Bennett Views on Education

David G. Savage, The Times education writer, has done a skillful job of summarizing opposition to William J. Bennett, the new secretary of education (March 3). Unfortunately, his article stops far short of contributing to any intelligent understanding of the issues raised, from Bennett's blunt criticism of higher education, to his equally blunt justification of proposed cuts in federal aid to college students.

Gossipy details about Bennett's "linebacker" style and the myriad outraged quotations from the educational Establishment and its backers could hardly be called news. Yet another rehash of the many abridged, and now-familiar Bennett quotations does your readers no service whatsoever.

The issues Bennett has raised, both as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and now, as secretary of education, demand careful public consideration, not merely a glib summary of egregious comparisons to former Interior Secretary James G. Watt.

As a former college professor, I find more than a dollop of truth in Bennett's criticism of higher education with its cafeteria-style offerings, its absence of vision and direction, and its virtual capitulation to fads. That 72% of our graduates have not studied American history or literature is unforgivable. Even students in some developing countries do not leave high school, let alone the university, without a fair knowledge of their own heritage.

As for the trivialization of the nation's graduate schools--well, that's been a common topic of conversation among the insiders for years. In their more reflective moments, many professors admit that their candidates for advanced degrees are being burdened with trivia that does nothing to advance either scholarship or practical knowledge.

Whether or not the Reagan Administration's proposed cuts in student aid will cause great pain remains to be seen. However, stories about possible individual deprivation add little to public understanding of the issues, particularly accessibility versus federal financing of every personal educational choice.

The Times could do its readers a valuable service by presenting objective, well-researched analyses of the questions and issues Bennett has raised rather than continue to indulge in gossip about his truculence.


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