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Teen Motherhood

I wish to respond to Robert Dizney, who characterized teenage motherhood as a tragedy [“Comment,” November/December]. He suggested that educators should withhold “positive stroking” and refrain from congratulatory comments. He proposes that our response to the innocent baby and its mother should be a form of ostracism.

My students are all teenage parents, both mothers and fathers, who are working through independent study to receive their high school diplomas. From my experience, several of the assertions Dizney makes about teen mothers are simply not true: Not all are unmarried; less than half are on welfare; many hold down jobs to support their families; some have brothers or sisters who are close in age to their child and are part of a large, loving, multigenerational household.

As citizens and specifically as educators, we need to remember that each child born into our village is a fellow villager. As a community, we have a responsibility to cooperate and provide for the common good. We need to welcome and cherish each new life and help each one reach goals that will benefit us all. Teachers are expected to model behavior for the village.

Studies presented at the United Nations World Population Conference in Cairo showed that the aggregate birth rate goes down in areas where women are educated and empowered to choose their own life paths. This, more than any efforts at fertility control, seems to affect the sizes of families. If Dizney is worried about population growth, there is still something positive that he can do.

As educators, we are abdicating our responsibility if we stop teaching just because a young person has entered the child-rearing phase of life. In fact, what we need to do is take the situation as an opportunity to teach a course in family life and early childhood development so that this generation of parents will be better prepared for the important task of raising children. I have seen young parents, discovering that they are going to be their child's first teacher, become more highly motivated to learn in many subject areas.

If these young parents sense ostracism and disdain from society, as many may in this less-than-ideal situation, it only puts them more in need of a teacher's humanity. We have the chance to promote the highest values of our community by behaving with compassion toward teenage parents--as we should toward all teens and all parents.

Sandra Farley
Redwood City, Calif.

I am a 16-year-old mother enrolled in the Teenage Alternative Pregnancy and Parenting Program, an alternative school in Eatontown, N.J. I was recently given a copy of "The Tragedy of Teenage Motherhood,'' by Robert Dizney. When I finished reading the essay, I was terribly annoyed and quite upset.

Dizney completely disregarded the fact that there are quite a few teen mothers who do complete their education and go on to have good jobs. Not all girls who get pregnant at an early age drop out of school, go on welfare, and never get anywhere in life. I am currently taking preparatory classes to study cosmetology. I have the next few years of my life planned; I know exactly where I would like to be in 10 years. Although I did have to make some changes to accommodate my daughter, I am doing quite well as a teen mother. I do not receive benefits from the state, with the exception of Medicaid.

Reading this article made me realize that as a teen parent I need to work harder to prove that not all teen moms are dropouts, welfare recipients, or nobodies. At the school I attend, we are taught the importance of furthering our education, getting a good job, being the best parents we can possibly be. Dizney fails to recognize such efforts. He gives all teen mothers a bad name by being so limited in his way of thinking.

By writing this letter, I hope I can make some people understand that there really are young parents who do try to do the best they can. Not all teen mothers are dropouts who turn out to be nothings, as Dizney makes them appear to be. I cannot understand how anyone can be so ignorant on such an issue. As I read Dizney's article, I could not help but notice that he is closed-minded, sarcastic, and has no regard for any teen mothers--even those who are doing their best to make things go the right way for themselves and their children.

Paula Lindgren
Red Bank, N.J.

I disagree with Robert Dizney about the appropriate response to teen mothers in school. As a high school English teacher whose 12th grade son is about to become a parent with his 9th grade girlfriend, I worry about the consequences of disenfranchising those very citizens that may need so much support.

Teen parents need guidance and help so they can stay on an educational track and keep pace with their peers. Too often, these students are abandoned by their friends, the system, and even their families. How we support teen parents will also affect how their children develop. After the children are born, it is imperative that we do all we can to nurture these at-risk infants.

While I share Dizney's great concern about the "tragedies'' of teen parenting and the risk of future problems if we fail to break the cycle, I do not believe that punishing and ostracizing these young adults is the answer. Education and continued support are the options we must pursue, however imperfectly they may be working. It is our moral obligation in our shared concern for the future.

Dennis Crowe
Luck, Wis.

