As someone who has been a teacher, principal, and parent, I fully understand the complexity of the issues raised in your article "What's Right for Rafael?'' [March]. I empathize deeply with Rafael's family. I also realize the limitations of public schools; I am someone who left public education for private education because I watched my class size and responsibilities grow each September while the support services continued to dwindle.
It's unfortunate for Rafael that a compromise wasn't achieved. In 1977, I taught a K-1 class in the Newton, Mass., public schools. My room shared a small hallway with two classrooms of special-needs students, including students with Down syndrome. It became clear right away that my students (and their parents) had unnecessary fears and concerns about the proximity of the classes, stemming from inexperience and ignorance. The special-needs teachers and I, with the support of our wonderful principal, started the Friends Club, which initially was meant to "mainstream'' all the students at carefully chosen times throughout the week.
The results of our program far exceeded our modest goal of "establishing comfort'' among the children. At first, we only got together for music and art. As the children got to know each other, we found that we could integrate the classes for many other parts of the day. We still maintained separate times in order to fully meet everyone's academic needs, but, even with these separate times, the most amazing thing began to happen: Children were seeking each other out (across the hall) to help each other with reading and math. That year, we taught compassion and an appreciation of individual differences, and no one's academic progress suffered.
Debra Goldberg Butler
Inclusion is the public education version of the new American philosophy: When life gives you lemons, require the government to make lemonade and serve it to you in a crystal punch bowl.
Inclusion, like many other contemporary lawyer-driven "reforms,'' defies common sense. The very week that Teacher arrived, I received a series of memos dictating the end of an inclusion complaint in my classroom: They stipulated that I will not determine what that student is taught, how he is taught, or how his work will be evaluated. At least one of us seems to have no reason to be in the classroom.
There is no question that special-needs students are not best served by being warehoused in some dark corner of the school. I also feel that parents should be strong advocates for their children. But what I and many of my peers resent is the disproportionate devotion of resources to a select few. My students who are not fortunate enough to receive a special label will never enjoy the privilege of their own personal aide (or the other materials that the aide's salary could have purchased), nor do they benefit from the time lost as teachers deal with special students first.
Inclusion students are not best served by a system that attempts to deny the significance of their differences (which are, after all, an important part of who they are). Nor do we do them any favors by suggesting that the world will always bend to accommodate them (particularly when their problems are behavioral). Inclusion does not serve the lawyerless mainstream students. If inclusion serves anyone, it is the lawyers collecting big bucks to help some parents keep reality at bay.
An Innocent Man?
I am astonished that you would publish such a poorly reasoned piece as "A Trust Betrayed'' [February]. My home is in Livermore, next door to Pleasanton, the community in which Neil Shumate lived and taught. I followed his case closely in local newspapers, including the group for which your writer, Jonathan Schorr, works. As an executive manager of the California Teachers Association, I have also read court documents.
I have absolutely no doubt that Shumate is innocent. Schorr defends his belief that Shumate is guilty with two main arguments:
1. Children ages 5 to 13 testified that his "hands probed their nipples, buttocks, and genitals.'' Those statements, clearly coached--and even forced--were far less persuasive than the testimony in McMartin Preschool, a case that almost all observers now agree should never have gone to trial.
2. Twelve people voted to convict the teacher--and the unanimous verdict of an American jury cannot be wrong, even though its panelists "believed the children'' and dismissed the testimony of adult and expert witnesses.
Hysteria over alleged sexual misconduct has in recent years ruined many decent people, not just Neil Shumate and the McMartin staff but several upstanding residents of a town in the state of Washington. The child molestation prosecutions of the 1990s reflect a revulsion against changed mores similar to what provoked the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. Schorr's shallow analysis does not begin to plumb the meaning of all that.
The writer's faith in the infallibility of 12 jurors is heinously naive. Was Schorr asleep through the trials of the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson? Juries, for heaven's sake, are the most fallible of "focus groups.'' And that is nothing new: Sixty-two Doctors of the Church condemned Joan of Arc.
