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Smoke Alarm

I read with great interest "She's Gotta Habit" [October]. Counselors, health educators, and social-service agencies must be more concrete in discussions with young people about smoking. As a cancer survivor, I suggest that we have children of cancer patients--both those who have died and those who have survived--talk about how the disease changed their lives. Maybe then youngsters will consider the potential of getting cancer when they decide whether to smoke or not to smoke.

Rosemary Janvier
Guidance Counselor
Alette Crichton School
Browns Mills, New Jersey

Tech Talk

Thanks so much to Lowell Monke for his excellent article, "The Web And The Plow" [October]. I am currently getting a master's degree in education at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Yesterday, my professor told me that she was worried that technology will harm the soul of education. I suggested that we need to merge the old ways of teaching with the new, not just reject the new. Thanks for expressing so eloquently what I was trying to say. I'll make sure my professor reads the article.

Suzanne Barricelli
Malden, Massachusetts

Lowell Monke seems to be alarmed that his students don't have inner qualities, cultural awareness, and emotional maturity. But they are young! It is mystifying to me why technology would be to blame. Our culture in general lacks the foundation for deep personal development. We are a young country. People move and move often. We place more emphasis on material wealth than on human values. And many people seem to be satisfied with very superficial lives.

Technology can be one of education's most creative, complex learning tools. Through its use, a student can transmit thoughts and information through text, sound, music, color, motion, voices, graphics, pictures, video, and live conferencing. There are unlimited avenues for creativity. Technology is a source of information, an avenue for exchanging ideas, an active way of learning and connecting to others with similar interests.

The approach and expected outcome of the teacher's assignment sets the depth of the learning. As a result, technology's use is heavily dependent upon the vision of the user.

Terri Nighswonger
East Avenue Middle School
Livermore, California

My Iowa

After reading David Ruenzel's article, "State Of Contentment" [August/September], I believe it is appropriate to request that you print another article to tell the rest of the story. The schools featured in the article undoubtedly represent one segment of Iowa education. However, they seem to have been highlighted to support a deep-rooted stereotype of Iowa and not to give a true representation of the tremendous changes that are taking place in most Iowa schools. As a former New England educator, I can understand the stereotype. But having adopted Iowa as home, I have a deep respect for Iowa's commitment to excellence in education and to the responsible ways in which effective changes are made.

School improvement and reform have been the focus for Iowa schools for several years, and we've explored many issues, including development of standards and benchmarks, meaningful assessments, school-to-work programs, technology as an educational tool, and recognition of the importance of technical education. Preparation for the jobs of the future requires a very different education from that of a generation ago, and Iowans recognize that fact. We know that we cannot rest on our past reputation but must continue to grow, to devise ways to measure the many important dimensions of our education programs, and to report that growth.

I would like to invite any of your staff to visit the Jefferson-Scranton schools, enrollment 1,300. There are many, many Iowa schools that bear little resemblance to schools of the past. (Yes, Iowa educators, contrary to Ruenzel's opinion, do network and do know what is happening in other districts.) Please do not allow the narrowly focused, unfortunate image portrayed by Ruenzel's article to stand as the only view of Iowa's education system.

Dianne Blackmer
Jefferson-Scranton High School
Jefferson, Iowa

I'm a 6th grader attending Hoover Elementary School, and I read your article "State Of Contentment". I think you have no right saying that old-fashioned is bad.

The article noted that our computer lab was empty. Your writer probably saw it near the end of the day after students had returned to homeroom. Every student has a chance to work on the computers; the lab is even open during lunch hour. I think he should have looked into this more.

Ashley Evans
Council Bluffs, Iowa

Author's Note

I was happy to see your excellent coverage ["Sisters In Arms," August/September] of the Cordova sisters' struggle in Vaughn, New Mexico. As the author of the book 500 Years of Chicano History, I would like to add a few comments.

