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Education Commentary


January 01, 1992 17 min read

Fight Censorship

Your article on student freedom of expression [“The Big Chill,” November/December] does a great job in its focus on the student press, but it’s important to note that all school functions that deal with expression are at risk of narrow-minded censorship. Books read in English classes, drama productions, and speech contest topics are just as susceptible to censorship as student publications. Too often, we focus on each of these separately and only when problems occur.

These attempts strike at the heart of what we do best in education: teach students how to interpret information and to express their views intelligently and responsibly. Through this comes the ability to use higher-level thinking skills, something educational reformers all over the country say is lacking in students today. However, few people understand this concept, opting for the simplistic view that if administrators are ultimately responsible for everything in schools, they should be responsible not just for seeing that students are taught to think but also for determining, directly or indirectly, what students think.

Censorship problems will continue to exist and grow if we, as educators, wait for problems to occur and react only when they directly affect our subject areas. Educators’ associations must coalesce and develop a united plan to teach the education community at large, parent groups, and community organizations that we care about students expressing their views in a responsible way and that the best approach to accomplish that is through a free and open classroom environment.

Andy Drewlinger
Texas Association of Journalism Educators
Austin, Texas

A True Account

The article on substitute teachers [“A New Face Every Day,” November/December] is long overdue. This is an accurate and true account of what I face every day as a per-diem substitute. The public needed this awareness because, in the long run, everyone suffers.

Dorothy Crowder
Philadelphia, Pa.

Although Elizabeth Schulz did a fine job in detailing the problems urban school districts have with substitutes, her article neglected to deal with the root of the problem—namely, why urban teachers are absent so often.

The fact is that many students in impoverished districts are failing and their teachers feel frustrated. The teachers exhibit high rates of absenteeism as a form of withdrawal. How often can teachers come to work each day in the failure mode? This reflects the need for restructuring the way in which these schools are organized and instruction is delivered. Traditional methods have not worked. Changes must be made so that both teachers and students can feel successful in their work.

Evan Pitkoff
New Britain High School
New Britain, Conn.

A Last Resort

The diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit disorder has become a source of great frustration for me as a 6th grade teacher. Thankfully, your article [“Teaching A Moving Target,” October] addresses many of the issues that make ADD so confusing. My own experience with the professionals and parents involved in diagnosing ADD in children alarms me. There seems to be a “bandwagon mentality.” I have had parents obtain a diagnosis of ADD from local psychologists without any school-related evidence or followup. I have had parents allow their children to use ADD as an excuse for not doing required work, even when modifications were available. I have found myself pressured to agree to a diagnosis of ADD for children whose distractibility could just as easily have been attributed to worry about an alcoholic father, in one case, and a sister undergoing brain surgery in another. Perhaps most frightening of all, I have been told by a school psychologist that the only real way to find out if a child has ADD is to put him on medication; if it works, the diagnosis is correct.

There is no question that medication and/or a consistent behavior management plan have been invaluable for children who truly have ADD. For many, these things have been too long in coming. But I cannot support the blind leap that many people take when automatically interpreting a child’s behavior as ADD. Attention deficit disorder should be a diagnosis of last resort.

Patricia Roach
Flagstaff, Ariz.

On behalf of parents whose children have ADD and the educators who teach them, I would like to thank you for Jeff Meade’s article. We have had many calls that this offering generated.

Meade alluded to a possible clarification in legal status of children with ADD. I would like to add an extra note as follow-up. As a result of more than 2,500 letters the U.S. Department of Education received in response to a congressionally mandated Notice of Inquiry about ADD, the department concluded that “there is confusion in the field”’ over when and whether children with ADD qualify for special education and related services. On Sept. 16, 1991, the department issued a Policy Memorandum, signed by three assistant secretaries, expressly recognizing children with ADD as eligible for special education and related services under federal law. The policy makes clear that children with ADD qualify for such services solely on the basis of ADD, when ADD itself impairs educational performance or learning under both Public Law 94-142, Individuals with Disabilities Act, Part B and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. We are quite pleased with this announcement.

