Letters To The Editor
A Few Good Men
Your thoughtful piece "Odd Man Out" about men teaching young children stirred memories of my first years teaching kindergarten. Several parents entered my room on the first day and asked where the teacher was. My colleagues warmed up a bit after I hit a few long home runs during the faculty-student softball game. (I guess pedophiles aren't power hitters.) I wasn't completely free of suspicion, though, until I made a clumsy pass at a popular 3rd grade teacher after our customary Friday afternoon happy hour gathering. The relieved principal confided that he had "gone out on a limb with the superintendent" to hire a man who was single.
Like your profile subject, Bert Morgan, I won doubting parents over in time, though I had to work harder and be a better teacher to earn the same respect as my women colleagues. The hard-working wives of men who teach should not be forgotten in this discussion. Very few married men can provide adequately for their families on what they earn in teaching, even when well-compensated (by education standards). A man considering a teaching career should not underestimate the burden his salary may place on his wife and his children. Thanks for a good article.
Although your article on the dearth of male teachers was interesting, there was an underlying tone throughout the story that male elementary school teachers are fine as long as they're not gay. Sexual orientation has no bearing whatsoever on a teacher's abilities. Moreover, Bert Morgan smokes. What type of example is he setting? Morgan seems like an excellent teacher—one whose behavior would be respected and emulated by his students. Some things are just more important when it comes to teachers than whether they are straight or gay.
San Jose, California
Schools Of Thought
I do not agree with David Ruenzel's book review "Books," of Deschooling Our Lives by Matt Hern. I would argue that American students are indeed "slavishly obedient" to the real lessons of schooling. As children progress through the factory schools, they are less able to think for themselves and more inclined to follow the dictates of peer pressure, pop culture, and advertising. This is another reason that education has been referred to as "consumer education." I also do not agree that deschoolers are followers of Rousseau's philosophy. Rousseau believed children should be raised away from society. Deschoolers live within society and want to make it better for all.
Deschooling does not advocate dumping curious children on street corners or malls, as you suggest. On the contrary, families that identify with deschooling contend that through close family, neighborhood, and community ties, all our lives are improved. It is a real pity that the American trait of caring for one's own and for others is such a threat. Deschooling, unschooling, and homeschooling are helping individuals make meaningful lives. And compared to the cost of conventional schooling, they are real bargains.
How sad that "A Pitch for Equality" [August] should appear in this Olympic year, when women from around the world have smashed barriers. Swimmer Amy Van Dyken became the first U.S. woman to earn four gold medals in a single Olympiad, and the U.S. softball team, women's basketball team, and women's gymnastics team all came away wearing gold medals. In 1996, female athletes in Owasso and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and countless other communities still are thrown leftovers from boys' and men's programs and are expected to be grateful for this second-class and illegal treatment. Sadder still is the attitude of many administrators, and some parents, that this is good enough for our girls.
Title IX notwithstanding, the position of the female scholastic athlete in America is not so far removed from that of the Turkish runner who is vilified for exposing her legs to men. Have we really come such a long way? Congratulations to the Owasso students for recognizing that they deserve better.
I really enjoyed the depth and scope of "A Pitch for Equality." While I agree that equality for women in athletics is important, the basic fabric of education is unequal. Without fairness in the classroom, all of our daughters are being taught the lesson your article identifies in athletics. Girls are second-class citizens, and schools are where they learn what that means.
The article "Does the New Math Add Up?" [August] clearly didn't add up. There is significant grassroots support for the California Mathematics Framework. An overwhelming majority—85 percent—of the community members who came forward to testify this year at state board of education hearings were supportive of the current mathematics framework. Moreover, in every California school district where new textbooks are being adopted, parent volunteers on selection committees have supported the new approach to mathematics education, which is based on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics curriculum and evaluation standards.
Textbook adoption is an open process, with many opportunities for public input, and the new books are well-received by all the stakeholders in education—parents, students, administrators, and teachers alike. The article says that most of the parents in groups who challenge the California Mathematics Framework and textbook adoption are "well-educated" as well as "middle-class and affluent professionals." I question those conclusions. The article also failed to mention that there are probably many more professionals who are strongly supportive of mathematics literacy, including professors from pres-tigious schools such as Stanford University and the University of California, as well as scientists, software engineers, and thousands of the 13,000 members of the California Mathematics Council.
Thank you for covering mathematics education issues in the state. We hope the next article will include opinions from the people who actually live and work in California and a much more accurate account of the story.
for Mathematics and Science
I strongly disagree with the suggestion in "Does the New Math Add Up?" that there is a lack of support for the state mathematics framework in California. Throughout the diverse communities of the state, I find overwhelming support and enthusiasm for the new programs, which are based on ensuring that all students are asked to perform basic skills, understand concepts, and solve problems. I have many opportunities to visit classrooms, speak with teachers throughout the state, and discuss new programs with parents and community leaders. In all of these many contacts, a common theme persists—we must continue to improve our mathematics education programs to help our children prepare for the future.
California Mathematics Council
Block scheduling ["Time Warp," August] is an increasingly popular way to organize the school day. But why is it so popular? With the limited attention span of students and even adults, I think block scheduling is a bad idea. I can remember as a college student how difficult it was to concentrate and stay focused during a 90-minute class. I can only imagine how teenagers dislike the idea, too. True, you can get more done than in a 50-minute class, but a 90-minute class is too long. Let us not make change simply for the sake of change.
Iowa City, Iowa
Although I agree with much of David Ruenzel's article about the dangers of introducing aca-demics to kindergarten ["Paradise Lost," May/June], I believe he missed an important point: the distinction between what is taught and how it is taught. The problems he notes do not necessarily show that academic learning has no place in kindergarten; rather, the problems stem from teaching methods. Ruenzel could not be more right in objecting to lessons in which children all work on the same skill in the same question-and-response way. My experience teaching from preschool through 3rd grade taught me that it is almost impossible to find an academic skill that everyone is ready to learn at the same time in the same manner. Children learn and develop at different rates and in many unique ways. Nowhere was this more obvious than with my kindergartners. Some were struggling to learn the alphabet; others could read.
Teachers of kindergarten are indeed part of a school. All early childhood educators have as their primary mission the education of their students. We need to continue developing methods of teaching that are developmentally appropriate, interesting, and challenging. Let's not throw academic learning out of kindergarten; let's throw out teaching that burns out young children.
Des Plaines, Illinois
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