Education Letter to the Editor


February 28, 2001 6 min read
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Humanist Attack Was ‘Everest’ of Inference

To the Editor:

D.L. Cuddy has erected an Everest of invalid inferences out of a molehill of individual opinions (“Has Humanism Been Triumphant After All?,” Letters, Feb. 7, 2001.)

Humanism is not the religion of our public schools. Thanks to the First Amendment and wise and proper U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 1948, 1952, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1980, 1985, 1987, 1992, and 2000, our public schools are respectfully neutral toward our rich profusion of religious traditions.

Our 15,000 local, democratically controlled school boards and 3 million or so teachers and administrators represent the entire religious spectrum. There are not a few school districts run by fundamentalists, but it would be difficult to find a single one run by humanists.

As for the values of students in public and religious schools, the Education Week article Mr. Cuddy cites, “Catholic Educators Surprised by Data on Student Values,” (April 29, 1987), reported on a study of 16,000 public and nonpublic high school seniors showing that parochial students were more likely than their public school counterparts to abuse alcohol, smoke marijuana, try cocaine, and shoplift.

Humanists, like the vast majority of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other parents, want good education for all children. D.L. Cuddy’s use of isolated quotations to suggest otherwise is irresponsible.

Tony Hileman
Executive Director
American Humanist Association
Washington, D.C.

Avanced Placement: A ‘Straitjacket’?

To the Editor:

Anne Macleod Weeks writes in “To AP or Not To AP?,” (Commentary, Feb. 7, 2001), with regard to the use of Advanced Placement scores by colleges: “Let colleges use the exam score, after enrollment has occurred, as a placement tool and credit issue.” I heartily agree, but, unfortunately, I also recall my similar question at an AP conference to the then-head of the Educational Testing Service. His response was: “I’m sorry, but we cannot do that, as the student owns this test score, not ETS. We cannot control the use of such scores.”

Perhaps it is time again to ask the same question. Why can’t scores be released by the ETS only with the copy of a letter of acceptance to a college or university? Then the true purpose of the AP program, contained no less in its very meaning, “advanced placement,” can be realized.

But even more important is Ms. Weeks’ cry for freedom from the academic straitjacket that Advanced Placement has become. As a former head of a science department, I used to cringe when students thought that high performance in an AP course and on the subsequent exam somehow told them something about their future careers in science. Assuming that is akin to reading, memorizing, and being able to cite passages from 50 of history’s greatest plays, and then thinking one is ready to take the stage. AP courses in science do not anticipate what the world of experimentation and research is really like.

So I hope Ms. Weeks’ essay will end the use of the Advanced Placement program for college admissions, but I doubt it.

Rodney LaBrecque
Head of School
Episcopal School of the Peninsula
Foster City, Calif.

Business Involvement Helps High Schoolers

To the Editor:

I read with great interest your front-page article “U.S. Urged To Rethink High School,” (Jan. 24, 2001), in which brief mention was made of the apprenticeship approach. While I am not an educator, as a retired businessperson trained in architecture and community planning, I have taken a strong interest in the educational program in my own community of Mishawaka, Ind.

Having had hands-on experience in the development and operation of hotels, motels, and restaurants, and being a longtime member of the county’s hotel/motel tax board, I know the importance of quality employees in those operations. I also know that the salaries being paid, including fringe benefits, have greatly improved in recent years. That is especially true in our community, with the close proximity of the University of Notre Dame and other attractions that bring many people to the area.

Working with the Indiana Hospitality Association, I am currently sponsoring 20 junior and senior students from Mishawaka High School in the hospitality industry. These students are required to satisfactorily complete their high school education, but within their junior and senior years, they also are required to work 400 hours with one of the restaurant operations participating in the program. These are some of the finest establishments in the community, and a senior representative from each must mentor the student as he or she is gaining experience in the business. Mentors also are required to write reports on the students’ performance.

At the conclusion of the two-year period, the students take a rigorous examination and, upon passing, are given a certificate that will enable them to get excellent jobs in that industry virtually anywhere in the country.

Next year, I plan to sponsor 20 additional juniors and seniors in the hotel/motel aspect of the hospitality industry. I think it is important that the business community become involved in a hands-on way in the training of high school students. After taking part in this type of program, even those students who decide to go on to college will do significantly better because of their hands-on work experience in high school.

Tom Brademas Sr.
South Bend, Ind.

Right About Phonics, Wrong on Alternative

To the Editor:

Helen Bardeen Andrejevic’s Valentine’s present to us is her critique of “fonix"-only reading approaches and her accurate description of whole language at its best. (“The Story of Phonics,” Commentary, Feb. 14, 2001.)

However, she doesn’t seem to realize that what she describes as best practice is whole language. Here’s what she calls good teaching: A system that “asks the child to use the meaning of the sentence, the syntax, her knowledge of normal usage—and the consonant sounds—to learn to identify words in simple, normally written stories.” This is whole language, and we whole-language teachers thank her for the praise.

Susan Harman
Oakland, Calif.

Diplomas Are Earned, Not Given or Denied

To the Editor:

I read with disgust the first sentence of your article “States Adjust High-Stakes Testing Plans,” (Jan. 24, 2001), in which you chose to characterize high school exit exams as vehicles for “denying students diplomas.”

I’m not an advocate of all graduation plans: Some are better than others. However, it is clearly biased to write about “denying diplomas,” as though all students are automatically entitled to one, yet some are being denied them.

Some students earn diplomas, and some do not. It would be better to write about graduation requirements, and those who do or do not meet them.

Dean Colton
Iowa City, Iowa

To the Editor:

Local Control or Standardization

Although I rarely agree with Chester E. Finn Jr. or Diane Ravitch, I respect their hardheaded logic, so I was surprised to find a glaring inconsistency in their essay written with Bruno V. Manno (“Memorandum to the President,” Commentary, Jan. 24, 2001). They begin by proclaiming their most fundamental principle: “Offer freedom in return for results.” But when proposing guidelines for young children, a few paragraphs later, they exhort Congress and the Bush administration to provide a “standard curriculum for preliteracy, numeracy, and problem-solving.” Which is it to be, local autonomy or standardization?

If there was consensus about the best programs for young, disadvantaged children, a standard curriculum might be a good idea. But, as should be evident to anyone who reads these pages, no such consensus exists, nor is one likely to emerge in the near future. That being the case, the design of a “one best system” for Head Start seems to offer not just a recipe for continued acrimony, but a violation of the fundamental commitment to local control enunciated at the outset.

I am disheartened that spokespersons for the new administration, like the three authors of this Commentary, favor choice in so many areas but don’t trust poor parents or Head Start educators to make their own choices.

Francis Schrag
Professor of Education
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wis.

A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Letters


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