Letters

Rigid models of success fail students, society

The Nov. 18 article "Education pick comes from inside Bush circle" makes clear to me not only the origin of the ironically named No Child Left Behind Act, but also the great tragedy in its adoption and promotion even by those who had great goodwill and the best of intentions.

The view in these reforms is that we can mold children into a uniform model of desired and expected abilities. Those who don't meet our expectations we shunt aside as behavioral problems or unworthy candidates. So we begin to mold criminals, "failures," and dropouts rather than training critical thinkers, creative personalities, and other successfully adaptive persons who are not necessarily in the preferred or expected mold.

The real problem in this revision and overstandardization of public school policy is that we have not approached these children from the very beginning as individuals, each deserving our recognition and respect. Only then can they respect themselves, their peers, and authority, and develop their full potential. Behavior and discipline can be imposed, but respect and love must be earned, and are learned only by example.

By failing to teach these qualities in the new system, we fail a great many more children than those we previously left behind.
William Weimholt
Chicago

Education should be more than test prep

Regarding the Nov. 30 article "A city's schools test a new way": Turning classrooms into test preparation factories invariably results in improved scores, but at what price? That's the real question about the modest improvement in standardized test scores in the Philadelphia schools operated by educational management company Edison Schools, Inc.

Granted, Edison agreed to take on the job of running the worst-achieving schools in Philadelphia serving the hardest-to-teach students. That's a challenge no one envies. But it's no excuse for incessant drilling for a specific exam. Whatever gains occurred under Edison's aegis in these circumstances will not transfer into learning that can be measured by other tests.

A study of overall learning gains in 18 states with exit exams, conducted by David C. Berliner and Audrey L. Amrein of Arizona State University, reported that improvements on the state tests did not show up on gains on other tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The researchers concluded that high-stakes testing does not increase student learning.

If the goal is to improve educational quality, then Edison's approach will shortchange those students most in need.
Walt Gardner
Los Angeles

Confront 'addiction thinking'

Regarding the Nov. 30 article "A drug kids take in search of better grades": Over 35 years as a practicing clinical psychologist - now teaching at the college level - I have witnessed (and been a participant in) America's drug craze. We have moved from mood-altering illegal substances to those spiffed and polished by a pharmaceutical industry spending millions each year to cultivate the mind-set that drugs make all of life better.

The drug Adderall is a product designed to promote a psychotropic effect. That it is used for personal psychological reasons should not surprise our society. We are, and seem intended to be, a drug-oriented society.

Our young are being trained to think of life as almost-immediate gratification, so no wonder it is "too hard" to study for several hours without chemical support.

Are we willing to continue playing ostrich with ourselves and our young people in order to perpetuate this self-created madness of "addiction thinking"?
Alex Kronstadt
Weston, Fla.

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