The real criminals in the Neil Shumate case are the prosecutor and the judge. "High-powered district attorney'' Jill Hiatt gave high-fives to her colleagues when Shumate was convicted. She is, true to her calling, more concerned with her win-loss record than with truth or justice. Having prosecuted a half-dozen teachers for "touching,'' Hiatt now urges teachers "to be physical with children. They need to hug them.'' My advice to teachers in Alameda County, Calif., is: Don't listen to her; don't comfort children, as much as your heart may tear at you to succor them. Just don't give Hiatt an excuse to send you to prison.
And Judge John Kraetzer, "who had been at pains to appear impartial throughout the trial'' but who "unleashed his anger'' at Shumate's sentencing: He should be fully and forever condemned for sending a decent husband, father, and kindergarten teacher to more years in San Quentin than was served by a rapist who hacked the arms off his victim and left her for dead or by a miscreant who poured kerosene on his 6-year-old son and set him afire.
Teacher Magazine owes Neil Shumate an apology--and owes all teachers a second, more balanced review.
I read with interest and incredulity "A Trust Betrayed'' by Jonathan Schorr. Both reactions on my part stem from the fact that I sat every day in that same trial (a couple of times exactly next to Schorr), saw the same children testify and demonstrate the touching involved, and heard the same questions and answers. I took notes (probably more than Schorr did) and formed opinions. I'm afraid I find myself in the camp of those who support Shumate and can't believe his behavior has been so grossly misinterpreted.
I am a retired high school English teacher and administrator. I have spent my entire adult life teaching and caring for children in the public school system. I recognize some of my own behavior described in the article (and in court) as "molestation.'' I have hugged hundreds of kids. I have told some children that I love them. I always keep the two front-center desks empty in seating charts so that those who "need my extra love and attention'' could be closer to me during class. I, too, have threatened students that if they continued in their wayward ways (not doing homework) they might have to "come home with me for a few days'' until they got in the habit. Of course, I never took any home; they understood my message and so did my colleagues (who also would have supported me to the end if such outrageous charges had been brought against me). But what if a parent had not? I might have been the one in court. (Of course, I'm female. Shumate has the disadvantage of being a male working with children, a point to which Schorr does refer.)
Overall, Schorr makes a good case in his article, and, if I hadn't been in court myself, I might be convinced to think as he does. However, he does not give the reader all the facts about the trial and testimony.
Briefly: 1) No child claims to ever have been alone with Shumate. 2) All "illusions'' took place in front of the entire class and parent volunteers. 3) Children were never cautioned to keep anything a secret. 4) A boy who said Shumate had his hand in the back of his pants claimed it happened on his first day at the school in November, during the first five minutes of class while he was being introduced to everyone, with parents in the back of the room. Really! 5) The boy who said Shumate touched his crotch while flying him through the air demonstrated in court with his father as the one picking him up. The boy placed the father's hand on his upper thigh and on his chest, a manner in which any of us might pick up a child we were going to fly through the air.
There is plenty more, but nothing I say is going to help Shumate get out of prison. My concern is for male teachers everywhere. BEWARE! A judge and D.A. with political ladders to climb may be in your area, willing to make a case out of "illusions,'' and you might be next.
JROTC Welcomes Gays
In a letter to the editor published in your February issue, Ronald Madison states that the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) discriminates against 10 percent of the population because it does not allow openly homosexual students to participate. This is incorrect. JROTC participants do not face the same constraints and guidelines as active duty or reserve soldiers. The mission of JROTC is to make better students. Therefore, homosexuality is not an issue for JROTC. Openly homosexual students are allowed to join and participate fully in JROTC programs.
If any JROTC instructor attempts to prevent openly homosexual students from participating or if openly homosexual students are prevented in any other manner from participating, then these instances should be brought directly to the attention of that instructor's boss or Cadet Command in Fort Knox, Ky.
I was alarmed and disheartened to read "Sylvan Goes Public'' in your February issue.
Is this the beginning of an educational system in which the experienced educators wash their hands of the increasing numbers of challenging students and distribute them to various cubicles rented out to private systems that promise results?
Instead of handing over our most at-risk students to a high or low bidder (who may or may not have the credentials, expertise, and appropriate motivation to meet the special needs of diverse learners), we need to value these learners ourselves and accommodate them in meaningful classroom environments. Inclusive school settings can respond to a broad range of needs, interests, language abilities, experiences, and learning styles if specialists and support staff are allowed to collaborate with classroom teachers and assist them to the extent necessary for maximum learning to occur.
