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I was intrigued by your table, "Youth Unemployment Data by Cities" (May 5). Especially intriguing was the column headed "Number of Discontented Youth." Since I remember my own youth as a period of uninterrupted discontent, imagine my surprise at discovering there are only 50 discontented youths in Jersey City, N.J. And perhaps none in Spokane, Wash. Is there an explanation? The table and accompanying story provide none.

Edith H. Uunila Washington, D.C.

Editor's note: The survey used the word "discouraged" to describe young people who had been so unsuccessful in finding work that they finally stopped looking and are no longer included in unemployment figures. We are unable to explain how "discouraged" came to be "discontented" in our pages. It's one of those discouraging developments that makes for discontented editors.

Gordon Sharp's letter (April 21) is puzzling to respond to, since it seems to have very little to do with the article I wrote (Commentary, March 24). The article was expressing a cautionary approach to a mindless hard-sell effort to place computers in elementary-school classrooms without considering their place in the curriculum, the appropriate entry level, and what unanticipated effects we might be prepared to expect.

Mr. Sharp is apparently very literate in his ability to read between the lines and to come up with his own conclusions about what I am really saying. His premises are certainly very different from my own and, of course, he arrives at very divergent conclusions.

Mr. Sharp thinks the Fireman, Fireman game teaches compassion for the stick figures that go splat and turn into angels, while I see the game as promoting alienation of a Strangelovian kind, where pushing the button for a first-strike will save democracy, never mind the millions of casualties and the destruction of life. He also sees the comatose bureaucrat skating to work in Washington oblivious to everything but his Walkman's rock beat as the beneficiary of a "true freedom machine.''

Peggy Cole Principal The Fieldston Lower School New York, N.Y.

The Commentary by James H. Sutton, "Without Raw Materials, Schools Can't Produce Quality and Quantity" (May 5), argues by analogy that human beings (who are other people's children) are "bricks" that the public schools are being "asked" to "make"; that the critics are saying that the "bricks" are not "good enough" and then are attempting to deny the public education establishment the "raw materials" to make "quality bricks." He argues that the education establishment was never asked to make "quality bricks" but only to make sure that all "bricks" have equal access to the process.

He is appalled that the "brickmaster," whom he deems to be the federal government, is now, in the hands of the Reagan Administration, proposing through tuition tax credits that parents, who are the authentic "brickmasters" be given a chance to decide for themselves what kind of "bricks" they want their children to be.

Mr. Sutton's mindset, which causes him to compare human beings to bricks, is a graphic example of the kind of thinking that is causing more and more parents to search for a different brickyard, even if they have to pay double.

Although Mr. Sutton refers to the federal government as the "brickmaster," surely he knows that in our most recent era the role of the federal government has been to "improve" and "support" the "capacity" of the education establishment in its self-appointed role of "brickmaster." Teachers-union leaders, state departments of education, teachers' colleges, and an army of government-funded educator-facilitators have, in fact, claimed the public authority to count, classify, and evaluate the "bricks" and especially to make sure that they have all been processed with equity according to federal and state mandates. However, it was not the "public" that asked the schools to be transformed to this purpose but the education lobby groups (with generous assistance from the courts) who agitated for the mandates in the first place.

Now the national media has begun to take notice that not only are many of the "bricks" not turning out very well, but that many of the real "brickmasters," who are the parents, are taking their responsibilities seriously and placing them in private "brickyards."

Tragically, the poorer brickmasters have no choice but to watch helplessly as their "bricks," who are the children they love, are guaranteed "equal access to the public brickyard" and little else. In the face of all this, Mr. Sutton argues that "equal access" was all the public ever asked the public brickyard to provide.

As chronicled in Education Week and elsewhere, the public is aroused and waiting to see what the education interest groups who have claimed the authority to be the brickmasters are prepared to say about the bricks that don't function well. Will they continue to lobby for more "raw materials" when they have for so long overlooked the "bricklayer's" character and craft as the crucial ingredient for making good bricks? Will qualified "bricklayers" speak up and demand that those who speak for them become capable of doing more than facilitating, counting, and classifying "bricks?"

From what I can gather, the latest gimmick to process the "bricks" will be the computerizing of the "competencies" of the "bricks"--I believe this is called "mastery learning." To move away from the brick analogy, will educators who value culture, the life of the mind, and the heritage of the ages come forward to rescue American education from the mentality displayed by the Iowa nea lobbyist?

If they do, they will find, in public and private schools, parents who are eager to cooperate with them in the development of their children. More and more parents are simply aware that the spiritual and mental lives of their children are too valuable to be processed through a system dominated by this mentality.

The latest publicized defector is Ruby Bridges Hall, the first black child to attend a white Southern elementary school 20 years ago. She has her children in private schools because as she puts it, her son "wasn't learning the way he should have."

Onalee McGraw Education Consultant The Heritage Foundation Washington, D.C.

Vol. 01, Issue 35

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