Letters to the Editor

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Offering 'Minuscule Insight' Into Complex, Divisive Man

To the Editor:

Your article on John R. Silber, the current chairman of the Massachusetts board of education ("Duty-Bound," Nov. 5, 1997.), is a minuscule insight into a very complicated man who may over the last 30 years have been interesting to watch, but in reality has caused more dissension, more divisiveness, and more acrimony in higher education and public education in this century than anyone other than his colleague, former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. Both are iconoclasts who abuse public education for their personal fame and gain.

Clearly Mr. Silber has always felt himself to be on a divine mission. From the first day I heard him speak--when he addressed the Massachusetts Council of Social Studies teachers in Boston nearly 30 years ago--to the present day, he has conveyed nothing more than criticism and little of a positive agenda to public education. His issues are generally always those of governance and control. Public education in Massachusetts would be best served by his resignation. His reform efforts are nothing more than pogroms. His lack of understanding of how children learn is embarrassing, his condescending attitudes toward women and minorities, as well as people in general, are appalling.

The best thing that's ever happened to Boston University was John R. Silber leaving as president. The worst thing to happen to Massachusetts public education was then-Gov. William F. Weld's appointment of a man who contributes nothing but shock waves and offers nothing constructive to the needs of children or learners at every level.

Mr. Silber may be bound by something, but it's not duty. And, obviously, he is not motivated by pleasure, as his own admission in your article shows. If someone is having so little fun, perhaps it's time to get out.

Michael J. Malinowski
Superintendent of Schools
Coventry Public Schools
Coventry, Conn.

Testimonials to Chicago Role in Research and Teaching

To the Editor:

In his Nov. 12, 1997, Commentary, Jonathan Bassett dismisses schools of education as institutions that have chosen to "focus on research ... [thereby losing] their purpose"("The University of Chicago's Department of Education Will Not Be Missed," Nov. 12, 1997.) Despite his seeming distaste for research, perhaps Mr. Bassett ought to have conducted his own before disregarding the university as an institution that leaves the principal mission of teaching teachers unfulfilled.

I have just completed an intensive, four-week writing workshop at Curie Metropolitan High School, one of Chicago's best public schools. During my four weeks there, I shared a classroom of 25 lower-level 9th graders with two colleagues. We each taught seven times across the four weeks, supporting each other throughout the planning, teaching, and evaluation processes. Working together, we designed and taught an entirely new unit on writing arguments. The lesson plans, tailored to meet the various needs of these "slower" learners, were based on our immediate experiences in the classrooms.

The workshop was incredibly supportive, totally hands-on, and fully engaging. My University of Chicago professor, George Hillocks Jr., would most certainly agree with Mr. Bassett that "teaching is a craft, not a science, and that excellent craftsmanship is akin to high art." The Curie workshop, designed and initiated by Mr. Hillocks, was just the beginning of my apprenticeship in this craft called teaching.

No, Mr. Bassett, I am not "cut off from the real world of schools and teachers." In fact, my cooperating teacher has been at Curie for approximately 25 years, and I plan to learn a great deal from her. I am being trained to be a teacher. I am an M.A.T. of English student at the University of Chicago.

Julia B. Swaney
M.A.T. Candidate
University of Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

To the Editor:

Contrary to Jonathan Bassett's assertion that "the University of Chicago's department of education will not be missed," it will be sorely missed--but certainly not by people as ignorant of the value of research as Mr. Bassett is. As one of the world's premier education centers, this recently closed department had a long and distinguished record of producing influential research. Since World War II this research ranged, for example, from Benjamin Bloom's findings, which helped begin the Head Start program, to Larry Hedges' recent research demonstrating the value of spending for education--contrary to claims that money doesn't make a difference.

Chicago's department of education no doubt did make a strategic mistake when it withdrew from the training of teachers. It was, however, pre-eminent in the training of educational researchers, many of whom have been among the most famous and productive in the field. Its training function in this capacity, along with its basic research efforts, will be greatly missed. Mr. Bassett argues, however, that quality research on educational issues can and will be done by scholars from other disciplines, so education departments should concentrate on training teachers. The trouble with this view is that other departments and disciplines seldom reward researchers for concentrating their efforts within the education domain, so their output in this sphere is sporadic at best.

