Letters to the Editor
Julia R. Palmer Executive Director American Reading Council New York, N.Y.
Congratulations on your special issue on literacy (Education Week, Sept. 5, 1984). I was especially grateful for the colloquium with experts such as Diane Ravitch, William Bennett, and others. Much of what they say is thought-provoking and sometimes inspiring.
I am, however, deeply troubled by your calling the issue on literacy "Cracking the Code." To me, this typifies exactly what is wrong with the way literacy is viewed by too many educators. Real literacy is a way of life and cannot be imparted to students without an understanding of that fact.
Unquestionably, it is an attitude that suggests that literacy must be achieved by "cracking the code" that has led to what I consider a truly serious ommission in your coverage, namely the lack of any mention of the need for a literate environment.
We have known for generations that children from homes where they are read to, have access to a wide variety of print materials, and see adults reading and valuing books, learn to read easily and well.
We also know that a literate environment does not exist in most low-income homes today and, sad to say, in many middle-income homes.
Since we know that a literate environment produces readers, one would have thought that educators would want to create such an environment in the schools. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case. There are so few job opportunities for school librarians that the two most prestigious library schools in the New York area have stopped giving courses in school librarianship or even in children's literature. And the lack of a literate environment in school is not just a problem in New York. With the cut-off of federal support for school librarries, they have been abandoned across the country except in the affluent suburbs and the independent schools--in other words, the areas that produce the top academic achievers.
Learning to become literate is, in many ways, like learning a foreign language. We all know of the unfortunate person who studies a language for two or three years in school and then visits the country where that language is spoken and finds he or she can't function because the learning was academic and selective--the grammar and vocabulary but not the language. Yet another student visiting that country without formal instruction gains some fluency and can both speak and understand.
In the teaching of reading, an astounding number of children in most schools are not read aloud to and do not see adults valuing reading (for their own sakes, not the students').
The American Reading Council believes that it is impossible to achieve either a literate student body or excellence in education without early and easy access to books. For most children, that need can only be met through school libraries.
We are pressing a campaign to ensure that all children in New York City have access to a functioning school library and hope that Education Week will also address that issue in the future.
Kristi Johnson-James Program Chairman Special Education Portland Public Schools Portland, Ore.
Please allow me to take issue with your recent commentary by Barbara Ballou regarding teachers' unions, specifically the National Education Association ("How Does a Partisan Teachers' Union Fairly Represent All of Its Members?" Education Week, Oct. 10, 1984). As a member of the nea, my dues do not go to support the political process of our union. Rather, nea members choose to voluntarily contribute to nea-pac, the political arm of the organization. That is a decision our members make based upon the firm belief that elective politics indeed influence every aspect of our jobs.
It is my hope that Ms. Ballou be enlightened on this matter.
BETH: THIS LETTER MUST FOLLOW JAMES
Susan Staub Director Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism Springfield, Va.
Marilyn Russell Bittle's recent Commentary is way off the mark.
The announcement by CBS-tv that an exit poll of voters found that 55 percent of teachers voted for Ronald Reagan clearly makes the point--National Education Association officials do not represent the thinking of the nation's teachers.
But the question is not whether or not a private organization can endorse candidates; the question on the minds of thousands of nonunion teachers is why they have to support such partisan politics against their will. And the fact is that they do.
In 17 states, teachers can be required to pay dues to the nea in order to keep their jobs! And these so-called "representation" fees are in many cases the full amount of union dues. These dues are demanded by union officials as payment for their monopoly bargaining--negotiations that are forced on teachers whether they vote for them or not under coercive legislation lobbied for heavily by the very union that benefits.
The unions demand the right to bargain for everyone, including nonunion members, then turn around and compel nonmembers to pay for it!
The millons of dollars pouring into union coffers from the pockets of unwilling and victimized teachers were a substantial part of the 1984 political budget for "in-kind" services: phone banks, registration drives, political pamphlets and flyers, months of newsletter propaganda, and thousands of dollars worth of paid "UniServ" staff time nationwide. The unions demand the right to bargain for everyone, including nonunion members, then turn around and compel nonmembers to pay for it!
