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What Next?

I heartily agree that, for the most part, students in today’s public schools desperately need character education [“Teaching Right From Wrong,” January]. As a teacher, I will gladly accept part of the responsibility for shaping socially and morally acceptable character in my students. But I am only one of many adults who will cross a child’s path. Teachers and schools can only do so much.

Character education should begin at home, as early as possible. We teachers can only enhance what has already been learned. We cannot teach in nine months what our students should have already spent years learning. Sure, teachers see kids seven hours a day, five days a week, for 36 weeks. But it is still unfair to stick us completely with something that should be the parents’ responsibility first.

Teachers have been handed curricula for teaching marriage, sex education, and, now, character education. It will be interesting to see what responsibilities schools next acquire from what used to be taught at home.

Rhonda Cash
Versailles, Ky.


Without A Paddle

In response to your article “Disabled Students Score A Victory” [“Current Events,” November/ December], I can’t help but wonder if this extensive mainstreaming is a victory or a loss, especially for the students themselves. As a classroom teacher, I can’t see how this mainstreaming program can possibly benefit handicapped students. These children are now getting one-on-one assistance in special education facilities. Putting them in a regular classroom will do nothing to improve the quality of their education but will most certainly frustrate them and minimize their chances for success.

As the teacher of developmentally handicapped students in my building put it so well, “It’s not ‘mainstreaming’ for those students; it’s ‘upstreaming without a paddle.’” Whoever came up with this bright idea needs to step back and analyze what’s best for the child.

Diann Brown
Patrick Henry Local Schools
Hamler, Ohio


Skewed Poll

The Gallup/National Catholic Educational Association poll showing public support for school choice, cited in “Current Events” [November/December], was seriously flawed.

The poll purported that 70 percent of the public supports tax-funded vouchers for sectarian and other private schools. But the main question used was close to meaningless because it inextricably mixed the wholly separate issues of choice among public schools with tax support for nonpublic, mostly sectarian, schools. The question read: “In some nations, the government allots a certain amount of money for each child for [his or her] education. The parents can then send the child to any public, parochial, or private school they choose. This is called a ‘voucher system.’ Would you like to see such a system adopted in this country?”

Gallup used the same question in the annual Phi Delta Kappa surveys of opinion on education from 1970 until the late 1980s and always got ambiguous results. But in 1991, after years of complaints from experts, Gallup/ PDK broke the equivocal question into two questions. Response to the separate questions showed strong public support for choice among public schools but strong opposition to the public funding of nonpublic schools.

The Gallup/PDK results were matched by a 1991 Time/CNN poll showing opposition to vouchers for nonpublic schools running 68 percent to 28 percent and a 1990 Oregon referendum, which rejected a voucher-like scheme 67 percent to 33 percent.

The bottom line is that most Americans favor choice with public education but consistently oppose every significant form of tax aid for nonpublic schools, as statewide referenda and polls from coast to coast have consistently shown for the past 25 years.

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


Higher Ground

I have enjoyed Teacher Magazine for the past year and expect to continue to reap the benefits of subscribing to your publication. I find it informative, entertaining, wide-ranging in its offerings, and a valuable way for me to keep up with educational materials and trends. Because of my high opinion of your magazine, I feel obligated to let you know how disappointed I was in “Christian Soldier,” the cover story of your November/December issue.

I am a teacher, parent, and curriculum writer. I have been certified to teach English, Russian, German, reading, and gifted education, and I consider myself in every way to be a professional educator. I am also a Christian, probably what David Hill, the author of “Christian Soldier,” would consider a “conservative Christian,” “fundamentalist,” or “evangelical Christian.” I suppose I would describe myself with the latter term.

During the past five to 10 years, I have noticed an increasing hostility toward Christians among members of the education establishment, although I have rarely been subjected to personal attacks on the basis of my religion. “Christian Soldier” is probably one of the most blatant examples of this prejudice that I have seen in print to date. Hill, through the use of connotation, significant detail, generalization, and inflammatory quotations, presents Robert Simonds and all Christians as bigots, extremists, and megalomaniacs. With the same devices, he presents their opponents as reasonable, literate, and sensitive. I find this disturbing for several reasons.

First, sweeping generalizations about Christians are made in such a way as to engender fear and loathing in the reader. To me, a teacher of rhetoric and German, this is particularly redolent of the journalistic practices used to denigrate Jews in pre-World War II Germany and Eastern Europe. I find this frightening and loathsome, a sort of “anti-Semitism” (for want of a better word) against Christians. It is all the more disturbing in light of the previous issue’s article on a teacher’s nightmarish experience with anti-Semitism [“The Writing On The Wall,” October]. I am a Christian. Many of my colleagues are Christians. We are not bigots, extremists, nor megalomaniacs. The majority of Christian teachers I know consider themselves servants entrusted with a precious responsibility.