Uneven Playing Field

Although I thoroughly agree that "there are tremendous parallels between coaching and classroom teaching'' ["Playing by the Rules,'' November/December], I also think that there are a lot of differences that don't allow for comparisons.

Every teacher should set high expectations, demand obedience, practice drills with their classes, and get personally involved in their students' lives. But the article by David Ruenzel overlooked a major factor: Education is mandatory, and football is voluntary. If students are late to my class, they don't get kicked out. At best, they may get detention or suspended for the day. I don't think there is a public school teacher alive (at least not in my district) who could say, "Just leave right now if you don't want to follow the rules.'' The teacher would be without a classroom in a matter of hours.

What's more, because of the required separation of church and state, no teacher would dare kneel before his or her students and say the Lord's Prayer as coach Patton did in the article.

Perhaps if educators got back to the idea of "pushing kids to the breaking point and insisting that they do exactly what they're told'' and set an example by getting on their knees and praying, more students would be excited about being in our classes and "playing the game.''

Rosi Hinton
Beaverton, Ore.

School reformers argue a lot about whether selectivity plays a role in the success of "model'' schools--subtly or otherwise. Are the results of private schools comparable to those of public schools given the former's power to choose their clientele? Some of these criticisms are unfair, some fair. But the football coach? He lives and dies by selectivity.

"Creaming'' is the name of the game. First of all, only those students who view themselves as pretty good even try out for the team. That already enormously reduces the pool. The students who aren't natural athletes, or don't like sports, or know they can't possibly make the time or make the team--they've disappeared. And even then, once coaches have their creamed teams, they can still drop losers, laggards, and those who don't do their work at any point along the way.

Offer these privileges to classroom teachers, and they too will look good as often as football coaches--whether they curse or talk softly, insist on rigid obedience or create a more intellectually open setting. Advanced placement classes carry some of the flavor of the football team, as do special after-school glee, drama, and chess clubs. Are they easier to teach? You bet they are.

It might be instructive to ask why so many of us found our gym classes the worst period of the day, even though those classes were led by the same guys and gals who were so admired as the school's team coaches. Teaching to the converted sure makes us look better.

Deborah Meier
Senior Fellow
Annenberg Institute
New York City

What can academic teachers learn from varsity coaches? Nothing.

It's not that the coaches profiled in "Playing by the Rules'' are bad educational role models; in fact, just the opposite is true. But every successful teacher of advanced placement students knows that highly motivated students respond to rigor, discipline, high standards, and a lot of plain hard work. We already have a good model for teaching "varsity'' students, in both athletics and academics. The real challenge is reaching the rest of the students in our schools. When Teacher Magazine shows me coaches and teachers who do that, then I'm impressed.

Tom Laichas
Crossroads School
Santa Monica, Calif.

Physical Contact

I applaud James Delisle for his essay "The Healing Touch'' [November/December]. With all the rhetoric in education today over "whole'' this and "holistic'' that, it is sad that the power of touch has been ignored, denied, or suppressed in American culture.

An appropriately placed hand on a student's back or shoulder, a high five, a nudge, a hug, even light-hearted horseplay all send powerful and positive messages to students. Such actions say to our students that there are no walls between us, that we have a mutual bond, trust, and commitment. I can only imagine the difference this kind of communication would have made during my own adolescence.

Most of us in education have been in situations where the entire school staff has been told to have no physical contact of any type with students. Personally, touch has done nothing but enhance my relationships with my students. Although I do not deny that we must be aware of the possibility of misinterpretation and that we can easily become "targets,'' I decided early in my career that I would rather run the risk of being falsely accused of caring too much than accurately accused of not caring enough. It is a decision I have never regretted.

Lou Orfanella
Valhalla (N.Y.) Middle School

For The Record

There are several items in the article "Full Speed Ahead'' [November/December] that we at the Thomas Edison Accelerated School would like to clarify:

1. During the period from 1989-1990, the demographics at Edison were changing dramatically, resulting in a situation where the school was reacting to the needs and demands of a changing community. In no way was the school "just short of hell and sliding,'' as stated in the article.

2. We did have in-district applicants for teaching vacancies at Edison during the period prior to becoming an accelerated school. A key reason for our success with the Accelerated Schools Project was the high caliber of teachers already on staff.

