Self-confidence comes from within

Our obsession with seeing every aspect of education through the lens of race ultimately does a disservice, particularly to those young people it is supposed to help.  A brown student who is a senior at the Trinity School in New York City says that she and other students of color cannot “engage completely with their education or with each other” if they don’t feel safe (“Why schools must see students’ race,” New York Daily News, May 15).

I don’t know if she is referring to her physical safety or to her psychological wellness.  If the former, then I’d like to know why many students oppose the presence of security officers on campus.  If the latter, then I’d suggest that she look inward. No school can provide a climate that guarantees all students, regardless of color, will always feel competent.

Parents are responsible for nurturing their children so that they are resilient in facing what life has to offer.  Schools can do only so much. Critical race theory promises far more than it can possibly deliver along that line.

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Cheating is ubiquitous

Remote learning is being blamed for the rash of cheating on campuses across the country (“Cheating at School Is Easier Than Ever – and It’s Rampant,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13). There is some truth to that explanation, but I think there is another more fundamental reason.

Students today are spending big bucks for a college degree.  As a result, they see themselves entitled to a good grade.  If that means cheating, so be it.  There have always been students, of course, who have cheated even when the cost of college was much lower, but they were outliers.  Students now have jumped through so many hoops to be admitted and have assumed heavy debt to finance their education. Therefore, they believe it is their right to get a top grade.

What they don’t understand is that they are the ultimate victims of cheating.  When they enter the workplace, they will be called upon to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.  If they can’t deliver, they won’t get the job or hold it for very long.

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Small school districts better for all stakeholders

Big urban school districts like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have persistently failed to meet the needs of the students they serve.  Although critics have laid the blame on the existence of powerful teachers unions, I submit that size alone is the reason (“Break Up Urban School Districts,” educationnext.org, May 12). 

Implementing change is always far easier in small districts where stakeholders tend to know each other.  It’s not that differences of opinion don’t exist there.  They most certainly do.  But unlike in large urban districts, consensus is more easily arrived at. 

Yet tradition dies hard, which is why it’s highly unlikely that breaking up urban behemoths will ever become a reality.

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Catholic schools’ declining enrollment

You don’t have to be Catholic to recognize that Catholic schools are the last bastion of a traditional education. Unfortunately, the 6.4 percent decline in enrollment brings down the number of students to about 1.6 million from some 4.4 million in 1970 (“Catholic Schools Are Losing Students at Record Rates, and Hundreds Are Closing,” The Wall Street Journal, May 11).

It’s a pity because Catholic schools have resisted succumbing to the critical race theory that has invaded private and public schools.  Parents who can’t afford private schools or who oppose charter school curriculum now have fewer choices than ever before in educating their children.

There was a time when Catholic schools were the nation’s largest non-government provider of education.  I realize that times were different then, but I submit that they still are a bargain teaching the basics and discipline.

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Let college athletes get paid for endorsements

It’s time to acknowledge that college athletes are a cash cow for many colleges.  That’s certainly true for football and basketball, which is why Florida and four other states are about to allow college athletes to cash in on their names and likenesses (“N.C.A.A. Chief, Pressured by State Laws, Pushes to Let Athletes Cash In,” The New York Times, May 8).

The argument against the change is that athletes are students first and foremost.  As a result, allowing them to profit from their deals would make them pros.  But in the final analysis, they are bringing in millions of dollars for their schools.  Their coaches are not subject to restrictions on cutting deals, so why have a double standard?

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School superintendents’ turnover is no surprise

Richard Carranza in New York City, Austin Beutner in Los Angeles and Janice Jackson in Chicago have recently stepped down in close succession as head of their respective school systems (“Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson to Step Down,” The Wall Street Journal, May 4).  Although the news made headlines in their local papers, it shouldn’t have.

I say that because all three systems, Nos. 1,2,3 respectively, are far too large for anyone to lead. The only way change is ever going to come is if the systems were broken up into more manageable sizes.  Even then reform needs to take place from the bottom up. The latter was the conclusion of the first broad study about the link between superintendents and student achievement by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Enlightened principals, skilled teachers and involved community members are the keys to turning around troubled districts. 

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Context means everything in racial slurs

The latest example of how incendiary the use of the N-word is took place at Rutgers Law School in Newark, N.J.  Even though the slur was quoted strictly from a published court decision by a student, it triggered an uproar among Black students and some law school professors (“Debate Erupts at N.J. Law School After White Student Quotes Racial Slur,” The New York Times, May 4).

I understand how hurtful the word in question is, but that does not mean it should be deleted when quoted as part of a legal ruling.  Let’s not forget that these are future lawyers who are supposed to be trained in the importance of free speech.  If certain words constitute the third rail of what is supposed to be a  legal education, then the entire system is a travesty.

What happens if the word is part of a lawsuit that makes itself to a courtroom? Are jurors forbidden to hear the context in which the word was used?  If so, how can they reach a fair decision?  The obsession with any slur distorts all other factors in education.

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Teach AP history through original sources

I understand why textbooks are used to teach history despite the unavoidable politicking that involves their adoption (“Why my daughter hates (whitewashed) AP history,” Los Angeles Times, May 3).  They’re easy to understand and handy. But when it comes to teaching AP history, that’s another story.

The truth is that history is not always settled.  There are almost always differences of opinions among experts that can only be understood by using primary sources.  I subscribe to The Concord Review, which publishes papers written by high school students around the globe.  I’m amazed at the research that forms the basis for the papers.

Only by going to such primary sources can advanced students get to the truth. Unfortunately, AP students constitute a tiny minority of the overall high school population.  As a result, they will continue to be subjected to only one side of the truth.

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Teaching assistants deserve hefty salary increase

More than seven years ago, graduate students serving as teaching assistants at N.Y.U. became the first to win recognition for their union from a private university.  Although their contract expired last August, they have continued to work until now (“ ‘They’re Trying to Bully Us’ : N.Y.U. Graduates Students Are Back on Strike,” The New York Times, May 1). 

But now they are on strike. Who can blame them?  Despite doing much of the work that universities depend on, the starting pay at N.Y.U. is only $20 an hour.  They’re demanding $32 an hour, down from their original demand of $46 an hour.  I say they’re worth every cent.  The truth is that most professors have little interest in teaching undergrad courses.  As a result, teaching assistants teach many sections and grade all tests and papers.

N.Y.U. and other universities both public and private argue that they are students first and workers second.  That may be correct in theory, but in reality they are indispensable to the functioning of higher education in this country.

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Make community colleges free

Although the tuition for attending community college is quite reasonable, it is still too high for many students from low-income families.  That’s why I believe that community college for students from families making less than $125,000 should be a right (“Joe Biden Wants to Make Community College Free. Can Progressives Push Him Further?” huffpost.com, Apr. 25).

Students who lack the aptitude or interest for a four-year degree would be able to learn a skill that would make them far more employable than high school graduates.  As a result, the proposal deserves serious consideration.

My only concern is that doing so would be a precedent for making a four-year college free as well.  That would be a mistake in light of the number of such graduates who are underemployed.

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