As an aside, we have just returned from our third annual conference in Washington, D.C., entitled “ADD: Understanding Through Education,” where we were joined by 1,500 parents, educators, and health-care professionals from across the country and internationally. The esprit de corps was phenomenal. Teachers, in particular, were hungry for information, and several sessions were devoted entirely to their needs.

Sandra Thomas
Children With Attention Deficit Disorders

Inaccurate Picture

In “Why I Teach Public School” [October], John Zilboorg discussed the great challenges facing public school teachers in relation to the ease of private school teaching. As a graduate of a private school system and a college student pursuing a high school teaching career, I disagree with this article for several reasons. By only emphasizing the extremes of education, Zilboorg not only made hasty generalizations about both private and public school situations but also presented an unfair view of the devotion of private school teachers.

First of all, there is no reason to believe that all public schools are in old, rundown buildings nor that every private school is plush and elaborately decorated. Certainly, the Ivy League institution described by Zilboorg with “a fountain in the middle of the polished slate floor” is hardly representative of all private schools.

Not only are the structures of many public and private schools more similar than presented but also the circumstances of the students attending each type of school are often more alike. The stereotype of a wealthy, wellgroomed, and intelligent private school student does not always apply. And studious, wealthy students often attend public schools.

Finally, the concept that teaching public school involves more devotion than teaching private school is totally invalid. According to the book Foundations of American Education, the teacherpupil ratios in private and public schools are about the same. In general, teachers have to put up with kids of every temperament and learning ability, but private school teachers often tackle this job supported by less money than public school educators. Therefore, to consider private school teaching an easy alternative is illogical.

Although Zilboorg pointed out that it is the social obligation of both public and private school teachers to educate, he failed to create an accurate picture of each type of school situation. Granted, America does have tough public city schools, as well as elite, private schools. However, because this article only highlighted these extremes, the wide educational span in the middle was ignored.

Jacque Branson
Ooltewah, Tenn.

Not A Gag Order

I am writing to comment on “The Perils Of Free Speech: The NEA condemns censorship—then bans the Boy Scouts” [October]. You confuse the National Education Association’s decision not to endorse an openly bigoted organization like the Boy Scouts by denying them booth space with an abridgement of First Amendment rights by the U.S. government. It would be naive to imagine that the NEA has no political agenda. And although they have no interest in propagating homophobia within the walls of their own convention, they have never attempted to gag the Scouts by government action. Would you harp on this alleged dichotomy if the Scouts prohibited blacks or Jews from joining, rather than homosexuals, and were thus denied access to the convention?

Eric Simonoff
Janklow & Nesbit Associates
New York, N.Y.

Savage Inequalities

I read the excerpt from Jonathan Kozol’s book Savage Inequalities [“Season Of Darkness,” October] with mixed feelings. Yes, it is sad and unfair that low-income districts have less than their fair share of money. As a faculty member in a low-income district, I have tried to make up for lack of funds by paying for certain items from my own pocket. Seeing things I paid for continually being vandalized or stolen, however, certainly does not encourage me to continue this practice.

“Why should urban students not have microscopes?” Kozol asks. Maybe because this delicate equipment would be broken in less than a week. Our school obtained a microwave oven for the home-economics room at the beginning of the school year; it was stolen less than two weeks later. No sooner had we gotten a new one from the insurance money than it was stolen, but this time the individuals doing the stealing also knocked out every window in the doors up and down the hall.

Until people learn to respect the rights and property of others, there is going to continue to be inequity among schools. Who wants to invest money for the benefit of thieves and vandals?

Name withheld upon request

Madeline Hunter

I have just finished reading your article on Madeline Hunter [“Madeline!,” October]. I am one of the teachers who has received training in the Hunter model, and I am one of the program’s adherents. I’m surprised at the amount of disapproval for her program included in the article.

I teach in Carlisle, Pa., where the majority of the teachers have had the opportunity to receive training in the Essential Elements of Instruction portion of Hunter’s program. It was offered to groups of teachers in five-day sessions either during the summer or during the school year. The school system was dedicated to the philosophy of the program; it was willing to pay teachers a workshop rate during the summer or supply substitutes if the session was taken during the academic year.

