Education Letter to the Editor


February 01, 1996 9 min read

Teacher Tenure

The two young teachers you profile in your cover story “Tenure on Trial’’ [January] need to feel that the work they are doing will help them foster stable and meaningful careers in education. I am certain that they do not care as much about tenure as they do about being valued, rewarded, and offered a place to grow in the field. Tenure seems to be the only way that one can attain those intangibles.

Your article reinforced to me that if education is to attract talented people, then leaders must become committed to fostering growth and development for those who deserve it. Tenure may not be the best solution, but it cannot be dismissed as a crutch for teachers if it is not replaced with a process that rewards those who are deserving.

Michael Barrett
Cleveland, Ohio

“Tenure on Trial’’ is a telling article. To single out two bright, enthused, competent teachers as trial balloons in an attempt to dump tenure is education Dark-Ages style. And, unfortunately, it reflects a general attitude toward the hard and important work so many of us have committed our careers to; Patchogue-Medford, N.Y., has no corner on the narrow-view-of-teachers market.

And who is Lewis Grumet of the New York State School Boards Association, and where does he get his information? To say that teachers “work five or six hours a day’’ is naive. Why doesn’t he at least make a token effort to learn what kind of time teaching demands?

We who work at teaching, far beyond “five or six hours a day,’' who take our classroom responsibilities seriously, can count ourselves fortunate that Denise McAdams and Dawn Conetta are still teaching. To them I say, “Keep at it.’' And to Lewis Grumet and the members of the board of education of the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District I say, remember the bumper sticker that says, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’'

Ben Eastman
Denver, Colo.

I was shocked at the ignorance expressed by New York State School Boards Association executive director Lewis Grumet in the article “Tenure on Trial.’' Regardless of the arguments pro or con in the matter of tenure, is it possible that Grumet actually believes that teachers in New York work “five or six hours a day, 10 months a year’’?

Grumet, I suggest you get out in the field a bit more often. I, for one, am at work by 8 a.m. and frequently work until five or six in the evening. Judging by what I see around me, I am no exception to the rule. The contractual day for many teachers in our area is a seven-hour day, which is similar to many non-teaching professions once the lunch hour is factored in.

This, however, is the minimum number of hours that teachers put in. What is often not realized is the time teachers spend working on extra committees that meet before or after school. And the time teachers put into planning, gathering, and preparing materials, meeting with parents, and making their classrooms inviting for children--much of this done before children arrive or after they have left for the day. Those in positions of influence in the educational arena should recognize that the vast majority of teachers put in much more than “five or six hours a day’’ and are truly interested in doing the best they can for the children they teach.

Karen Vecellio
Kinderhook, N.Y.

Math And Physics

I had a great laugh reading the article “Brainstorming,’' by David Ruenzel, in the January issue. I thought how inventive and how arrogant math teachers are. The Interactive Mathematics Program is nothing more than a class in physical science or physics. I have found that math teachers cannot see beyond their own field. If you do not believe me, just try to get the math department in a school to cooperate with the physics department. When I taught physics (I also taught algebra and geometry at a previous school), I had to spend the first two to three weeks teaching my students trigonometry before I could start teaching physics.

Charles Longwell
Bertram, Texas

Question Of Rape

What teacher would not immediately call the police to prevent a 13-year-old student from speeding the wrong way down a highway in a car illegally given to her by a 20-year-old? Society acknowledges that young teen-agers do not have the wisdom or skills to be involved in such adult activities. So we make laws to protect our young from self-destructive behaviors that will not only maim or kill our children but also harm others caught in their wayward path.

Therefore, the most disturbing aspect of Eileen Kalinowski’s commentary, “What’s the Hurry?’' [January] is the nonchalant way she seems to brush off middle school student “Jonetta’’ who “knows she probably shouldn’t be having sex with her 20-year-old boyfriend.’' Jonetta is probably no more than 13 and is legally considered a minor in every state. She apparently has admitted to her teacher that she is sexually involved with a man over the age of 18. Disturbed by these facts, I called an attorney who encouraged me to communicate to all Teacher readers the legal ramifications involved in this scenario.

Every state in the country has a Statutory Rape Law, though the age of the minor child varies. Sexual intercourse with a child under 18 is a criminal offense in Massachusetts, punishable by the maximum term of life imprisonment. Furthermore, teachers and other “mandated reporters’’ who merely suspect abuse or any crime against a child are required to report it to authorities, according to the Reporting Law. In fact, all 50 states have almost exact duplicates of this law. Failure to do so makes a “mandated reporter’’ a co-conspirator in the crime of statutory rape, just as surely as one would be guilty of not reporting the vehicular violations in the episode that opened this letter.