3. Our involvement with state reform efforts and the resulting data led the school to realize the need for significant reform at our school site. This was a key part of our school's evolution.

4. Edison chose to become an accelerated school because we felt the model most closely matched our needs. We believe that any of the major reform efforts will succeed (and have succeeded) with commitment and buy-in from a school community. The comments in the article regarding other major reform efforts were not generated at our school site.

5. Our success as an accelerated school is largely due to our school district's support and ongoing commitment to the Thomas Edison Accelerated School.

The Staff
Edison Accelerated School
Sacramento, Calif.

Keep An Open Mind

According to Michael Tomlin of the University of Idaho, "your fine magazine has finally gone off the deep end'' ["Letters,'' November/December]. What has really happened, however, is that Tomlin has failed to remain open-minded.

Perhaps Tomlin is suggesting that Teacher Magazine censor particular subjects or items of interest. This kind of thinking is the same that occurs among groups such as racists, gay-bashers, and educational conservatives who fail to see the need for change and progress within a system that is in severe pain.

What is so wrong with a magazine that offers ideas--both liberal and conservative--that go against the norm? This doesn't necessarily mean that the magazine supports the ideas; it merely indicates that these things are occurring--take it or leave it. Tomlin should allow his mind to wander beyond the parameters of his "own private Idaho.'' What we need in education are more freethinkers who are willing to be creative and take risks with curriculum and instruction. Conversely, we don't need people who are disabled in terms of their willingness to open their hearts and minds for the system.

Thank goodness for Teacher Magazine and its interesting, current, and bold subject matter. It is a magazine that offers a wide range of information about education and life in general. The coverage is vast, significant, and meaningful.

Robert Pisaniello
Danbury, Conn.

Someone needs to forcefully answer Michael Tomlin's letter about the Los Angeles school district's black dialect project ["Talking the Talk,'' October]. Tomlin asserts that "the entire concept of black English, white English, Asian English, or any other kind of English is educational fraud.'' Those of us who have been using scholarly knowledge of black dialect since the late 1960s to help African-American students learn school English know the ignorance that we have to combat.

Even the more linguistically sophisticated teachers probably do not know that members of the Linguistic Society of America, the leading scholarly organization for language experts, unanimously passed a resolution in the mid-1970s opposing in the strongest possible terms the traditional, amateurish idea that nonstandard dialects are erroneous, defective English.

Black dialect, like any dialect, is in every way a complete language with its own system of rules and its own history. It is an English language, not a foreign language. There is indeed an Asian English, Polynesian English, and numerous others--all complete languages not at all dependent on the existence of school English. Let me say this so there can be no possibility of confusion: Legitimate languages called dialects inevitably arise when a society is large enough to have subcultures. A one-dialect language is almost an impossibility because of the social and geographical separation of people.

The Los Angeles school system deserves the highest praise possible in education for having the courage to proceed with a program in spite of opposition from ignorant people.

Norman Jarrard
Professor of English
North Carolina A&T State University
Greensboro, N.C.

Trucker Pen Pals

My "Trucker Buddy'' and I are beginning our second year together, and it has truly been an educational and fun adventure. So I was delighted to see the article titled "Pen Pals on Wheels'' in the October issue of Teacher Magazine.

The only thing you forgot to tell your readers about this great program is how they can get themselves a trucker pen pal. All they have to do is call (800) MY-BUDDY, and Gary King will set them up.

Susan Frenchu
Hopewell, N.J.

Past Imperfect

I had just about given up on your magazine. Month after month it arrived, and I felt obligated to read through it, hoping to catch a fleeting insight into the field that takes up most of my life, my free time, and my thoughts. I would invariably come away from your pages angry.

First of all, who in their right mind would make a magazine for teachers so LARGE? Can you slip this easily into your briefcase to read on the off chance that you'll have a spare minute at some point during the day? No! But that's not what makes me so angry. It's your constant use of buzzwords--a form of pollution not limited to you. One hears these words wherever teachers or administrators are trying to impress teachers or administrators. Words such as "lifelong learner,'' "shared decisionmaking,'' and "communal responsibility'' are enough to make me run screaming from the room, ripping up the many SUBSCRIBE TODAY business-reply forms you have so thoughtfully enclosed. Another thing is the amount of corporate advertising you display. Certainly, we all realize that you need advertisers to run a paper, but what does this say about the teaching profession and the people it employs? And how radical about new ideas will you be when the butter for your bread comes from large cartels?

