Education Opinion


January 01, 2004 10 min read
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Dated Data

The chart “We Have the Technology” [November/December] is out of date. The author refers to a National Academy of Sciences convocation convened in 1993, with a report published in 1995. I suggest that the author search the National Academies Press Web site for the following much more recent reports on technology in K-12 education (ed.'s note: clicking will open a new window) : “Being Fluent with IT” (1999); “Improving Learning with IT: Report of a Workshop” (2002); “Planning for Two Transformations in Education and Learning Technology” (2003); “Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology” (2002); and “Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment” (2002).

Margaret Hilton
The National Academies
Washington, DC

Peace of Mind

After reading the piece about Colman McCarthy [“What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?” October] and the vitriolic, knee-jerk responses that it inspired from (mostly male) readers, I want to say thank you. It is essential that we question and examine all of the authorities and institutions that intersect our lives. We have an obligation to teach our students to do likewise. It is sad that educators who should know better, and think more deeply, have responded to Mr. McCarthy’s views with so little intellectual consideration.

It’s frightening that peace is still considered subversive. It’s high time that someone challenged the inherent violence of our culture and the education system. Kudos to you and Mr. McCarthy for challenging teachers and students to think!

Jill Caritas
Durango, Colorado

I take no issue with Colman McCarthy’s position as a pacifist, as I think it necessary for someone to advocate peaceful solutions so that peace remains in the public consciousness and part of the national debate. Additionally, I do not take issue with his stance on homework and grading (silly though it may seem). What breaks my heart is that someone who so fully enjoys the protections of our nation’s Constitution would advocate to children that it is a violent document that needs to be thrown out.

We need to teach children how truly valuable our Constitution is or they will become adults who do not respect it—and then we’re all in danger of losing the relative peace in which we live and the right to express ourselves guaranteed by the Constitution. It’s a simple case of biting the hand that feeds you. The Constitution ensures Mr. McCarthy’s free expression; yet he turns right around and suggests that we need a new one. It provides for peaceful succession of leadership so that Mr. McCarthy will not become an innocent victim in a violent transition of power; yet he calls it a document that advocates violence.

It would be a better approach to teaching nonviolence if Mr. McCarthy discussed how to implement the rights and responsibilities set forth in the Constitution in a humane, nonviolent manner. Dismissing the Constitution in total and abstaining from the vote because of perceived violence is a lazy approach to civil liberties and disrespectful to those who have died to uphold those liberties.It is also disrespectful to those who do not live in relative peace and are not afforded the protections of free speech and an orderly succession of leadership.

A good teacher is one who provides balance, perspective, and context to the subjects they teach and the points of view they advocate. Mr. McCarthy has no grasp of the context in which he enjoys his free speech. Additionally, he failed to provide his students with any perspective regarding where their right to express themselves comes from or how it has evolved over the past 200 years. I pray that his students will recognize such flawed thinking for what it is and that, rather than throwing out the Constitution itself, they will decide to throw out Mr. McCarthy’s opinions. I also hope that many advertisers will pull their advertising dollars [from Teacher Magazine] because of the decision to extol Mr. McCarthy as a quality educator.

Rebecca Merrill
Austin, Texas

Your issue concerning “Flower Power” could not be better at identifying why I quit being a National Education Association member years ago. As teachers, are we not required to take an oath to uphold the Constitution? Thus, whoever hired Mr. McCarthy—given his “peace” paranoia—helped violate that oath and should probably be digging ditches for a living, if they know how to use a shovel.

I am sure that Tojo and Adolf would have loved for his views to have dominated the United States in the 1930s and ‘40s. To assume that we are more sophisticated and have more tools to resolve conflicts than [we did] then is arrogance—man has not changed. Mankind is still plagued with all the personal vices it has had for centuries, and it is these that lead to war and oppression—not forms of government or constitutions. Public schools love to expound on such causes as Mr. McCarthy’s or encourage examination of the Muslim faith as a gentle and peaceful religion while banishing even the mention of Christianity.

The complicity of teachers in diluting our heritage, destroying principles of integrity, and championing their own causes at the cost of our civilization was clearly shown in the last few paragraphs of the article. These teachers, as are many teachers, are arrogant and have real disdain for the average American; they see themselves as better, smarter, more capable—just as the members of the National Socialist Party in Germany did in the 1920s through the 1940s.

Keith Ross
Mesa, Colorado

“Give peace a chance”? We ended up with airliners slamming into skyscrapers. Let’s hope those students are too savvy to listen to Colman McCarthy.

David K. Taggart
U.S. Army Infantry, Retired
Gladden Middle School
Chatsworth, Georgia

As educators, it is our duty to expose students to all sorts of beliefs and force them to think critically about our world. In this regard, Colman McCarthy, with his extreme and radical beliefs, has a place in the classroom. In the interest of fairness, however, are there any extreme right-wing teachers who are allowed or encouraged to do what he does? Are students allowed to ask him questions about how the Nazis would have been stopped without violence? Is there another teacher on hand to engage their minds in debate from the other side?

