Corporal punishment persists

It’s hard to believe that corporal punishment is still allowed in 19 states (“Where Lynching Terrorized Black Americans, Corporal Punishment in Schools Lives On,” Huffington Post, July 21).  Although it is rarely used, the fact that it remains legal is troubling.

I say that because it is almost always counterproductive. In the nearly 90 percent of school districts in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi that reported at least one school using corporal punishment during the 2011-12 school year, I wonder what their experience was.  Did it change the behavior of students?  If so, how?  Were there any negative effects?  These are all important questions.

It’s not surprising that schools in counties with long histories of violent social control – typically in the Deep South – are more likely to use such punishment.  Nevertheless, when I was in high school on Long Island, N.Y. in the mid 1950s, P.E. teachers occasionally gave students a swat on their backside with a wooden paddle.  No parent ever complained.  But that was then, this is now.

I also vividly remember friends who attended Catholic schools in that era receiving slaps on their hands with rulers or pinches on their ears for misbehaving in class.  They told me that nuns were quick to use such punishment.  I wonder if that still goes on today.

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KIPP’s strange turnaround

It’s hard to understand why a charter school that has an impressive record of providing a quality education to disadvantaged Black and Brown students suddenly decides to declare a mea culpa (“Canceling the best charter schools?” New York Daily News, July 21).  But that’s what David Levin, co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program did recently.

The 242 schools in 20 states serving more than 100,000 students were built on the slogan “Work Hard Be Nice.”  But Levin now regrets the slogan as placing a value on “being compliant and submissive.”  He does so even though graduates are admitted to more than 200 colleges and universities and go on to successful careers in their chosen fields.

Apparently, Levin for some reason feels guilty for what he has accomplished. Instead, he should be proud for giving students who were shortchanged by traditional public schools a chance for a bright future.

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Racial instruction is perilous

The best intentions can often have the worst effects.  I’m referring now to Jane Elliott, who in 1968 after learning of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., split her all-white third graders into two groups based entirely on the color of their eyes (“The Return of Jane Elliott,” The New York Times, July 19).

She designated the brown -eyed children the superior group and gave them extra privileges.  They soon became arrogant and unpleasant to their “inferior” classmates.  Her goal was to teach them how easily prejudice can be learned.  But she paid an enormous personal and professional price for her lesson.  Looking back, she admitted that if she had known beforehand what the price would be, she wouldn’t have designed the lesson.

My point is that teachers have to be exceedingly careful not to cross certain lines.  Whatever criticism is directed at Elliott because she designed her lesson with third-graders will likely also be directed at teachers doing the same thing with high schoolers. Racial instruction is by its very nature extremely risky.

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Outdoor classes to avoid Covid-19

When the fall semester begins on Aug. 18th in Los Angeles, all instruction in the Los Angeles Unified School District will be distance learning.  It’s hard to understand why in light of what we learned at the beginning of the 20th century when tuberculosis was rampant (“Schools Beat Earlier Plagues With Outdoor Classes. We Should, Too,” The New York Times, July 17).

Despite harsh weather, New York City and other cold-weather cities set up open-air classes. Few children or teachers got sick.  Yet in Southern California, where the climate is near-perfect year-round, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, will provide only distance instruction when the fall semester begins.

It makes no sense.  If students can learn in wintry climate, then why can’t they learn in clement climate?  The fact is that the risk of contagion is severely diminished outside.

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Teaching current events is risky

It’s good that students want to talk about the relationship between current events and what they’ve learned in history classes (“The Need to Teach the History Behind Current Events Has Rarely Been Clearer. Here’s How Some Teachers Are Getting Ready,” Time, July 14). But this sudden interest comes with certain caveats that teachers need to be aware of.

Most important, teachers need to present a balanced view. But anything they say that does not reinforce the pre-existing views of students is bound to get them into trouble.  Today’s current events are by their very nature highly controversial.  As a result, teachers have to walk a tightrope.  I doubt that principals will back teachers up if enough parents complain.

I remember vividly what happened in history classes during the Vietnam War.  Students were eager to discuss our involvement.  But teachers who expressed opinions that ran counter to what most students felt soon were the subject of criticism.  I submit that the same thing will happen now when the subject is racism.

