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Pictures Can Distort School Crime Reality

To the Editor:

The photographs used in your feature article "In the Hands of Children," (Oct. 14, 1998) send a subtle (and I would like to believe unintentional) racist message. Most of the national limelight about the violence in schools over the past 12 to 18 months has involved the actions of white students. Yet you chose to include two African-American males as the offenders for your report.

In addition to the photos of these young men, the inclusion of the two white police officers (in plainclothes), and a white pawn-shop owner who had been victimized, only continues to perpetuate a form of racism in our country that requires the pulling back of several layers to expose. It is unfortunate that any young person, of color or white, should feel the need to express herself or himself with a handgun in a school in our country. It is a deeper injustice when the facts are distorted or omitted and stereotypes with racist consequences, intentional or not, are allowed to live on.

Hank Van Putten
Assistant Principal
Oak Hill Middle School
Newton Centre, Mass.

Did Two Media Devour Childhood?

To the Editor:

In "The 'Meme' That Ate Childhood," (Oct. 7, 1998) Jane M. Healy posits that too-early exposure to computers can be detrimental to a child's development. This is a disturbing possibility. Would not many of these problems also occur when children are exposed to television at an early age?

Brian Cooper
Orem, Utah

Credit for Melding Technology, Teaching

To the Editor:

Concerning your story "Changing the Way Teachers Teach" in Technology Counts '98 (Oct. 1, 1998): I would like to add, for the record, that the technology design for the South Huntington (N.Y.) Union Free School District centered around the concept of connectivity.

Connectivity is the understanding of the relationship between technology and curriculum. The district had the expertise in technology and the expertise in curriculum. There was a need to reach out to the professional community for assistance in melding these two components.

As the architect of that design and the former superintendent of the district, I asked the National Urban Alliance to assist the district in developing a fluid relationship between the awesome power of technology and the reality that instruction should drive the relationship between these two forces for change.

Your article accurately represents the progress South Huntington made toward the integration of technology and learning, but it fails to identify the National Urban Alliance as a key player in the formation of this successful instructional package. Robert Price, whom you mentioned, is not only a consultant with exceptional skills, he is also a member of the National Urban Alliance. Let's give credit where credit is due.

Gerald Lauber
Roslyn Heights, N.Y.

Business Analogy Leaves Out Time

To the Editor:

I read with interest Denise Gelberg's Commentary, "The 'Business' of Reforming American Schools," (Sept. 30, 1998). Ms. Gelberg tells us what many of us have known: The business community has influenced our public schools for a very long time. The problem with the history of reform and its partnership with business is twofold.

First, the educational institution has made every attempt to model business practices without changing the fundamental time constraints that have been in place for what seems to be forever: 180 days, five days per week, six hours of teaching per day, and so on and so forth. This inflexibility to deal with the use of time, derived from industrial production lines and agrarian calendars, has impeded many reform agendas.

Second, as Ms. Gelberg points out, children have been considered the product of what we do. Opponents of reform believe this to be true, and hence a resistance to change. Children should not be our "products," for unlike industry, we do not have control over the product from start to finish. Instead, we have children for less than one-third of a day. What would Detroit do if the assembly lines had one-third control of the cars each day?

True reform won't happen until we treat children as our primary customer base and deal with the issues of time. With children as our primary customer, we can develop and build our real product: school curricula. Molding, shaping, and improving curricula on a continual basis geared to the needs of our customer will lead to true reform. Changing time patterns and viewing time as flexible rather than rigid will aid the process. When we make these fundamental shifts in our mindsets, other changes will follow. As Ms. Gelberg asks in her concluding statement, "isn't that what education in this country ought to be about? Isn't that what every child deserves?"

Paul C. Gagliarducci
Superintendent of Schools
Somers, Conn.

Why Are Vouchers So Controversial?

To the Editor:

Kim K. Metcalf's Commentary, "Advocacy in the Guise of Science," (Sept. 23, 1998) left me feeling somewhat empty when the final paragraph contained this statement: "If we allow bad science to guide us in establishing educational policy and hundreds of millions of children suffer as a result, will our grandchildren witness multibillion-dollar lawsuits over the negative effects, as we have witnessed in the tobacco litigation?" I certainly have my doubts as to the so-called unbiased research findings so proclaimed by Mr. Metcalf.