Exposing students to various viewpoints is education. Exposing them to one extreme without chance for rebuttal from the other side is indoctrination. Mr. McCarthy’s pacifism is fraudulent in that his right to practice pacifism is only guaranteed by the blood shed by others to obtain that right. I sincerely hope that wherever Mr. McCarthy goes, students and faculty are allowed to express their disagreement about these beliefs without being labeled “closed-minded” or “intolerant.” If not, then Mr. McCarthy’s teaching is not education; it is indoctrination, plain and simple.

Trey Korte
St. Aloysius School
West Allis, Wisconsin

We ought to teach students about the real world, not about a wishful caricature of a world that we invent. I don’t question Colman McCarthy’s high motivations. His views and methods, however, don’t relate to an effective and realistic education; they relate to erroneous assumptions and theories, and therefore to mis-education. I am glad my youngsters and grandchildren had much better teachers than the ones he seems to champion.

John Shacter
Kingston, Tennessee

Measure of Worth

People like Ronald A. Wolk have a lot of criticism about testing [“A Little Humility,” October] but no suggestions about how to hold students accountable for learning or teachers accountable for teaching. As I tell my mother, school is not like it was when she (or I) went to school. Those trying to improve education need suggestions for improvement and support, not criticism. It is because of people like Wolk, who don’t require accountability, that our education system is like it is. I will bet against him that there IS research supporting success in life [being correlated with] good marks on testing. Get real, Wolk!

Kay Caldwell
Hope, Arkansas

I think Ron Wolk is missing the big picture with his comments about standardized testing. Also, his politics are showing when he takes a cheap shot at President Bush. The man did graduate from Yale.

There has been a great negative reaction to the whole idea of the NCLB legislation and the involvement of those nasty standardized tests in my state of New Jersey, with theteachers’ union leading the way. I work as a school psychologist at both a middle school and a high school in our district. From my own, probably jaded, perspective, it is really a great day for those of us in special education. For the first time, administrators throughout the state have to forge a real incentive to work with special education programming because they now have true accountability. It is nice to have some company in the foxhole.

Why is “accountability” such a bad word? Over time, the actual test requirements will be amended, like the process [of] the IDEA legislation. Perhaps we should take the time to look past the needs of adults and understand how this can be a good thing for our special populations. Perhaps we can all practice a little humility.

Duke Jordan
Point Pleasant, New Jersey

Learning Curve

I am sorry I can’t be more enthusiastic about “A Really Great Gig” [August/September]. I would like to suggest that the problem with (most) charter schools is the same that exists with most other schools, and it’s not one of pay, class sizes, or facilities. Most charter schools end up doing and teaching pretty much as all other schools do—and we know that, for the most part, that’s not good. Very few schools (charter, magnet, religious, public, college prep, vocational, college classroom, etc.) do much that’s different. For the most part, there is no real curriculum and no real methodology. There is little teacher accountability and little teacher training; there is little in the way of positive discipline.

The problem is summed up later in the same issue in “Conference Calls” [Books Interview]. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is quoted: “Teachers need to learn to respect the values of parents and caregivers, seeing them as the first educators, the ones who have the most holistic, comprehensive view of the child.” This kind of statement sounds good on the surface, but I would like to suggest that what teachers really need to learn is how to teach. Teach what? How to read, write, listen, speak, organize information, and learn math. How to start on time, stay on task, complete assignments. These are the skills and behaviors on which our schools should focus, but as a system and society, we prefer to focus on virtually everything else.

The failure rate of teachers in the classroom is enormous. Why? Because teachers have virtually no real training. It is no wonder they fail, and they don’t know where to turn for the real information they crave. After all, where would they turn? To our schools of education? I don’t think so.

Rory Donaldson
Lyme, Connecticut

Sporting Chance

In regard to Keith Manos’ “Forget the Gipper” [Commentary, August/September]: Nonsense! First of all, athletes are tougher, better, and smarter today because of advancements and progressions in sport nutrition, strength training, and sport psychology. There are more opportunities for younger athletes now than ever before. High school athletes who wish to specialize in various sports can attend fundamental clinics, skill camps, and other extremely productive activities that entail expertise and intensity.

Parents can be annoying but tend to interfere less when they sense that coaches are overlearning, assertive, cerebral, and communicative. Coaches are now faced with answering the [same] call of self-improvement as their students. They can no longer tame young perfectionists with the moral code of Knute Rockne. They must match the high school athlete in desire and attend coaching clinics, purchase instructional videos, and constantly research new ways to better their sport and program by creative and cost-effective means. Parents may hesitate to negatively blast the hard-working coaches who command respect by virtue of action, as opposed to coaches who demand respect by virtue of title. Parents will exercise some discretion if the coach is undeniably the authority of his craft. Don’t complain, Coach.

Dan Falcone
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

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. All submissions should include an address and phone number. Send letters to tm@epe.org, or mail them to Teacher Magazine, 6935 Arlington Road,Bethesda, MD 20814.

A version of this article appeared in the January 02, 2004 edition of Teacher as Letters


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