Unfortunately, Jonetta is only one of thousands of young girls who are being exploited by men in their 20s and 30s. According to the research published in the U.S. News & World Report article “Sins of the Fathers,’' our country is facing a phenomenal new crisis with underage girls being victimized by increasing numbers of irresponsible, predatory men. How many teachers who give underage minors like Jonetta a condom fail to recognize that they are unwittingly accomplices to child abuse and statutory rape?

Bonnie Wilder
Chelmsford, Mass.

Honor And Glory

As I read “Honor Without Glory’’ [January], tears began to roll. Kathleen Reeves has discovered through national certification what I had come to realize in my teaching career: “A man is without honor in his own country.’'

Almost 50 years ago, after I won first place in a district number-sense contest in Texas, I began using my spare time and money to write a collection of math shortcuts that all students entering the number-sense contest could use. Since then, copies of my booklet have been mailed overseas, to other states, and to many schools throughout Texas. But not once have I received a handshake, a smile, or any recognition for that accomplishment from my own local school establishment. Letters do come in from teachers and students elsewhere, though, thanking me for the help the booklet has been.

I would like to tell Kathleen that the glory is not always shared locally for reasons the article by Ann Bradley discusses, but the honor is there and the end results do continue to help students and teachers.

Frances Walzel
Cameron, Texas

Blatant Bigotry

In your article on the problems surrounding JROTC [“A Tougher Mission for JROTC,’' January], you made no mention of the fact that openly lesbian or gay students are prevented from participating in these programs. Because of unreasoned discrimination, these students are deprived of training, economic benefits, and related advantages granted to their peers. If any government agency had an announced policy of exclusion because of religious, racial, gender, or ethnic identification, your article would not have ignored such bigotry.

When 10 percent of all students can be excluded from any tax-funded program, that program should not be allowed in the schools of this nation. It is every educator’s job to protect all students, not just those who compose the majority.

Ronald Madson
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Voices Of Nonwhites

Concerning the article on the struggle conducted by a coalition of Latino, African-American, Asian, Arab, Native American, and parent organizations against the adoption and purchase of the Houghton Mifflin social studies textbook in California [“Rewriting History,’' November/December]:

1. The author, Todd Gitlin, contends that this was a struggle about “purifying textbooks.’' He is wrong. This was a struggle about whether to spend millions of dollars of public money--under the control of a district that serves 93 percent children of color--to purchase textbooks that exclude the voices of people of color and continue such insults as the assertion that “Columbus discovered America.’'

2. The seven-member Oakland School Board that voted against the textbooks had only one white member. She is the only board member quoted extensively by Gitlin in his article on this event. One wonders why he considered the views of the four African Americans and two Asians on the Oakland board to be insignificant.

3. Gitlin contends that this was a struggle where all sides were “on the left.’' Gary Nash, the Houghton Mifflin author had been, Gitlin tells us, the chair of the Angela Davis committee. But this was not a struggle against Nash. It was a struggle against the state education bureaucracy that had decided to allow school districts only one option in their choice of social studies textbooks and then to select a book that dozens of organizations, representing every nonwhite ethnic community in California, considered racist. Nash had several choices. He could have admitted the fault of himself and publishers in believing that a core of white academic authors could truly represent the voices of all of California’s citizens. He could have helped the protesters campaign for changes. He did neither. He traveled around the state defending books on behalf of the publishers. He needed to get out his old Angela Davis leaflets and sing himself a verse of “Which side are you on?’'

4. Gitlin implies that the struggle was somehow divisive. In fact, it was very unifying. It was one issue on which African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and many whites came together.

5. This struggle’s greatest victory has been the fact that it is now possible to find books for schoolchildren that truly represent the “voices’’ of nonwhites. In the wake of this struggle, there have been a number of anthologies published that excerpt the autobiographies, essays, and histories of Chicano farm workers, Vietnamese immigrants, and African-American workers.

6. Gitlin displays a peculiar disinterest in either the factual or political background to the events about which he is writing. For example, the state of California considered three other texts that achieved far higher ratings for “cultural sensitivity’’ from the teacher panels that reviewed them. Yet the state decided to allow districts no choice but Houghton Mifflin. A far more readable and fair presentation of the Houghton Mifflin controversy is contained in The Great Speckled Bird, a book co-written by Dexter Waugh, a newspaper reporter who covered the Houghton Mifflin controversy as it unfolded.

We will not progress in American education as long as white intellectuals think their voices, whether left or right, are the only voices that count.

Kitty Kelly Epstein
Education Professor
Holy Names College
Oakland, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1996 edition of Teacher as Letters