Keep It Up
I read “Hands-On High” [February] about 17-year-old Youa Her, a Hmong girl in Clovis, California’s CART program, and I am impressed by her determination. She must not let her family drag her to a new place, where there may not be an opportunity like CART. She should stay in high school and go to college so she can help her own future family. Good luck to her and her education.
Rights And Wrong
I appreciated reading what students and teachers around the country are doing to ensure that all students feel safe [“Out At School,” January]. It is very important that gay kids’ voices are heard and that we, as educators, are aware of the harassment in school hallways of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. Keep up the good work of updating your readers on this important issue.
“Out At School” divides public attitudes toward alternative sexual orientations into black-and-white categories: Anyone who is not supportive must be an ignorant bigot. Several of the events hosted in support of gay rights appear broad-minded but actually show arrogance and intolerance of those whose dissimilar attitudes may be equally defensible both intellectually and socially. Many people who are appalled at name-calling, violence, and other acts of intolerance toward the gay and lesbian community still feel that alternative sexual orientations are not to be celebrated or portrayed as harmless. Homosexual behavior has multiple untoward consequences both for the individuals involved and for society as a whole. Not every legally and socially tolerable activity should be promoted in schools. Liquor consumption and tobacco use come quickly to mind, but there are numerous other examples, including some heterosexual behaviors.
By all means, let us teach tolerance and kindness toward all, but let us not tie such tolerance to social agendas that have no place in public schools.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Censorship is the forbidding of publication. In “The Book Police” [January], Howard Good uses the term to describe a lesser event, the attempted removal of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from a school’s required reading list, and obscures rather than illuminates the issue by creating a false equivalence. The segue from John Milton’s defense of free speech to a teacher’s right to assign Maya Angelou’s book without input from parents, while artful, is weak. A school board member’s question of why a controversial book was chosen when thousands of noncontroversial ones are available is rather reasonable.
Good has not understood his opponents’ point. I doubt the people wishing to remove books from the required reading lists are half as concerned about shallow books, such as Angelou’s, being in the school library as they are suspicious of the Howard Goods of the world, who have contempt for them and do not understand their desire to make educational choices for their children.
Goffstown, New Hampshire
I’m writing on behalf of teachers who repeatedly have been made ill by the lack of proper ventilation in their classrooms. Until diagnosed by a specialist, I was unaware that the air in my classroom was causing me to suffer from respiratory infections for more than five years. “Clearing The Air” [November/ December] explains in detail just how the lack of proper ventilation in Whitaker Middle School made teachers and students sick. It got right to the heart of the issue: We need proper ventilation in our classrooms in order to breathe. Teachers like me take for granted that the air in their classrooms is clean when, in fact, it may be seriously affecting their health. David Hill is to be complimented for such a thorough and informational article. Knowledge is power, and the more teachers learn about proper indoor-air standards, the more effective they can be in ensuring that our classrooms are properly maintained and ventilated.
I strongly agree with the November/December column “Bored Of Ed,” but it mostly discusses the middle and high school levels. Elementary classrooms also suffer from dull teaching. An educator with a husband in the military, I have moved around the country often, and I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Children are getting into trouble for such things as not putting their names on their papers, and they are subjected to lecture-style classrooms in the 1st through 6th grades. So often we stress to children the importance of respect, but we give them none in return. Giving students projects and hands- on activities on a daily basis makes learning fun and memorable, which is the point.
In Lock Step
James Nehring’s thoughtful critique of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards [“Certifiably Strange,” August/September] prompted nearly identical attacks by board-certified teachers. They diagnosed Nehring’s supposed shortcomings without considering whether the National Board had been in error. This could be an example of the lock step mentality of the certification process. What the National Board calls quality control in grading, I call indoctrination. Two issues cost me certification. In one entry, knowledge of subject matter, the National Board determined that I had “little or no knowledge of the subject,” though I’d written an award-winning book on that subject. And my lessons that would be familiar to suburban teachers received high scores, while my best lessons—ones I use successfully with my most challenging inner-city students—received the lowest possible scores.
I have suffered my share of professional setbacks without complaint, but none was as painful or offensive as this failure. In every other defeat, I had an opportunity to present my case. Having lost faith in the integrity of the national certification process, I have returned to the campaign for equity for urban schools. If the National Board would do some soul searching, it could join me.
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A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2002 edition of Teacher as Letters