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'Warm Demanders' Pedagogy Raises Some Questions

To the Editor:

In their recent essay, Jacqueline Jordan Irvine and James W. Fraser assert that "culturally responsive African-American teachers" use a particular pedagogy, which is then noted in five behaviors ("Warm Demanders," May 13). The assertions raise questions:

Is this pedagogy genetically derived? Can teachers who are not African-American learn and use this pedagogy if they are culturally responsive? Can they be?

Can teachers from the entirety of the African continent or the African Diaspora in the West Indies learn and use the pedagogy?

Can the pedagogy be used with children of African-Americans or indeed any other children whom society has not "psychologically or physically abandoned," or is it useful only with students who have been abandoned?

Can it be used with Daria as well as Darius?

Does the pedagogy take on different features in departmentalized or theme-based secondary schools preparing students for elite institutions, or is it for elementary schools?

Is it used in rural as well as nonrural schools?

Given the age-cohort, racial, gender, and class-based diversity and multicultural nature of the nation, are these significant questions?

Harry Stein
Ramapo Indian Hills
Regional High School District
Franklin Lakes, N.J.

Lively Shakespeare Story Misses 'Leading Innovator'

To the Editor:

I was glad to see "The Play's the Thing," April 8, 1998, your article on livelier ways of teaching. I was particularly happy to see that the emphasis was clearly placed on teaching through performance. I was, however, surprised that you included no mention of Shakespeare & Company, clearly the leading innovator in this field.

Shakespeare & Company is a professional theater company founded in 1978 by Tina Packer. For 20 years, its professional actor-teachers have gone into schools, developing creative, dynamic methods of working with teachers and students. At the Second International Teaching Shakespeare conference mentioned in your article, three of the featured presenters were Shakespeare & Company artists, and six of the other presenters, including one you mentioned, had all spent time training with Shakespeare & Company.

As one of the most extensive arts-in-education programs in the northeast, Shakespeare & Company reaches more than 40,000 students each year with performances, workshops, and residencies. It doesn't simply perform for students, it gives students opportunities to perform the plays themselves. Students from the 4th grade to the undergraduate level, as well as their teachers, work with the company's artists and teachers, exploring the plays as actors do, discovering in themselves and for themselves the power and passion of Shakespeare's words.

We believe that the rigorous demands and the generative power of the creative act of performing Shakespeare, either on a stage after weeks of rehearsal or in a classroom after just 10 minutes, affect an individual's education at the deepest levels of literacy, communication, and self-concept.

More information on Shakespeare & Company and its education program is available at

Mary Hartman
Associate Director of Education
Shakespeare & Company
Lenox, Mass.

'Proficient at What?': Skills Mastery Expected

To the Editor:

I was saddened to read the Commentary by James R. Delisle, "Proficient at What?," May 20, 1998, in which he complains about the standardized tests his students are required to take. What makes me sad is that I--and the rest of America's education consumers--must put up with an education system in which practitioners like Mr. Delisle seem to dominate endlessly.

Unlike Mr. Delisle, I work in a highly competitive industry where people survive according to whether they can produce certain expected results. My situation is not unusual; most industries are this way. In my field, you have to know how to read, write, and compute. You need to understand where to put the decimal point and why it belongs there. If you can't spell, your credibility is zero. Relying on the "context clues" that Mr. Delisle encourages his students to use when reading results in low accuracy rates. If I, like Mr. Delisle, were to complain to my clients about their insistence that I meet their specific expectations, I'd be laughed out of my profession.

Apparently, Mr. Delisle feels that both he and his students should be above all of this. He feels that his students' learning should be valued by everyone, regardless of what the content might be. He undoubtedly believes that his work should be applauded because he and his students feel good about it. And apparently he also feels that there is no joy in mastering any commonly accepted set of skills or body of knowledge, as evidenced by his negative feelings about any and all standardized testing.

Mr. Delisle won't be around to take the heat in 10 years when his students step out of school and discover that most people simply won't care whether their classroom walls were colorful, whether they felt good about their self-directed projects, or whether their learning was a series of pleasant, nonthreatening experiences.

Instead, they'll be shocked to discover a world expecting specific skills and knowledge that they probably won't have acquired. On that day, his students will tell their prospective employers that they are indeed proficient, and the title of Mr. Delisle's Commentary will take on an entirely new meaning when those employers ask, "Yes, but proficient at what?"

David Ziffer
Batavia, Ill.

Struggle for Charter School Disenchants Parent-Educator

To the Editor:

For most of my 22 years as a public school educator, I believed that suburban public education was outstanding. I believed that school administrators and boards listened to parents and teachers, and tried to respond respectfully to their interests and needs.

These beliefs have been challenged in recent years. A few years ago, I began questioning whether my own children were being harmed both intellectually and emotionally by attending the local public schools. I joined other parents to discuss our concerns with school administrators, who listened but promised no changes.

In 1996, several of us parents asked the local school district to work with us to create a charter school that used E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s Core Knowledge Sequence. The district declined, but we pressed forward, and a proposal for Thomas Jefferson Charter School was submitted to 11 school districts in the fall of 1996. All 11 rejected the proposal. In denying our appeal, the Illinois board of education listed the issues that needed to be resolved. After correcting these deficiencies, we submitted a second proposal in the spring of 1997 to three of the original districts. Again the proposal was rejected and again we appealed to the state board, which denied our appeal.

After consultation with the state board, a third proposal was submitted to one of the original 11 districts this winter. It too was rejected by the local board. During this time, many board members and administrators have viciously attacked the proposed charter school's founders, even as we have tried to submit better proposals.

Several of the 11 districts we petitioned are starting their own "schools of choice." They will not, however, be offering the Core Knowledge program. The boards and administrators appear to us to favor unproven pedagogical methods that further their own personal or political agenda, and they refuse to recognize the desires of parents and teachers who prefer a more traditional, content-rich program.

Since our efforts were repeatedly rebuffed, I have enrolled my own five children in Lutheran and Catholic schools, something I never considered prior to two years ago. I was committed to public education, both for my career and for my children's education. I questioned how parochial schools could educate children at less than half the cost of public education, but I am happy to report that they do an exceptional job with the core academics. And though I did not send my children to parochial schools for the religious education, I am pleased with the moral and ethical foundation they are receiving in these close-knit school communities.

Two years ago, I realized that my support for parental choice would jeopardize my aspirations for a career as a public school administrator. I am willing to make this sacrifice for the cause of school choice. Meanwhile, the struggle for Thomas Jefferson Charter School goes on. Its board of directors has decided to appeal the latest rejection. After two years of struggle, we are more convinced than ever that, as parents, we must have the right to choose the education that is best for our children.

Marilyn Keller Rittmeyer
Arlington Heights, Ill.

Vol. 17, Issue 38, Pages 31, 33-34

Published in Print: June 3, 1998, as Letters

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