Teachers & Pupils
To the Editor:
It is obvious from Arthur Brodbeck’s review of Joan Dunn’s book Retreat from Learning, in your July issue, that he is not a public-school classroom teacher. For how else explain his extraordinarily charitable review of a book that lacks insight and argues for a completely authoritarian and undemocratic way of teaching?
I too read Miss Dunn’s book, with a mixture of pity and joy—pity because her parochial and prissy background and approach precluded any possibility of rapport with normal, rambunctious adolescents; joy because my own experience, in a similarly “tough” situation, resulted in respect, awareness, and learning on the part of the youngsters, and myself as well. . . .
I would be the last to decry the importance of the classics in the teaching of English, but what earthly purpose is served for children to learn to spell polysyllabic words arbitrarily selected by the teacher as “required spelling” when those words have no relation to the language that the children themselves use?
In reference to the Flesches, Dunns, and other whining “antis” in the field of education, it is interesting to note that four thousand years ago the complaint was registered by a high priest in Egypt that the young people’s manners and behavior were atrocious; and that the Board of Overseers of Harvard College toward the end of the last century complained that entering freshmen were “inadequate” in composition.
Obviously all youngsters can’t be made to be deeply appreciative of the classics, and interestingly enough, neither were their parents and grandparents under the thumb of the proper school marm to whose methods a return is indicated by Mr. Brodbeck and those others with whom he agrees.
If the “thoughtful people” that Mr. Brodbeck refers to who are concerned with “progressive theory turned into meaningless rituals” would stop their mystic contemplations for a short time and visit, for example, a Junior High School that I know, in which more than two thousand youngsters who are really learning democracy along with their Three R’s under teachers and administrators who are modern educators with nary a sign of “laxness,” “text-book jargon,” or aimless “whistling in the dark,” they would receive a great surprise that would give them something to think about.
Cranford, New Jersey