Springfield Public Schools
Long Live Sports
By his own admission, Henry Cotton's commentary, "Athletics vs. Academics'' [February], concentrates "solely on the negative effects of the interscholastic athletic program on the educational mission of the school.'' Consequently, his viewpoint is skewed with negativism, generalities, and more than an unhealthy dose of cynicism.
My three decades as teacher and administrator have supplied more than enough concrete evidence that a sound athletic program in a sound academic program can work to the advantage of high school students.
Our high school is located in a small urban area. Yes, our athletic program is important to our students and to our community. But it is also important to me as an administrator. In some cases, students who could have gone down the wrong roads have been saved by the program and the interaction of dedicated coaches who are teachers first and coaches second. As in other secondary schools, few of our athletes have attained professional status (though a couple have). Our athletes do not enjoy "prima donna'' status, to use Cotton's expression. Our coaches are respected and held in very high esteem in our community, not for their win-loss record but rather for their character and for what they teach our athletes beyond the skills of the game.
Unfortunately, Cotton's analy-sis of the American high school's emphasis on athletics suffers from a woeful lack of balance. We at Watervliet Junior-Senior High School know where our priorities are. We run a successful athletic program that does not undermine but supports our academic mission. In that, I'm sure we are not unlike thousands of other excellent high schools across the nation. Cotton has painted a distorted, inaccurate, and untrue picture of American high school, American education, and American students.
Watervliet Junior-Senior High School
I was appalled by Henry Cotton's essay, "Athletics vs. Academics.'' I have been a physical education teacher and coach for the past 11 years. It's obvious from reading the article that Cotton has never had the honor of being either.
There are so many lessons to be learned on the playing field that cannot be taught in the classroom. Leadership, teamwork, sportsmanship, and pure physical exercise occur on a daily basis in athletics. Students sit at desks for more than 80 percent of the school day. Many continue this sedentary lifestyle when the school day ends, spending hours playing computer and video games. Physical education and athletics offer students a chance to exercise their minds and bodies at the same time. They also give students the chance to experience success and build self-esteem. Quite frankly, the chance to participate in interscholastic sports sometimes keeps students from dropping out of school.
The Lynbrook School District on Long Island has been recognized for both its educational excellence and its athletic successes. We are proud of our teaching and coaching staffs and our hard-working student athletes.
Lynbrook School District
Cotton failed to address the real problems facing public schools today. Students need to know what is expected of them and then be held accountable for meeting those expectations. They must have a work ethic and respect for adults. They must have caring teachers and a progressive curriculum that enriches and challenges every student. And, most of all, kids need to be able to be kids; they need to have fun--fun learning and fun playing. Address these and quit blaming athletics.
Alps View High School
As a teacher awaiting tenure, I was shocked, stunned, and scared to read about the terrible ordeal Denise McAdams and Dawn Conetta were put through by their school board ["Tenure on Trial,'' January]. It is a shame that these two fine teachers were caught in the middle of an agenda that the school board probably thought would be praised by the taxpayers of Patchogue. What amazes me, however, is that this school board seems more concerned with appealing lawsuits, searching through teacher files for "indiscretions,'' and making controversial rulings than with thinking about what is best for the students of that district.
I doubt the board members considered how much their rash decision would affect the students of McAdams and Conetta. How is a teacher supposed to teach effectively when she is wondering if she'll have a job the next day?
If the school board wanted to reform tenure, it should have done it without using McAdams and Conetta as martyrs. When I read about a situation like this, it opens my eyes to just how reasonable my own school board is!
Annville-Cleona High School
Thank you for printing my letter in your February issue regarding "Tenure on Trial'' [January]. I was pleased to see the several responses you printed, particularly those addressing the comments of Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.
You will notice in my previous letter, as in this one, that Mr. Grumet's first name is spelled Louis, rather than Lewis, as you have used repeatedly in your article and follow-up letters. I do not appreciate incorrect spelling being attributed to me, when I took the time to check the correct spelling of Grumet's name.
Editor's Note: The correct spelling is indeed Louis. We regret the error.