Second, Hill seems to say that Christians do not have an equal right to make their concerns known or to fully participate in the body politic. Has the Constitution been somehow amended to deprive certain segments of the population of their civil rights as a consequence of their religious beliefs? Are not discussion, argument, and compromise the very foundation of our means of government? Are these processes not the very ones we try to teach our students so that they may function effectively as citizens?

Third, Hill seems to resent the use of the word “liberal” to describe the National Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way, but has no trouble at all using “conservative” as a derogatory term. Has “liberal” become a synonym for “good” and “conservative” for “bad”? There is room and function for both in our society. As educators, we should be particularly careful to set an example of tolerance and thoughtfulness, both in our teaching and our publications. The tone and organization of “Christian Soldier” does little to promote tolerance for those who beg to differ with organizations like PAW.

Hill also seems to take umbrage, as more and more people do these days, at the statement that the United States has a predominantly Judeo-Christian heritage. Considering the motivations of the first immigrants to these shores and those who followed to escape persecution, there is little evidence to contradict this point. The question now is not, “What kind of nation were we?” but rather, “What kind of nation do we wish to become?”

Finally, I feel that Hill has missed the real story. Instead of using the bulk of his piece to “expose” a dangerous group of subversives, he could have promoted real progress by concentrating his efforts on the ideas discussed under the subheading “The Case for Moral Education.” It would be more productive to search out common ground and to address what each side considers legitimate concerns than to frighten and inflame as this article does.

I am not writing to browbeat Hill or Teacher Magazine; I intend to continue subscribing. My motivation, rather, is to urge the magazine to maintain that higher ground and to eschew any temptation to malign or indict any particular group.

Pamela Everly
Henderson, Nev.

“Christian Soldier” was a very timely article. We can expect activism from many quarters until we get our crime and social problems under control.

The involvement of Christians would be welcome if they weren’t so determined to use schools to promote their own particular religious beliefs and bully everyone else into submission. The only way I have found to effectively oppose unreasonable attacks by the religious right is with massive doses of truth, reason, courageous opposition, and brotherly love.

Fred Gibson
Thermal, Calif.


Testing

I read your article on testing [“The Enemy Of Innovation,” September 1992] with interest. I, too, am dismayed by our emphasis on standardized testing as a form of student measurement.

Standardized tests force teachers to teach to the test. Teachers must cover curriculum content so that their students know the facts. This gives them no flexibility when it comes to what students are interested in learning. Tests also leave no room for individuality in assessment because students are graded on how much they know rather than on how much they have progressed as individuals. Whatever happened to teacher-based assessments?

Teacher tests are also a problem. I am presently trying to obtain a Multiple Subjects Credential to teach at the elementary level in California. I am being held back because I must take certain standardized tests that apparently measure my teaching ability. I recently participated in a new five-hour general knowledge test. It consisted of 150 multiple-choice questions and 24 essay questions, many of which were irrelevant to classroom teaching. My question is this: How can these standardized tests be an accurate measurement of a person’s ability to teach? They fail to address such issues as how children learn and how a teacher facilitates learning in the classroom. It seems that some administrators are still under the impression that teachers are the gatekeepers of knowledge and students are blank slates on which we must impress this knowledge. Knowledge alone does not necessarily make a good teacher. Many other qualifications are also needed, such as sensitivity and the ability to create a safe and stimulating environment for students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Despite this, a test is being used as a steppingstone to teacher certification.

If we want our children and teachers to succeed in school and to have knowledge they can transfer to real-life situations, then we need more authentic methods of evaluation.

Elizabeth Baxter
San Jose, Calif.

Harry Lawrence’s letter about standardized testing in your October issue states: “I wonder whatever happened to teacher-based evaluation and to those school systems with enough integrity to pass or fail students on the basis of school-year achievement....” I, too, wonder what happened to those school systems. Today, we pass students socially, not because of intellectual achievement. I am having trouble teaching students how to factor quadratic equations; they do not know multiplication tables because they are allowed to use calculators. They cannot solve my story problems because they never learned to read.

J.C. Johansen
South Sioux City, Neb.


Awakening

I am 26 years old. I want to tell you about my life as an autistic person and how it has been changed through facilitated communication [“Breaking The Silence,” August]. I was born with autism. The doctor told my parents that there was no hope for me. I spent my days rocking back and forth and screaming. The part I hated the most is that I understood everything that was going on, but I could not get anything across to my parents to let them know I understood.

I taught myself to read at the age of 3 and picked up on everything I saw or heard. I did not understand how to speak through my autism, so I had no choice but to go along with it. The things I heard and saw I stored away in my memory. I could then, and still do, retrieve any memory I wanted almost as though I was there. This helped me get through the boredom of my life.

You have to understand that not being able to tell your thoughts is truly awful. My senses are well above the average person’s; sounds and smells can throw me off track. My mind is on track, but, with my body giving my mind sensory overload, I felt so lost and trapped in my body that I began to hate myself, and I thought this is the way I would spend the rest of my life. Death would be my only release, and that terrified me.

