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Real Teacher Ed. Is Not Mediocre

To the Editor:

I read with dismay the comments by John Merrow about the 1,300 institutions that supposedly provide mediocre programs in teacher education ("The Teacher Shortage: Wrong Diagnosis, Phony Cures," Oct. 6, 1999). Obviously, some of these schools of miseducation do not deserve to be in business and should be closed. Just as apparently, Mr. Merrow did not visit many of the exemplary teacher education programs. If he had, he would have seen a very different kind of teacher education at work.

Just the other day, I returned from a real elementary school where my preservice students in the reading and language arts course had completed teaching lessons on the writing process to three classrooms of lively 3rd graders. Each of them had tutored 1st grade students in reading and writing and taught word processing to other children in the school's computer laboratory. They had been assisted by real classroom teachers, all highly experienced and knowledgeable about current methods in reading and language arts. These real teachers helped guide my students and evaluate their teaching.

Prior to teaching, all of these students had completed the mandatory lesson plans and, after each lesson, they wrote reflections on their work with help from a peer evaluator, the classroom teacher, and myself. These were not phony reflections with imagined children.

Large class sizes? Our methods courses are limited to 22 students. Cash cows? According to the dean, our elementary education program is the second costliest on campus, due to its small class sizes and intensive practicum in reading, language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. Low quality of students? I teach a general education course on global development that enrolls students in at least 10 different majors. Elementary education candidates do not take a back seat to any of these.

Mr. Merrow should look a little harder and find real teacher education in action.

William J. Oehlkers
Professor of Education
Rhode Island College
Barrington, R.I.

'Freaks and Geeks' Carries a Message

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing James R. Delisle's great Commentary on "Freaks and Geeks" ("Neither Freak Nor Geek: The Gifted Among Us," Oct. 27, 1999). I hope many of your readers take to heart his message that gifted children learn differently, and need the understanding and support of great teachers.

Hilary Cohen
Redondo Beach, Calif.

Student Learning Begins With Teachers

To the Editor:

In their Commentary on student accountability, James M. Banner Jr. and Harold C. Cannon miss the mark by stating that "even good teachers can't make inert, uncomprehending, unengaged students learn." ("A Student's Best Lesson," Oct. 20, 1999).

No one, not even outstanding teachers, can make students learn. But we have seen hundreds of very good teachers engage the most apathetic students and, in fact, imbue them with a sense of responsibility for their own education. These outstanding teachers exist all over the United States, and we have been fortunate enough to gather many of them to explore their methods, their personalities, and their success.

While we are not yet ready to publish the results, some of the early indications are that these teachers do indeed "declare that students have responsibility for their own learning." Furthermore, these teachers not only show students how to take hold of their own learning, but also appear capable of inspiring students to want to learn. They do this by showing them those important "connections between learning and life" outside the classroom, laboratory, and studio.

These outstanding teachers are able to lead, direct, and convince students in such ways that students' eyes, ears, and spirits are opened, refreshed, and revitalized. They are able to demonstrate that learning, while serious business, can also be an acceptable and enjoyable activity.

I also disagree with the authors' statement that "who they are is not their feelings, their fears, or their adolescent confusions." These attributes do not define any student totally, but they are very important pieces of the whole picture, and the outstanding teachers understand and appreciate these essential components of any student's personality and behavior. In fact, the dedicated and talented teachers who can deal effectively with those feelings, fears, and frustrations, including ones having to do with relationships and learning itself, are among the most successful in motivating students to learn.

A student's best lesson has often been provided by one or more of the best teachers. Readers should look back on their own experiences and see whether or not there was a teacher who encouraged them to take responsibility for their own learning.

Gary R. Gruber
Santa Fe, N.M.

Are Charter Schools Voucher Vehicles?

To the Editor:

Your Oct. 20, 1999, article "Justice Dept. Accused of Obstructing Charter Schools" missed an important point that was inherent in the U.S. House judiciary subcommittee hearing you reported on: Many charter schools are attempting to use their status to bypass compliance with desegregation laws.

For your story also to fail to contain any reference to the Louisiana charter schools battle as an issue directly relating to Article 10 of the U.S. Constitution gives further evidence that news media covering the education community have yet to see the big picture.

A considerable yet subtle debate is under way across America: Are charter schools vehicles for unrestrained use of public school vouchers, and, if so, are these schools above the law?

I would suggest that you and your readers revisit the testimony of all presenters at the subcommittee hearing by visiting the World Wide Web site for the House subcommittee—www.house.gov/justice. The issue of civil rights compliance within the charter school environment requires that news reports contain the broadest possible view. Too much is at stake for at-risk populations and those who depend on a "public" education.

Victor C. Kirk
Committee Presenter
Baton Rouge, La.

Trained or Educated? There Is a Hierarchy

To the Editor:

Anne Spencer's Commentary on being "Trained or Educated?"(Oct. 6, 1999) is eloquent and will likely result in a number of agreeably nodding heads. The nodding heads will, of course, belong to readers of this newspaper. It is a group who, for the most part, are ready to act on James Truslow Adams' advice to learn "how to live" and not "how to make a living."

Of course, the group already knows how to make a living. Recollecting Abraham H. Maslow's hierarchy of needs, one is reminded of man's (and woman's) requirement to fulfill the basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter before one is able to aspire to self-actualization. Education Week's readership is obviously well beyond the basic-needs level.

The question is, "Is everyone?" When Ms. Spencer suggests, "We need to give our students a perspective of education as we pursue and express it in our own lives, not train them like robots for a brave new world," is she suggesting our students have achieved the same level in the life hierarchy as we? Is she suggesting it is more important that our students know how to live than how to make a living? Is she assuming we ourselves arrived at this point in our lives without the benefit of having learned to make a living?

Having, I hope, reached Maslow's self-actualization level, I could not be more pleased with learning how to live and enjoying the fruits of the learning. On the other hand, having grown up poor, I can remember when valuing "the chances you have for reflection" was made totally insignificant by the value of having something to eat.

I would suggest we may be misguided when we endeavor to develop an educational system designed to serve life needs as we perceive them for ourselves. There is, in fact, a hierarchy. Not everyone is at the same level. To try to teach someone how to live while not, at the same time or earlier, teaching them how to make a living is the equivalent of trying to teach someone how to make friends before they have enough to eat. In that context, it sounds silly. It is no less silly when couched in noble terms.

Joseph H. Crowley
Chariho Career & Technical Center
Wood River Junction, R.I.

Vol. 19, Issue 11, Page 44

Published in Print: November 10, 1999, as Letters

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