One aspect of the program that has literally revolutionized my teaching in the last four years (out of a total of 21) was in the area of active participation, which offers a variety of ways to help children stay on task. I latched onto the idea of using response boards (mini chalk or white boards) during my lessons. I cannot imagine ever teaching without these. One element of instruction is to monitor student progress. By requiring my class to write responses to my queries on their boards and then hold them up for me to see, I can note immediately if all, most, or only part of the class is understanding the lesson as it progresses. It has the added important benefit of keeping everyone on task because the students are continually being asked to think of a response to write down. This reduces behavior problems, as well, since everyone is constructively engaged in thinking and responding.

In closing, I would like to say that I think the Hunter model serves teachers well; it helps them analyze a lesson. I can’t imagine how it would stifle creativity as some critics contend. In my opinion, it serves as a framework for creative input.

Dee Hobrle
Carlisle, Pa.

Without a doubt, many readers were incensed at the thought of any self-professed teacher of teachers “crusading against the intuitive, spontaneous, improvisational approach to teaching . . .”

I have made a study of excellent teachers, and I can assure you that top-of-the-line educators teach intuitively—they have the know-how, the methods and techniques, in their little fingers. Intuitively, they give the perfect, esteem-building response to the shy child who risks a comment in a discussion—and gets it wrong. Intuitively, they know which three kids have mastered a concept and need appropriate extended assignments. Intuitively, they recognize an interpersonal learner who excels at group work and the child who needs private time and space to succeed.

What they don’t need is “educationalese”—fancy terms for what they are doing. With skill and intuition, all good teachers introduce a new topic by relating to the students’ experiences. And they snicker at the term “anticipatory set.” All good teachers demonstrate a new concept and provide for group practice before assigning independent work. And who hasn’t at one time or another used “thumbs up” or “quiet hands”?

I suggest that we teachers give ourselves credit for well-deserved excellence and stop giving exorbitant fees to someone who has made a lucrative business putting official-sounding titles to what we already do.

Barbara Reider
Brooks Elementary School
El Dorado Hills, Calif.

A Renaissance

May I congratulate you on the article “Keeping The Faith,” [September]. Overall, it is an evenhanded presentation of the status of Catholic education in the United States today. I was particularly pleased to note the emphasis you gave to the RAND study inasmuch as its results so effectively counter the frequent argument that the achievements of Catholic school students result from the fact that Catholic schools can be “choosy.”

The “shared vision” of students and teachers, as well as of most parents, has much to do with the strength and the viability of the Catholic schools. It is for that reason that the question asked on the title page—”How long can Catholic schools survive on a wing and a prayer?”—may well apply to St. Bonaventura School and to a number of others, but it does not describe the majority of Catholic schools, many of which are showing increased enrollment. Changing demographics mean that some schools must be closed, but others are opening, particularly in the Sun Belt, where there is a real renaissance.

I would hope that this account of St. Bonaventura, excellent as it is, might be followed by the story of a school which is alive, well, and even growing.

Ruth Matheny
Today’s Catholic Teacher
Dayton, Ohio

St. Bonaventura School opened this year with about the same enrollment as last year. The parents were pleased with Jeff Meade’s honest depiction of our school and the situation facing most Catholic inner-city elementary schools.

Yes, we do have a lot of positive messages around; here is one that Meade missed. If possible, I would like to share it with my fellow educators. Excellence can be attained if you: Care more than others think is wise.

  • Risk more than others think is safe.
  • Dream more than others think is practical.
  • Expect more than others think is possible.

Vada Wiggins
St. Bonaventura School
Philadelphia, Pa.

A Retaliation

Being a product of a Catholic School and having spent my entire 19 years in teaching at the same Catholic school, it was with a great deal of interest that I read the responses to “Keeping The Faith” [“Letters,” November/December]. Although I sensed a great deal of animosity throughout the letters, it is the ones written by Edd Doerr and Donna Verna that convinced me to write this “retaliation.”

In response to the article, Doerr questioned the ability of the Catholic school teachers when he wrote, “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?” I certainly hope that Doerr realizes how insensitive that statement sounds.

