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Bureaucratic Delays Hamper Processing of Substitutes

To the Editor:

Many people encouraged me to apply to become a substitute teacher in the Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District, indicating, as you recently pointed out, that there was a desperate need for subs ("Desperately Seeking Substitutes, Districts Are Becoming Creative," Feb. 4, 1998). However, I found after applying that the district has had to turn what was once a two-week process for hiring substitutes into a six- to nine-week process.

A recent law advanced by Gov. Pete Wilson requires all new school employees to be fingerprinted before they are hired. This law has caused massive delays in the processing of substitute teachers. While Gov. Wilson's quick action to curb the hiring of felons and other unsuitable teacher candidates should be applauded, because the bill went into effect the day after its passage, the California Department of Justice was completely unprepared for the higher numbers of fingerprints to be processed.

In addition to the frustration of delays, districts are not allowed to share the fingerprints of their applicants, so if a substitute has already made prints for one district, he or she must pay an extra $42 to send them to each additional district. The immediate effect of this bureaucratic hold-up is frightening: Substitutes are already turned off to teaching by the administrative delays, and all district officials can do is cross their fingers and hope the prints come back sooner than expected. In the meantime, quality substitutes are looking elsewhere for work.

The simple solution? Allow districts to share fingerprint records, and work with the department of justice so that a quicker turnaround occurs.

Emily Becker
Oakland, Calif.

Foundations Should Address School Philosophy Conflict

To the Editor:

Two recent Commentaries, presented under the dual heading "'Different Drummers' and Teacher Training," deal with one of the two most critical educational issues of the 20th century, the conflict between progressive and traditionalist education. The authors, J.E. Stone ("A Disharmony That Impairs Schooling") and Evans Clinchy ("Who Is Out of Step With Whom?"), state the facts very clearly, and I will be bitterly disappointed if someone doesn't soon make a determined effort to resolve this destructive conflict of philosophies.

Study materials clearly explaining each philosophy and its educational implications should be prepared, and study circles should be organized in every interested community in a few pilot states, so that the public can make informed decisions and give proper guidance to public education. Unless something such as this is done, the Mississippi River will run dry before we get the schools with which we can be satisfied.

No philanthropic foundation in America can identify a more worthy target for its attention. Certainly, funding such an "Educate America" project and the requisite teacher education reforms would yield more satisfying results than almost anything these foundations have done in the past.

At the very least, it would give almost everyone the schools they want and stop the endless war of philosophies. Both educators and the public must understand each philosophy, and teachers must be able to function effectively in at least the one to which they are best suited. Beyond that, teacher training institutions and public schools must be made safe for all philosophies supported by parents, students, and boards of education.

And from the very beginning, let's get one thing straight. We must keep in mind that our purpose is to provide children with the educational environment in which they are most likely to succeed. Some students are more successful in traditionalist schools, and others need a progressive approach. For that matter, a child might need one approach at one stage of life, and another when he reaches greater maturity.

Our goal should be to acquire enough knowledge and ability to be able to provide schools based upon whichever philosophy fits each child. After all, philosophy is only important insofar as it best serves the children and our aspirations for them. That is the bottom line. Provide the philosophy that fits the child. Don't try to fit children into a philosophy to which they are not suited, just because someone says it is the "best." (This doesn't have anything to do with the learner-centered-education concept.)

For anyone who may be interested, the second critical issue of the 20th century is behavior modification--student discipline, if you prefer. There isn't much point in discussing other educational issues unless we're truly ready to deal with the hard ones.

Fred Gibson
Tahlequah, Okla.

Expanding 'New Age' Tack: Why Stop at Grammar?

To the Editor:

In response to "Learning To Live With 'New Age' English," Jan. 28, 1998, by Morris Freedman: "He and I" isn't simpler than "he and me," and neither is "lay" simpler than "lie." They are just incorrect in the examples given. Mr. Freedman is talking about basic English grammar.

He's saying, if English grammar calls for certain rules, and people don't speak or write according to those standards, so what?

OK--let people say and write however they like, even if communication (understanding by listener or reader) fails. And let's extend this to other fields:

New Age cooking: If the recipe calls for a quarter teaspoon of garlic salt, and you put in a whole teaspoon, who cares?

New Age health: If your doctor writes a prescription for Synthyroid and you get penicillin, so what?

New Age finance: If your contract calls for a salary of $2,000 a month, and your paycheck is for $200, don't object.

New Age stagecraft: If your play calls for an actor to enter stage right, let him enter stage center or stage left. Who cares?

New Age sports: Take away all the rules and standard equipment now in use (balls, bats, goal posts, and so on). Who cares?

New Age construction: If the architectural plans for your house call for a kitchen and it's left out, don't sue. Accept it as the new, "easy" way of doing things.

I teach English in a junior college, and it's bad enough for newspapers and TV reporters to say "lay" when it should be "lie." For a teacher of English to say it's all right makes me tired.

Ann Chambers
Fort Worth, Texas

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