Letters to the Editor

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Underscoring Author's View Of Arts' Inherent Value

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing Jessica Davis' insightful Commentary on the importance of arts education for its own sake ("Why Must We Justify Arts Learning in Terms of Other Disciplines?," Oct. 16, 1996). I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of Ms. Davis' piece: We in the education community must begin to support and foster arts education for its own sake. While it is "nice" to be able to quote statistics that show how children who receive an education in the arts outperform their "arts deprived" classmates on standardized tests, we must begin to remove the discussion from its almost single-minded focus on the contribution of arts to academic performance.

After all, we are not just educating children for work, we are teaching them values about life. In my view, one important value our children must learn is that life involves more than just work, more than just achievement--it involves fun, creativity, self-expression, and, yes, art.

Stuart D. Gibson
Fairfax County School Board
Fairfax, Va.

Commitment Needed To Meld Academic, Vocational Study

To the Editor:

Bravo to Professors Susan L. Forman and Lynn Arthur Steen for their demystifying essay on "Applied Academics"(Oct. 16, 1996). Vocational education has always claimed to offer "two educations in one." With an integrated academic-vocational curriculum, this can truly be achieved. The connection is crucial to the mission of the vocational/academic instructor; without it, the "two educations" would seem unrelated, distant, and unrewarding.

"Tech prep" programs, which focus on relevant applied learning, help to keep all future doors open for vocational-technical students, whether those doors include postsecondary schooling, the workforce, or a combination of both. Ms. Forman and Ms. Steen note that the prevailing attitude has been that only "some" students are capable of higher education. This, of course, is not true.

To ensure that applied curricula and instructional practices are challenging and relevant, though, three commitments have to be made: 1) school communities must pledge long-term funding and support for curriculum-development teams, on-site visits, and teacher collaboration; 2) teachers have to be willing to give up some classroom or shop autonomy to work toward a common goal; and 3) administrators must have a vision that encourages new and exciting ways of teaching and learning.

Thomas Hickey
English/Social Studies Instructor
South Shore Vocational-Technical High School
Hanover, Mass.

Try 'Glotzelditis' Approach To Character Education

To the Editor:

It has often been observed that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Tony Wagner inadvertently demonstrates this point in his recent Commentary, "Creating Community Consensus on Core Values" (Oct. 9, 1996). In that piece, he makes some critical remarks about character education. For instance, he says that character education often regards "obedience" as a critical virtue. But, Mr. Wagner notes, "discussions about... obedience" can become divisive for a community. And there's surely some truth there.

Mr. Wagner proposes a different approach he calls consensus building. But he frankly admits that one of the greatest problems facing consensus building is the frequent lack of respectful behavior among many of the builders. There's too much "dissing"; too many people do not listen, harass others, act rudely, etc. I have heard such complaints before.

I have a suggestion: Bring back obedience to the rules of order. Even if the idea is "divisive," it is surely better than disorder. Or we can, if we must, be faddish, let obedience stay forgotten, and invent "Glotzelditis." Glotzelditis is an old Patagonian term which means giving everyone a fair chance to speak, and prescribes having a "Glotz" to throw out people who do not respect others.

There is one great virtue to the Glotzelditis approach. The approach allows us to have order at our meetings but avoids the terrible side effects which flow from stressing the divisive term "obedience."

Edward A. Wynne
College of Education
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

Advocating ConstructivismIn Professional Development

To the Editor:

In his Commentary ("To Transmit or To 'Construct'?: The Lure of Trend Infatuation in Teacher Professional Development," Oct. 23, 1996), Thomas R. Guskey attempts to argue for a "balanced curriculum" in professional development: a little bit of personalized connection mixed in with a diet of lecture. As an educator involved for over 15 years in conceptualizing and implementing professional-development projects and research on experienced teacher education, I would have to disagree with two issues Mr. Guskey uses in his argument, and which I see as related.

Mr. Guskey foists the medical analogy on education once again. This time the argument intends to compare education and medicine favorably by suggesting that education, like medicine, rests on a body of knowledge which teachers need to "get." The most efficient and successful way to be informed of knowledge in our field is through lecture, which Mr. Guskey calls a "structured opportunity." Once we get the knowledge, we need to balance "it" with sensitivity, which we acquire through means other than lecture, most notably personalization. Dichotomizing affective and cognitive has a long tradition in education and further suggests to me that sensitivity is not part of our professional knowledge but something we add on to this knowledge to ensure our responsiveness to context and to students' backgrounds.