Ironically, Mr. Bassett calls attention to the research of Harvard University political scientist Paul Peterson as his sole example of a scholar from outside of education doing important research in the domain. This again reveals Mr. Bassett's ignorance, and with a symmetry Chicago graduates will enjoy: Paul Peterson got his start, and his interest in educational research, with a joint appointment in education and political science at the University of Chicago.

William Lowe Boyd
Distinguished Professor of Education
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pa.

Dyslexia Research Indicates Usefulness of Neuroscience

To the Editor:

Your Nov. 12, 1997, issue had two contradictory reports on the use and misuse of neuroscience in education ("Dealing With Dyslexia," Nov. 12, 1997.) You reported, in one, the recent article by John T. Bruer, in which he maintains that it is too early for educators to apply the findings of neuroscience to preschool education. In the other article, you reported on successful remediation strategies for dyslexia being used by Dr. Sally Shaywitz and Frank Vellutino.

These articles were contradictory because Dr. Shaywitz's success in discovering a method to combat the phonemic problems that cause dyslexia in some people was the result of applying neuroscience (especially magnetic resonance imaging) to the study of dyslexia. This research finding by Dr. Shaywitz clearly highlights how strategies used to remediate learning problems based on neuroscience can be successfully applied to education, even though we do not possess total information on how the brain develops.

The successful application of neuroscience research to special education by Dr. Shaywitz suggests that educators can look to neuroscience for clues to children's education. It also indicates that the application of these findings by educators must be based on the research-teach-research model. In this way, education and children can both benefit from neuroscience. The research reported on dyslexia makes it clear that we should heed the cautionary suggestions of Mr. Bruer, but that we should not be so pessimistic about the application of neuroscience to education that we stand silently by while research important to the education of our children is ignored.

Clyde A. Winters
Uthman dan Fodio Institute
Chicago, Ill.

Swallowing Industry Line on U.S. Education Needs

To the Editor:

Had Patte Barth stopped by the Ford Motor Co.'s engine plant in Chihuahua, Mexico, before swallowing the propaganda laid on her by General Motors officials, she might have written a very different Commentary ("Want To Keep American Jobs and Avert Class Division? Try High School Trig," Nov. 26, 1997.)

Ford hired Mexican school dropouts and put them through a training program that lasted four to 12 weeks. Initially Ford hired only those with at least nine years of education, but as the program progressed, Ford relied more on its own training and dropped its education requirements towards the Mexican norm, six years. It is the world's most productive engine plant. Ford appears to have been able to produce what GM officials claim is impossible: highly skilled, poorly educated workers. GM just wants schools to do for free what it should be paying in worker investment.

It has been noted in a variety of reports (the Sandia and SCANS reports, for example) that American industry makes little investment in workers and that it directs most of that investment to those who already have college degrees and high skills. The GM contention rings hollow.

Moreover, as I noted in an earlier Education Week Commentary, many American college graduates take jobs that require no college ("What If Education Broke Out All Over?," March 28, 1994). The Condition of Education 1996, published by the U.S. Department of Education, shows that things have gotten worse since then: Indicators reveal that an enormous number of graduates take jobs that are not related to their major or don't require a college degree, or both.

No wonder during the 1992 presidential campaign Ross Perot coined the phrase "B.A. bellhops" to describe all the college graduates handling his luggage in hotels. At the societal level, the call by industry for more highly skilled workers is a cynical ploy to drive down the wages of skilled labor.

Ms. Barth claims that "industry is creating plenty of jobs that pay well" and that "opportunities are expanding for young people with a solid educational background." I challenge her to produce data to back up these claims. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections show that the economy has lots of low-skill, low-pay, part-time jobs without benefits, and far fewer skilled positions. Each month's unemployment report affirms these projections. The situation was captured well in a cartoon. An after-dinner speaker tells the audience that "the current economic recovery has created 7.6 million jobs." Simultaneously, the busboy cleaning off the tables thinks to himself, "And I have three of them."

