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Limited Funds Are Better Than None

To the Editor:

In your article "Plan Would Boost Competitive Grant-Funding," May 26, 1999, many of the experts quoted made good points about proposals to convert federal entitlement dollars into competitive-grant programs. Marshall S. Smith, the acting deputy U.S. secretary of education, mentioned the "limited funding" aspect of the current Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, saying that "you need more money than that [less than $10 per pupil] to run an effective program."

I beg to differ. As the former safe and drug-free schools regional coordinator for 117 districts in southern New York state, I am quite aware that the vast majority of districts are delighted to receive this funding, limited though it may be, and put it to good use. This funding pays for such services as student-assistance programs, early-intervention initiatives, drug-prevention curricula, school-safety surveys, and much more.

In fact, the experts gloss over the most critical point of all: "Limited funding" has much more impact than no funding.

Under the current proposal for the reauthorization of the safe and drug-free schools program, only a few select districts would even be eligible to compete for program dollars. Where does that leave the vast majority of schools? Without any funding to do important programming in the areas of drug and violence prevention. And those eligible to compete for the funds, presumably the most needy districts, would not be assured of actually receiving any funds--they'd only be eligible to compete for the money. Grant-writing and competition for desperately needed aid should not be the business of schools. This only detracts from the schools' missions and dilutes their ability to provide service.

The federal government should support every school in America as it makes progress toward meeting Goal 7 of the national education goals: "Every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol, and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning." The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program has been the mainstay of this federal commitment. It should remain as it has been in the past, a program open to every school, both public and nonpublic, on a noncompetitive basis.

Isabel Burk
New York, N.Y.

Drop the Excuses, Rethink the Approach

To the Editor:

I was disappointed with Freda Schwartz's contention that the joy of learning "cannot be introduced in the K-12 venue" ("The Fiddler's Playing, But Nobody's Dancing," May 26, 1999). In fact, her argument boils down to the most pervasive and accepted myth in the profession, which is that the students don't care and have an inbred "dislike--even a contempt--for any [learning] activity." Quite frankly, while blaming the students, their (and our) culture, testing, standards, lack of funding, and so on sounds logical, it's still just an excuse.

It would be better for the teachers in Ms. Schwartz's high school to rethink their approach--evidence suggests that student-centered, problem-based learning works in all types of classrooms--than to blame the students and their lack of ... one can fill in the blank.

Dennis Kafalas
Woonsocket High School
Harrisville, R.I.

'Eight-Year Study' Revisited in 1998

To the Editor:

I was pleased that you featured the Eight-Year Study as part of your review of significant events in education of the past century ("The Legacy of an Influential Yet Often Forgotten Study," May 19, 1999). Readers may be interested to know that in 1998, the National Middle School Association published The Eight-Year Study Revisited: Lessons From the Past for the Present.

It was written by six educators who are thoroughly familiar with the study and the progressive education movement of which it was a major landmark: Richard P. Lipka, a professor of education at Pittsburgh State University in Kansas; John H. Lounsbury, a professor and dean emeritus of the school of education at Georgia College and State University; Conrad F. Toepfer Jr., a professor in the graduate school of education of the State University of New York at Buffalo; Gordon F. Vars, a professor of education emeritus at Kent State University in Ohio; Samuel J. Alessi Jr., assistant superintendent of the Buffalo, N.Y., school district; and Craig Cridel, a professor of educational foundations at the University of South Carolina.

Although addressed primarily to middle-level educators, the authors' implications for curriculum, educational change, and educational research are applicable to all levels of the educational establishment.

Gordon F. Vars
Educational Consultant
Kent, Ohio

Science in Schools, Religion Elsewhere

To the Editor:

Christopher Gieschen may have difficulty with evolution, but the overwhelming majority of scientists do not ("Lens of Evolution Can Be Distorting," Letters, May 26, 1999). Uncounted millions of observations for over a century and a half by thousands of biologists, geologists, geneticists, molecular biologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, and others have left little doubt in the minds of all but a handful of scientists that, in general, evolution is the "central unifying concept in biology."

The U.S. Supreme Court has held, correctly, that science teachers must teach science, not religion. Individuals and religious bodies are free to accept or reject the findings and conclusions of science, but they may not constitutionally censor public school science curricula or have public schools teach particular religious tenets or opinions.

"Intelligent design" notions, along with Native American, Hindu, and other religious or folk beliefs about the development of the universe or life may be dealt with in academic comparative-religion classes or, certainly, in any private setting.

Edd Doerr
Executive Director
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.

What if We Could Save Young Bullies From Themselves?

To the Editor:

In recent weeks, you have published several essays and letters to the editor regarding the horrific tragedy at Columbine High School ("The Columbine Tragedy," Letters, May 5, 1999; "Reflections on Columbine," May 12, 1999). You have reported on the meetings of a House subcommittee examining violence in our schools. You reported on the number of students arrested for bomb threats. The same kinds of reports are documented in daily newspapers, news magazines, and on the airwaves.

Everyone seems to be searching for answers--it's a rational response to the tragedy. The answers range from blame being placed on television viewing and violent video games, to lax gun control at gun shows, or even that some people are just violent. What I find incredibly missing in this national discourse is discussion of how could we prevent or at least diminish the possibility that children should find themselves in a position where they see violence as their only choice.

As an elementary school principal, I see children on a daily basis who have a very difficult time managing their anger or their impulsiveness. They choose to hit or act out when things don't go as they've planned. Given early discussions of these kinds of concerns and a willingness on the part of the family to address the issues in a positive and constructive manner, we can almost always provide the child with appropriate ways to deal with difficult situations. With guidance and practice, most children will find rewarding ways to succeed in the world around them. Like so many things in our society, early intervention can be extremely successful.

However, as a school, we are not equipped or able to provide the long-term interventions needed by some children, particularly when the entire family needs to be involved. Families are often unable or unwilling to access the necessary experts due to an inability to pay, the resistance to acknowledging that a problem exists, or the refusal to consult with the appropriate mental-health experts.

While not all children that routinely hit or call names on the playground are at risk for violence in their teens, it stands to reason that with intervention in the primary years, they may find the world a more satisfying and rewarding place.

Every one of us can probably still name the bully in our elementary school. The child that was feared, who could make you give up your milk money--even on the days when the school served chocolate milk. In his or her wake is, no doubt, a kindergarten teacher who knew that things weren't going to be easy for that child. That kindergarten teacher watched him or her like a hawk on the playground. That kindergarten teacher would have talked with the parents at conferences and during numerous phone calls about the kinds of behaviors the child demonstrated on the playground. That same kindergarten teacher would have jumped at the opportunity to help that bully-wannabe avoid the stigma and reputation before it became etched in stone.

One of the most powerful impacts we could have on the lives of children would be to provide adequate and appropriate parent education and mental-health services to the families of children during the preschool and elementary school years. Children who feel able to deal with the world around them are successful and well-adjusted. Successful and well-adjusted children rarely feel the need to look for answers with guns or violent video games. They are able to watch television and movies, play video games, and walk through gun shows without ever seriously considering performing an act of violence.

As a society, we can legislate how to deal with movies and television, guns and knives, threats and video games to our hearts' content, but until we raise children who see themselves as competent members of society, we will have children who resort to horrific means to be noticed.

Candace W. Spurzem
Holling Heights Elementary School
Omaha, Neb.

Vol. 18, Issue 40, Page 45

Published in Print: June 16, 1999, as Letters

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