In the Press: Joe Clark Is Subject of Time Cover Story

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"If tough love is your thing, you can find a lot to love about Joe Clark," begins Time magazine's Feb. 1 cover story about the controversial New Jersey high-school principal.

Mr. Clark's harsh brand of discipline and efforts to "expurgate" failing or disruptive students from his mostly minority school in Paterson, N.J., have won him extensive media coverage, the magazine reports.

But the attention, it says, has also brought a "long simmering academic debate about urban education into prime time, where it rightly belongs."

As Mr. Clark has become the "touchstone of a rekindled national debate about how to put things right in a city schoolhouse gone wrong," his methods have aroused as many critics as admirers, according to the magazine.

The report points out that academic triumphs have been "more elusive" than disciplinary successes at Mr. Clark's Eastside High School.

Citing Mr. Clark's critics, Time observes that "any principal can raise test scores and cut disciplinary problems by tossing out the troublesome low achievers."

"But this hardly represents a solution to a community's problems. Rather, it just moves those problems from the classroom onto the street, where the dropouts drift into trouble or plain despair."

An underlying contempt for democractic ideals and institutions permeates Allan Bloom's controversial bestseller The Closing of the American Mind, according to the Rutgers University professor Benjamin Barber.

Writing in the January issue of Harper's magazine, he says Mr. Bloom would implicitly overturn the American university system and the moral and philosophical relativism he identifies as its intellectual foundation.

To Mr. Bloom, the author says, this relativistic outlook jeopardizes not only America's link to the traditions of Western culture but also its pursuit of truth in education. Mr. Bloom wrongly assumes, according to Mr. Barber, that to expose masses of students to modern thinkers' denial of moral and theological absolutes is to risk anarchy.

This line of thinking implies, the Rutgers scholar writes, that "reopening the American mind may ... depend on the closing of the American university" as it currently exists.

As Mr. Barber construes it, The Closing of the American Mind suggests that American society should provide "[t]o the educable, an education; to the rest, protection from fearsome half-truths, and a diet of noble lies such as may be required to insulate the university from mediocrity and democratic taste."

Americans are "being asked implicitly to choose between the open mind and the open society, being asked to close the university to the many in order to secure it for the few ... ," he writes.

Mr. Bloom's desire "for simpler, more orderly times," the author writes, is akin to "President Reagan's longing for a court filled with somber purists" and "the Secre6tary of Education's campaign against the educational reforms of the 1960's."

They are all, he says, "so many cries to be delivered from the 20th century."

"The most apt response to Bloom's attempt to teach us how to be noble," concludes Mr. Barber, "might be for us to teach him how to be democratic. It might even be that he would get the better of the exchange."

The schoolyard bully's urge to torment less aggressive classmates probably springs from a combination of too little affection, too much freedom, and a hot temper, suggests Marjory Roberts in the February issue of Psychology Today.

Synthesizing the views of several researchers who have studied the phenomenon, Ms. Roberts, a reporter for the magazine, writes that children may become bullies as a result of parental neglect or harsh punishment.

"Living with parents who abuse them teaches children that aggression and violence are effective ways to reach a goal," Ms. Roberts notes.

While bullies "seem to derive satisfaction from harming others physically or psychologically," she writes, they actually feel threatened by their own vulnerability.

In effect, they seek to conquer their own defenselessness by attacking other children who remind them of it.

At the same time, bullies often perceive hostility where none exists and underestimate their own aggressiveness, according to Ms. Roberts.

She cites data indicating that childhood aggression can be a predictor of poor intellectual achievement later. Adults who were bullies as children also are more likely than others to abuse their spouses and children and to engage in criminal behavior, Ms. Roberts reports.

She describes researchers' efforts to help bullies control their aggression, and she suggests that teachers can help by encouraging children to understand and accept their strengths and weaknesses.

"When kids feel confident about themselves and empathic toward others," she writes, "they don't need to bully one another."

"Death education," a part of the curriculum in an increasing number of schools, has created a "civil war of words" among educators, the author Fergus M. Bordewich writes in the February issue of The Atlantic. 'But ultimately, he says, it is a subject area that "begs some of the important questions it claims to answer."

"In practice, death education has been fraught with ambiguity and risk," Mr. Bordewich observes.

While it "aspires to create a stronger, more autonomous, less fearful person," he says, it "seems to presume that young people (and the adults they will become) are incapable of dealing successfully with death on their own and require professional attention as a matter of course."

"In the classroom," Mr. Bordewich asserts, "death education seems often to consist in a pop-psychology approach to life and death which avoids a serious examination of its own effects."

Proponents of such coursework argue that, at a time when teen-age suicides and aids have brought questions of mortality closer to many students, its inclusion in the curriculum is long overdue.

Mr. Bordewich cites examples of students who say their death-education courses helped them deal with the loss of loved ones.

But opponents contend that the courses' utilization of such activities as writing one's own will or simulating a death may help create or reinforce suicidal thoughts in adolescents.

Moreover, Mr. Bordewich writes, "academic preparation for teachers of death education as it now exists seems perilously limited."

Given these unresolved issues, the curriculum, he concludes, has failed to prove that its positive aspects outweigh its risks.

Most of the recent efforts to improve schools "will fall far short of their goals--and may even prove counterproductive," argues John E. Chubb in the winter issue of The Public Interest, because they have failed to change the way schools are organized and governed.

"The kinds of changes that school reforms have made so far are not the sort that produce improvements in performance," writes Mr. Chubb, a senior fellow in government studies at the Brookings Institution.

To improve school and student performance, he asserts, schools must be given the autonomy to change the way they are organized and run. Research shows, he writes, that "high performance" schools have organizations that are "strikingly superior" to those of lower performing schools.

In effectively organized schools, Mr. Chubb says, the relationship between teachers and principals is more cooperative, decisionmaking is more democratic, and authority is more likely to be delegated to the classroom teacher.

"The more control a school has over those aspects of its organization that affect its performance--the articulation of goals, the selection and management of teachers, the specifications of policies--the more likely it is to exhibit the qualities that have been found to promote effectiveness," he writes.

Recent education reforms are bound to fail, he asserts: Because they have been regulatory in nature, they have limited, rather than expanded, school autonomy.

"The restriction of school autonomy has the potential to backfire. Principals may lose some of their power to lead, and teachers some of their discretion to work as professionals."

"Organizational effectiveness may consequently deteriorate, and with it the performance of students."

Vol. 07, Issue 21

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