'Hard Lessons' Showed Weaknesses of Schools

* I don't know when I have read anything so irritating on education as the piece titled "Hard Lessons" (Sept. 19).

Education in this school district has been foundering for more than 20 years. Principal Beryl Ward and her supporters at Northridge Middle School are in the process of institutionalizing the reasons why it has foundered.

Catering to student immaturity, disrespect and laziness by diluting and/or eliminating standards will only bring these young people heartache and disappointment later. Discipline and competition are not "tooth decay."

But Ms. Ward's sugary approach to education is, and our community will continue to suffer the consequences into the next century.

LORIN ZELDIN

Reseda

* Congratulations to John Johnson on his research and reporting of the new child-centered approach to education going on at Northridge Middle School. The message came through loud and clear--public education may give passing grades to the students, but it is failing the public.

With innovations such as these going on in our schools, not only will American students be unprepared to compete with the Japanese, they'll be unprepared to fill out the forms at the welfare office.

If my decision to vote in favor of Proposition 174 were ever in doubt, your article has won me over. Yes on 174 will give these Northridge parents the right and financial ability to choose a decent learning environment for their children.

PAULA T. CALVET

Northridge

* What a remarkably stimulating article. Certainly no thinking person could peruse those 16 pages and not be mentally active.

You have great courage to present such a comprehensive and objective evaluation of that educational program. It was impressive how unbiased that entire article was.

Your reporters might be interested in pursuing their analysis of this new concept of education being developed in the middle schools of California by visiting our campus. We have inculcated many of the concepts of "Caught in the Middle" in our school program but have not experienced the negative responses reported in "Hard Lessons."

You exhibited courageous and honest journalism. Most of us in the profession are aware that nothing done in society is as important as the education of our youngsters since the continuation of our entire culture will eventually be their responsibility.

MARVIN CIRA

Burbank

Cira is faculty chairman at Jordan Middle School in Burbank. * This principal is truly providing us with the kind of skilled laborers we need--those who can smile a lot and wave a scanner over price tags at K mart.

DEBBIE MILLER

Santa Clarita

* As a teacher and a concerned citizen, I am sickened, shocked, disgusted, and outraged by the so-called educational reforms at Northridge Middle School. The article could be retitled "Everything Wrong With Education Today."

Beryl Ward states that the barometer of success at Northridge is the smile gauge. Who is she fooling? The notion that children will develop a sense of self-esteem by receiving unbelievably inflated grades is ridiculous. Children, like adults, become self-confident by meeting goals through persistence, and yes, through a delay of gratification.

No truer words are spoken than when Ward quotes verbatim a note from a long-ago student that states, "You're the best teacher I ever had, even though I didn't learn." Ward responds, "She's not the failure, I am." She truly is a failure at leading Northridge into meaningful school reform.

KATHY BINNIE

Winnetka

* The Special Report "Hard Lessons" is a superb piece of work. I gave up my Sunday morning to a rapt reading of it. As a former junior high and current high school teacher, I commend the author for capturing the atmosphere in a Los Angeles Unified School District school.

I read the report with the steadily mounting fury of one who sees deliberate stupidity and is powerless to stop it.

The teachers we remember with respect challenged us to be more than we were. They did not bemoan poverty, racism, drugs and crime but pointed a way out of the morass through accomplishment, not from endless stroking of the ego.

Children have parents to love them; teachers are there to teach content. (That many children don't have parents to love them is not an indictment of the school system.)

Two incidents described in the report crystallized for me the fiasco of education at Northridge Middle School.

In one, Principal Ward says, "I think he'll be a big success" of a boy named Scott who disrupted a library period. She was glad that nowadays Scott would not be hounded out of the school system as he would have been two decades ago. No mention was made of the time stolen from the other students or the mockery made of the librarian's efforts. If the Scotts of our schools faced a credible threat of exclusion, they would control their behavior.

In the second, Ryan Hunter's mother transfers him to Holmes Junior High and immediately senses a different, more demanding atmosphere. Both Northridge and Holmes purport to "care" about children, but Holmes ultimately wins the bright child and his mother over by caring enough to demand accomplishment.

People want the schools to teach content. Period. To the extent that a school teaches content and fosters measurable individual achievement, that school is considered successful. The danger of allowing so much unaddressed anger is that angry people are irrational voters, and may elect to topple the system (i.e., vote for vouchers) rather than try to improve it.

HERBERT G. ROSENBLOOM

North Hills

* As a grandfather whose granddaughter will be of age to enter school in one year, I know it is long past the time for vouchers for the schools as my granddaughter cannot attend the public schools in their present condition and with the present leadership.

First, the public schools are not safe.

Second, even without shootings, the gangs intimidate and physically abuse the decent children.

Third, teachers are not dedicated or interested in the children learning as when I went to school in Los Angeles.

Fourth, the children are not learning in the public schools--with the latest test showing reading on a par with Mississippi, always the lowest.

Fifth, my daughter and son-in-law must work like dogs to pay for private school while paying for the public schools.

Voucher money will help pay for part of the schooling, and hopefully force the public schools and teachers to be accountable and to improve.

DONALD L. MELLMAN

Studio City

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