Letters to the Editor
Although I tend to agree with E.D. Hirsch Jr. that there is a certain core of items that literate Americans should know, I'm afraid the list that you published of the items suggested by him and his colleagues at the University of Virginia reflects a very narrow view ("What Literate Americans Know,'' April 1, 1987).
For example, the list includes 56 names of individuals, real or fictional, of whom 9 are female and 47 male. A brief review of just the biographical-names section of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary suggests some omissions. For example, if one includes Davy Crockett, why not Calamity Jane? What about Carmen, Catherine de Medicis, Carrie Chapman Catt, or Charlotte Corday? And if one is honoring the discoverers of D.N.A., should one not recognize Rosalind Franklin along with her colleagues James Watson and Francis Crick?
It would be important to know how the author's list of 100 consultants was assembled, and to what extent it was selected with a conscious concern for racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. As it now stands, the list raises disturbing questions.
Ann R. Eldridge
Assistant to the
Commissioner of Education
New York Department of Education
Educators have good reason to protest the attack by Representative Bill Richardson, Democrat of New Mexico, on R.E. "Rusty'' Butler, a scholar now employed in the U.S. Education Department ("Hiring of Bilingual-Ed. Critic Protested,'' April 1, 1987).
To have any reality, academic freedom must include freedom to write and to lecture objectively without fear of future prejudice or retribution by Congressmen wanting to suppress academic findings.
"Academic freedom'' has little meaning if one must suppress candid, objective surveys and analysis because in the future some partisan may "get'' the academic when serving in a different role. (Though it does seem that those in far left field do indeed enjoy such immunity from ex post facto savaging reprisals.)
In the case you reported, the Congressman also demonstrates the intolerable micromanagement by the Congress intruding into the executive branch. Mr. Richardson demands discharge of an Education Department appointee because of a quotation from another scholar's work appearing in a treatise based on open literature and the author's expertise derived from years in Latin America. That treatise appeared some two years before the start of Mr. Butler's present appointment in the department and does not even deal with the subject matter of his present duties.
Tragically, such Congressional intrusion occurs routinely in Washington. Anyone who has served in the executive branch can testify to the reality of the reason given by one staffer for returning to Capitol Hill after a sojourn as an executive in a department: "The power is all here on Capitol Hill, not in those agencies taking orders from us on Congressional staffs.''
We need reinforced "separation of powers'' in this Constitutional Bicentennial year.
Fred W. Decker
Oregon State University
(Mr. Decker served in the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement from 1981 to 1985.)
I am writing in response to U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's suggestion that teen-agers convicted of drug-related offenses be denied driving privileges ("Deny Teen-Age Drug Users Licenses, Says Bennett,'' April 8, 1987).
I would suggest that Mr. Bennett leave the issuance of such items to the state governments, and that he pay more heed to the educational aspects of substance abuse.
Once again, all Mr. Bennett seems to do is create negative solutions. I find this totally irresponsible for one who should be stressing the positive efforts of the nation's schools.
Robert M. Murphy
In his Commentary "Job Training Not a Job for Schools'' (Feb. 18, 1987), Wellford W. Wilms cites the inability of vocational education to keep pace with a changing job market as justification for the elimination of such programs from the public school system.
Undeniably, mismatches occur; but Mr. Wilms's conclusion is absurd. A logical extension of his argument is that all planning based on long-term projections has no value. To be sure, long-term projections are inexact, but plans based on such analysis are integral to the economy, allocation of natural resources, and even events controlled by weather. And estimations of job-market trends are vital components in the planning of vocational education.
In a recent study in New York City, I found a great mismatch between student training and available jobs. The result is that the New York City Board of Education will conduct a longitudinal study of vocational education. The effort will be to determine how it has been most, and least, effective, and what can be done to keep it current with a changing economy.
Teacher flexibility is also indicated; many skills applicable to one field of vocational education are transferable to related fields. Moreover, vocational-education teachers should be aided in updating their skills to reflect the changing job market.
Vocational education cannot supplant instruction in basic subjects. But secondary vocational education does belong in the public schools; our children should not be denied the opportunities it provides. At the same time, vocational-education systems need frequent evaluation to ensure that they do reflect changes in the job market.
