The case study in "Savings Shock" [April] is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more educators who have had similar or worse experiences with their retirement plans. The reason: Nobody discusses the issue, nobody talks about planning for retirement by looking at all the options, and nobody in policy shares objective information about options.
The only information a typical educator gets is from an insurance company's agent. This is criminal. The unions and districts refuse to look at this issue. Unions concentrate only on Social Security and the state teacher pension plan and leave the 403(b) issue entirely to "approved" vendors who buy expensive ads in union newspapers. It's a disgusting sweetheart relationship that causes union members to pay high fees they are unaware of. I am a strong union member, but the 403(b) issue is a huge missing link in the benefits chain.
Los Angeles, California
As a teacher, I was aghast that you touted "Spellbound," the biased article that takes a student's side in a "student's civil rights" case, on your March cover. When did Teacher Magazine start accusing teachers based on hearsay accusations from "wronged" students and their families, whose goals just may be publicity and monetary gains at the expense of public education?
I hope that professionals who read your magazine discern the hype and realize that the school system's silence about its side of the story involves confidentiality, the best interests of the student, and the student's pending lawsuit. A student's disciplinary problems within a school system should be private for the student's sake.
I was further horrified that you exposed a teacher to public and professional scorn. Sandi Franklin, the counselor your article marks with the innuendo that she practices religious persecution, is a valued member of the Union Public Schools. I know her both professionally and personally to be a person of great character who places the well-being of students above defending disparagement to her dignity. You assassinated her character and values in front of her colleagues. Her "hands are tied," and you encouraged disdain. Shame on you.
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
After reading "Spellbound," I have come to the conclusion that some areas of the United States are still living in the Dark Ages. Surely we have not become so simple as to believe that casting spells will send a teacher to the emergency room or cause anything more than mild annoyance or bemusement to the recipient.
Let the child believe what she wants. It is an issue between the young lady and her parents. That is what the First Amendment guarantees. If Christ protects his flock, then Christians have nothing to fear from a Wiccan.
I am very concerned that "Spellbound" casts Christians, school authorities, and Brandi Blackbear in unfavorable roles. As a Christian, I would be the last to deny someone the right to believe as they want. God gave us free will to choose any path. However, to exploit this situation by comparing it to the Salem witch trials is mean-spirited and wrong.
The school officials and the Christian community should not be treated as "villains." Agree or disagree, the school authorities did what they thought was best for the educational process and the entire student body. If Brandi's parents feel they have been wronged, there are recourses within the school codes they can pursue. The ACLU has little credibility in my opinion.
Christians are not the "bad guys" the article generally represents. If Teacher Magazine desires justice and fair treatment for Brandi, it should take a lower-profile approach to supporting her civil rights and not give even the impression of laying blame on anyone but who is specifically responsible for denying her these rights.
Schroon Lake, New York
Kudos to David Hill for his thorough, honest, and accurate reporting on the Brandi Blackbear case in the article "Spellbound." He not only took the time to research the truth behind the Wiccan religion but presented it without bias, in a fair, open-minded manner I have rarely seen. The press tends to swing between outright bashing and laughing at Wiccans' expense. May whatever gods he believes in shower Hill with blessings.
South Otselic, New York
I think it is noteworthy that Brandi Blackbear was able to find a book on the Wiccan religion in her school library. I have found this to be the case in several of the schools in which I have taught. Noticeably absent, however, were books on the Christian religion, which were considered too much of a violation of the separation between church and state. I find this to be very ironic.
Brandi Blackbear has as much right to wear her witch symbol as I have to wear my cross. I can't believe anyone seriously feels threatened by evil spells. Labeling a child "disruptive" because the other kids do not like her helps to foster the clique-outcast problem that led to the Columbine shooting. Luckily, Brandi seems inclined to sue people rather than shoot them, but I am saddened that she could not find Christian love among her predominantly Christian peers. I fear the school's treatment of Brandi will make it harder (if not impossible) for anyone to ever lead her to Christ. Considering the Christians she's encountering, it isn't so strange that she's looking at other religions.
There's a born-again Christian from the Bible Belt who will be praying for her, and I believe that God loves her. Everybody at that school owes her an apology. They may not have burned her at the stake, but it's still a witch hunt. You don't bring people to Christ by bullying them but by loving them.
"Spellbound" raises some very serious questions about the state of religious and individual rights in the classroom. In many ways, Brandi represents the children who face discrimination and aggression in school on a daily basis. Their oppression stems from deep and dangerous assumptions made by socialized students and punitive authorities about privilege and normative behavior in American society. It is this backlash against human exploration of difference, and not the alleged threat of students like Brandi, that is really contributing to the tension and violence festering in school communities throughout this nation.
Dave Ruenzel did a nice job on the article he wrote about me, "The World According To Gatto," [March]. I was pleasantly surprised to find Teacher Magazine levelheaded throughout, quite a change from the educationalese generally found in school publications. Congratulations.
The one serious objection I have to the piece is its title, which, by suggesting megalomania or self-promotion, undermines the central thrust of my post-school teaching career to restore in parents and teachers a determination to trust their own judgments, not the wisdom of authorities or experts.
To confirm my loathing of guruhood, let me invite anyone within earshot to read my latest book, Underground History of American Education, for free at www.johntaylorgatto.com.
John Taylor Gatto
New York, New York
Please provide positive comments in "Overheard." The quotes you published in March were all negative and depressing. I just subscribed to your magazine and now regret it. There are wonderful stories in this country about educators and students doing fabulous things, and all you can do is quote the unhappy people? Say something wonderful!
Teach By Example
Like Roark Pargeon [ "Letters," March], I wish that I could share my spiritual life with students. But teachers have many ways to teach, and not all of them are verbal. We can "walk the walk" without "talking the talk." If our students are interested in the morals and values that we model for them, they will ask us questions. We can answer them in private discussions that do not use the whole class's time and do not threaten the security of other students.
Sugar Land, Texas
I was very pleased with "Homecoming," the article about George Chaump [January]. There is much good to be said about him personally and professionally. He brought an exciting brand of football as well as some outstanding players to Marshall University. Although his successors racked up two Division I-AA national championships and, after moving to the I-A Mid- American Conference, four conference championships, I give Coach Chaump credit for turning the program around. He will always be a Chaumpion in my book.
St. Augustine, Florida
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. Articles for the "Comment" section fall under two general headings: Viewpoint and First Person. Essays should run approximately 1,000 to 1,750 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, 6935 Arlington Road, Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814. Letters also may be sent to [email protected].
Vol. 12, Issue 8, Pages 4-7Published in Print: May 1, 2001, as Letters