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Homeschooling

The picture David Hill paints of homeschoolers in your April issue [Homegrown Learning] has them either still living in the 1960s or teaching their children for religious reasons. When you stereotype, you reduce individuals to caricatures. This kind of reductionist thinking pervades the schools. People are either stupid, smart, or mediocre. Quick, label them; then you can dispense with them.

Homeschoolers are all different. It is nice when school districts accommodate home learning, but I have to wonder how much the "schooled" mentality of many prospective homeschooling parents makes them afraid of teaching their own. Many of us have not been inspired by our own educations but have bought the notion that only a state-certified teacher can teach properly. I felt unsure when we first embarked as homeschoolers. But, in time, I have found that life really is littered with teaching and learning situations, the ones that make a difference, the ones that help us make sense of our lives.

Barbara Alward
Atascadero, Calif.

R.L. Stine

I am extremely grateful for the article David Hill wrote about the fad of R.L. Stine ["Who's Afraid of R.L. Stine," March]. I teach 6th grade at a private school in Los Angeles and have seen my whole class become R.L. Stine fans. After the first quarter, I noticed that all my students had at least one Stine title on their list of books they had read. A handful only read Stine the whole nine weeks.

I was concerned that parents might begin to question my stand to let students read books of their choice, so I started to collect evidence for why I thought it wasn't a problem and actually a solution. Many of the comments by people in Hill's article sounded familiar. I could see that a number of my slow readers were proud they had read so many books in one quarter. I could see that there was a sense of fellowship forming among students; they were recommending favorite Stine books to each other, bringing books from home to share, and forming opinions about Stine's writing in discussions with one another. Many of my students began to emulate his style in their own writing. Some wrote in their journals how contrived and predictable Stine's books seemed now that they had read 20 or more.

I still have students who are not even close to giving up on Stine's books, but none is under the impression that they represent great literature. My students like the quick fix, the thrill, the cliffhangers, but they also appreciate other books we read that take time to weave an intricate story with poetic language.

I don't think kids need less R.L. Stine. And I don't think we'll save kids by depriving them of the opportunity to decide what they want to read. I think we will have better students and better readers when we give them choices along with a moral education that will help them question and make conscious choices.

I appreciate the timeliness and thorough nature of this article. You helped me sort out a great deal. My students and I are reading it together and discussing how they would feel if they were the parents.

Winnie Needham
Berkeley Hall School
Los Angeles, Calif.

Teaching Religion

I enjoyed reading David Ruenzel's article about the reappearance of religion as a topic of study in some schools ["Revival," March]. I thought the class on world religions he visited seemed well run and that no one's particular beliefs were espoused in the process. If the program is well thought-out and planned, good things will happen, no doubt.

However, he also quoted Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center who said this: "Students who know how humankind has struggled with the great religious questions are not so vulnerable to the nonsense and dangerous ideas spouted by certain groups and movements." That scares the hell out of me. Exactly who is it that Haynes believes to be spouting "nonsense" and "dangerous ideas." In my corner of the world, close to Colorado Springs, that means anyone who is not a fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christian. Is his statement suggesting that only the big-five, mainstream religions--Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism--have any validity? What about religious minorities?

My experience as a counselor tells me that most people impose their own beliefs, biases, and backgrounds unless they are very careful not to. For example, when I was in high school, a well-intentioned teacher told my class that when Gautama Buddha said, "All life is suffering," it was because of the wretched living conditions he saw in India. Now, having studied this further myself, I can tell you that this was not the case: He wasn't merely speaking about life in India but about life.

This was a minor error of interpretation based on the teacher's own religious and cultural background, but some actions of this kind are malicious and intentional. I once had to explain to Wiccan parents (modern practitioners of witchcraft) why their 8th grade child was told in class by a law-enforcement officer that all Wiccans and pagans are actually Satanists. I've also assisted a teacher in a neighboring district who was discriminated against by a fundamentalist Christian principal because of her non-Christian religious beliefs.

Bringing back education about religion is a good idea. But how will we protect children from the ignorant and overzealous? I hope schools select and train their staff members well. Misinformation abounds, and religious intolerance is alive and well in America.

Larry Larson
Rocky Ford, Colo.

Academics First

Of course the responses ["Letters," March and April] from coaches to Henry Cotton's essay, "Academics vs. Athletics" [February], would be strong. Athletics is one of those sensitivities we dare not offend.

Those of use who are forced to take sides in the debate and pick academics are not necessarily asking athletics to go away entirely. And it doesn't mean that we ourselves are not athletic. Rather, we who call ourselves academic have seen too many abuses to remain both professional and silent. (The "abuses" I refer to are too many to list, and Cotton covered them, or uncovered them, very well.) Most of us are looking for perspective and balance. The fact is that interscholastic athletics do not serve many students, though those students do deserve to be served.

Consider this: Take a school, remove interscholastic sports, and see if it remains a school. Take a school, remove academics, and see if it remains a school. Sports belong in the picture, but not in the center.

Denis Markian Wichar
Science Chair
Cascade Junior High School
Vancouver, Wash.

Sleepy Heads

I agree with the article "Sleepy Heads" in your November/December [1995] issue. The high school day begins too early for some students. If the school day started later, it would produce better grades, fewer tardies, and more alertness when the teacher is teaching.

Armond Jenkins
Student
Riverside University High School
Milwaukee, Wis.

Even though the article "Sleepy Heads" is well-grounded, I disagree with the idea that the school day should start later. Students, especially high school students, need that extra push to get up early. If we want to succeed in the world of work, we have to be up extra early.

High school students are already lazy. If the world gives them what they want, they will be even lazier. I'm not trying to put high school students down, but they need to take more responsibility.

Elois Welch
Student
Riverside University High School
Milwaukee, Wis.

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