Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

May 30, 1990 4 min read

To the Editor:

In his Commentary (“Toward a Vision of Students as ‘Citizens,”’ April 25, 1990), Joe Nathan writes about “David,” a student who transferred to Mr. Nathan’s alternative school after being suspended from a large, traditional high school.

I have several questions:

Was David taught how to use the system or how to be a good citizen?

Is David using the system today, or is he a good citizen?

Does David serve his community actively and responsibly?

It is no secret that, given academic settings where they can set their own rules and have activities they enjoy, more than 70 percent of the students will prefer these to traditional classes.

Mr. Nathan makes it sound as if schools should not require students to do anything as tough as removing their hats.

You don’t need a bunch of research to find out that more people are fired because they can’t get along with others than because they can’t do the job.

You can create a curriculum combining academics and service. Once you do, you should check the cost per student, and you must follow up--do these students make good citizens?

We are inclined to believe that good parents make good kids when, in reality, good kids make good parents.

Ken Wilbur Principal Pomeroy/Palmer School Pomeroy, Iowa

To the Editor:

I found Joe Nathan’s Commentary to be a valuable description of a needed but often missing ingredient in education.

I have also seen the harassed “Davids” of whom Mr. Nathan speaks.

Some of these young people have been the typical “troubled” kids from inner-city schools, while others, though troubled, were from more affluent, less stressful environments.

But despite divergent backgrounds, they had in common a resistance to, or even an open rebellion against, a form of education stressing memorization and non-participation over the ability to do things. The missing ingredient was involvement.

For over 10 years, I have been associated with a successful program requiring the participation of all students in projects of various kinds.

For example, a geometry course might have students build something that requires an understanding of angles; a course on the Constitution would have students research a current constitutional issue and perhaps write to a Congressman or to the local newspaper about their views; a chemistry course might ask them to test streams for pollutants from nearby timber mills.

An education that doesn’t connect learning to realistic needs will be stultifying to a child; it will appear useless and become frustrating.

A “spectator” education--reinforced by a television-and-Walkman lifestyle--produces couch-potato students who expect to be entertained by their teachers. If they find teacher or subject dull, they simply change the channel to something more entertaining.

This is easily done by dropping out or getting involved in the kinds of activities suggested by the term “troubled.”

Interest, motivation, and self-esteem are all enhanced by empowering children to help create their own education.

But doing so means a radical change in curriculum and teaching methodology: It means creating apprenticeships with local businesses; it means teaching our children that real joy in life comes from creating things.

Without such involvement, education is no better--and possibly worse--than watching TV.

Bruce Wiggins Director, Educational Consulting Delphian School Sheridan, Ore.

To the Editor:

Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos’ recent remarks to the effect that Latino parents deserve much of the blame for the high dropout rate of their children and that they no longer value education are just his most recent comments on this topic (“Outcry Follows Cavazos Comments on the Values of Hispanic Parents,” April 18, 1990).

How do scholars like Mr. Cavazos come to think that Latino culture and its people don’t value education? Do scientific data support them? Are there research studies that would challenge this way of thinking? Would it change their mind if there were?

The most recent empirical research about educational and occupational goals reveals that when parents and students of the same social class are compared, Latinos have higher aspirations than whites.

These and other data seem to suggest that Latino parents send their children to school with dreams that they will one day finish college and enter a high-status occupation.

Why haven’t these dreams been translated into higher attainment?

Are we starting from the correct assumption if we state that all students attend schools of equal quality? If schools are not equal, then should we focus on certain school characteristics and show how they affect the achievement of Latino students?

A focus on schools might allow researchers to analyze the relative impact on Latino students of segregated, overcrowded, and underfinanced schools; school-staffing, curriculum, and tracking patterns; and teacher expectations and interaction patterns.

We must challenge Mr. Cavazos and others to equalize educational opportunities and structures. If they don’t acknowledge and meet that challenge, the conclusion is inevitable that they, not Latino parents and students, are the ones who do not value education.

Daniel G. Solorzano Assistant Professor of Sociology California State University, Bakersfield Bakersfield, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 1990 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor