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On Leadership, Why Omit Teachers?

To the Editor:

It disappoints me to note that your Jan. 12, 2000, article "Policy Focus Converges on Leadership" neglects to reference leadership as an activity of teachers. Not until we formally conceive of school leadership as emanating from the roles and work of teachers will more of our schools cultivate a professional environment that attracts, retains, and sustains motivated and talented staff.

The leadership of professors at the college level is paramount to the reputation and success of institutions of higher education. Yet, when discussing public education, leadership is painted as the domain of principals, school boards, and superintendents. While these roles fit the traditional, prevailing organizational and management structure of school leadership, the leadership capacity of teachers must not be absent from such policy discussions.

Why omit teachers from discussions of leadership? Why expect capable educators to leave the classroom and seek leadership activities elsewhere? Is leadership less relevant to teaching than to building management? Why expect different standards for educators than for the students they teach? Communities need the capacity to create a school climate in which all are able to lead and all are able to follow.

Leadership is very much a shared process. It's not until we are able to firmly reject the old categorical biases of the 20th century that strong schools for the 21st century will emerge that rely upon and recognize the leadership abilities of all constituents, most importantly its educators.

Joan Gagnon
Stratham, N.H.

Homage to Du Bois Was Not Complete

To the Editor:

It seems to me that, if you were going to mention folks and include blurbs about them in your "Faces of a Century," you would go to the trouble of doing a little research (Lessons of a Century, Dec. 15, 1999).

W.E.B. Du Bois renounced his idealistic notion of a "Talented Tenth" when he realized that many people, concerned with being "tainted" by their lower-class origins, were too busy keeping up with the Joneses to take the responsibility of uplifting anyone else. Ultimately, Du Bois decided there had to be some other way to develop supportive communities for people.

Yes, the work of his that you mention was very important, but shouldn't we, as educators, be presented with more full and detailed pictures of our history?

Yvonne M. Harris
Graduate Assistant
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, N.J.

Buzzwords, Cant, and Empty Slogans

To the Editor:

Morton Egol's Commentary "Transforming Education" (Dec. 15, 1999) deserves high praise. Mr. Egol has collected and has recited—in one grand show of inanity—all the buzzwords, all the false assertions, all the empty slogans, all the unsubstantiated claims, and all the airy-fairy prescriptions that are so fashionable nowadays among education hucksters. (His fifth paragraph, I must say, left me breathless.)

And that's not all. Mr. Egol has embellished his recitation by demonstrating his deep knowledge of anti-intellectual cant while he displays, or at least feigns, an undiluted ignorance of intellectual history.

The one weakness in the piece comes when Mr. Egol chants the faddish declaration that teachers must serve not as lecturers who convey accumulated knowledge but as "facilitators" who stand by while students divine the curriculum "through a self- directed discovery process."

As is customary among purveyors of that nonsense, Mr. Egol fails to deal with obvious questions: What happens if the students, after engaging in this self- directed discovery process for 60 or 70 years, still haven't developed a coherent theory of planetary motion, still haven't managed to compose "Don Giovanni," still haven't self-directed themselves to an understanding of plate tectonics, and still haven't divined the history of the Roman conquest of Britain?

What happens as these students reach retirement age? Will they receive phony diplomas to make them feel good? Or will they simply quit school and start collecting their Social Security checks?

William J. Bennetta
The Textbook League
Sausalito, Calif.

Noting 'Disconnect' in Fordham Study

To the Editor:

One must wonder why Education Week saw fit to report on the Fordham Foundation's "analysis," "The State of State Standards" ("States' Grades Inch Upward on Content Standards," Jan. 12, 2000). In this "study," the standards were reviewed by precious few people, and in the instance of the English standards, only one, Sandra Stotsky of the Massachusetts Department of Education.

More importantly, your story failed to notice the disconnect between the foundation's evaluation of standards and the performance of states. The worst possible rating was "irresponsible." Among the states so rated were Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Michigan, and Alaska. These "irresponsible" states, operating with what the report calls "lousy" standards (nice professional term, that), are among the highest-scoring states in the nation on measures of academic achievement. They score well on both the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests and in international comparisons.

For instance, the first 10 of the listed states were bested in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study by only one of the 41 participating countries in science and only a few in math. The remaining states fared almost as well. These states also occupy seven of the top 10 ranks in NAEP science and eight of the top 10 in NAEP math.

On the other hand, states that were given the highest ratings are among the lowest-scoring states on both NAEP assessments and international comparisons. If states with great standards score low, and states with "lousy" standards score high, doesn't this suggest that Fordham's rating system is, ummm, flawed? Of what use is a rating system in which the worst-rated states sit atop the heap and the best occupy the lowest ranks?

Gerald W. Bracey
Alexandria, Va.

Use 'Nature's Ways' To Teach Science

To the Editor:

One very important trend in the new "emerging civilization" was overlooked in Paul DeHart Hurd's Commentary "Science Education 2000" (Nov. 24, 1999). Humans are currently using the earth's resources in a way that may undermine our chances for long-term survival.

Given that we can now see the problems inherent in our global consumption and waste, we should start looking for solutions. It will take generations to restructure our economies and our lives to turn things around.

I believe our future will be one of incredible abundance. We should be observing and learning from nature's ways more closely. Imagine a time when planned compostability, not planned obsolescence, is built into product lives.

Let us teach children science using our "collective wisdom" to solve real problems. The result will be proud students who have real-world experience in causing social change and making their world a better place to live.

Daniel N. Smith Jr.
Keyport, N.J.

Vol. 19, Issue 20, Page 34

Published in Print: January 26, 2000, as Letters

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