was an interesting but forgettable movie, starring a character and actor who did not do enough to win much empathy. Teachers, on the other hand, was one of the great underrated comedies of the 1980s, at least in my opinion. The movie was far from predictable, as Hill stated, and had the courage to take on some heavy issues that are often ignored by other teacher movies, such as the consequences of divorce upon children, guns in the school, and the frightening problem of students graduating without even minimal literacy skills.
The teacher who was an outpatient from a mental hospital (played brilliantly by Richard Mulligan) was actually a substitute teacher. By throwing out the textbook and making history come alive, he was able to show that what was really "crazy'' was the stagnation under the guise of "professionalism.'' It was characters like this that endowed Teachers with frequent insights into the lunacy that exists at big-city high schools. Of course, it is not the kind of movie that would appeal to the kind of teacher who takes him- or herself too seriously.
As for Hill's dismissal of Dead Poets Society as a cliche-ridden movie, I can only say that I found it to be one of the most thoughtful looks at the American private school system on film. Anyone possessed of a free spirit who has been forced to deal with a spineless headmaster, such as the one in this movie, or arrogant, insensitive parents can fully appreciate how meaningful a portrait was presented by the makers of Dead Poets Society.
I share Hill's desire for more and better films about teachers. Perhaps in the future we will see some that cover such modern issues as computerization in the classroom, schools in transitional neighborhoods, and the most overlooked educational issue of our time: what happens to those teachers who have lost jobs through budget cutbacks and teacher overloads.
"Tinseltown Teachers'' was a thoughtful--if not exactly thorough--survey of how Hollywood has portrayed the teaching profession and schools in general over the years. I do have one real complaint, however. Hill gives his top five list and then apologizes for not being able to come up with a top 10. "There just aren't that many good movies out there,'' he says. I beg to differ. Three of his top five--Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and To Sir With Love--are set in English schools. Since there seem to be no restrictions as to nationality or era, what about The Browning Version (done twice) or Tom Brown's School Days?
To my mind, the most serious omission of all is the 1955 film Good Morning, Miss Dove, a truly American Mr. Chips story set in an elementary school, thereby countering Hill's concern about a lack of teacher movies set at that level.
The Fay School
In the spring of 1993, as my husband began working toward his elementary teaching certification, I gave him a gift subscription to your magazine. We have consistently found your reporting to be in-depth and stimulating. This is why I was tremendously disappointed with your brief piece in the February "Findings'' column concerning Elfrieda Hiebert's report on the Reading Recovery Program.
As a teacher-leader for the Reading Recovery Program at the Hampshire Educational Collaborative in Northampton, Mass., I am responsible for training Reading Recovery teachers from more than 20 different schools. At this regional training site, we expect that close to 200 1st graders will learn to read and write while participating in the program this year. These are children who would most likely have been doomed to years in Chapter 1, remedial reading, or special education programs had they not received the short-term intervention that the Reading Recovery Program affords them.
In studying Hiebert's original piece in Educational Researcher, I find her comments misleading and uninformed. The Reading Recovery Program was not designed to change the average achievement level of the age cohort--Heibert's main criticism. The Reading Recovery Program is designed to support the hardest to teach 1st graders in reaching a level of literacy achievement where they can be successful participants in classroom literacy events. Although attainment of this goal does mean that fewer children will fall into the below-average range in any given class of students, it does not imply that class averages will noticeably increase. Rather, more children will fall into that pre-existing average band. The average group itself will expand.
The Reading Recovery Program has now been implemented in the United States for more than 10 years. Countless numbers of children have met success in this innovative literacy program.
David Ruenzel's review of the book Rethinking Schools: An Agenda for Change in the March issue ["Comment''] illustrates his misunderstanding of the need for anti-racist education. He criticizes Enid Lee--though he did not identify the author by name--for "insisting that those who don't take multicultural education seriously are promoting a monocultural or racist education.'' Ruenzel seems to believe that the present educational structure is, in fact, neutral and that teachers can pick and choose their level of interest in multiculturalism.
Anti-racist educators, however, look at all of the educational institutions--including classroom structures, tracking, testing, teacher expectations, teacher education, and curriculum resources--and see a different picture. In most cases, these structures reflect the dominant Eurocentric viewpoint and
the dominance of those people who have controlled and have been successful in this society. Therefore, without an explicit rejection of Eurocentrism, regular classroom practice will lead to an acceptance of the status quo, which will reproduce the accepted views of the dominant society.
A perfect example of this so-called neutrality was exposed by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall when he pointed out that the many celebrations of the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution ignored the fact that the Constitution legalized the murder, rape, and kidnapping of African people. By not explicitly discussing the role of African people in the development of the U.S. Constitution, the educator may present a distorted vision of the past.
Ruenzel also misses the point when he attacks Bill Bigelow for devising a lesson where "students invariably see Christopher Columbus as a racist scoundrel.'' Ruenzel states that such a heavy-handed approach is unlikely to encourage critical thinking. The critical thinking in this lesson does not revolve around Columbus' racism. Rather students imagine they are the native peoples under attack and then develop different strategic responses to the Spanish conquest. An anti-racist educator provokes students to critically examine how to respond to racism, not how to accept it.
The distinction between surface multiculturalism as practiced by many educators and anti-racist education is significant. Anti-racist education places the burden on the institutions of society to show they do not reflect the centuries of unequal power. Surface multiculturalism accepts society as neutral where the problem is making sure diversity reigns.
Educators should read Rethinking Schools: An Agenda for Change so they can see for themselves what is the real foundation of anti-racist education.
Don't Get High
I am very surprised that a student would actually write a paper called "Getting High With Huck Finn'' ["Comment,'' January]. If I were the teacher, I would urge the student to write another paper that does not relate to drugs. This student would not pass my class thinking that drugs are the answer.
Students go to school to learn what is right and wrong. A teacher can have a great deal of influence on a student. Many times a teacher can change a student's attitude if the student wants to listen. I think this student needs someone to talk to. He has a lot of problems that made him get into drugs and not care about his life.
Hopefully, this teacher will try to influence this student and point him in the right direction before his life becomes worse.
Heritage High School