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In Teaching "Civics," Less May Be More

I agree with Rosemary C. Salomone that today's young people and, indeed, the country as a whole, are suffering from a lack of understanding of the underlying principles of our constitutional, republican form of government ("Education for Democratic Citizenship," March 22, 2000.) I wonder, however, whether the solution is an increased focus on teaching "civics" in public schools.

The current fashions in public education that focus on feelings rather than knowledge, psychology rather than reality, and the promotion of relativism and collective consciousness (secular mysticism) rather than the pursuit of objective truths make K-12 classrooms look more reminiscent of Weimar Germany before World War II than a republic based on enlightened reason, the rule of law, and individual liberty. The resemblance is compounded if one adds to the mix the current obsession with the German system of focusing on "career pathways" for all students, rather than a solid liberal arts education with high academic standards. At this point, less "teaching" may be better.

Students probably get better civic values from their families and surroundings outside of school than they could get from teachers using pop psychology and chaotic mock legislatures. The same can be said of oxymoronic "volunteerism" mandates that are usually either not voluntary because they are required, or are not voluntary because they are paid through stipends.

Leaders need to focus on the content of civics curricula, lest we end up with students better suited for a dictatorship than a free country.

David W. Garland
Richmond, Va.

Catholic Education: Costs and Rewards

To the Editor:

In your recent front-page article describing the move by some Roman Catholic schools to a cost-based financing structure ("Catholic Schools Ask Parents To Pay More," March 29, 2000), you quote Lawrence S. Callahan, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, as saying, "We have to ask parents to share a larger responsibility; it can't all fall back on the church."

The Wichita, Kan., parish-funding model briefly described in your article wonderfully defines "church" as its members. The "church" there has committed itself to ensuring the necessary funding for all Catholic children who wish to attend the parish elementary school and the area Catholic high school. The whole parish contributes to the whole cost of Catholic education. What a rewarding feeling they must derive from knowing that as a parish they have embraced and provided an education influenced by the history and teachings of the Catholic Church.

Contrast that to the cost-based model being suggested as a new model for financing Catholic schools. For parishes which have adopted this model and then abandoned it, the experience has been anything but rewarding:

•They lost many students.

•The program was not systemwide, leaving parents to choose to move to neighboring Catholic schools that charged much lower tuition.

•Usually, parishes attempted to move to full cost in three, five, or seven years. This required exorbitant annual tuition increases.

•Parish morale was characterized by divisiveness rather than community-building. Parents were required to pay more, while some parishioners and parish administrators saw the program as lifting a burden from those not using the school.

Cost-based systems appeal to those who will settle for a "stop the bleeding" financing scheme. The Wichita model appeals to the "it takes a village (or parish)" comprehensive approach to our spirituality that also responds successfully to the need for a new and better means of ensuring the future of Catholic schools.

Theodore Wallace
Dare to Dream Foundation
Dayton, Ohio

This Principal's Life Is 'All Work, No Play'

To the Editor:

Some reflections on Gerald N. Tirozzi's Commentary on "The Principalship" ("School Reform's Missing Imperative," March 29, 2000):

Schools are pressure-packed environments, in which principals work long hours. As the only administrator for a school with 850 students and 85 staff members, I find my school's work unrelenting. (The Los Angeles Unified School District doesn't assign assistant principals to elementary schools with fewer than 950 students. The national norm is approximately 350 students, and the California state average is about 550 students.)

Variety and fragmentation due to the overwhelming multiplicity of unconnected tasks characterize the heavy workload. I typically put in 60 hours a week, juggling operational work, wading through heaps of paperwork, attending numerous meetings, and providing instructional leadership.

Since I became a principal in 1993, I've lost my personal life. My life has been all work and no play, sometimes making me wonder about the real definition of success. I often think the sacrifices principals make throw their lives out of balance, hurting them personally and professionally.

On top of the full-time job, I am also working on my doctoral degree. I love this continuous learning because the courses I am taking have made me constantly think about connecting current research findings and classroom practices, but it's quite daunting to study while working full time.

Reaching every teacher in every classroom is my constant challenge. (I have 42 teachers.) This is an ongoing process of striving to keep seasoned teachers energized and the new teachers strong. Having very vocal and active parents also means that a lot of my attention, energy, and time is taken up by attending to the needs and concerns of various parents' groups. Often, I am caught in the middle, walking on a tightrope on different issues.

I find myself agreeing with the advice of Michael Fullan in his book What's Worth Fighting For in the Principalship. For the sake of all the children, I will not give in to overwhelming anxiety and educational bureaucracy. I will take time to interact with students, teachers, and the community, and to help keep the larger vision of schooling in the forefront. But we principals can do this successfully only if central district administrators get out of the way.

Suzie K. Oh
Third Street Elementary School
Los Angeles, Calif.

Vol. 19, Issue 33, Page 47

Published in Print: April 26, 2000, as Letters

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