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Ravitch Clarifies Stance On E.D. Research Funding

To the Editor:

In a recent article, you state that I advocated, in a recent Forbes magazine article, the abolition of federal support for education research (related story ). This is not accurate. I recommended the elimination of the U.S. Education Department; I did not recommend the elimination of the federal role in education, nor of federally funded research in education.

What I intended to recommend was that the department be replaced by an effective, well-focused Office of Education and that certain vital federal functions be preserved, including the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Head Start, aid to disadvantaged children, and aid to college students.

Unfortunately, the Forbes article was edited drastically without my participation, emphasizing my criticisms of the department (for example, the regulatory burdens it imposes on schools and districts), but deleting my proposals for a slimmed-down, clarified federal role. As a writer, I have never had an experience like this with a publication; the copy editor called to apologize after the fact, but it was little consolation for seeing my views distorted.

There are serious issues being debated today about what the federal government should and should not be doing in education. I regret that my own views entered the debate in so truncated and unconstructive a fashion.

Diane Ravitch
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tapping Businesses for Funds Dubbed 'Foolhardy' at Best

To the Editor:

Christopher Cross's analysis of the corporate philanthropic climate should be required reading for governors, senators, and Congressional representatives who are slashing aid to schools (related story ).

The universal cry from politicos seems to be a new mandate to schools to raise funds for services through the private sector, local and regional businesses. This plan sounds simple and do-able, except if you are actually at the local level, where we are finding that businesses would like to help, but are already squeezed to the limit with demands on their charitable resources.

Traditional fund-raising targets local business through the United Way, blood drives, food drives, sponsorship of Little League, etc. P.T.A..'s help out in many ways, providing additional funds for computers, library books, trips, cultural activities--but they, too, are stretched to the limit.

In a time of leaner business budgets, it is foolhardy for our political leaders to direct school personnel to look to business as a continuing source of funds. Everyone is downsizing, including schools systems. Expecting fewer people to do more doesn't guarantee high-quality results. Schools are in the business of education, not fund-raising, and should do what they do best: educate today's students to be tomorrow's productive citizens.

Schools need and deserve stable, reliable, and sufficient government resources to do their important work.

Isabel Burk
Regional Drug Education Coordinator
Regional Health Education Center
Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Liberal Public Education Includes World's Religions

To the Editor:

In your June 14, 1995, issue you ran several letters from individuals who were critical of my recent Commentary on religion and secular indoctrination (related story ). Astonishingly, two writers thought I was arguing for a thesis which I explicitly rejected. A. Hewitt Rose took me to be promoting the "One True Religion" (his phrase) and Steven Morris claimed I would have only my own "mythology of Adam and Eve" (his phrase) taught in public schools.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I wrote: "It is not open to schools to promote or practice religion." I argued on constitutional grounds for neutrality in matters of religion. Indeed, the basic thrust of my Commentary was that a public school education must be liberal: It "should provide students with some understanding of the major points of view in the most important matters of the human experience."

I did argue that "to ignore religion is to be profoundly illiberal." Unfortunately, all too many educators assume that anyone who wants religion in the curriculum must have an illiberal, unconstitutional, and probably fundamentalist religious agenda in doing so. This, of course, is nonsense.

To be educated one must be able to think critically about alternative ways of making sense of the world in a pluralistic culture. I argued that the systematic exclusion of religion from the curriculum results in secular indoctrination. It was my purpose to open up the marketplace of ideas, to educate students so that they could think critically about secular and religious ways of understanding the world. And I made my arguments, as I said in my Commentary, on liberal and entirely secular grounds.

Both Mr. Rose and Mr. Morris argued that education should be limited to the claims of reason and evidence which they can take to be on the side of secular science rather than religion. Of course this is a controversial view: Many scholars (ranging from theologians in quite different religious traditions to secular postmodernists) disagree.

My position is that when we are deeply divided about the nature of truth and reality, as we are in our culture, it is obligatory for educators, particularly in public schools governed by the First Amendment, to educate students about the alternatives, rather than convey, uncritically, only secular views.

Warren A. Nord
Program in the Humanities and Human Values
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, N.C.

'Clear Link' Between Access to Books, Ability

To the Editor:

It must be more than coincidence that California ranks near the bottom of the country in 4th-grade reading scores and also ranks near the bottom in school-library quality (related story ). The story points out that Mr. Boyer is a practicing Quaker and that he places great emphasis on listening to others. He is described as believing that a "resurgence of individualism and privatism threatens to undermine the institution of public education and its historic function of unifying a diverse people." Further, he is "puzzled and alarmed by ... [a] growing suspicion of government" and "disturbed by the popularity of the charter-school movement in state legislatures."

What troubles me about all of this is the following: As a Quaker, Ernest Boyer, more so than others, ought to be familiar with his own tradition's suspicion of centralized power and with the role that both church and state played historically in pressuring Quakers and others to violate their consciences (what Quakers sometimes refer to as "the light within").

Mr. Boyer must also know that the founders of the common school in America were not just interested in teaching reading and other basic skills. Horace Mann and compatriots wanted to keep immigrant Catholics and other foreigners in line by enrolling their children in the common school, the melting pot that would refine away all the foreign and papist dross (or, in the case of Calvinists, for whom Horace Mann had an especially deep dislike, would help shelter children from the corrupting influence of church and parents).

Presumably Mr. Boyer also knows that the common school for most of its 150 years of existence has not been particularly congenial to Jews, humanists, atheists, and other cognitive and religious minorities. And he must surely be aware of the crucial role independent schools have played in the life of Quakers.

Finally, if he is following his own advice about listening to others, he must know that millions of Americans maintain that government public schools violate their deepest religious and moral beliefs.

One would hope that Mr. Boyer will reflect on the fact that he lends his support to a monopoly system of school finance that permits only the rich and the well-connected to educate their children in a way that is consistent with their own deepest religious beliefs, a system that by its own admission would be in deep trouble if it permitted people to vote with their feet.

By ignoring and even opposing school choice, including the choice of independent religious schools, Mr. Boyer puts millions of Americans in a position not unlike that of Quakers three centuries ago.

Richard A. Baer Jr.
Professor of Environmental Ethics
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

Vol. 14, Issue 40

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