Demon in the Classroom?
To the editor:
If Mr. Stern were right, school districts without collective bargaining for teachers would be educational utopias. There happen to be such places: most of the Southern states. But contrary to Mr. Stern's fantasy, student achievement in these states continues to be among the lowest in the nation. If Mr. Stern were right, how would you explain the accomplishments of, for example, the Bronx High School of Science or Stuyvesant, where teachers work under the same collective bargaining agreement that supposedly causes low student achievement in the rest of New York City? And if Mr. Stern were right, school systems in Japan, Germany, Sweden, and Francewhere unions are even more "powerful" than ourswould be educational disasters. But their students typically perform better than ours do.
The fact is, Mr. Stern is dead wrong. Sure, teachers' unions, along with everyone else involved in schooling, have to look at themselves and ask what they are doing that may contribute to our educational problems and how they can make the necessary changes. And both the American Federation of Teachers and United Federation of Teachers do. But we don't run schools of education or hire, evaluate, or promote teachers, let alone administrators. We're not the reason academic standards became so low and curricula so incoherent; the AFT is
widely credited as being in the forefront of the standards movement, and the UFT encouraged and supports Chancellor Rudy Crew's push for standards. And we're certainly not the reason too many schools are disorderly; we've been trying for years to get school districts to adopt, and fairly enforce, discipline codes and to run decent alternative schools for violent and chronically disruptive youngsters.
And no, Mr. Stern, we don't write our own collective bargaining agreements. If we did, teachers would have the working conditions, preparation, and support to spend all their time focusing on helping their students to achieve.
To the editor:
Since the article appeared, both unions have reached a crossroads. In a recent speech laden with institutional self-criticism, Bob Chase, president of the NEA, declared that the union needed to "reinvent itself." And the recent death of Albert Shanker, president of the AFT for 22 years, has created a huge void for the organization to fill.
Will the unions truly change? Here are three benchmarks to consider: (1) Will they take formal, tangible actions to make sure that incompetent teachers can be removed from the classroom more easily? (2) Will they accept school-choice arrangements? (3) Will they cut back their political staffs and stop focusing on such non-educational issues as "Indian remains"?
By examining these and other issues a year from now, we will know whether the unions are truly committed to changeor intent on more of the same.
Robert W. Kasten
Sol Stem responds:
Well, the last time I checked, Southern states like Texas and Tennessee were doing much better on school reform and improvement than New York. As for the foreign countries,
France's education system is falling apart even faster than ours, and the Japanese are doing a lot of for-profit schooling. And does anyone really believe that the performance of New York's Stuyvesant and Bronx Science high schools is due to their hard-working unionized teachers rather than their students?
Fortunately, there is now some serious empirical research on the impact of teacher unionism. Caroline Minter Hobby, a professor of economics at Harvard, has examined data covering 20 years from every school district in the U.S. Her conclusion from the statistics: "Teachers' unions do get more money for schools and for themselves, but the benefits do not seem to trickle down to the students. Students do worse with unions."
My thanks to former senator Kasten, who raises the right questions for the teachers' unions.
The Worldly Dagger John
To the editor:
In describing Hughes's role during the 1863 Draft Riots, Mr. Stern has the archbishop summoning "the leaders of the rebellion to meet with him." After an appropriate tongue-lashing, they "went back to their neighborhoods, and the violence melted away." But there was no organized cabal of leaders. On the fifth day of the riot, Hughes spoke from his balcony to a crowd gathered in the street. By this time, the army had regained the upper hand. The notion that all it took to end the Draft Riots was a few words from Hughes echoes the worst sort of nativist nonsense.
While correct in his appraisal of the crucial role played by Catholic nuns, Stern doesn't go far enough. As historian Maureen Fitzgerald has shown, the Catholic sisterhood developed a model of public assistance that departed from the prevailing Calvinist notion, which separated the poor into worthy (to be helped) and unworthy (to be ignored). These nuns created institutions that offered help solely on the basis of need. They also used their considerable clout with Irish-American politicians to direct government funding to private agencies.
Most curious of all is Mr. Sterns fleeting mention of Tammany Hall. A glance at George Washington Plunkitt's Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics will call to mind the use that the Irish made of public jobs and public budgets. Not by mere accident or moral reform did it turn out that by the 1880s, as Mr. Stern reports, "Three-quarters of the police force was Irish." Irish contractors and saloonkeepers benefited mightily from Tammany's largesse. It could be argued that no ethnic group before or since has used the fisc to such advantage.
