Eric Margolis has taken incredible liberties in analyzing the photos of years gone by [“Picture Imperfect,” March]. It’s an insult to past teachers who did their best to teach under circumstances beyond their control. Margolis, in a painful effort to be politically correct, fails to see that education has always been at the center of controversy and always will be. We should look at the pictures for what they are: an honor to those who have chosen teaching as a career.
I read with great delight Ronald Wolk’s “Sacred Cow” [March]. I have long supported the idea that students should be doing their classroom learning in the classroom, not at home, and that less homework should be given (or none other than reading or research). As a parent, I would rather use non-school hours to maintain a positive relationship with my daughter and have shared experiences as a family than fight over the work she has to do. Additionally, if there is time only for schoolwork, when are children to fulfill their responsibilities at home?
As a teacher, I watch my students’ self-esteem plummet when they cannot do the homework. The pressure it adds to their lives is palpable, and having to correct their homework after hours adds pressure to my life. It is not difficult to create lesson plans that make learning meaningful and keep it in the classroom. It requires time, creativity, and the willingness to think outside the box.
Sara Wolk Bernstein
Like Gregory Michie in “All Together Now” [February], I have watched events unfold over the past couple of months, and I have worried deeply for our country’s democratic ideals, especially in education.
Since our country began its war on terrorism, diversity has become a bad word because being American is about waving the flag, not about freedom, equity, and diversity. Xenophobia and distrust of Arab-looking people grows. In my own state, bilingual education comes under attack because being American means speaking English. We seem to be growing less and less tolerant of the differences that have made this country great since its inception. America has always been a place where people of different faiths, cultures, and ethnicities come for opportunity and freedom. We tend to forget our history.
I hope Michie continues his work. He’s made an impact on teachers who, in turn, do the same for their students. He also made an impression on me as I read, with great empathy and a few tears, the stories of his students and his struggles as a teacher. Unfortunately, as he notes, few professional-development programs focus on diversity to the extent that educators examine their own biases and stereotypes.
Jerry Jesness’ description of bilingual education in “A Linguistic Proposal” [February] is a distortion. Bilingual educators do not believe “that one will magically transition into a second language by dabbling in it while maintaining academic instruction in the native tongue.” Properly organized bilingual programs teach subject matter in English as soon as it can be made comprehensible and provide a great deal of instruction. A University of California-Riverside study found that children in bilingual programs had about 75 percent of their subject matter instruction in English by 3rd grade and 90 percent by 5th grade. Moreover, research consistently shows that bilingual education works: Children in properly organized bilingual programs acquire as much English—and usually more—as comparison children in all-English alternatives.
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
“Pinch Hitters” [February] points out a major concern of substitute teachers: little respect. The lack of respect given me as a substitute teacher by the different schools’ administrations was a thing of wonder. Nothing, however, tops the day, in my first year of substituting, when I was filling in for a geometry teacher. I had seen her lesson plans, which consisted of returning a test and reviewing it. Finding a stack of corrected tests in her desk drawer, I thought I was set. When it came time for class, though, none of the tests in the drawer were for the class in question. I had begun a well-controlled discussion with the class when the door suddenly flew open and a voice demanded to know what class this was supposed to be. When I replied that it was geometry, but there was no lesson plan, the principal demanded that the next time he walked by, I’d better be teaching math. Then he walked away.
Needless to say, the remainder of the period was dominated by the class discussing what had just happened. I still wish, 25 years later, that I’d thanked him, told him he was now in charge of the class, and left.
James T. Brown Jr.
Ronald Wolk’s “Bored of Ed” inspired a not-so-pleasant letter from Ed Doran [“Lively Debate,” February]. He writes: “Teachers ask students to think deeply about issues within and beyond their own experiences. They urge them to know things so that they may know the world, articulate their viewpoints about it, and participate effectively in it.” I dare say that these insights might help us better understand what is causing so much apathy among our teenage students.
Adolescents already are thinking deeply about their own experiences, and contrary to what Dolan might say, they also are thinking deeply about the experiences of others. His comments reflect an attitude of authoritative omniscience that’s often at the heart of why so many teenagers are not interested in their assignments. Dolan comes to teachers’ defense by pointing out that students don’t have the “academic stamina” to do the “hard work” required of them. It might be helpful to remember Albert Einstein, who was an utter academic failure.
Confusing academic stamina with intellectual stamina may very well be a common error, but it is inexcusable. Intellectual and academic growth happen when students are respected by those who are assigned to teach them. We must, as teachers, be committed to finding and validating the experiences, feelings, and minds of our students. Every day. In every classroom. With each and every student.
Cranston, Rhode Island
Jonathan Burack’s reflection on the 1974 film Conrack [ “Radical Reversal,” January] raises an interesting question. Burack asks if, in the context of the present, we should view the film and the teacher it portrays as progressive or conservative. Burack insists, approvingly, that Conrack should now be seen as a follower of E.D. Hirsch-a practitioner of drill-and-skill instruction, worshiper of the canon of the dead white male, and rejecter of identity-based pedagogy.
I, too, found the film inspiring, and I have shown it to students in many of the teacher-preparation courses I’ve taught. The fact that Conrack doesn’t fit the traditional conception of either progressive or conservative in the debate over curriculum is part of what makes the film so interesting. I think this is because the heart of the tale does not reside in the teacher’s instructional techniques, whether child-centered or teacher-directed. Rather, it can be found in the portrayal of racism, of white supremacy’s opponents and defenders. Conrack’s teaching aimed to break down the barriers that denied access to knowledge to children of color. Whose agenda was that in the ‘60s? Whose agenda is it now?
Park Ridge Education Association
Park Ridge, Illinois
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