At Catholic schools today, we are being asked to instruct students that were at one time strictly the property of the public schools. We have children of broken homes, latchkey children, abused and molested children, as well as students whose parents are addicted to alcohol or drugs. For Doerr’s information, it is not our lack of ability that keeps us in these underpaid jobs, but rather the little extra ammunition we are allowed to take into the battle for these children’s lives. For you see, Catholic school teachers can deal with the problems of today’s youth by teaching a sound moral and spiritual value system. Our public school counterparts are not allowed this privilege.

As for Verna’s statement concerning “. . . .insensitive, unfeeling, power-hungry [suburban] administrators who are primarily concerned with receiving acclaim . . ..,” I am personally insulted. Being one of these suburban administrators, I must respond to this slanderous statement. The Catholic schools are not in the market of denigrating their public counterparts. We realize the handicaps the public schools are forced to deal with in their attempt at educating all children. Any Catholic school administrator worth his salt knows the advantages of having parental backing in the education of children and the tremendous success ratio with this support. Unfortunately, the task of keeping the schools monetarily solvent falls on the administrators, which often results in the necessity for a strong marketing blitz. If it is this marketing of successes that is construed as self-serving, then the problem is in the system and not in the character of the administrator.

I hold my colleagues in the public schools in the highest regard. It is time all teachers work together for the betterment of the students in this ever-changing and volatile world. The name calling and petty jealousies of these letter writers simply points out that we are a long way from the kind of partnership this country needs to help all children, regardless of race, creed, or financial worth.

Thomas Schwerdt
St. Joseph School
Redding, Calif.


I am shocked at the ads you carry in your classified section. I had thought Teacher Magazine was a professional magazine that tried to advance teaching. Enclosed you will find what I received when I wrote to one of your advertisers. If you look at the terms and cost, I am sure you would agree that this should be against the law.

I hope that from now on your magazine will check out these ads before you print them. I am sorry to say that if you support groups such as the AAA Teacher Agency, then I request a full refund of my subscription. I thought this to be a professional magazine, not an aid to companies who wish to rip off teachers!

Irene Turcins
Middle Grove, N.Y.

Editor’s Note: Periodicals do not “support” the companies that advertise in them nor are they responsible for verifying the sales claims of advertisers. Obviously, we would decline to accept an ad from a company that was clearly illegitimate. Nothing in your letter or in the material you forwarded to us suggests that the advertiser is doing anything illegal or dishonest. You wrote to find out whether this agency offers a job-placement service that would meet your needs. They sent you a letter, which they urged you to read carefully; you obviously did. It stated that they require a registration fee of $100 and 10 percent of your first year’s salary if you get a job through their efforts. Placement services customarily charge a percentage of the first year’s salary. They explained that the main purpose of the registration fee is to screen out “window shoppers.” And they enclosed an application form and a contract. It cost you a 29-cent stamp to learn about their service; it cost them a 29-cent stamp to try to sell you their service. You didn’t like what they were selling and decided not to buy. That’s the way a free market operates.

Whole Language

I keep coming back to the August issue of Teacher Magazine [“Special Report: Whole Language”]. The fact that Kenneth Goodman is one of the chief proponents of whole language is enough to make me question its validity as a teaching method. Looking to Goodman for leadership in the area of reading instruction is rather like consulting Saddam Hussein in the matter of rebuilding Kuwait.

Before Goodman was into whole language, he was into “whole word.” It was Goodman who admonished teachers not to correct a child who looked at the word PONY and said HORSE because, after all, the meaning was essentially the same.

Goodman has done more than his share to mystify, sentimentalize, and cripple the teaching of reading in this country. If he is pushing the whole language approach, we had all better take a long hard look at it. Daniel Gursky’s article reads more like International Reading Association propaganda than unbiased Teacher Magazine reporting. I urge you to research this matter further.

Peggy Maddox
Hot Springs, Ark.

Back Issues

There are a “million and one” magazines devoted to cutesy ideas for teachers, so I thank you for publishing a magazine on current issues and trends in education. However, I am disappointed in my quest to catch up on issues of Teacher that I missed. After visits to libraries in my area, I was dismayed to find that none of them subscribe to Teacher. Are back issues available? How can I get them, and what is the price?

Rita Knisely
Beloit, Wisc.

A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Letters