Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

March 07, 1990 5 min read

The letter from Julie A. Binsfeld of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (“Chapter 1 Ruling Means ‘Sacrificing Young Minds,”’ Feb. 7, 1990) contains so many inaccuracies and smears about Americans United for Separation of Church and State that it is difficult to know where to begin responding.

For starters, any allegation that Americans United is opposed to religious liberty is as absurd as it is offensive.

We oppose public funding of church-related schools precisely because such a policy ensures religious freedom.

The parochial-school funding schemes promoted by groups like the Catholic League are unconstitutional and unjust.

It is wrong to take tax dollars collected from Americans of varying religious viewpoints and turn them over to a church for the promotion of a sectarian view.

No one should be forced to fund religion.

Neither Americans United nor the courts have said that public funds cannot be used to offer remedial education for eligible parochial-school students.

There are several ways to provide these services constitutionally. But despite clear-cut rulings by the Supreme Court, federal education officials have persisted in using the money in blatantly unconstitutional and inefficient ways.

The end result of this unwise policy is a situation such as the one we found in Missouri, where some private-school students received seven times as much Chapter 1 money per capita as their public-school counterparts.

While such an unfair use of scarce tax dollars may make sense to the Catholic League--and former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who helped create this scandal--any sane taxpayer would reject it outright.

The federal court in Missouri has simply said that private schools cannot receive Chapter 1 funds at the expense of public schools and that the money must be spent in ways that do not entangle church and state.

Only the Catholic League and its misguided allies could find that decision distressing.

Robert L. Maddox Americans United for Separation of Church and State Silver Spring, Md.

I read Francis Laufenberg’s letter (“Account of Science Framework Censured,” Feb. 7, 1990) with interest.

Mr. Laufenberg says that Kevin Padian erred in asserting that “a theory is also a fact.”

“To say that a theory is also a fact,” Mr. Laufenberg continues, “is simply poor writing--a contradiction in terms.”

Yet, in the passages that Mr. Laufenberg ordered deleted from the framework, it was pointed out that “science often uses the same word, such as ‘gravitation,’ to describe a concept that is both a fact and a theory.”

And in a letter to Mr. Laufenberg dated Dec. 21, 1989, the Nobel Laureate J. Michael Bishop wrote: “Properly used, the term ‘evolution’ describes the genesis of diverse species from a common origin. Evolution in this sense is reality, a ‘fact,’ if you like. The description is challenged only by those individuals who identify themselves with ‘creation science.”’

“By contrast,” Mr. Bishop wrote, “the ‘theory of evolution’ concerns the issue of how evolution proceeds. About these issues, there is much debate. But this debate does not bear on the reality of evolution, only on the details of how it occurs.”

According to Mr. Laufenberg, the framework uses “the dogmatic language of the advocate” to present evolution, but he cites no examples.

Another “error,” he says, was quoting the 1987 Supreme Court decision on creationism “out of context in order to frighten teachers.”

But it is creationists, not scientists, who attempt to frighten teachers. The Creation Creed Committee threatened to pressure for “the loss of teaching credentials” for those who failed to comply with its demands.

Mr. Laufenberg writes that the framework “expressed hostility toward people with a religious point of view by quoting out of context the report of the National Academy of Sciences.”

The quoted passage expresses no such hostility. It says that teaching “creation science” would be “contrary to the nation’s need for a scientifically literate citizenry.”

Mr. Laufenberg suggests that Mr. Padian in his Commentary made statements about the California Board of Education that border on libel.

But public bodies are inherently subject to criticism.

Mr. Laufenberg nowhere admits that teaching creationism in science classes has an explicitly religious purpose and in this respect is not science.

Nor does he note the continuous assaults from creationists on the framework dating back to 1925.

Does he favor creationism?

Thomas H. Jukes Department of Biophysics University of California at Berkeley Berkeley, Calif.

Chester E. Finn Jr. says we need more data on education (“The Need for Better Data on Education,” Commentary, Feb. 7, 1990).

Why? We already have scads of data that have been totally ignored.

For example, we know that:

Ninety-five percent of the public is scientifically illiterate.

Fifty percent of high-school students take no science after 10th grade, and 80 percent take no science after 11th grade. Our best science students score 14th in the world.

Foreign students study five years of physics, while fewer than one-fifth of ours take one year.

Half of all newly hired science teachers are not qualified. A large fraction of our most highly qualified science teachers will retire within five years.

The United States ranks between 9th and 14th in support of elementary and secondary education.

And what is being done about these problems, which have been documented time and again?

Nothing of consequence. We get plenty of hot air from the “education President” and from the governors he called together.

We get more hot air from state capitals, along with bungling bureaucratic “reforms,” such as Ohio’s recent Omnibus Education Reform Act.

We see no recognition--let alone solution--of any of the real problems schools face.

Instead, we see more overpaid bureaucrats who teach nothing but interfere constantly with those of us who do.

It is hard to believe that more data gathering by the federal government will do anything but make good jobs for bureaucrats like Mr. Finn.

John E. Beach Fairless High School Navarre, Ohio

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor