Culture clash

Professor Shanker's perceptive article ``Education as a trivial pursuit'' [Jan. 22] blames the ``casual life style'' of today's youth for the decline of educational standards. I should like to expand his indictment by adding that alternate life styles have bred citizens of two opposing cultures.

On the one hand are the rigors of an educational system expounded in books, ideas, and the cultural past; on the other hand is the thrust of the mass media expounded by rock music, sex, and the indulgence of immediate pleasures.

How can the values of these two systems be harmonized? How can youth, bombarded with so many stimuli, accept the authority of traditional education with its reading, writing, and arithmetic?

Many teachers know that their problems stem from competition with this new life style -- a competition they are ill-prepared to meet.

The alternate life style results in the decline of attention spans and impairs the capacity to learn. It endangers the values on which Western culture is built. Gabriel Gersh Forest Hills, N.Y.

As a student returning to school in hopes of retraining for a new profession, I found Professor Shanker's article on education both stimulating and disturbing.

In the inevitable comparison to the Japanese education system, Shanker leaves out two major differences: cultural tradition and motivation.

Our society has done its best to bleach out its vast cultural heritage. Without roots, without a sense of our historical context in the world, the only motivation appears to be the short-term dollar.

On the subject of motivation: It might be beneficial to ask students why they are in college. It is a question we don't ask often enough.

It should be remembered that obtaining, as well as providing, an education is an expensive and time-consuming process. Many dropouts may be working full-time jobs to support families.

One goal for students should be the heightening of their abilities to communicate and make decisions. Without a strong conceptual and experiential framework provided, the educational system is offering little more than a firm foundation in trivial pursuits. Thomas Jacobsen Milford, N.J.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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