Education Letter to the Editor


November 01, 1991 7 min read

Donna Verna
Eagleville, Pa.

Your September cover story was a worthy exposure of the issues facing not only Catholic schools but also many other non-government schools that struggle for survival while contributing so much to the common good. Thanks go to our Catholic friends for their inspirational dedication. Unfortunately, tuition continues to be a burden for families who want to attend such schools.

Ron Polinder
Lynden Christian School
Lynden, Wash.

A school or classroom is like a Rorschach test. Different people look at it and see different things. It should come as no surprise that a RAND study quoted in your article on Catholic schools finds that traditional public schools “are so encrusted with rules and procedures that no one in them can work to his or her full potential.’' Somehow the folks at RAND appear to know when a kid is working to his or her “full potential.’' A school is as good as the kids who go there; change the demographics and the quality of the school will change. It is likely that most of the people who did the RAND study went to traditional public schools. If they got a good education, it might have something to do with what they and their families brought to the school, as much as what the school gave them.

Charles Breinin
Bennett High School
Buffalo, N.Y.

I was disappointed in your article on Catholic schools. The students at the school you profiled do very well in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances. I’m sure lives have been changed for the better because of the school, but it is misleading to compare test scores of students at that school with those of students in the local public schools. A school whose students all come from households that deliberately choose St. Bonaventura and pay $800 for their children to go there is different from a public school, which must accept everyone. I also wonder if the low per-pupil cost you cite for Catholic schools takes into account services provided using public money--school nurses, speech pathologists, tutoring, special instruction, and transportation.

Elizabeth Myers
West Henrietta, N.Y.

Your article neglected to mention that the Catholic bishops in Pennsylvania are pushing for a voucher plan for tax aid to non-public schools. The plan to provide $900 vouchers each year to a statewide non-public enrollment of 364,000 students would cost Pennsylvania taxpayers $327 million per year for openers. Furthermore, if the underpaid teachers at St. Bonaventura are as good as your article implies, why don’t they put their talents to work in the city’s public schools? Finally, political pressure for school improvements and more adequate funding would surely be increased if a larger percentage of a state’s children attended public schools.

Edd Doerr
Executive Director
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.

Whole Language Debate

The whole language movement is fueled by the inadequacy of most of the basal texts currently churned out by the top publishing houses. But whole language teachers do not hold a patent on such activities as “kidwatching,’' reading aloud, maintaining an in-class library for free reading, and doing a lot of writing. I do all of these activities with my mixedability 1st graders. I teach reading using a highly structured phonicsbased approach that has been validated by research going back to the 1960s. Whole language as outlined in your article [“Special Report: Whole Language,’' August] is more like “hole’’ language. It is nebulously defined; the vague references to its efficacy are not supported citing research. “Gee whiz’’ anecdotes are carrying this grassroots movement along. If you were seriously ill, would you consider a treatment your doctor could not fully explain and had no research to support? Why then are we willing to experiment with our children’s schooling? It’s time to stop following the latest fad and to start looking at what works according to research.

Janet Fender
Pleasantville Elementary School
New Castle, Del.

Teacher Magazine has provided me with a professional magazine that meets my needs. But your lengthy whole language section left me dazed and confused. Whole language advocates would like to reduce the use of boring phonics work and emphasize understanding words in larger context. They want to eliminate basal readers and allow extensive writing experimentation. So far so good. But as I read on, whole language seemed to mean “classroom style,’' “methodology,’' and even “teacher empowerment.’' I think balance is needed. I use some whole language methods, but why can’t we teach important decoding tools like phonics and syllabication? We also need to balance cre- ativity and correctness in student writing. While I agree that the constant wielding of the red pen can lead to students’ dislike of written work, I also believe English teachers have a great responsibility to help students refine their writing skills and respect the beauty of their native language.

S.S. Sivret
English teacher
Claremont Middle School
Claremont, N.H.

Your treatment of whole language education was excellent. However, are you aware of the Special Purpose Schools network for at-risk children that has been utilizing much of the whole language approach for years? In working with rebellious and depressed children, these schools discovered years ago that to be successful the school must start where the children are and make sure what they are taught has meaning and relevance to their lives.

Lon Woodbury
Woodbury Reports on
Special Purpose Schools
Bonners Ferry, Idaho

Cutting Remarks

Despite what Marian Pancoast says [“Keep Dissection In Class,’' September], there are many documented cases proving that experimenting on animals is not only inhumane but also unnecessary. Unfortunately, most of the people in this country are not about to become vegetarians, but we can try to teach our children kindness to animals and eliminate useless dissection and experimentation. Animal rights supporters are not extremists. In our world of wars and violence, there is a great lesson to be learned about respecting all living things and treating them fairly.

Carla Mail
Special education teacher
Monmouth Junction, N.J.

Not Foreigners

As a Chinese-American graduate student in elementary education, I was distressed by your article on a Japanese-language immersion program [“Off To An Early Start,’' September]. I was particularly bothered when the article said: “The teacher is very careful to speak only in Japanese. As a result, most of the students do not know that she is bilingual.’' As a strong believer in multicultural education, I would hope that the students did know that the teacher was bilingual. My fear is that if the students see the Japanese-American teacher only speaking Japanese, they will get the mistaken notion that all Japanese people are exotic foreigners. This seems to already be happening in the class; the students were shocked when Sumiko Limbocker spoke English. One of the goals of multicultural education is to dispel the myths that exist about non-European cultures. I’ve had many children respond to me as an Asian by bowing, doing karate, or asking me if I eat with chop sticks. One student even asked me how I could see out of those slits in front of my eyes! I feel that these children should be able to realize that I am an American just like they are. I do not disagree with the early teaching of foreign languages, but lessons should include learning about the culture studied. Students should also study their own cultures and all the other cultures that make up the United States. They will then find out that many “foreigners’’ are not at all foreign and live right down the street.

Curtis Lum
Keene, N.H.

Teacher vs. Administrator

LeRoy Hay’s piece [“From Teacher To Administrator,’' May/June] saddened me because his words were a damning commentary on the state of educational reform. Hay says that as a teacher he was “limited’’ in making change and that he could be more effective as an administrator. Isn’t it a pity that an excellent teacher must leave the classroom in order to impact educational change in a meaningful way? I’m sure Hay is a fine administrator. But wouldn’t it be better if he could interact directly with kids in a way that only a teacher can and still be able to shape the forces of change? I feel that until teachers nationwide are able to control their profession, educational reform in the United States will continue to flounder.

James Carpenter
Vestal, N.Y.

Teacher Magazine welcomes letters. They must include your address and daytime phone number and may be edited for length and clarity. Mail them to: “Letters,’' Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008.

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Letters