Harrison J. Goldin
Office of the Comptroller
New York, N.Y.
Editor's Note: Because the issues raised in Wellford W. Wilms's Commentary have been thoroughly aired in the Letters columns of recent issues, we will not publish any more responses to his essay.
In your March 11 issue, there was a short article about a parent who has opposed our swim requirement as part of the physical-education course ("Swim-Class Dispute in New York Is Resolved'').
To date, the district has not responded to erroneous inferences or statements in an effort to shield the student from repercussions of this conflict. However, I would like to point out three things.
First, there has never been any letter or other excuse produced from any medical or equivalent authority to exempt the student from class.
I have requested one on several occasions in order to exempt the student from the swimming requirement.
Second, the parents of the child finally accepted one of several proposals offered last October as an alternative means of satisfying the aquatics unit.
Finally, what has become a major lesson in this matter is one shared by school administrators everywhere: How does or can a public school deal with patently false allegations made by a resident without sacrificing its own or the child's stature? For me, this question remains the most important problem.
Weedsport Central School District
The article "Training Programs for Administrators Are Increasingly a Target of Criticism'' (March 11, 1987) quotes Gary Marx, the associate director of the American Association of School Administrators, as having said, "We are trying to stimulate greater attention on those skills that administrators feel they need.'' Ipso facto, less theory and more practical training.
Paradoxically, as we are becoming a learning society, school administrators are calling for vocational training.
Consider recent trends and research on preparing management within business, as summarized in Educating Managers by Joseph Johnson et al. The authors emphasize that executives need a liberal-arts education in order to make decisions from a broad perspective.
I believe that the study of educational administration should be shaken out of its "how-to-do-it'' mold.
If a principal is going to be an educational leader, and not simply a manager, he must have an exceptionally fine liberal-arts education.
The article "New Effort Aims To Entice Military, Business Retirees Into Teaching'' (April 1, 1987) suggests that a wealth of teaching talent may be available among military retirees.
I spent five years as principal of a middle school on a military post. In that position, I interviewed numerous retired military people for teaching positions, and my experience confirms much of what was written in your story: The applicants typically retire at a relatively young age, they expect to pursue a second career, and they have some teaching experience.
Other advantages usually associated with retired military personnel are their appreciation for education, their broad educational background, and their travel experiences around the world. As a principal, I hired three such individuals who were outstanding teachers. They were expert in both subject matter and their ability to relate to students.
But before my fellow administrators recruit and hire all retired military personnel they can find, let me give a word of caution. The men I hired were outstanding, but there were several others I did not hire. Those I turned down were also interested in a second career, were well traveled, were educated, and were knowledgeable about subject matter. However, it was obvious that they, like many civilians with college degrees, could not relate to young people.
Retired military personnel have spent 20 years or more in a highly structured setting where they have been giving or taking orders. The climate of most public schools today has few similarities to military life, and, unless the retirees are flexible and adaptable, they will not be successful in the classroom.
Should we consider military retirees for teaching positions? Absolutely! Are they a large untapped source for teaching? No! There are a few good men and women, and we should encourage them to join the teaching profession. There are also a large number who are not suited to working with school-age youngsters. Consider, but as with all candidates, proceed with caution.
John R. Lucy
Assistant Superintendent for
Curriculum and Instruction
School District 58
Downers Grove, Ill.
While it is true that Gov. Thomas H. Kean has proposed an increase in state aid to local districts in New Jersey for the coming year, your news article, "$250-Million Increase for Districts Sought'' (Feb. 18, 1987), was incomplete.
It fails to note, for instance, that Mr. Kean's request for money violates state law, which calls for 100 percent funding by the state for certain specified programs--a level of funding that Mr. Kean has rarely met during his tenure. During the coming year alone, the district where I work will receive $1.1 million less than the law requires.
The Governor has promoted several promising educational initiatives over the years. But he would be less hypocritical if he put his money where his mouth is.
Robert A. Ginsberg
East Brunswick Public Schools
East Brunswick, N.J.