The Play's the Thing
Although teachers have long struggled to introduce students to classic works of literature, some of Daniel Robb's methods ["As They Like It," March/April] were condescending and misguided. He wrote that he could not enjoy Julius Caesar because he "was not an emperor, nor was [he] aspiring to depose one." We read literature at least in part to broaden our horizons and experience the unfamiliar. By taking such liberties with the language of the original text, Mr. Robb is destroying the purpose of reading Shakespeare in the first place. Shakespeare's works endure not only because of their underlying plot structure but also because of the unique and stunning use of language.
St. Louis, Missouri
Open and Shut
Thank you for the excellent piece "Hide Your Books" [Comment, February]. I have long been an opponent of Channel One, a devious ploy to turn our kids into consumers, but this new article is truly astonishing. Episodes like the one described are why I send my child to private school.
Monsey, New York
I think it is wonderful that Jane Ehrenfeld has found a way to interest her students in reading! I couldn't help but be concerned with the message between the lines, however. Ms. Ehrenfeld is undermining the authority of her school's principal, in front of her students. We tend to forget how astute young people are and how easily they pick up the subtle messages adults put out there. If she disagrees with the school policy mandating that all students watch the news program, then she should discuss it with her principal. By secretly enjoying that her students read during the program (which I am certain they have sensed), she is teaching them to undermine authority rather than work out problems by communicating. We need to remember that, as teachers, students are learning more from us than what is on our lesson plans.
With regard to "Leap of Faith," [News Briefs, March/April], the reason religious teens are happier is obvious: Ignorance is bliss. Choosing to put your faith in anything but yourself means you don't have to figure anything out or decide what is right for yourself. The larger question is, "Should teens be happy?" Looking back at my experiences, as well as those of my students, my answer is no. If you are happy, you are content. If you are content, you do not fight for things. We need teens NOT to be content, so that they will try to make things better.
I read, with interest and disappointment, Karen J. Bannan's article regarding the use of video "projects" in lieu of written papers ["Visual Learners," February]. One can argue its pros and cons, but no one can deny that the reason we have English class is for reading and writing—period. I'm sure that the teachers who use these "projects" instead of written papers are doing so because it's easier. Irresponsibility in the classroom is simply the result of an irresponsible society. Parents who don't question this practice are just as irresponsible as the teachers who do it and the district that allows it. But therein lies the ultimate problem—too many parents are too busy to actually care.
I found the "Technology Issue," [February] woefully weak. The articles were about multimedia and logistical support. Where were articles about mandating engineering curricula for elementary schools? Where were the reports by teachers on the use of Tabs+ modeling software or Logo lesson plans or robotics projects in the classroom? How about a profile of the Technology Educator of the Year? I am positive about your publication, but on technology, I think you really missed the core of the subject.
Most Holy Trinity School
San Jose, California
By the Numbers
What was that David Ruenzel said about my book, Class Warfare, wrongly noting the pressures to reduce homework in American schools [Book Reviews, February]? He said that homework is increasing. Yeah, right. The data reported annually by UCLA [and cited in the book] are as respectable as any we have regarding the attitudes incoming freshmen bring to college from K-12. Perhaps it is his data, not mine, that are selective and biased. Someone who writes for as important a periodical as Teacher Magazine should have his facts right, or at the very least admit that there are serious data that support what I had to say.
J. Martin Rochester
St. Louis, Missouri
David Ruenzel's reply: I have never heard anyone, including scholars and policymakers I've interviewed, argue that schools give less homework today than they did 10 or 20 years ago. The annual UCLA study Mr. Rochester cites surveys the attitudes of college freshmen on many topics, including the amount of homework they did during their senior year of high school. While it's true that, over the years, they've reported spending less time on homework, it's also true that "senioritis"—or the loss of interest in school after being accepted to college—is an epidemic. Indeed, broader research counters Mr. Rochester's claims. One 1998 study published by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, surveyed more than 2,300 households. Results show that between 1981 and 1997, the time elementary school kids used for homework doubled, with 9- to 12-year-olds studying 35-40 minutes a night.
Many parts of the interview with Etta Kralovec ["Let's Get to Work," February] bothered me, but especially her assertion that athletics get in the way of academics and take resources from classrooms. That's like an elementary school teacher saying that independent reading time is a disruption because children can't be held accountable for what they read. Studies show that children who participate in sports tend to hold higher grade-point averages than those who do not participate. These activities require students to be better at planning and time management. In fact, some teams require a minimum GPA to participate.
Ms. Kralovec also disagrees with school participation in community service programs. Some of the most educational and teachable moments in my career have happened because of projects that required my children to look outside themselves toward the homeless, elderly, and battered of their communities.
Anyone who says that learning is void in these experiences must not have their eyes open. Some learning doesn't translate to grades, and some of the best "grades" some children will ever get occur on the days when the grade book is tucked away.
Rochester, New York
Teacher Magazine welcomes the opinions and comments of its readers. Letters should be 300 words or fewer and may be edited for clarity and length. Articles for the "Comment" section fall under two general headings: Viewpoint and First Person. Essays run approximately 1,000 to 1,750 words (four to five double-spaced pages) in length. All submissions should include an address and phone number. Mail them to Teacher Magazine, 6935 Arlington Road, Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814. Letters also may be sent to [email protected].
Vol. 14, Issue 7, Pages 5-6