Archbishop Hughes may well have been the Moses of New York's Irish. But his people's journey out of the wilderness was more than a story of moral uplift. It had a distinctly material side. To pretend otherwise is to distort history, not clarify it.
William J. Stem responds:
Hughes instinctively understood that religion shapes culture and that culture plays the dominant role in determining material well-being. Modern liberals do not understand this truism, which is why, some 30 years after the launch of the Great Society, so many of the social problems that it set out to solve through material means alone have grown immeasurably worse.
I'm afraid Mr. Quinn crosses into revisionism when he implies that Tammany Hall played a significant role in the material advancement of the New York Irish. In Hughes's time, government at every level was a modest affair. Sources of public revenue were fewrecall that the income tax did not yet existand there were not many public jobs, much less the vast network of redistributive programs so familiar to us today. Irish saloonkeepers benefited from the patronage of their countrymen and Irish contractors from a growing, vibrant New York economynot from Tammany Hall largesse.
As for lesser points, I am surprised that Mr. Quinn questions Hughes's role in ending the 1863 Draft Riots. All the journalists of the era, including James Gordon Bennett, one of Hughes's great critics, gave him credit for being a peacemaker. Mr. Quinn is also wrong to imply that the Irish nuns of the day received anything but minuscule support from government.
The War Over Drugs
To the editor:
Dr. Dalrymple attributes to me the claim that "prohibition, not the drugs themselves, is the problem." The attribution is incorrect. I have said that we confront not one but two sorts of drug problems: the harms associated with the misuse of drugs; and the harms that stem from our punitive prohibition policies. The ideal drug policy is the one that most successfully reduces both types of harms through a mix of private and public health measures, limited decriminalization, sensible regulations, and judicious preservation of the most necessary dimensions of drug prohibition.
Drug-policy alternatives range from the libertarian proposals of Thomas Szasz and Milton Friedman to the ruthless prohibitionism of ayatollahs, communist dictators, and totalitarian capitalists. In between lies a broad spectrum of policy options for reducing the negative consequences of both drug use and drug prohibition. Dr. Dalrymple and I agree, I think, that neither history nor social science can predict with confidence the consequences of total drug legalization.
There now exists a virtual consensus in the medical, scientific, and public health communities that making sterile syringes readily available to people unable or unwilling to stop injecting drugs illegally helps reduce the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases without increasing drug abuse. Much the same is true of methadone treatment, which is widely acknowledged as the most effective means of reducing illicit heroin use and associated crime, disease, and death. Dr. Dalrymple ignores such evidence.
The Swiss government will soon release the results of a three-year, multi-city experiment in prescribing pharmaceutical heroin to longtime heroin users who have tried and failed to quit on at least two previous occasions. Preliminary reports indicate that the experiment has been strikingly successful in reducing illicit drug use (and not just of heroin) and criminal activity, and contributed greatly to improvements in health and overall well-being. Now the Dutch are about to follow suit, and it seems other Europeans will do likewise in coming years. Dr. Dalrymple assumes that there are no benefits of such programs "until the entire susceptible population is addicted and in a treatment program." That's clearly wrong. Initiatives that undermine black marketeers by providing legal sources of drugs may not eliminate "drug-related" crime and black-market incentives, but we know that they reduce such crimes and incentives.
"One of the most striking characteristics of drug users," Dr. Dalrymple asserts, "is their intense and tedious self-absorption; and their journeys into inner space are generally forays into inner vacuums." One can't help asking: Which drug users? Of which drugs? In which settings? Dr. Dalrymple's assertion is simply silly. Like much of his argument, it is a form of literary licentiousness almost entirely divorced from science, empirical evidence, and even common sense.
Ethan A. Nadelmann
To the editor:
As a periodic contributor to this debate, I was delighted by how ably Dr. Dalrymple marshals the main case against legalization. As he points out, illicit traffic can only be eliminated if all restrictions are scrapped, permitting the use of any substance by anyone of any age. Moreover, making drugs easily and legally available is bound to increase greatly not only consumption and addiction but also violence and other disordered behavior.
Dr. Dalrymple rightly notes the character-eroding quality of drug abuse and the dismal results of experiments in quasi-legalization in Liverpool and Zurich. Examining the convictions from which the legalization proposition derives, he rightly questions the viability of a culture "that makes publicly sanctioned self-indulgence its highest good."
Mitchell S. Rosenthal, M.D.
