As a career educator and lifelong Iowan, I read with great interest David Ruenzel's article, "State of Contentment" [August/September]. I found Ruenzel's tone, for the most part, condescending and obnoxious. This is typical of East and West Coast journalists, who apparently prefer the polluted, crime-ridden decay of larger metropolitan areas to clean air, clean streets, and genuinely nice, hard-working people. He describes the majority of Iowa's school leaders as Mayberry yokels embracing 1984-like conformity. As a school principal, I find this description insulting, yet more accurate than I care to admit.
Former business executive Max DePree writes in his book Leadership Jazz, "Success tends to breed arrogance, complacency, and isolation. Success can close a mind faster than prejudice." That's a pretty accurate description of where Iowa's schools are. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" nearly ruined the arrogant U.S. auto industry of the '60s and '70s. Only after great trauma did General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler finally begin making quality products to compete with Japan and Germany. I fear Iowa will need trauma to shake it from its educational arrogance. Joan Roberts, principal of Des Moines North High School, is absolutely correct about preparing kids for life in Millville. I've been to Millville. Nice place to fish the Turkey River. But the kids in Millville will have to economically compete with the kids from Seoul, Tokyo, and Frankfurt, not just the kids from Osterdock and Clayton.
The emphasis on local control of Iowa's schools virtually ensures short-sighted, highly po-liticized micro-management. If the hardware-store owner's son makes it to Iowa State, and the girls' basketball team makes it to the state tournament every few years, all is right with the world. We'll see. When Cap'n Crunch cereal is made by Nagasaki Oats, and minimum-wage telemarketing jobs are the best career choice the average Iowa grad can aspire to, maybe we'll change.
Iowa is a wonderful state with wonderful people, including wonderful educators. They just need to wake up to the realities of the 21st century. Fast.
Linn-Mar Junior High School
A Flawed Autopsy
The columns on Jonathan Levin's murder ["Killed by Kindness," August/September] left me with a sick feeling in my stomach. Both columns imply that it was Levin's fault that he was killed and that if he had possessed the intelligence and wisdom of the authors, he would be alive today.
This, of course, suggests that the authors and anyone with similarly vast reserves of wisdom and intelligence will not be murdered. Perhaps this kind of thinking is a necessary defense mechanism in the face of tragedy, but how uncharitable, how appalling, and how incredibly insensitive to put it into print. And how disappointing it is to look for compassion in the face of tragedy and find only the smug chorus of "I told you so."
I've followed the Patsy and Nadine Cordova controversy in Vaughn, New Mexico, with interest ["Sisters in Arms," August/September]. I once taught in Vaughn, and when I first moved to town, a well-meaning Hispanic suggested I not befriend Patsy because she was a "tough, radical Mexican." For about a year, I stayed away. If I socialized, it was with the other white teachers at the school. As it turned out, though, Patsy and Nadine were the only Hispanics in Vaughn who ever tried to become friends with me, an "Anglo." I have fond memories of drinking beer and playing Pictionary with them. At least once a week, Patsy and I met to play guitars and sing together.
From my time in Vaughn, I would say that the people there fear change of any kind--especially new ideas. Anyone who dares to question the town's social fabric is condemned. Generations of people have been raised in Vaughn, and a majority of them stay. It's one of those small towns where life rolls on with the understanding that "things have always been done this way." So why change?
Racism runs rampant in Vaughn and in all directions. At the start of one school year, I questioned why I had been assigned more game duties than any other teacher. Blithely, the Hispanic secretary responsible for the schedule looked me square in the eye and said, "It's because you're Anglo."
In light of this experience and many others like it, I find it ironic that the Cordovas are being accused of raising Hispanics' self-esteem by tearing down Anglos. The irony runs even deeper when I consider my own experience with the Cordovas. They were my only positive encounters with Hispanics in Vaughn.
Pecos, New Mexico
Your brief report about school systems selling advertising to corporations ["Your Message Here," August/September] is a sad commentary on what school officials feel they need to do for funding. However, it is quite possible that "we ain't seen nothin' yet." On a visit to New Zealand this summer, I was surprised to read that in exchange for long-term funding, a South Auckland school had adopted the name of a corporate sponsor, changing from Bairds Primary School to Bairds Mainfreight Primary School.
When this idea is adopted here, will schools sell their names to the highest bidder? Will corporations seek only those schools that have Merit Scholars or football stars? What's a good name worth?
Nathan Hale Middle School
"Remembering Al Shanker" [April] was a thought-provoking piece on how universal and basic public education is. And it's amazing how Shanker, despite his popularity and position, kept such a practical approach to engaging ideas and people in his work. My father always said talking with people should be the easiest job in the world. I remember many parties at our home growing up where teachers talked about current issues in education and swapped school gossip. I know most people had good times at these parties, but everyone left with something new to think about to make public schools a fun and constantly changing environment.
Shanker's approach to public education was that of a man with great common sense, much of it derived from his uncanny ability to learn from others around him. And he also showed great compassion in sharing his own ideas and challenging others to reconsider how they think. Thank you for sharing some insight on such a great person.
I am one of those teachers who oppose "vouchers" ["Turncoat," May/June]. I favored them at one time because, like many, I could not understand how teachers worth their certificates could want anything but the best for students. Giving parents and students a choice could only improve the system, right? Then I learned a critical fact: For most parents of inner-city children, the money that the voucher would represent would not be enough to send their children to any of the "better" private schools--some of which charge tuition in excess of $10,000--or even to any of the nearby suburban schools. The only schools that these children would have the "option" to attend would be church-supported schools where tuition is much less expensive. Those parents who can afford $10,000 a year don't need a voucher bill to have a choice. Hence, voucher bills simply result in the state supporting religious schools. And that's where I have a problem.
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
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