Letters to the Editor
By The Numbers
It did not surprise me to find that Indiana ranks below 43 other states in the percentage of secondary school English teachers with fewer than 80 students ("Quality Counts: School Climate.") I am a second-year teacher who sees 128 students daily in six classes. My teaching load requires that I make four separate class preparations. Unfortunately, this is the norm for most young English teachers in this state. As a result, I have stopped devoting large chunks of my after-school time to reading and grading essays and exams. If I can't get it done during the day or in the hour or two I stay after school, I don't do it. Of course, this leads to student complaints about not getting papers returned quickly. But this is the only way I can maintain my sanity and my personal life and avoid burnout. I am dedicated to my students and to becoming the best teacher I can, but the overwhelming paperwork from so many students exhausts me. Until school systems in Indiana wake up to this problem, our state will continue to lag behind in language arts test scores, and many of our best young teachers will leave the profession after only a few years.
Your article "Phonics Is Back" (February) is of considerable interest. In light of the millions of phonetically bound adults in the United States, whatever method of reading instruction that schools use will have very little long-term impact. We have vast numbers of grown-ups who are so busy decoding language that they lose the flow, the meaning, and the pleasure of reading. They rarely pick up a book just for the fun of it. The result is that few people read books anymore, newspaper readership is falling, and everybody spends hours every day in front of one screen or another. Parents are setting a poor example.
As co-authors of Waging Peace in Our Schools, we were very disappointed with David Ruenzel's review of our book. Not only did he misinterpret the main theme, but he also used the review to dismiss without argument our vision of education.
Ruenzel seems to think that we believe that thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to children's social and emotional learning cannot take place without sacrificing academic achievement and excellence. That couldn't be further from the truth for the 5,000 teachers who are implementing the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program that is the focus of our book. They are demonstrating every day that schools can be places that educate the heart along with the mind.
Most educators realize that as we struggle with the breakdown of civility in our society, schools have a critical responsibility to renew society's long-standing commitment to civic education by preparing young people to be intellectually competent, ethically principled, and socially skillful.
An independent evaluation of RCCP in 1990 reported less violence in the classroom, increased awareness and verbalization of feelings, more caring behavior, and more acceptance of differences on the part of students. This kind of education is at the very least academically neutral and at its best enhances learning of all kinds.
Waging Peace deserves a more accurate and unbiased review.
RCCP National Center
Senior Program Associate
David Ruenzel's review of Waging Peace in Our Schools is inaccurate and misses the main point of the book: Safe schools and communities require a proactive rather than a reactive approach to conflict.
I am the former principal of Roosevelt Middle School, a 1,700-student, middle-class school in suburban California. The school implemented the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program in 1990. The benefits of this program have been tremendous. Although conflict still exists at Roosevelt, students and staff have developed strategies that allow for a positive resolution. Whereas a campus fight used to draw a crowd to watch and cheer on the combatants, student mediators now diffuse such conflicts. This is only one of many very real benefits of the program. While setting high expectations for behavior and academic performance, the staff at Roosevelt is able to respond to the diversity and personal differences of students, parents, and other staff members in ways that create a healthy and supportive climate.
Although I actually like John Wayne movies, I know Ruenzel really missed the mark on this book and program when he failed to realize that almost all of the characters John Wayne played would have benefited greatly from instruction in RCCP. Waging Peace is a must-read for educators, parents, and policymakers if we are going to successfully turn the tide against violence in our schools and communities.
Assistant Superintendent Personnel
Vista Unified School District
We have been actively involved with the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program for seven years, and we have trained student mediators in grades 3-6 for six years. As I read David Ruenzel's review of Waging Peace in Our Schools, I had to wonder: Did we read the same book? What is Ruenzel's agenda?
Waging Peace is a description of a program steeped in research and sound, objective educational practices and strategies. RCCP is not a collection of simplistic, touchy-feely, time-wasting activities foisted off on impressionable kids by maladjusted teachers. I am amazed at Ruenzel's patronizing language. Hardly what I expect from a professional book review in a magazine I've respected for years.