Theodore Dalrymple responds:
The success or otherwise of the less radical efforts that Mr. Nadelmann describesfrom methadone treatment to the public distribution of heroin and its paraphernaliadoes not fundamentally affect the question. But even here, there are fewer grounds for optimism than he suggests. For it does not follow from the fact that individuals benefit from such programs that society as a whole does. Indeed, an improvement in the functioning of individual addicts is perfectly compatible with rising drug addiction, crime, and methadone consumptiona model that fits historical reality better than Mr. Nadelmann's rosy picture.
The majority of addicts do not enter treatment programs at all.
In Britain, a quarter of those who do are arrested annually, and 15 percent are imprisoned. As I know from experience, prisoners who are prescribed methadone continue to use illicitly obtained drugs. Most of them admit to me that they have regularly diverted at least some of their methadone onto the black market. At best, therefore, methadone replacement therapy will have a marginal effect on the situation as a whole. At worst, it will actually spread addiction.
Mr. Nadelmann omits two words from his letter: crack and cocaine. Here, truly, is the dog that did not bark. His silence on this subject is deafening, given its importance.
With Dr. Rosenthal's letter I am naturally in full agreement.
An Injustice to Freedman?
To the editor:
After reading and re-reading the article, I asked Justice Freedman's secretary to provide me with copies of the decisions and orders in the McCain case so that I might review them. I was told that justice Freedman offered these documents to Mr. Hellman but that he declined to pick them up.
Interestingly, with a minor exception, higher appellate courts have affirmed justice Freedman's rulings. If her view of the law as it pertains to the rights of the homeless were so extreme, as the article asserts, one wonders why it has been accepted by higher courts.
Mr. Hellman omitted the crucial fact that the two parties to McCainthe city and the Legal Aid Societyhave consented to two court-appointed special masters to mediate and negotiate the bulk of the issues presented in this difficult and complicated case. Thus, many of the orders that Mr. Hellman claims are so unfair to the city were entered into with its consent.
Peter Hellman responds:
I'm aware of the special masters but was not impressed by a report they delivered to Freedman, which to my eyes might as well have been written by Legal Aid's Steven Banks. Not only did it propose unrealistic goals for building more homeless housing, but it actually had the gall to propose a new tier of "no-frills" housing for recipients who refuse to behave in current shelters. Still, it is my understanding that the special masters are currently serving as helpful intermediaries between the city and Legal Aid.
Judge Freedman did indeed offer me, over the phone, copies of her orders and decisions. I wasn't aware that she'd actually had a packet assembled for me. But by that time, I'd already amassed over 5,000 pages of transcripts, orders, and decisions.
To the editor:
While Mr. Lane's case is convincing, his solutions are politically naive. He suggests that committees demand more autonomy. Any committee chair who tried to assert such power would be removed and relegated to an attic office without computers, adequate staff, or extra salary. The suggestion that voters demand reform at election time has been touted by nonpartisan good-government groups for years. Barring an unforeseen statewide scandal, it is unlikely that voters in all 211 legislative districts will make legislative reform a top priority in 1998.
The State Constitution provides a remedy that n-tight work, however. Every 20 years New Yorkers must be asked the question, Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same? If voters say yes when the question is posed this November, it will give New York a chance to craft a structure of state and local government that meets the needs of society in the twenty-first century. If voters say no, the constitutional question will not be presented again until 2017.
To the editor:
Mr. Demaree misreads the code when he asserts that social workers ignore the need for individual responsibility on the part of their clients. hi fact, professional social workers are committed to helping people help themselves. The code clearly states that "social workers seek to enhance clients' capacity and opportunity to change and to address their own needs."
Mr. Demaree attacks the social work profession for opposing racism, poverty, and injustice. We do not apologize for advocating social change and trying to alleviate human suffering. Our conviction that lasting solutions require changes in both individuals and the environment is based on nearly a century of experience helping real people solve real problems.
Social workers' understanding of cultural diversity enables them to serve clients more effectively. It does not constitute, as Mr. Demaree assumes, an "anything-goes" attitude. The code clearly states, "Social workers are cognizant of their dual responsibility to clients and to the broader society. They seek to resolve conflicts between clients' interests and the broader society's interests in a socially responsible manner."
I would encourage Mr. Demaree to take the time to discover what social workers really believe and practice. I would be delighted to give him a guided tour.
Frederic G. Reamer
Allan T. Demaree responds:
It's too late to change your mind now, Mr. Reamer.