What really astounds me is that vouchers are so controversial. I do not see how good science can determine the best school for my child. Science may be able to produce reasons why a school is good or can do certain things, but it cannot determine the best choice. Why are so many educators almost hysterical in their fear of school choice? We encourage choice in almost every facet of people's lives. We have a choice where we live, where we eat, where we visit, what we wear, where we work, and the list could go on and on. But to let parents have a choice in the school their children attend creates some sort of horror of horrors.

I am the parent of a child who attended a school that good science would probably support. But my son and numerous others did not respond well to this school. Had I the financial means or the choice, I would have exercised it immediately. Good science did not provide for my child, as it didn't for many others. My story in not unique, and that is precisely why the voucher system must prevail. I assure you, educators will put forth far more effort to see that schools really do teach when they know the client will leave if they do not.

I must say that I remain puzzled by the controversy. I always thought that educators welcomed new, innovative ideas. However, it certainly appears that innovation is welcome, so long as it doesn't offend the status quo.

John Arnold
Cherokee, N.C.

Clarifying the Credits For Children's Texts

To the Editor:

On behalf of the Givens Foundation for African-American Literature, I would like to thank you for reviewing our children's bibliographies, Spirited Minds and Strong Souls Singing ("Writing To Remember," Oct. 7, 1998).

Poorly phrased publishing information submitted to you on our part, however, resulted in an error requiring clarification: The creation of Spirited Minds and Strong Souls Singing did indeed result from a collaboration between W.W. Norton & Co. and the Givens Foundation. We would be honored to share credit for the success of the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, but the Givens Foundation was not involved with the anthology in any way.

Christina Koehler
Givens Foundation for African-American Literature
Minneapolis, Minn.

Crisis of Less Than Epidemic Proportions?

To the Editor:

It is easy to see that in attempting to discredit the work of Richard Rothstein, Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, has a unique view of schools and how to measure their success ("Author Challenges 'Myth' That Education System Is Failing," Sept. 30, 1998).

As quoted in your article, Ms. Allen first states that "schools are not succeeding for a vast majority of children." She follows this by saying: "There in fact is a crisis. It may not be of epidemic proportions, but there is still a crisis." I submit that if her first statement were true, the second cannot be. If our schools were truly failing for the "vast majority of children," that would in fact be a failure of "epidemic proportions." The only way you can have it both ways is if you really don't care about children and instead only care about making headlines.

Lee F. Johansen
Rochester, Minn.

'Educentrism' Taking the Quiz--With Different Results

To the Editor:

I read with great interest William G. Spady's Commentary on educentric testing ("Educentric Testing Undermines America's Future," Oct. 7, 1998). I am not sure whether I am noneducentric or educentric, in that I both cry out "for a deeper look at the issues" and clamor for "more tests, better tests, higher scores" and alternative schooling. As far as my clamoring is concerned, I'm not that supportive of more and better pop quizzes, chapter tests, and in-school achievement tests. On the other hand, I certainly support more and even further-refined "high stakes" testing of American students.

As an educator who for 15 years has worked with a "high stakes" (something actually rides on the outcome!) aptitude test, the Secondary School Admission Test, I have seen the test used responsibly and with great success. I've also seen almost every misuse and abuse of tests by politicians, school boards, educators, administrators, and parents--including the frequent shooting of the test messenger.

The SSAT is an admission test used by private secondary schools to help them make decisions about student applicants. It is but one of many criteria for admission. In answer to two of Mr. Spady's 12 questions, the SSAT measures: student ability in math, language, and reasoning skills. It does not measure: everything else. Should we try to measure more? Use Howard Gardner's or Robert Sternberg's criteria? Perhaps. But should we stop measuring competency in the three R's? Are the three R's soon to be obsolete? I pray not.

I believe that most educators who work in the testing field could take Mr. Spady's quiz without charging the author as "un-American." In fact, I appreciated Mr. Spady's remarks. But I also must point out that our aptitude tests are not the problem--the misuse of these tests is. I'm no psychometrician, but if I can answer successfully Mr. Spady's questions, then he's no "rabble-rousing change agent," but just a frustrated citizen trying to make sense out of educating people for a future of which we have precious little knowledge.