Ms. Bittle's claim that the nea's support for the Mondale/Ferraro ticket resulted from a secret ballot mailed to 7,000 delegates to the association's 1984 representative assembly is an insult to teachers' intelligence. The nea union officials endorsed Walter Mondale on Sept. 30, 1983, some time before the primaries and a full 10 months before any member had a chance to vote. So much for democracy.
The truth is that forced-dues politicking under the guise of "representation" is nothing more than abusive tyranny--a tyranny that flies in the face of this nation's heritage of freedom.
Ralph O. Lyons Superintendent Southland Christian Schools Inc. Chula Vista, Calif.
Your recent article on Christian schools ("The Rise of the Fundamentalist Christian School," Education Week, Oct. 17, 1984) deserves a few comments.
First, Chula Vista Christian High School has recently completed a self-evaluation process, followed by a three-day committee visit, and has been granted accreditation concurrently by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Association of Christian Schools International. Believe it or not, we are not interested in membership in any independent-school association.
Second, the policy referred to in your article that only "appropriate schools" are being accepted into independent-school associations appears to be discriminatory. I wonder if a fundamentalist Christian school were to meet all the criteria for admission to the associations mentioned in this article, would their religous emphasis still hinder them from being accepted?
The article quotes Thomas Read of the Independent Schools Association for the Central States as saying that the educational program in the fundamentalist schools is one of "religious dogma" that does not encourage independent thinking and that shelters children from the real world. But, to quote a witness in the 1972 case, Wisconsin v. Yoder [in which parents sought exemption for their children from the state's compulsory-attendance law on religious grounds], "It all depends on which world." To that we say, "Right on!"
Third, many of your articles seem to suggest that all Christian schools are small, one-room schools using the Accelerated Christian Education materials. Please let it be known that our school is a traditional one with about 400 students in grades K-12. We have more than 1,800 schools in our Association of Christian Schools International and at least half of them do not use individualized curriculum material.
Thomas E. Van Dam Superintendent School District 151, Cook County South Holland, Ill.
In a recent article, you indicated that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school system was the first in the nation to undertake a court-ordered desegregation plan involving systemwide busing ("President's Criticism of Busing Enrages Charlotte's Citizens," Education Week, Oct. 24, 1984).
This statement, which I have seen in many articles, is in error. School District 151 in South Holland, Ill., was desegregated by federal court order in 1968 with a plan that bused all children except those in kindergarten through 2nd grade. It was followed by a second order issued in 1969, under which all K-8 children in the district were bused.
Our case went to the appellate court, back to the local district court, back to the appellate court, and to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was heard with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg case in 1972. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg case was reviewed directly by the Court because of the influence of a prominent North Carolina senator. In truth, School District 151 was desegregated two years before Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
The desegregation plan that has been in effect here for all of these years involved busing the black children in grades K-6 who live in Phoenix, Ill., to white residential schools located in Harvey and South Holland. In turn, white children in grades 7 and 8 who live in Harvey and South Holland are bused to Phoenix for the upper grades.
This should correct the record.
Lynn Mulkey Institute for Urban and Minority Education Teachers College Columbia University New York, N.Y.
As a research sociologist, I am concerned by your recent article on adolescent suicide ("Suicide: Unsettling Worry for Schools," Education Week, Oct. 31, 1984). I feel that you failed to acknowledge a perspective that is fundamental to an explanation of the recent increase in adolescent suicide.
The article does not deal with the distinctly sociological explanation of suicide, which says that regardless of the individual's predisposition, suicide is a social phenomenon and can be explained, at one level, completely independently of the victim's psychological or biological make-up.
We can learn from Suicide, the classical work written in 1951 by Emile Durkheim, and from Merton's essays on deviant behavior, that "anomic suicide"' results from the inadequacy of opportunities within the structure of society for individuals to attain the goals to which they aspire. It appears that you have neglected to present a comprehensive argument that incorporates the sociological perspective.