Mr. Guskey's critique of constructivism as another educational fad is meant to bolster his argument that the body of knowledge educators need to acquire and continually update would be better served through lecture than through current attempts to apply constructivist principles to professional-development projects themselves. Mr. Guskey's argument goes awry when he fails to acknowledge that constructivism is a theory of learning.

The major principles upon which constructivism rests include individual as well as social building of meanings, personal experience and knowledge comprising the basis for building new meanings, and marrying feelings with knowing and doing in order to enrich understanding. Constructivism requires that we be sensitive to unique situations and conditions at the same time that we build connections across differences. Moreover, constructivism is not unstructured learning; rather, its principles lead to scaffolded opportunities for structured freedom.

Constructivism is not an end, but a means to extending current understandings and acquiring new knowledge. Therefore, those of us who base professional-development projects on constructivism do so not because it is a fad, but in order to help educators learn, continually build on, critique, and share a full range of professional knowledge.

Nancy Lester
Stanford Educational Collaborative
Stanford University School of Education
Stanford, Calif.

Cincinnati Restructuring PlanIs Response to Earlier Failure

To the Editor:

The article concerning the rebuilding of the Cincinnati public schools was disturbing because it failed to interview persons critical of the proposal and to suggest possible alternatives to it ("Cincinnati Eyes Top-to-Bottom Restructuring," Oct. 23, 1996). I think the reporting underscores how little all have come to expect that restructuring can ever substitute for real change. The article neglected to mention two important facts. Big urban school districts do not work. Research and experience validate this point. Second, there is nothing in the plan that requires students' interests to be put first; nothing very bad will happen to anyone but the students if the schools do not work. There is still no consequence for the teachers who do not change. There is still no reward for the ones that do. What has been proposed is a vision for improvement, not a strategy for action.

If Cincinnati were really interested in children, the district would have given its communities the option first to redesign the district and to provide assets to that opportunity. The second would be to provide a real and definite consequence to the district for not improving. Failing schools would become charter, independent, or public schools that provide for new designs and new employees. Charter schools are accountable. If they fail, they close.

Four years ago, Education Week quoted Superintendent J. Michael Brandt as stating that the "Buenger Commission report [the previous salvation plan] provides our district with a blueprint for excellence." Five years later, cosmetic changes have been made. Five years of chugging and churning have resulted undeniably in abysmal learning. It would have been nice if you could have reported results instead of a promise to try again. It could not be more obvious that the poor results warrant a dramatic change in design, players, and incentives. The tolerance for this consistent failure is unexplainable.

David Nordyke
Harmony Empowerment Center
Cincinnati, Ohio

'Reasonable Cost' Needed or Best Use of Internet

To the Editor:

I support President Clinton's proposal for universal Internet access for schools ("'E-Rate' Telecom Discounts for Schools Detailed," Oct. 23, 1996). However, I believe that at some point, reasonable cost should be involved so that the resource is not wasted. Let me give an example.

For nine years, I was an elementary school principal. In the beginning, all consumable supplies such as paper, pencils, photocopies, staples, etc. were "free" in that everyone took what they needed from a common supply until, toward the end of school, the cupboards were bare. Of course, the supplies were not really free; they were paid for with our school's share of the district budget.

The following year, I gave each team of three to four teachers an "allowance" for the year for supplies. The amount of the allowance was determined by taking the same amount of money that was spent the year before and dividing it up on a per-student basis. If teachers spent less on supplies, they could purchase other things they might want for their classrooms, such as a cassette tape recorder, or pool their savings for some more costly item. The result? Consumption of paper, staples, photocopies, etc. went down dramatically. In the end, the staff decided to accumulate their savings into a sort of "savings account" and about two years later used those funds as leverage to secure additional funding and install telephones in the classrooms--something the teachers had very much wanted for years. If school supplies had continued to be "free," the teachers might still be without phones.

From my point of view, charging some amount based on usage not only helps ensure that resources are not wasted, it also gives users more control. As in my example above, a school which was careful about Internet usage would be able to spend savings on other high-priority items. As long as service is unrelated to cost, teachers and schools lose control over scarce resources.

Michael Simkins
21st Century Education Initiative
San Jose, Calif.

Vol. 16, Issue 10

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