Floating, however, in the detritus of your regular fare was an article that finally made my money worthwhile and, in fact, caused me to resubscribe. It was the article "Past Imperfect'' [October] by David Ruenzel. There were no slick meaningless buzzwords, no "journal-style'' rot you have to wade through with a flea comb--just a well-written article by a teacher who instructs in his writing and doesn't lecture, reprimand, or gloat. Why not devote an entire issue to this writer?

Andrea Jay
Staten Island, N.Y.

David Ruenzel's "Past Imperfect'' was fascinating and quite insightful. I found myself recalling many of my own doubts, inse-curities, and successes from my years of teaching English. It was interesting to read that the students said they absorbed as much from off-the-cuff remarks and idiosyncrasies as from official curriculum. That's something I often felt to be true. I also liked the observation that "moodiness, rashness, peevishness could be absolved as long as there was nothing counterfeit about the teacher's commitment to the students.'' I agree.

As a teacher, I too became "almost haphazardly eclectic'' and taught more and more what I felt like teaching. I felt guilt, but I still did it. As the years out of the classroom have passed, I have come to think that that approach is not only OK but also a good idea, at least in the hands of a teacher with some basic common sense. It keeps a teacher fresh, excited, and interested. The kids know the difference.

Cheryl Miller Thurston
Fort Collins, Colo.

Rodney Wilson

I am writing in response to the two letters about Rodney Wilson that appeared in the October issue of Teacher Magazine. I was outraged that you chose to publish letters that were so closed-minded and homophobic while not publishing any that were supportive of the article ["Getting Personal,'' September]. I was quite excited and happy to see the article on the cover of Teacher Magazine. It was validating to see the issues facing gay and lesbian teachers dealt with upfront and not silenced. I did not think the article was biased at all.

I was especially offended by the letter from Robert Wells who wrote about his wife wanting to cancel her subscription to Teacher after seeing the article. (Was she offended or was he?) Isn't this magazine devoted to the democratic ideal of free speech? Isn't a point of education the opening of the mind so that we can build a better and more just society? I also strongly disagreed with Gary Neudahl's statement that it is not acceptable for teachers to "get personal'' in the classroom. Students are naturally curious about the people who teach them. Teachers who are committed to building a classroom where there is a sense of community and trust must share parts of themselves instead of "just sticking strictly to the curriculum.'' Heterosexual teachers take for granted that they can share tidbits of information about themselves and their families without any uproar. Everyone should have that freedom. The schools and the classroom must be democratic institutions that allow room for all ideas and lifestyles.

I am proud to subscribe to a magazine that is not afraid to provide a forum for different ideas. I am sickened that we have people in this society who don't understand or cherish "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' Wells and Neudahl should move to a totalitarian society where they can be guaranteed that teachers will stick to the curriculum or be shot.

Deborah Godner
Bloomington, Ind.

Editor's Note: The two letters we published about "Getting Personal'' in our October issue were the only letters on the article we had received at press time.

Hooray for Rodney Wilson! Despite the protests of readers Gary Neudahl and Robert Wells, Wilson continues to teach high school--as well he should. In my 20 years as a teacher educator, I have tried to impress upon my teaching candidates the importance of relevancy, realism, and respect. I have demonstrated to my future teachers the need to demonstrate to their students how history, science, math, literature, and the humanities are part of our daily lives. This is what Rodney Wilson has done and hopefully will continue to do.

Wilson attempted to bring realism to the issues of prejudice, bias, racism, and discrimination as he discussed the Holocaust in his history classes. How ironic that in his efforts to teach his students about such issues he himself has been victimized and forced to defend himself against prejudice, bias, discrimination, and ignorance.

It is my sincere hope that my teacher candidates will develop this same commitment to and love for teaching. I have given them each the issue of Teacher Magazine with the story about Wilson so they truly understand the meaning of the words "uncommon commitment.''

Irvin Howard
Professor of Education
California State University
San Bernardino, Calif.

Vol. 06, Issue 04, Pages 4, 6-7

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