The article might have been even more enlightening if it had included examples of other efforts to prevent teaching that casts a critical eye on U.S. history, particularly on the story of westward expansion and "Manifest Destiny." The Vaughn case is surely a case of extreme repressiveness but not the only example.

Also, I am sorry that your author did not know more about my background and work. I am described in the article as an "activist," which is true enough, but I am also the author or editor of five books and many magazine articles and an instructor in ethnic studies and women's studies at California State University at Hayward. I was a researcher at the United Nations on colonial issues for five years; an editor at Simon and Schuster for another five years; books and arts editor of The Nation magazine; and have guest-lectured at some 200 universities and colleges in the United States.

I tell you all this to stress that my book (which is not a textbook, as the article says, but a pictorial history) was written by someone with credentials. Originally published in 1976, it is still in print and widely used today. In other words, the Cordova sisters chose to use a book by a respected historian and educator.

Elizabeth Martinez
San Francisco, California

Homework Is Good

As someone who spent a number of years in the business world and who is in his 24th year of teaching mathematics, I would agree with William Lenard ["The Homework Scam," August/September] on one thing: Students should not be given math homework that cannot be checked as they do it. But I am in complete disagreement with Lenard's thesis that homework is useless. By assigning exercises whose answers can be found in the back of the book, or by giving my students the means to check their answers on homework, I allow them to reinforce what they have learned in class and to identify areas that must be reviewed.

In my advanced classes, I do not check homework: I allow students to select which of the assigned problems to attempt, and I give them my home telephone number so that we can discuss any difficulties they encounter while working at home. In my classes for less-advanced students, I collect homework to assess what the students can do and what must be re-taught.

School is not the business world, and we cannot use workplace analogies to evaluate the utility of assigning homework. If Lenard wants to fight against homework that is unnecessarily tedious, I will join him. But it's sensationalistic to take a scatter-gun approach and say that all homework is useless.

Murray Siegel
J.L. Mann High School
Greenville, South Carolina

William Lenard makes several assertions that I believe are untrue. First, he is wrong to say that most adults don't bring work home from the office. Many commissioned salespeople update client lists, arrange schedules, and review product information at home. Managers at all levels write reviews, prepare presentations, and create reports at home because the office is often too hectic to allow time for quiet reflection. Engineers, scientists, nurses, doctors, teachers, and lawyers review professional publications at home to keep abreast of their fields. And so on.

Lenard also asserts that "homework is best for students when it is rare, optional, and specialized." What he does not do is offer any evidence to back up his argument. Students need time to practice skills acquired in the classroom. They need time to practice reading for meaning, as well as reading for pleasure. They need time to think creatively about new concepts or new applications for old concepts. Most importantly, they must practice the art of teaching themselves, as most adult learning is from self-teaching. Homework is essential to long-term learning, and when thoughtfully prepared, it is anything but a scam.

Donald Ian Delver
Rolling Hills, California

We are all aware of the problems inherent in a "check-off" system of homework assignments. But to say that the practice of sending students home with work is "fraudulent and destructive to children's learning" is ridiculous. Used sensibly and properly graded, homework can easily be the difference between a student who fails and a student who passes. In the classrooms of today's schools, there isn't time for the skills practice that most students need to assimilate new concepts. Practice through homework is the only answer.

True, many students are at a disadvantage. I know because I lived with 12 other people in a three-room house without plumbing or air conditioning while going through middle and high school. But it made me stronger and wiser, and I got a better-than-average education--with homework in most subjects almost every night.

As I tell my students, the world is not a just place, it's just a place, and those who are disadvantaged are just going to have to work harder.

David McClellan
Norman, Oklahoma

Teacher Magazine welcomes the opinions and comments of its readers. Letters should be 300 words or fewer and may be edited for clarity and length. Comment articles fall under two general headings: Viewpoint and First Person. Essays should run approximately 1,000 to 1,250 words (four to five double-spaced pages) in length. All letters and submissions should include an address and phone number. Mail them to Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008. Letters also may be sent to [email protected], essays to [email protected].

Vol. 09, Issue 03

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