Regan Kenyon
Secondary School Admission Test Board
Princeton, N.J.

To the Editor:

William G. Spady's diatribe against testing throws out the baby, the bathwater, and the bathtub as well. Testing, we are told, is indicative of "paradigm paralysis," and people who find merit in testing are naive, "educentric," and guilty of not trying to save America.

Mr. Spady's basic premises appear to be that tests respond to only the "tiniest fraction" of what it is important to know in today's burgeoning information age and that "yesterday's right answers have become today's obsolete information." In taking this stance, he chooses to ignore that in disciplines in which learners gain understanding through cumulative information and skills (for example, mathematics, science, and foreign languages), tests are a sound indicator of whether the student is prepared to face the challenge of the next level of difficulty.

Granted that education suffers from too much testing, but that does not mean that the process itself is invalid and primitive, as Mr. Spady suggests. Learning to cope with a small part of today's ever-expanding informational universe by way of a test can foster self-discipline and focus, two attributes that will be needed in the 21st century, perhaps even more than they are today, no matter how complex society becomes and how far we zoom along the information highway.

Henry B. Maloney
Birmingham, Mich.

Critical Thinking Stressed

To the Editor:

Charles E. Weidler is correct when he says that, at many colleges, future teachers are not required to take a course in critical thinking ("Philosophy and Critical-Thinking Skills," Oct. 7, 1998). His comment sparks several thoughts.

First, taking a course in critical thinking is not the only way to develop an understanding of higher-order thinking. It is important that critical thinking be embedded in the disciplines as well, so students see how it plays out in different areas. Second, many institutions, including Montclair State University in New Jersey and Gallaudet University in Washington, have a long history of focusing on critical thinking in the preparation of teachers and find it to be a very fruitful way to help teachers reach higher-order thinking with students. At some institutions, one finds both a stand-alone course, and an embedded/infused approach. In fact, Montclair State is the home of "philosophy for children," Matthew Lipman's curriculum adopted worldwide to teach reasoning through philosophy to children, beginning in the early grades.

Third, any teacher education program accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education must show how critical thinking is a part of its program for students. And, finally, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has an active Special Study Group for Critical Thinking in Teacher Education that joins together those nationwide who see critical thinking as important for future teachers.

From my perspective, preparing students who think critically, and therefore preparing teachers who can encourage such thinking, is one of the most important goals of American education, in that it supports both access to knowledge for all students and the preparation of engaged citizens in our democracy.

Nicholas M. Michelli
College of Education and Human Services
Montclair State University
Upper Montclair, N.J.

Wisdom and Process

To the Editor:

Charles E. Weidler's comments on philosophy and critical-thinking skills struck a chord with me. I have been in education for 25 years, but I came to the field via a liberal arts education; my formal education certification came after my original humanities degree. I have been a classroom teacher and a building-level principal in three different schools with excellent performance records. I recognize that much of my success is the result of the thinking and problem-solving skills that came out of my liberal arts degree, with its heavy emphasis on philosophy, literature, history, and theology.

Recent contacts with advocates of "critical thinking" left me feeling that they're missing the point. Critical thinking itself isn't really taught. Critical thinking is a result of an education process that is centuries old. Teachers or other "educated" people who reject the challenge of philosophy and other related liberal arts disciplines reject the "point" of education. Education is not training. Education is a process that gives individuals and communities the power to truly live and respond to an ever-changing world.

Each developmental age has its own set of challenges. Students who read the same novel at different ages have different levels of understanding. Thinking is a complex process. It does not happen because it is "taught." It happens because students are exposed to challenging ideas and concepts at the right time and place. Thinking occurs because we have something to think about. If thinking doesn't happen, I'd look at what is being taught.

Even my son, who is a senior studying biology and environmental management at a Jesuit university in the Midwest, acknowledges that those pesky philosophy classes have opened up the world to him. Maybe we should invest time in the wisdom of the ages if we wish to be wise in the future.

Steve Weber
St. Luke School
Indianapolis, Ind.

Vol. 18, Issue 9, Pages 45-46

Published in Print: October 28, 1998, as Letters

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