When my mother introduced facilitated communication to me, I thought: This is a miracle. I couldn’t believe it. I stressed to my mother and father over and over that I was normal. I did not want to be called autistic, and I did not want them ever to mention it to me. As time went on, I began to realize how handicapped I am. The term no longer bothers me, and I realize I have to work extra hard to achieve what others take for granted.

I think I am now in the process of being reborn. The world is taking on a new meaning, and I am finally being understood. One of the joys that I have discovered is poetry. I love writing poetry, and it is a wonderful release for me. I think poetry is a wonderful form of expression. I love to write about joy and happiness as there is too much sadness in the world.

I am so happy I now can speak what’s in my heart and mind. I think I have so much to say and hope I can change the world a little and bring a little happiness to it. I have a long way to go, but, thanks to facilitated communication, I am now recognized.

Neils Larsen III
Appleton, Wis.


Quality Control

Quality is buzzword one. It’s heard everywhere: on countless TV commercials, in the supermarket, at the bank, and now in our schools. If it’s good enough for Ford, Xerox, IBM, and L.L. Bean, then it’s good enough for public education, right? Well, maybe.

Total Quality Management is a business term that refers to an approach to quality control. It involves everyone in an organization in determining the production of goods or services. Your overview of TQM [“Quality Is Job One,” May/June] describes this organizational process as “an approach that would encourage schools to make decisions based on data, force everyone to focus more on customer needs, and help create a tighter link between one part of the system and another.” It is a procedure that has transformed businesses from losers to winners in a short time, and its advocates proclaim it to be the way for schools to improve the quality of their work.

These procedures are now being applied in school systems from Pinellas County, Fla., to Sitka, Alaska. Business jargon is replacing educational jargon as students become customers along with parents and community members. It all seems a plausible enough way to approach public schooling and meet the demands for improving it; however, a paradigm clash of significant proportions will result with any simple transformation to this business model.

This clash involves outcomes. The goals of schooling are not to produce widgets but to develop critical and creative thinkers who will be able to function in the complex techno-informational age. It is relatively easy for a company to determine when it has produced a million widgets with 100 percent accuracy and can guarantee their operation, but it is often difficult to even agree on what is meant by “successful” students.

Much more attention must be given to this matter than in industrial organizations since the outcomes are complex and often unmeasurable. Simply using test scores is not enough. Other performance standards need to be developed and used to accurately assess the practices of schools and teachers.

The goals of TQM, in general, are worthwhile, but the manner in which the principles are put into practice should be approached with caution. The pattern and ease of top-down decisions, so long a part of educational organizations, must give way to a more collective process.

In striving for greater effectiveness, the hollow buzzword “quality” must be replaced with a recognition of the crucial role of the teaching profession.

Doctors don’t require the hospital boards of directors to tell them how to operate; lawyers don’t have boards of directors micromanage their practices; and teachers don’t need, nor do students benefit from, outside boards of noneducators managing their classrooms. The difference between talking about quality and the ability of educators to produce it will depend on the degree to which teachers are involved in the decision-making that makes a difference, decisions that impact student learning.

The challenge to school districts is to involve building-level personnel, the real educational experts, from the beginning. Districts must provide the opportunity, time, and resources to get teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and business people talking to one another. New roles will emerge as a result.

To accomplish all this without adding more responsibility for the same pay will be the task of all public school stakeholders.

Collective bargaining must become a more integral part of restructuring and the drive for improved quality. Traditional areas of educational policy—personnel budget, curriculum, staff development, and the school calendar— often nonnegotiable, must become the focus of all those involved in education, not management alone. Collectively, then, the school environment can be restructured to facilitate the continuous evaluation and refinement of building and classroom practices. As more issues become negotiable and teachers become involved in the analysis and evaluation of practices and policies, instructional programs will become more effective.

David Dowling
Language arts teacher
Cumberland Center, Maine


No Respect?

I am a 4th grade teacher. I recently retired from another profession, so I am new to education. Already, I have heard numerous complaints from other teachers who feel that they are not treated as professionals. They seem very upset about the apparent public perception that teaching is not a profession.

Factors that demonstrate professionalism include: obtaining an appropriate education and proper licensure; reading professional journals and literature; and attending conferences and seminars. Most teachers do the things that are the mark of true professionals. But the public does not see us attend classes and conferences at night or during summer “vacations,” nor do they see us reading literature. And they certainly do not understand the requirements for a teaching certificate.

But there is one easy and effective way to show parents and others that we are professionals, a method very few of us employ.

Do we ever go to a doctor’s office where medical diplomas are not prominently displayed? Don’t we see law school diplomas on the walls of lawyers’ offices? Even accountants and veterinarians hang up their diplomas for the public to see.

Why don’t teachers do this very simple thing that other professionals do? Let’s show our students, parents, and the general public that we are professionals. Hang those diplomas in the classroom where our customers can see them.

Christopher Walter
4th grade teacher
Christiansburg (Va.)
Elementary School

Vol. 04, Issue 05, Pages 2, 5, 33, 42

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