Education Opinion


March 01, 1992 10 min read

Don’t Hark Back

Don’t Hark Back Edward Rauchut recalls with regret “the independent child reading a book, a child free from . . . the latest stream of intellectually vacuous educational gadgets and fads’’ [``I Quit,’' February].

I, too, have such memories of classrooms whose only tools were books and blackboards. In those years of my recollection, I was the only student in my elementary school whose parents were divorced. My neighborhood had a church youth group for me to join and Camp Fire Girls. If you had asked me to name some drugs, I would have answered, “aspirin’’ and “cough syrup.’' I remember, too, a few of my classmates, clever and bright on the playground, who sometimes wept with frustration because they couldn’t make sense of words on a page or because writing was a ponderous labor, lagging miles behind their thoughts. If they dropped out of school--and many did--there were still jobs in such places as the town’s aluminum plant (closed now), where they could earn a decent wage and support a family. And computers? I may have heard of them then; I don’t remember. I used one for the first time in college, entering my data with batches of punched cards.

Now, I write this letter on my desktop computer, and I want to ask Rauchut: Should we design cars as we did ``back then,’' leaded gas gulpers without seat belts? With big fins, perhaps? Likewise, should we educate our children ``the old-fashioned way,’' regardless of new knowledge about the process of learning, and despite a changed world?

Rauchut suggests that learning disabilities are merely ``labels’’ fabricated by the educational system, not real experiences suffered by real children. Such a claim is insupportable in the face of reams of well-documented research to the contrary. It also implies that there has been nothing new to discover about the brain or human learning since the time of John Dewey.

Rauchut calls drug- and sexeducation programs ``bogus.’' On what does he base this judgment? Has he read the studies showing that students who have had such classes wait longer to become sexually active than their cohorts who have not? Has he read of the decreasing use among our students of all drugs except alcohol?

Rauchut says that ``good teachers work to produce students who no longer need them to carry on the business of their own education. Good teaching, in short, largely entails getting out of people’s way.’' Peer coaching and cooperative learning, well-used, do just that. But he dismisses these and a host of other effective teaching methods out of hand. Did Rauchut trouble himself to make a study of those ``gadgets and fads’’ that might have been pertinent to his discipline? Or does he believe there can be nothing new to learn about teaching, either, once one has one’s certificate?

Rauchut calls the current educational system ``anti-intellectual.’' Indeed, sometimes it is. But teaching students to use computers is not anti-intellectual. Attempts to improve the way we teach all children is not anti-intellectual. Some of these attempts do not prove fruitful, but that is the nature of the use of intellect: It proceeds by experiment, failure, revision, and new experimentation. Many schools do fall cruelly short of educating our children. The reasons for this are myriad. We will not cure this ill, however, by harking back to halcyon days when the world was a different place and when we knew less than we do now about how humans learn. That would be anti-intellectual.

Melinda Mueller
Seattle, Wash.

Whole Language

I just finished reading the letters in your February issue. One dealt with whole language [``Special Report,’' August]. After reading it, I felt compelled to respond, especially since I am a whole language proponent. I want to examine the claim, noted in the letter, that ``children who are immersed in whole language programs are showing disastrously low scores on standardized tests in the areas of capitalization, punctuation, and usage. Obviously, they have never been taught the basics.’'

I think one problem is assessment. Generally, the items on a language section of standardized tests are not in concert with the whole language philosophy. The whole language philosophy requires us to assess language use in a meaningful context as opposed to standardized tests that tend to assess children’s language skills in a discrete, trivial, and contrived manner.

Whole language proponents believe it is through risk-taking in writing that children really learn to punctuate and approximate adult grammar. I do not believe that standardized tests respect risk-taking or reflect current theories of learning.

Roosevelt Farmer
Curriculum Specialist
North Carolina Department of Human Resources
Raleigh, N.C.


I am writing in response to Katherine McAndrews-Grogan’s letter about how districts could improve substitute teaching [``Letters,’' February].

A substitute-orientation session might be of value if you can get the substitutes to attend, and if the administration has anything of value to present. Granted, subs should be notified of assignments as much in advance as possible. However, I have seen many instances when well-meaning subs come early, only to find that they have beaten the administrator and can’t get into the building, much less get into their room to preview the lesson plans. I have personally been called to sub when there were no lesson plans. This can be especially unsettling when you find you are not even familiar with the texts being used.

I have always tried to teach while subbing, much as I would if it were my own classroom; it is disheartening, then, to find substitutes viewed by students, fellow teachers, and even administrators as highly paid baby sitters. And baby-sitting is exactly what it amounts to in all too many instances.

Harold Dow
Retired Teacher
Outlook, Mont.

Teaching Columbus

As a charter subscriber to Teacher Magazine, I have been disappointed with the magazine’s frequent tendency toward leftist political rhetoric in the guise of educational dialogue. A recent case in point is the article concerning Columbus [``What Happened in 1492?,’' January]. From this title, one might expect a discussion relative to the historical realities of both sides of this question and their educational implications. Instead, one finds a typical one-sided, politically correct diatribe against the man ``responsible’’ for the ``genocide’’ of a people and the ``ecocide of the planet.’'

