Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

November 20, 1991 5 min read

To the Editor:

I believe you did a real injustice to the teachers interviewed for your Oct. 9, 1991, article, “In School District in the Heartland, National Reforms Escape Notice.” One would read your article and think that nothing had changed in their classrooms.

The shame of it is that these are the very teachers who have been working so hard to truly restructure their classrooms, and are, in fact, leading the way in developing capable, competent “products” (that is, students) from our educational system. It was a slap in the face for them to be portrayed as out-of-touch country bumpkins.

The problem with President Bush’s education goals is that, at this point, they are little more than high-sounding political platitudes which do nothing to detail what educational reform is really all about. That is, changing classrooms and schools one at a time.

I can tell you that teachers in our districts are in fact working very hard to accomplish that goal.

Marceta A. Reilly
Assistant Superintendent
Seaman Unified School District
Topeka. Kan.

To the Editor:

I am outraged by the insensitivity of your choices of photographs accompanying the article “Why Are Children Turning to Guns?” (Nov. 6, 1991).

In my 30 years as an educator in three states, I have subscribed to and read many educational publications. Yours has always been one of the best--until now. Yours has always provided fair coverage of difficult educational issues, particularly those related to racism, until now.

Your choices of photographs--black males only--perpetuates the negative stereotypes about black males, already an embattled, endangered segment of our society. Your choices did not fairly illustrate facts that were buried in the story.

From the page 14 jump of your front-page story: “A 1990 Texas A&M study, in which 81.5 percent of the students were white, found that teenage boys in rural Texas schools were twice as likely as the national average to have carried a handgun to school at least once during the school year.”

“Similarly, a study of black and white suburban and rural teenagers conducted in 1987 and 1988 by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 48 percent of the boys owned guns; among white males, the figure rose to 56 percent.”

Is it possible that you were unaware of the impact of such visual images--images unfairly perpetuated by the mass media? Do you really believe that every one of your readers will continue to the bottom of page 14 and not stop with glancing at the headlines and the photographs? Do you have any idea of the extent of the damage that those photographs can and will do? Have you anticipated the effect on the hundreds and thousands of white teachers (over 90 percent of the teaching profession today) who are teaching young black boys?

What was your purpose? Was it to educate your reading audience--in which case you have failed? Was it to sensationalize a story--in which case you have succeeded? Was it to continue to give Americans the skewed perception that the only young people who are both a danger to and in danger from society are black--in which case you have certainly succeeded.

While the text of the article shows a clear understanding of the issues and presents the subject fairly, you seem to have forgotten the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Connie Matthews
Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs
Choate Rosemary Hall
Wallingford, Conn.

To the Editor:

I found it interesting that even though you had strong statistical data about white male youths’ access to and ownership of guns in the article “Why Are Children Turning to Guns,” you chose to show only pictures of black male youths in possession of or having been injured by a gun. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution as regards negative images of black youths, especially those in urban areas?

No wonder white folks cross the streets, lock their car doors, and take other defensive actions when they see African-American teenagers on the streets. Whether it is television, the daily newspaper, or trade journalism, the angry, unconscionable black male image is the one most frequently projected.

I beseech you to think twice the next time you use pictures of black male youths in contexts as you did in this article. Indeed, one can be part of the problem unknowingly. At least I hope that is the case in this instance.

Gwendolyn J. Cooke
Baltimore, Md.

To the Editor:

In your Letters section of Oct. 30, 1991, Joseph McMahon criticizes my Commentary offering a proposal for curbing the growing legalization of special education (“Making Due Process a ‘Do’ Process,” Sept. 18, 1991) for not mentioning mediation. His letter merits an explanation.

First, I mentioned mediation in the revised draft of my Commentary, but the brief endorsement was deleted due to space limitations. Unlike my proposal, mediation is already part of the process as a voluntary mechanism, encouraged in the comments of the federal regulations and reinforced by the procedures in several states. The reference to mediation in Pennsylvania’s new regulations did not add significantly to the state’s pre-existing practices.

Second, changing the status quo for mediation in a significant way would be to make mediation a mandatory rather than voluntary step, running the risk of further delaying a process that already takes too long. Mr. McMahon’s allusions to mediation typically taking one day and, as provided in Pennsylvania, not costing anything to parents and school districts are understatements; obviously, scheduling accounts typically for weeks before the session is held, and the costs are paid by the taxpayer from state or federal education-budget funds.

In short, mediation is a praiseworthy process, but its merits do not detract from those of the five parts of my proposal for significant change in the mandated form of special-education due process. Further, my proposal is not exhaustive or exclusive; I obviously welcome any steps that effectively redirect resources from our divisive process to our disabled pupils.

Perry A. Zirkel
Lehigh University
Bethlehem. Pa.

A version of this article appeared in the November 20, 1991 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor