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To the Editor:

In my Commentary, "Why Can't Johnny Read? We Taught Him Incorrectly'' (Education Week, June 12, 1985), I said that the now predominantly whole-word or "look and say" method was the cause of widespread learning disabilities, dyslexia, and illiteracy. Beginning reading should be taught by systematic phonics.

In his Commentary, "Systematic Phonics Alone Won't Help Johnny's Reading Problem" (Education Week, Sept. 4, 1985), Peter Rynders said I don't understand the problem, and he defended the whole-word or "look and say" method.

This presents a challenge to educators: They can either stick to whatever "look and say" method they are using or switch to systematic phonics and compare the results. To those who want a complete reading program for grades K-6, I recommend the Open Court Publishing Company, La Salle, Ill. Their program completes the teaching of systematic phonics by the end of the first semester of 1st grade.

Those who want to teach a complete system of phonics in kindergarten, so that children will enter 1st grade able to read anything they like, should get my book Why Johnny Can't Read--And What You Can Do About It (1955), which is still in print. The second part contains a set of 72 lessons, at the end of which a child can read. Chapters 2 and 10 contain the kind of material usually found in a teachers' manual. (The book was written for parents.)

I think the experiment will show that I am right.

Rudolf Flesch Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

On Role of Religion

To the Editor:

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's Aug. 7 speech to the Knights of Columbus ("For the Record," Education Week Aug. 21, 1985), which you reprinted in part, is an excellent statement that brings clarity of thought to the often muddled debate about the role of religion in our society.

Admittedly, I have found it easier to adopt a posture of public silence on this issue over my 16 years of federal and state service in the education-policy arena. Somehow, the academic community--and much of the political scene--tends to intimidate people of faith on this issue. Why, of all sectors, is the education community so closed to some issues that form the heart of what human life is all about?

Who can disagree with the Secretary's statement that "American history--the fundamental shape of the American experience--cannot be understood without reference to the Judeo-Christian tradition"? Who is intellectually honest and still contends that our religious heritage has nothing to do with a student's understanding of his own history and way of life?

I believe the question of religion in our schools can be separated somewhat--but not too much--from the issue of values in the schools. Even those, such as the Maryland Governor's values commission and the writers of various citizenship-education curricula, who successfully draw upon the documents that formed our government to derive commonly accepted values for classroom instruction must appreciate the Judeo-Christian heritage from which the framers of the Constitution drew their ideas.

What nation can stay strong and not address in its schools the basic human values that formed its beginnings and sustain its existence? Yet, we still hear otherwise intelligent educators trying to argue that it is possible to teach and, at the same time, be "value neutral." Nonsense.

The issues are much more complex than we acknowledge. We need, as the Secretary pointed out, to quit hiding behind cliches that have no practical use, such as "maintaining the wall of separation between church and state." How is one supposed to respect a Christian, Jew, Moslem, or Buddhist who says he takes his religion seriously but also says it has no place in how he thinks or acts in public? More nonsense.

I believe our tremendous advances in science, technology, and medicine can take us only so far. Now is the time to invite more, not fewer, voices from art, music, and religion to the halls of public debate.

The great issues of our day--peace, human rights, and respect for the environment--have little chance unless we draw on the values, commitment, and faith of the great majority of Americans who identify with the Judeo-Christian heritage.

Can we be more tolerant of religious views from the left and from the right? Our track record has not been good recently. Any assessment of where we are as a people demonstrates a need for more compassion, tolerance, respect for others, and love. Although these qualities are not always modeled best by people who speak in the name of religion, they are the attributes our Creator meant for us to nurture.

Let's figure out ways to allow those of religious conviction to grow in their faith. Let's not ridicule them and ban such conviction from places such as school. It is time we opened up this debate with far more honesty, always respecting the views of those who believe differently. Secretary Bennett is providing a good example in speeches such as the one you printed. I hope many will follow with their own contributions.

Robert C. Andringa Conant Senior Fellow Education Commission of the States Denver, Colo.

To the Editor:

John C. Maxwell's contention in a recent Forum ("How to Kill a Writer," Education Week, Aug. 28, 1985) that all writing for punishment negates "the hard work of teachers of English language arts" is a bit of an overstatement. Some written punishment assignments may be of value.

Requiring a student to write an apology for an offense or to write a letter to his parents explaining a particular infraction should no more diminish a respect for writing than requiring a spoken apology would diminish respect for speech.

Writing is a means of communication, and certainly not all communication is an "enjoyable human experience.

There is no doubt that a mindless exercise requiring a student to write a redundant phrase is of minimal value as either a punishment or a way to improve penmanship. However, a written essay or apology that must conform to standards of neatness, content, and grammar can be an effective method of enhancing writing while at the same time reinforcing the disciplinary objective of the teacher.

Thomas P. Coyne Superintendent Fairlawn Local Schools Sidney, Ohio

To the Editor:

"How To Kill a Writer" by John C. Maxwell is typical of the writings of many pseudoauthorities who continue to have a detrimental effect on public education.

The idea that writing that has been assigned as a punishment kills interest in writing sounds so logical that one almost forgets that the same argument can be applied to all disciplinary measures currently available to teachers. Examine his proposals more closely. If students would sit quietly with their hands folded, as Mr. Maxwell suggests, they probably wouldn't have gotten into trouble in the first place. Play with the tape recorder as punishment? Surely he jests! Pushups as punishment? Wouldn't that kill interest in sports according to Mr. Maxwell's theory? Anyway, isn't the idea of assigning writing simply to give the kid something to keep him occupied during an enforced "time out"?

The American people are crying for stronger discipline while the Maxwells of the world systematically undercut every conceivable means of discipline. Pity the poor whipsawed teacher. Isn't it strange that Mr. Maxwell became the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English after having to write "I will respect other people's rights" 100 times? Apparently, children aren't as fragile as he seems to think.

Fred Gibson Teacher Coachella Valley Unified School District Thermal, Calif.

To the Editor:

Various articles in Education Week and other periodicals suggest that many people want to return public schools to local control. But how could the strong trend toward state and federal dominance be reversed?

One possible way would be to pay school principals $100,000 per year, have them elected by the voters of the area from which the school draws students, and have all the principals of a school district form the school board.

The high pay--that of the average physician--and increased autonomy would draw many of the bright, hard-driving, get-things-done people who, these days, often become lawyers and executives. In fact, an attractive market for principals for the country's 83,000 public schools might offer a socially useful way to cure the present "lawyer glut."

The necessity of being elected would draw many would-be (and have-been) politicians to the job. Over time, this blending of the roles of politician and principal would greatly increase the influence of local school districts in the state legislatures. So, too, would a lobby of 83,000 local officials who could quickly mobilize all the nation's voters! This would result in a de facto return to local control.

Would this be too expensive? No, because even if each public-school principal were given a $65,000 increase (to $100,000 a year), the total cost of the raises would be about $5 billion, which is only 4 percent of the national public-school budget. In fact, teachers might even welcome this $5 billion coming out of their own salary increases, because these autonomous "super-principals" could create the good working conditions, similar to those of private schools, that most teachers value more than high pay.

Local control aside, if we could entice our "best and brightest" from the courtroom and the boardroom to the leadership of our schools, the benefits to education, to community development, and to our whole society could be profound.

Dan Weiner Mathematics tutor Fresno State University Fresno, Calif.

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