Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

February 02, 1994 8 min read

To the Editor:

John E. Wills’s essay, “What About the Others?’' (Commentary, Jan. 12, 1994), puts out in the open a host of lingering fallacies on the value of a college education: (1) a college education is a middle-class entitlement program; (2) there are plenty of good jobs for people without postsecondary degrees; and (3) by “college,’' we mean a four-year degree at the University of Southern California or some other similarly prestigious and pricey institution.

In 1950, when most Americans had little problem earning a living wage without a high school diploma, let alone a postsecondary degree, his views would have been relatively harmless, if still regressive. But in 1994, his suggested advice to young people is nothing short of a plane ticket to destitution.

Professor Wills writes, “If in our counseling programs we’re implying that college is a sure way to comfortable middle-class income we’re cruelly misleading our students.’'

No, I think that what we’re telling them is that a college education is a sure way out of poverty. During the 1980’s, real wages of college graduates increased modestly while wages for workers with just high school diplomas fell by 9 percent; for high school dropouts, real wages fell by 12 percent. Sure, there’s no guarantee of a middle-class income with a college degree, but there’s a virtual guarantee of not having that income without a degree.

Mr. Wills goes on: “Our country ... seems to have a better sense of how to encourage more young people to study engineering than of how to build solid apprenticeship programs.’'

He assumes that there is a significant number of jobs being created for graduates of apprenticeship programs. The New England Board of Higher Education estimated in 1991 that 20,000 new biomedical jobs would be created in metropolitan Boston by 1995, a sure sign of hope in a region battered by recession. The same study, however, estimated that 15,070 of those jobs would require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Meanwhile, only one in 15 graduates of the Boston public schools ever graduate from a four-year college. If Boston students heed Mr. Wills’s advice, they will be opting out of employment in one of the few growth industries in New England.

Finally, Mr. Wills seems to believe that by college we mean full-time study at a four-year institution. He writes that students might prefer to pursue “pieces of a college education in one way or another. Maybe for you it will be a course here and there at the community college at night.’' He assumes that students are not counseled to do this right now. According to the American Council on Education, 41 percent of all undergraduates nationwide are part-time students. There are as many students (27 percent) in the 25- to 35-year-old range as in the 18- to 24-year-old group among part-timers. Not surprisingly, 65 percent of all part-time students attend public two-year colleges. In other words, Mr. Wills’s “advice’’ merely reflects the status quo in American education and certainly does not, as he suggests, offer any vision for improving opportunity for “disadvantaged’’ students.

For better or worse, the workplace of the next century will require postsecondary study as a minimal prerequisite. Mr. Wills may scoff at those who “choose college just as a route to a better job,’' but the luxury of discovering “why learning is important to you and to your contribution to society’’ is lost on those who must worry first about feeding and sheltering their families today. His Commentary demonstrates complete lack of understanding of the lives of these “others’’ about whom he asks us to think.

Stephen M. Pratt
College/Community Partnership Program
Citizens’ Scholarship Foundation of America
New England Regional Office
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

As we celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday last month, I felt it was important to reflect on Dr. King’s views about education.

First, he suggested that high-quality educational programs promote effective thinking: “Education must train one for quick, resolute, and effective thinking,’' he said. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life be invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda. The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.’'

Second, Dr. King concluded that a high-quality education is values-oriented: “We must remember that intelligence is not enough,’' he warned. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.’'

Dr. King’s ideas should be reconsidered as educators search for solutions to the dropout problem and the decline in the quality of public education.

Reed Markham
California Polytechnic Institute, Pomona
Pomona, Calif.

To the Editor:

Schools need to take a stronger stand in educating their constituencies about the negative aspects of unrestricted television-watching. Last fall, our school introduced a new program called “TV Turn-Off.’' The idea was to ask our students and their families to pledge to set aside at least one day per week for the entire school year as a day in which no TV would be watched.

We viewed this as an important component of our parent-involvement program, the concept being that less television-watching would result in more interaction between parents and their children, more discussion and involvement by parents in the educational program. As educators, we felt that it would be irresponsible of us not to let parents know that unrestricted television-watching leads to an impoverished academic environment at home.

Frankly, the program had mixed results.

Approximately 85 families pledged a TV-less day each week. From an enrollment of over 500, that was less than dramatic participation. This year, though, we already have over 200 families signed up and we are beginning to feel much better about the impact the program might have on the education of our youngsters. We also know that time not watching television is time spent in more creative pursuits and, yes, even talking with parents and brothers and sisters. Many parents and students report multiple nights without TV.

A recent study by the Carnegie Commission on Young Adolescents looked at how young people spent their discretionary time after school. It found that 20.7 percent of that time was spent watching television, while only 5 percent was spent in academic pursuits. In its “Report to Parents,’' the National Association of Elementary School Principals said: “It’s hard to believe, but by the end of elementary school the average American child has watched 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television--including children’s programs.’' This certainly makes one wonder what types of behavior we want to reinforce at home.

A personal anecdote on a TV-less night at my house may underscore for your readers the value of this kind of undertaking. I was home with my 13-, 10-, and 6-year-old sons while my wife was attending a meeting at school. The three boys were eating dinner and I was puttering around the kitchen. Ordinarily, the television would have been on and we would have been watching the news. As with most people who engage in similar dinnertime habits, we would have had some conversation but it would have been unfocused and interrupted by the intrusion of the noise emanating from the box.

That night, though, my 13-year-old was discussing explorers, a subject he was studying in social studies, and was relating the exploits of Pizarro and Magellan to his two younger brothers. Since it also happened to be Columbus Day, he quizzed the other two about the discovery of America and was sure to correct them about the previous visits by the Vikings and the original Native Americans. My 6-year-old actually answered correctly--much to my delight and the astonishment of his brothers--that Columbus named these Native Americans Indians because he thought he was in the West Indies. My youngest son had just learned this information that very day in Mrs. Jones’s 1st-grade class.

After my kids got up from the table and their homework was finished, they disappeared into the other room to begin working on their Christmas wish-lists. What a great way to spend an evening!

The episode brought home to me that watching less TV improves the frequency and the quality of interaction between family members, as well as the use of creativity in the exploration of alternative forms of leisure activities. And, very important to the educational process, it provides an opportunity to apply skills learned at school.

We live in a television society, which has resulted in a vast majority of American households becoming places where people stare at an electronic box, have little meaningful communication with each other, and do little to extend their children’s learning beyond helping with homework. We can change all that by simply turning a switch.

Ted Haynie
Aappeal Elementary School
Huntington, Md.

To the Editor:

Regarding the article “A Trust Betrayed’’ (On Assignment, Nov. 17, 1993): I could not believe that you actually consider the sexual abuse of a child merely “potentially damaging ... psychologically.’'

The effects of sexual abuse are devastating, long-lasting, and extend to the entire physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the victim--for the rest of his or her life.

I would like to see as detailed and compassionate an article written from the victims’ point of view. After all, the safety and welfare of students is what your publication values above all else, isn’t it?

Emily Tufenkjian
Rowland Heights, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the February 02, 1994 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor