Education Letter to the Editor


April 24, 2002 7 min read
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A Plagiarism Case’s Broader Meaning

To the Editor:

When people wonder about the Enron scandal, all they have to do is look at what’s happened at Piper High School in Kansas City, Kan. (“Plagiarism Controversy Engulfs Kansas School,” April 3, 2002). Dishonesty at the highest levels of government and business can only happen when we condone and make excuses for dishonesty in the formative years of children and teenagers.

I can hardly believe the comments of those you quoted who said that they questioned “whether the students had been instructed in the nuances of plagiarism,” even after these students had signed a class syllabus including the definition of plagiarism. When we look at how close we can get to the line without actually crossing it, instead of staying as far away from that line as possible, we become a society with serious moral and ethical problems.

Thankfully, there are still people who are willing to take a stand for what’s right. I applaud teacher Christine Pelton’s courageous decision to resign in protest, rather than accept the school board’s decision to lessen the penalty for the students involved in this plagiarism controversy. How dare the board undermine her efforts and authority in the classroom when her actions only proved that she had the best interests of her students in mind? Isn’t it too bad that she should be the one punished for setting an example of honesty and integrity in a situation where parents failed to do so?

By reversing the teacher’s decision, the school board has given students permission to do whatever they please with minimum or no consequences. What a disservice this is to those students who worked hard on their projects and expected to be rewarded with a grade commensurate with their efforts.

In the end, the board’s action only serves to reinforce the all-too-common attitude these days that it’s possible to get something for nothing, or at least with minimum effort.

Shifting the blame in this controversy to Ms. Pelton by citing her inexperience is inexcusable and a cop-out. I wish there were more teachers like her who really care about students and excellence in teaching and who seek to instill that same sense of excellence and its pursuit in their students.

Miriam Aneses
Fellowships for Students of Color Entering the Teaching Profession
Rockefeller Brothers Fund
New York, N.Y.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not represent the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

OCR Appointment: Setback for Disabled

To the Editor:

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush promised to fight to ensure that “all Americans with disabilities have every chance to pursue the American dream.” But his recess appointment of Gerald Reynolds as the assistant U.S. secretary of education for civil rights betrays the president’s earlier commitment (“Bush Uses Recess Power to Appoint Reynolds,” April 10, 2002).

Mr. Reynolds will oversee the department’s office for civil rights, which is responsible for ensuring that school districts, colleges, and universities comply with federal civil rights laws. Roughly 60 percent of all discrimination complaints that the OCR investigates involve students with disabilities. For this reason, the person who heads the civil rights office must be ready to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and other federal laws that protect students with disabilities. But Mr. Reynolds fails this test.

In the 1990s, Mr. Reynolds criticized the ADA, claiming that it would “retard economic development in urban centers across the country.” He has also served as a legal analyst on the staff of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that has repeatedly attacked the ADA and supported efforts to weaken this crucial law. Only a few months ago, a top official of the center blasted the ADA as “one of the worst-drafted statutes” and urged Congress to “make the act narrower.”

Mr. Reynolds’ nomination was opposed by a broad and diverse coalition, including Justin Dart, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient who is considered the father of the ADA, as well as organizations such as the National Organization on Disability, National Disabled Student Union, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Network.

This appointment is a serious setback for students—and all citizens— with disabilities.

Jim Ward
Executive Director
ADA Watch Action Fund
Washington, D.C.

Judging Teachers From Ivory Towers

To the Editor:

Daniel Born’s essay (“Beating and Starving Them ... And Other Ways of Teaching,” Commentary, March 27, 2002) is beneath the standard I expect from Education Week. He reveals himself to be an ivory tower elitist who either has never taught or long ago forgot any meaningful experiences he had in front of a classroom.

Mr. Born never considers the fact that there might be another side to what allegedly happened in his daughter’s classroom: a substitute teacher’s use of reading assignments as punishment. Instead, he immediately condemns the unknown substitute and her teaching methods. What about her side of the story? Is it possible that anyone knowing the realities of substitute teaching (the lack of administrative support, the classes without lesson plans or meaningful teacher input, the students that know they can misbehave because there is a “sub,” the complete lack of any assistance whatsoever) could write such an essay?

To paraphrase Mr. Born, apparently he knows nothing of the reality of teaching. He should come down off his perch and get involved in making the front line of teaching a more hospitable environment, so that teachers can implement those “progressive educational theories” he thinks he knows about. Or he should keep his biased and negative thoughts to himself.

Ken Kopicki
Chicago, Ill.

Abuse, Pedophiles, And ‘Risk’ Surveys

To the Editor:

After reading your April 3, 2002, story “Catholic Church’s Priest Abuse Crisis Tests School Policies, Educators’ Faith,” I browsed your Web site and read your three-part 1998 series “A Trust Betrayed: Sexual Abuse by Teachers,” which examined the sexual abuse of students by public school personnel.

Recently, newspapers across the nation reported that the FBI had made numerous arrests of individuals (including educators) for participating in Internet child-pornography groups. It is terrifying for parents to read again and again that educators are consistently among those arrested for such crimes.

According to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education & Certification, between 1987 and 1999, 2,190 teachers in the United States were convicted of sexual misconduct with a child (reported in the July 2000 issue of New Jersey Monthly magazine).

Numerous news articles have appeared over the past several years regarding school administrators and teachers who have been arrested for child molestation, downloading child pornography, exhibitionism, possession of illegal drugs, and other similar offenses.

Yet, for more than two decades, school personnel have been permitted to administer intrusive surveys to our children, asking them very intimate questions regarding their sex lives, drug usage, and private family matters. My 13-year-old son was forced to take a risk-behavior survey (without my knowledge or consent) that asked him if he was having sex with multiple partners or unprotected sex, and about his drug and alcohol use. Then he was directed to put his name on his survey.

Who had access to my son’s survey? Was it read and reviewed by administrators and teachers? What if some of these educators are child pornographers, pedophiles, or have drug and alcohol problems themselves? What if they are canvassing for kids they could easily pull into their debilitating lifestyles?

Pedophiles and child pornographers often take jobs where children are, and what better place than a school? I don’t want my children being subjected to these kinds of surveys, when I have no guarantee that those collecting the data are not child pornographers or pedophiles.

New Jersey now has a student-survey law that guarantees parents that their children will not be administered intrusive surveys without informed, written parental consent. This law is one more tool that can be used to prevent highly sensitive information about children and their families from landing in the wrong hands.

Carole Nunn
Ridgewood, N.J.

A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2002 edition of Education Week as Letters


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