Particularly annoying is the placing of the word discovery in quotation marks throughout the article. According to one dictionary, discover means: ``to gain insight or knowledge of something previously unseen or unknown.’' There can be no denying that to the tens of millions of people dwelling in 15th century Europe, Columbus’ ``encounter’’ was indeed a discovery.

It is alarming that those entrusted with the education of our future generation of leaders cannot see the logical consequences of such ``teaching.’' Splintering our society into increasingly smaller groups of special interests and clans results in social strife, which is devastating to us individually and collectively.

John Wilson
Glen Burnie, Md.

Victim Of A `Hoax’

Instead of putting your article ``Where Have All The Jobs Gone?’' [January] in the ``Trends’’ section, you should have made it a feature, cover-story. There has been a shortage of teaching positions for much more than a year; haven’t you talked to any new teacher candidates lately?

I graduated in 1988 with a 3.59 average, cum laude English/Education degree and did not find my first position until 1990. Even after finding that position, I had to quit teaching to care for the special educational needs of my 4-year-old son since I was paid less than half of my wife’s yearly salary as a secretary. Do I think I am the holder of a useless degree, saddled with $10,000 in student loans, and the victim of a teacher shortage hoax? YOU’RE RIGHT!

How can Andrew Calkins of Recruiting New Teachers ask the best and the brightest students to get into a profession when they have little or no hope of finding a job? The idea of moving to where the jobs are is great, if the wages offered could support a family of three, or two, or even one.

I’ve heard all these excuses: The market’s tight; we’re in a recession; you have little or no experience. Let’s just tell the truth. There never was and never will be a teacher shortage. There are plenty of teachers.

Mark Trenier
Wauwatosa, Wis.

Factual Error

In the ``Current Events’’ section of your January issue, in an article on factual errors in new history textbooks, you make a factual error by stating: ``One history book indicates that the United States invaded Guatemala in 1954, when, in fact, it never did.’'

This is like saying a duck never invades water. As the authoritative text Bitter Fruit by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer reveals, the United States’ CIA indeed overthrew popularly elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman at the behest of the United Fruit Co., which feared the president might encourage peasant farms on UF’s vast unused lands. Ever since, Guatemala’s people have been slaughtered and terrorized by a series of U.S. trained and advised generals. Whole Indian cultures have been wiped out for cheap bananas and coffee.

My uncle has spent nearly half a century with Guatemala’s Indians, and I’ve lived and studied there.

Charles Scanlon
Simsbury, Conn.


A comment. Just to get a dialogue started. Reading through the articles in ``Profiles In Technology’’ [January], two thoughts and questions occur. Is it possible to deeply or comprehensively understand any body of content or set of skills that are learned through sound and sight and not also through interaction of the eye and brain with frozen ink, otherwise known as reading?

I agree that sound and sight can grab us, motivate us, etc. But does its physical nature permit us to deeply process information, freeze information, and then turn the information into some kind of behavior?

And what about the comment by the Denver AP Chemistry teacher regarding the need to constantly update equipment and meet soaring repair costs for the machines? Is he suggesting that print, because of its low cost and durability, is really democratic, while technology makes learners and learning captives of the technology, which is constantly changing and ever growing more costly as it offers more and more capacity, diversity, and applications?

Harry Stein
Ramapo Indian Hills Regional School District
Franklin Lakes, N.J.


Barbara Reider [``Letters,’' January] may have made a study of excellent teachers and found that they intuitively do that which Madeline Hunter receives ``exorbitant fees’’ to teach. But I am not so willing to applaud educators for relying on their intuition, because I, too, have studied teachers and found that their intuition does not always serve them well and, in fact, sometimes thwarts their purposes.

Just imagine if those same excellent teachers, as well as those not-so-excellent ones, made conscious decisions about their teaching instead of relying on hit-or-miss intuition.

Many of us who have been ``Hunterized’’ [``Madeline!,’' October] have gained affirmation that much of what we have always done has been right on the mark. But we have also realized that we could be so much better, so much more efficient, so much more objective as a result of making informed decisions about the content, desired student behaviors, and teacher behaviors.

I have an obligation to do the best that I possibly can to increase the likelihood that my students will learn. I have an obligation to prepare myself in a purposeful manner in addition to relying on my intuition, which, alone, may lack focus and direction. Just as I would not dream of teaching my students to respond ``intuitively’’ to Macbeth without teaching them how to discipline their responses, so I insist that we teachers train ourselves rigorously in order to promote student learning.

Lynn Skolnick
English Teacher
Staff Developer
Teacher Trainer
Monticello (N.Y.) Central School District


I feel that I must respond personally to that ``retaliation’’ letter in the January issue. It is unbelievable that a so-called ``professional’’ would resort to such an unfounded attack. I don’t mind a difference of opinion, but this reader misquoted, misinterpreted, and attributed things to me that I didn’t even discuss in my letter [November/December].

For the record, my only intention was to say that suburban Catholic schools may not always be problem-free. If those running them lack sensitivity and compassion, no one will benefit, even if the school is drug-free and financially secure. I did not label, nor did I intend to label, administrators in this way. I was stating a hypothetical situation. There is no reason why my letter should have been taken personally.

I resent the derogatory way my name was used in the man’s response. In the future, I hope that people use their intellect and think before they write.

Donna Verna
Eagleville, Pa.

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