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Need for more skilled workers bodes ill for liberal arts grads

As companies strive to cut costs and increase efficiency, jobs that seemed to be safe are now at risk (“The Pandemic Has Accelerated Demands for a More Skilled Work Force,” The New York Times, July 14).  Nevertheless, young people are still told that without a four-year degree they have a bleak future.

I can understand the potential value of a bachelor’s degree in STEM, but I question one in the humanities.  I maintain that the latter is a luxury few can afford.  Let’s not forget that a degree today saddles graduates with loans that are not dischargeable. As a result, whatever wage premium is attached to a degree is substantially reduced.

Some say that college shouldn’t prepare grads for their first job, but instead for the rest of their lives. They are quick to point out that humanities majors trail their peers in terms of salary early on, but the divide tends to narrow or even disappear as careers progress.  There is some truth to that generalization.  But try telling it to recent grads who can’t make enough to pay the rent.

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Is non-standard English linguistic prejudice?

As a former high school English teacher, I was particularly interested in the argument that African American English deserves greater attention in the classroom (“Bias against African American English speakers is a pillar of systemic racism,” Los Angeles Times, July 14).  The claim was reminiscent of Ebonics, which a group of Black scholars created in 1973.  Advocates say that although AAE is derided as ungrammatical, it is worthy of respect.

The same can be said, of course, of other local dialects in this country.  I’m thinking now of those that exist in the Deep South among white speakers.  Nevertheless, I think English teachers still have a duty to continue to teach standard English. That in no way disparages AAE or other dialects that reflect cultural differences.

Let’s not forget that preparing students for life after graduation and improving their chances for upward mobility depend to a large degree on their ability to communicate.  Dialects of all kinds serve as a barrier.  Employers tend to judge applicants by how they speak and dress. We shortchange students by failing to impress upon students that reality.

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Reopening schools pits teachers against parents

Ordinarily, teachers and parents share similar views about the health and safety of children.  But these are not ordinary times (“The Coming Showdown over Schooling,” Commentary, July 13).

Two-thirds of educators polled by EdWeek’s Research Center wanted to keep schools closed indefinitely. In fact, a USA Today/Ipsos poll found that one in five teachers would refuse to go back to school if their classrooms reopened. Although public opinion seems to favor in-person instruction, teachers and their unions said the risks are too great.

Which side is right?  Only parents can decide if the harm of keeping schools closed outweighs the risks from Covid 19. There is no way to guarantee that schools will be totally safe from Covid 19.  Catholic schools so far have been more willing to reopen than public schools, but that may change.

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Early retirement for teachers because of Covid-19

Teachers, who ordinarily would not retire until age 60, which is the sweet spot for maximum benefits, are now considering packing it in (“With No End in Sight to the Coronavirus, Some Teachers Are Retiring Early Rather Than Going Back to School,” Time, July 8).  That’s because some 20 percent of teachers feel their health is worth more than reduced pension benefits.

I completely agree with them.  Older teachers and those with preexisting health issues are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.  It’s a matter of survival.  No matter how hard they try, schools can’t guarantee them protection.  If the threat were not so severe, I doubt early retirement would be on their radar.  But what good is a full pension if it can’t be enjoyed in good health?

When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, several teachers at my high school took early retirement because of the protracted stress they were under as a result of the changing student population combined with the new standards movement.  None of them regretted doing so.  I submit that more and more teachers will retire early when they calculate the risks.

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Rescinding admissions offers is draconian measure

When at least a dozen colleges and universities rescinded admissions offers to students who posted racist material, the step was hailed as wholly justified (“Colleges Rescinding Admissions Offers as Racist Social Media Posts Emerge,” The New York Times, July 3).  I maintain that the punishment does not fit the crime.

I say that because in all cases the students apologized.  Who has not said something that they later regret?  Moreover, the decision to handle the matter was largely the result of whether the institutions were public or private.  Private schools are not bound by the First Amendment, while public schools are.  I fail to see why such a distinction is made.  That’s because both teach the same students.

Young people in particular can be rehabilitated.  The attitudes they held at one point in their lives often change with the passage of time as they mature.  Unfortunately, when it comes to racial issues we forget this.

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