Nunaka Valley Elementary Anchorage, Alaska
I read with fascination and horror the story on Sherry Hearn ("Up In Smoke," January). Windsor Forest High School, the Savannah-Chatham County school system, and the city have adopted a siege mentality. And the treatment of all students as hardened criminals (note the system's use of the term "lockdown") and the obvious harassment of a dedicated teacher who chose to challenge those actions and attitudes are appalling. But as I read the article, I realized something else: If there were three lockdowns a year at three hours each, nine hours were lost that could have been used for learning.
This school system needs to adopt a proactive stance rather than act as if it is under siege. It makes much more sense to start a drug-education program in the elementary grades followed by secondary school disciplinary tactics that deal harshly only with those students who bring drugs to school.
I shared this article with my high school American history class. Their response: "Are we moving to a police state?" Their words, not mine.
In "Cyber Scout" (January), you conclude that if technology investments are to pay off, "techno-missionaries will have to win over the skeptics and computer phobics." I'm not sure we can lump these groups together.
I've been conducting a multiyear evaluation of technology in my school district. On paper, my district has committed to spending more than $70 million on technology. I see absolutely nothing wrong with educators approaching the integration of technology in schools with a healthy dose of skepticism. What's wrong with asking questions? How can we be sure that the computers alone raise test scores? How do we know that better access to information via the World Wide Web turns students into better researchers or lifelong learners? And how can we be sure that more technology ensures better reading habits or develops more critical thinking? These are fair questions.
This nation is pouring billions of dollars into schools to support technology. On the surface, this is a good thing. However, those of us who raise an occasional question are not the enemy. Like Kameron Conner in the story, I, too, believe that technology has the potential to level the academic playing field. But how does this happen? The only real way to know if technology levels the playing field for the have-nots (or for any other group of students) is to control the education experience of the have-nots. Some get technology; some get no technology (at least until after the conclusion of the field trial). And the choice of who gets technology would be random.
Educators, however, are reluctant to conduct such experiments. So as we speed toward the 21st century with more and more schools wired and plugged in, less and less is known about the value of technology for enhancing teaching and learning in schools. This lack of empirically derived information hurts us all.
Department of Educational Accountability
Montgomery County Public Schools
The article "AVID Learners" (January) quotes Hugh Mehan, a sociologist and teacher educator at the University of California at San Diego, as writing that the AVID program "pulls out the rug from under the assumption that ethnic and linguistic minority kids can't do well in college-bound classes." I appreciate that the story attempts to dispel this common assumption, but I believe that it makes another detrimental assumption that needs the rug pulled out from under it.
The writer makes references in the article that tend to reinforce the stereotype that "shop" and "bonehead" math classes go hand in hand. Such references are inaccurate.
I teach social studies at an apprenticeship program in Pennsylvania that is part of the school-to-work initiative through vocational technical education. Many of my students have attended "shop," and I am preparing them for postsecondary education. They are focused on their future and on becoming productive members of society. Their mathematics coursework includes algebra I, II, and III, geometry, calculus, and trigonometry. I don't believe that you can place the skills learned in these courses in the "bonehead" category.
In response to "Straight Talk" (January), I couldn't agree more with the author's argument that educators need to abandon the mumbo jumbo of educational lingo when talking with parents. It's not surprising that parents feel threatened and become obstinate when they hear the language associated with school reform and restructuring. It is part of human nature to reject rather than accept what we do not understand.
St. Jerome School
Bronx, New York
Eight Deadly Sins?
As a Kingman, Arizona, resident, I resent the implication that ours is a remote school ("Desert Rose," January). The state has schools that are 400 miles away from a town even the size of Kingman. It burned me up when the story read: "To get on-line, residents have to pay long-distance charges." That leaves the impression that not having a local on-line service is akin to the seven deadly sins, right behind gluttony and greed. If not having local access to an on-line service is the price I have to pay for being able to take a walk at night without being armed, then I will pay it gladly.
I applaud the effort made to showcase a truly gifted educator like Sharon Hackley. The possibility of losing her due to burnout makes me shudder.
Clare Gaia Russell
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