Ms. Barth is on target when she addresses the equity issue and is right to worry about the "ugly specter of a de facto caste system," but she, like most others, overlooks that the American economy absolutely depends on a large cadre of low-skill, low-wage workers. (And so do other economies. When threatened by overeducation, these nations have taken to importing less educated workers. It used to be Turks and Yugoslavs to Germany and Scandinavia, and non-Ashkenazy Jews to Israel; now it's Filipinos and Indonesians to Singapore.)

Educating all will take care of the equity situation but will lower wages and leave lots of highly skilled people standing around on street corners currently occupied by the low-skilled.

Gerald W. Bracey
Alexandria, Va.

NCAA Should Leave K-12 Academics Alone

To the Editor:

Your most recent coverage of the struggles between student-athletes who have special learning needs and the National Collegiate Athletic Association was a report many of us familiar with the topic predicted a year ago ("Justice: NCAA Biased Against Learning-Disabled Students," Nov. 5, 1997.)

Like-minded educators concerned about the NCAA's increasing encroachment into secondary school academics have long protested the organization's Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse policies and practices which, at best, are inconsistent and contradictory and, at worst, have now been ruled discriminatory by the U.S. Department of Justice.

That college and university athletics need the kind of policing that the NCAA provides for its member institutions is not at issue within the secondary school community. Let the NCAA take care of its business in the postsecondary realm. The mantra repeated by the high school community, however, has been quite clear: Leave high school academics alone.

As a persistent and vexatious critic of the association's academic policies, which have negatively impacted both students and curricula, it is only fair that I point out that the NCAA is attempting to address many of its harshest skeptics by making efforts to change some of the most irksome policies and practices within its IEC. But these efforts came about only after increasing public outcry and litigation. The negative publicity seemed to be of more concern to the organization than the true merits of the academic arguments.

The NCAA will not make good on its promises of IEC policy and procedure overhaul until the proposals reach the appropriate final NCAA governing body sometime in January. It remains to be seen how much of what has been recommended to the association from the high school community will be adopted.

Other troubling questions and issues remain that have yet to be resolved by corrective actions of the NCAA. By fighting the Justice Department's ruling, is the NCAA sending a message that it believes it need not adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act? Why does the association persist in the carte blanche banning of entire subject-area coursework? What empirical basis exists for the particular course-content standards chosen by the NCAA? And the main issue for secondary schools remains untouched: How can a private, members-only organization that regulates college athletics determine what is appropriate academic coursework for nonmember and nonvoting institutions--the high schools of the nation?

These questions need answers. If the NCAA is not willing to provide them, perhaps federal and state leaders will give the organization the chance to do so via legislative hearings designed to bar any and all NCAA policies and practices from interfering with secondary school academics.

Walter B. Roberts Jr.
Government Relations
Minnesota School Counselors Association
North Mankato, Minn.

Less Accusatory Message On Jargon Would Help

To the Editor:

Howard Good's essay on educational jargon does point to phrases and terms that may be difficult for parents or the public to understand ("Say What?" Nov. 5, 1997.) However, there is a distinction between the terminology practitioners use to describe educational concepts and practices and the language consumers need to understand schools, learning, and teaching. When I speak to my insurance agent, tax shelter annuity adviser, or physician, I expect to have the practitioners' language "translated" to terms I can understand so that I may make better decisions.

I agree with Mr. Good's recommendation: "We should train teachers and school administrators to speak so that they can be understood." What is unfortunate is that this valid, honest recommendation is surrounded by vitriolic statements indicating that the current condition of education is acceptable to teachers, boards, and schools of education because it feeds their control and benefits their pocketbooks.

If Mr. Good desires open dialogue, simple language, and honest exchange of ideas, a less accusatory overture would help.

Sue DeFrancesco
Las Vegas, Nev.

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