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Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

March 02, 1987 5 min read
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Mary M. Olson President, St. Mary’s Academy Milwaukee, Wis.

As president of the largest all-girls’ high school in Wisconsin, I feel compelled to respond to your story “From ‘Relic’ to Real World” (Feb. 10, 1988).

We in Wisconsin also are dealing with the phenomenon of boys’ schools choosing to go coeducational. They are making such decisions only for financial advantage.

Though I do not question the decisionmaking process at these schools, I do take exception to the fact that no one at the schools in question is speaking on behalf of educational equity for the young women who will be enrolled in these new coed institutions.

While research suggests that boys do not necessarily receive a better education in an all-boys’ school than in a coed school, it also indicates that young women are not treated with equity in a coed situation.

In fact, they are treated more often than not as less than equal. This is not the case in an all-girls’ environment.

It may be a coed world out there. But it is also a coed world where women still face much discrimination on the basis of sex.

Perhaps St. Stephen’s has discovered the magic formula for incorporating educational equity for young women into its curriculum. But until such a formula is found and disseminated, many moves to coeducation represent a step backward for the young women of today and the future.

Ann E. Bekebrede Headmistress, The MacDuffie School Springfield, Mass.

The designation of single-sex schools as “relics” did a disservice to an important option in education, regardless of how many schools bow to the pressure of economics.

I submit that if girls’ schools did not exist, someone would be creating them. They provide girls an unequaled opportunity to develop intellectually and personally in an atmosphere free of negative gender messages.

It is difficult for a coed school to create an equivalent environment for girls because a coed school tends to be a microcosm of society, with all its entrenched stereotypes and gender prejudices.

At St. Stephen’s those discussions in faculty meetings to deal with the complexities of coeducation ought to concentrate on raising the consciousness of every teacher, male and female, to the gender issues that will affect the girls.

Every teacher should be free of the kind of bias that allowed a St. Stephen’s teacher to say that she “is ... concerned that teachers not lower their standards for girls.”

And when the task of educating the faculty is completed, the process should continue with the attitudes of the boys.

The boys at St. Stephen’s and Deerfield will not be shortchanged when the girls arrive. I do wonder about the girls.

Adele Q. Ervin Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. The writer is director of external affairs for the National Association of Independent Schools.

I regret that your article on the renewed trend toward coeducation in independent schools could not have chosen a more representative example of this phenomenon than St. Stephen’s School.

The operation of educational institutions is difficult at best. And the cause is not served by remarks like those of the chairman of the St. Stephen’s board, who called the decision of St. Agnes School to extend its elementary-school coeducation “a half-baked, fuzzy arrangement.”

He went on to blame St. Agnes for impeding St. Stephen’s move to coeducation: “We would have [gone coed] several years ago if not for the unfriendliness of St. Agnes.”

Diversity and choice are hallmarks of American private education, secular and religious.

St. Agnes’s decision was reached after much thought and consideration of the data, which suggest that there are good reasons for single-sex education for young women. And it is a courageous decison, for it puts the school at some risk, given the circumstances.

But perhaps at greater risk are the young women who will be educated at St. Stephen’s. Consider the views of the male faculty member who, having never taught girls, offered the opinion that their presence “might wake some of the boys up because they don’t want to be second-class to girls,” or of another who feels qualified because “I have a wife and a daughter.”

Given the school climate that these remarks suggest, one must hope that the parents who choose to educate their daughters at St. Stephen’s understand the need to seek equal status for them in all phases of the school’s life--if St. Stephen’s is indeed to move from “‘relic’ to real world,” as its chairman and headmaster seem to think it already has done by the decision to coeducate.

James Baines Professor of Educational Leadership William Paterson College Wayne, N.J.

Thanks be to George McKenna for his Commentary on the tactics of Joe Clark, principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J. (“‘Methodology of Oppression’ Is Unacceptable,” Feb. 17, 1988).

I agree with Mr. McKenna that the antics that the media stress have not only distorted Mr. Clark’s methods, but also’ led Mr. Clark himself to emphasize the publicized strategies, to the detriment of his more positive approaches.

Right now, the school is approaching chaos, with classes being dismissed for rallies and rap-group celebrations.

More important, other principals in the city are beginning to pick up on Mr. Clark’s style, and student dismissals may escalate.

While the media and Secretary of Education William J. Bennett heap praise on Mr. Clark’s tactics, the parents I teach each week are deeply concerned for their children.

Of the 300 students whom Mr. Clark dismissed when he took over at Eastside, most have become involved with the criminal- justice system. By virtue of being kicked out of school, nearly all are condemned to spend most of their lives unemployed.

It is this pain, this terrible ache of deprivation, that is forgotten amidst the hoopla.

We should put Mr. Clark and the Paterson Board of Education in a ring together, call in Mr. Bennett to referee and the press to report, and turn the school over to the quiet, persistent problem-solvers who, like Mr. McKenna, never, for any reason, give up on their students.

Marshall Kaminsky Board of Trustees Reading Reform Foundation Tacoma, Wash.

Your article “Drop in Scores on Reading Test Baffles Experts” (Jan. 20, 1988) is more humorous than anything found in Mad magazine.

Frantically searching for a reason for the dismal scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s 1986 reading test, the “experts” suggest that something must be wrong with the test.

Their thinking shows a “kill the messenger” mentality.

I have a theory that proposes a solution to their problem. It is a novel approach.

Maybe, just maybe, the test results are accurate. Maybe our kids really can’t read worth five cents.

Perhaps Chester E. Finn Jr., the Education Department’s assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, should start considering such “maybe’s.”

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