For example, in considering such data as the current suicide rate for youths aged 15-24, higher suicide rates among whites, clusters of victims who are otherwise unrelated, and higher rates and risks of suicide in families where it has occurred before, the article discusses the funding of a number of research projects by the National Institutes of Mental Health. These projects, though, are based on biological and psychological orientations. The article quotes Susan Blumenthal, chief of the suicide-research unit at the nimh, as saying, "We also found that the early detection and treatment of depression is the single most important preventive strategy for teen-age suicide."
While clearly internal, individual factors (such as health, biological, and psychological characteristics) are part of the dynamics involved in adolescent suicide, their precise role in relation to external, social factors (such as role expectations) remains ambiguous and needs further empirical demonstration. To attribute the cause of adolescent suicide solely to internal factors will likely result in treatments that are analagous to cold medicines that merely treat symptoms. By accurately pinpointing the role of external and internal factors in adolescent suicide, we will increase the possibility of finding effective preventive techniques. If, in fact, adolescent suicide is primarily the result of social constraints, then we need to ask in what ways perhaps unreasonable structural demands or conditions can be changed. If they cannot be changed, we must find ways to help individuals deal with these constraints.
Tom W. Shuford Teacher Bayville School Bayville, N.Y.
I do not know the content of the anti-nea treatises you describe in your recent article ("Anti-nea Groups Spreading Views with Tracts," Education Week, Nov. 7, 1984) so I do not know the specific discontents that agitate the authors of them.
A personal experience, however, crystallized my own fears about the nea.
In the late 1970's, I read a negative review in the nea journal, Today's Education, of a Marxist book that purported to show education's lackey role in America's capitalist economy.
I wrote to the reviewer, one of the nation's most prominent professors of education, expressing astonishment that such a review could appear in the journal of the left-wing nea The professor replied, providing the details behind the review.
The nea, it seems, had big plans for the book and it did not want a negative review. The professor had called it a "straightforward Marxist critique of American education," but she also found it to be "incredibly tendentious and polemical." The professor wasn't cooperative. Despite a concerted effort by Today's Education to get what it wanted, "they had to go with it." The professor added, "I suspect that will be the last time you see a review by me in that publication."
Indeed, it was.
A second example raises the same kind of concern:
In 1981, the nea selected a Marxist, Michael Harrington, chairman of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and author of The Twilight of Capitalism, to explain supply-side economics to the nation's teachers in the September-October issue of Today's Education. I am one who does not care to see Mr. Harrington's tenets and such terminlogy as "late capitalism" passed on to the nation's youth by the nea Needless to say, there was no counterbalancing analysis by a conventional liberal economist, much less by one of a conservative bent.
Whether the nea's seeming embrace of socialism or socialist authors in these instances is simply the flirtation with all things of the political left that longtime observers of the organization routinely expect, or whether they have a deeper sort of commitment, I cannot say. But to the extent "far-right" groups cause the nea to think and think again before trying to sell such deadly nonsense to the nation's teachers and students, they will have served a useful purpose.
Robert B. Kane Director of Teacher Education Purdue University West Lafayette, Ind.
It was gratifying to read that the Council of Chief State School Officers has decided to seek a major role in the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education ("Chiefs To Seek Major Role in Accreditation of Education Programs," Education Week, Nov. 21, 1984). Many of us who are committed to the best possible teacher education for the nation's schools have been restive under current accreditation standards that focus more on specific content coverage than on the intellectual vitality, competence, and capacity of the faculty designing and delivering the educational program. If the chiefs could exert influence to increase the value of high-quality faculty and diminish the specificity of mandated content, a great good would be realized.
Therein lies the rub, however. State accreditation standards--those directly under the chiefs--are notorious for their focus on the specifics of content and their leniency on the indicators of faculty quality and institutional capacity. It was particularly distressing to read a quotation attributed to Ted Sanders, Nevada's chief, in which he expressed concern that ncate was not closing down the "intellectual cesspools" in the country and that therefore the chiefs have not participated in ncate affairs. Come now, Mr. Sanders. How many institutions accredited by ncate have failed to win state accreditation? My guess is that there may be none. If ncate is the kettle, surely the chiefs, through their spokesman, are the pot. Perhaps neither should call the other black.