To the editors:
George Lipsitz’s thoughts on “educational reforms” vs the core curriculum of so-called neo-conservatives [“Comment: What Counts as Culture?” August 10] need comment.
First, since there are only so many minutes to a typical class period and a limited number of days to the school year, teachers are forced to choose what they believe are most important for the education of their students. Since, until recently, this country was mostly settled by Europeans, teachers logically chose what they themselves had learned. Older teachers like myself are simply “children of their times.”
Secondly, the lingua franca of the world is English. This is primarily due to England’s wide colonization of the previous centuries coupled with America’s cultural hegemony via radio, television, and especially film. What adult in most of the world has not by now heard of Marilyn Monroe or John Wayne? Or the plethora of recently new “stars”?
Third, has Mr. Lipsitz rode the el or bus lately and seen what the hoi polloi are reading as they commute? It’s rarely the classics like War and Peace or The Divine Comedy. Or even the Tao. It’s rather the ephemeral best-sellers written by the likes of Scott Turow or Danielle Steel ad nauseam. Such costly tomes are literary drugs that stimulate or tranquilize, but rarely educate i.e. contribute to lasting ideas that would guide one’s behaviour in the future.
Fourth, a few days ago, I bought some vegetables at a farmer’s market where the teen who sold them to me did not know that the metric hectare was smaller than the English acre (it’s .48 of an acre). Furthermore, she guessed wrong that .48 was less than a half. She said it was more. Significantly, she was not an urban black or Hispanic, but rather a white from an Indiana farm. She probably does know, however, who Madonna is.
Lastly, it would be nice if the Reader gave a small sketch of each writer appearing in its pages so that we, the readers, may see what baggage or biases the writer brings with him or her. I myself have been a biology teacher (mostly on the high school level) since 1962 and have never limited my instruction to biology because all knowledge is connected. Because of this, 15 or more of my former students at Niles West High School’s 20th reunion last July 28th approached me and paid me the compliment that every teacher wants to hear i.e., “Mr. Mitchell, you were the best teacher I ever had.” Undoubtedly, there are those who would disagree because I maintained high standards. C’est dommage! My empathy for them knows no bounds. judging by his style and vocabulary, I’d guess that Mr. Lipsitz is a university professor. He should enter the trenches and try teaching in a Chicago public grammar or high school for a brief stint. His perspective just might change because of stark reality.
Thomas F. Mitchell