Letters To The Editor

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Regarding your commentary on school reform ("Setting the Course for School Reform," Education Week, April 18, 1984): Yes, Bill Honig, the carrot is better than the stick. Incentives beat whips any day of the year.

No, Mr. Honig, neither carrots nor sticks are as good as empowering a school to improve itself. Intrinsic incentives are still more powerful than extrinsic ones, and pitting schools against each other puts the focus on competition instead of on the purpose for the competition--namely, better performance.

Schooling is not a game to be won by 20 percent of the contestants, even on a relative basis. Why stick to the idea of winners and losers? Why not challenge every school to achieve mastery of its goals and support all schools in their efforts to do so?

James Baines Professor of Urban Education William Paterson College Wayne, N.J.

Henry McBride and Don Danielson in their letters to the editor (Education Week, April 18, 1984) critique a commentary by Wayne Moyer on evolution. Both appear to agree that "evolution is a theory, nothing less and nothing more," to use Mr. Danielson's phrase. In Mr. McBride's words, "[t]oo often, evolution is referred to as theory but taught as fact." These gentlemen apparently were unaware of what Mr. Moyer meant when he wrote that people "confuse theories with mere speculations." Permit me to be somewhat more blunt.

Theories are not dreams, beliefs, hallucinations, speculations, witchcraft, incantations, or cogitations. Theories are, however, statements that describe observed facts, and suggest specific areas in which the predictions may be tested using the scientific method, which automatically controls for bias, belief, feeling, desire, and hope.

Theories are not philosophies. Philosophy is an ordered series of statements with internal consistency and logical progression. There is no insistence that philosophy be grounded in the real world. Philosophies often become immutable. Philosophy is much more "fun" than theory-building because connection with reality, though desirable, is not necessary.

The insistence upon empirical testing means that theories must be refined as more information becomes available. On occasion, theories are discarded as empirical evidence reduces the predictions to rubble. Often, theories are found to be fundamentally correct as far as they go. Louis Pasteur's theory of bacterial causation of disease was correct in so far as one acknowledges that some bacteria do cause some diseases: anthrax, soured milk, strep throat, and others. But not all bacteria cause diseases and not all diseases are caused by bacteria: epilepsy, schizophrenia, and the common cold among them. Indeed, the theory of evolution has been refined several times since it was first proposed. Had Mr. McBride been less rejecting and more questioning, he would have been able to follow the discoveries that not only modified the theory of evolution but also made it stronger.

Raymond L. Chambers Associate Professor of Political Science Bainbridge Junior College Bainbridge, Ga.

Vol. 03, Issue 33

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