Letters

Autumn 1998
A Delighted Dean

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald’s article "Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach" (Spring 1998), on the destructive absurdities rampant in education schools, was superb. I’ve not read in many years a more cogent, no-nonsense analysis of institutionalized charlatanism. The clarity, reasoning, good sense, and frankness of her essay invoke dramatically the image of college and university emperors with no clothes. I intend to give her essay wide circulation in the School of Education.

Kenneth Stunkel
Dean, Monmouth University
 

Bad Rap

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald confuses cause and effect in her article on El Puente’s Hip-Hop 101 course (Summer 1998). She alleges that the teenagers in Edgardo Miranda’s class are lethargic, bored, antisocial, and possess abysmal problem-solving skills, and she holds alternative education and classes like Miranda’s largely responsible.

As a volunteer at El Puente two years ago, I was equally dismayed at the students’ educational deficiencies. But I quickly saw that it’s not a question of alternative versus traditional education, but of trying to engage and educate alienated youth versus losing them to the streets and jails.

Miranda’s students have already been bombarded with mainstream hip-hop culture for at least a decade. It’s not unusual to see five-year-old children reciting profanity laden rap lyrics on city streets. For a taste of mainstream hip-hop culture, check out one of the thousands of music videos starring "studio-gangstas" in Mercedes cars, with fake guns and tacky jewelry, bragging about their money while a half-dozen "video hos" in bikinis stroke their bodies. Misogynistic, violent, unabashedly materialistic—mainstream hip-hop is a conglomeration of American culture’s worst tendencies.

But Miranda challenges students to use hip-hop as a positive force. He can’t force the kids to complete homework or instantly manufacture enthusiasm for learning, but he challenges them to solve spatial, linguistic, and physical problems through a culture they already possess.

Mac Donald ridicules this, pointing out that time wasted on alternative education could be put into much-needed English, history, and math drills. As she surely knows but fails to point out, many El Puente students have left other high schools after ten years’ worth of such an education, which, for one reason or another (to be debated elsewhere), hasn’t worked for them.

Edgardo Miranda and El Puente are saving lives every day.

Mike Kamber
Brooklyn, New York

Heather Mac Donald responds:
If hip-hop culture is as pernicious as Mr. Kamber persuasively claims, why waste even a second of precious class time perpetuating its hold on urban youth? Mr. Kamber contends that Hip-Hop 101 teaches students how "to use hip-hop as a positive force," yet he offers not a single example of how an improved knowledge of graffiti or rap music will help students in the adult world of work and family. Far from keeping students out of jail, the glamorization of graffiti only increases their chances of ending up there.

Mr. Kamber argues that the ignorance of El Puente’s students shows the futility of traditional education and thus the need for an alternative approach. His premise is as absurd as his conclusion. Before coming to El Puente, students have hardly had a rigorous traditional curriculum; New York’s "mainstream" schools are almost as wedded to progressive ideology as are its alternative schools, staffed as they are by graduates of its education schools.

Furthermore, it’s defeatist to contend that if, after ten years of school, students still haven’t learned elementary history and language skills, they should be given a pass and taught pop culture. Would Mr. Kamber apply the same argument to respect for the law—that if, after ten years of unsuccessful disciplinary proceedings, a student continues to assault his classmates and teachers, he should be allowed to mug in peace? One hopes not; but the need for basic skills and knowledge is just as compelling as the need for lawful behavior.

Ultimately, Mr. Kamber’s apology for Hip-Hop 101 reveals progressivism’s misunderstanding of education and its contempt for urban children. Education shouldn’t reinforce the media-driven culture that children "already possess," but should take them out of their narrow world and expose them to ideas and truths they would otherwise never possess. To consign poor, minority kids to second-class knowledge just because that’s all they’ve ever known is destructive and unfair.
 

Crime Computers

To the editor:
In "Criminal Entitlements," (Soundings, Summer 1998), Peter Reinharz wrote, "It’s only common sense to require corrections departments to send inmate lists to local public assistance agencies so they can modify payments accordingly."

The New York City Human Resources Administration couldn’t agree more. Computer matches between inmate lists and public assistance and food-stamps rolls are conducted weekly with the city’s Department of Corrections and monthly with the city’s Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition, the state’s Department of Temporary and Disability Assistance conducts a similar match with the State Department of Criminal Justice Services. During the last fiscal year, these matches saved taxpayers over $3.7 million.

New York City automatically terminates assistance when a recipient matched to the Department of Corrections file is the only adult for that case. A match with the Department of Juvenile Justice results in the juvenile’s removal from a public assistance case.

Mark Hoover
First Deputy Commissioner, NYCHRA
 

Peter Reinharz responds:
I’m pleased the city reviews inmate lists to adjust public assistance payments. The protocol should be expanded state-wide. All venues should check their adult and juvenile correctional facilities, as well as the state incarceration systems, to ensure payments aren’t made on behalf of those already in custodial care. Computer matches should do the trick, with considerable savings to the public.
 

Tolerating Disorder

To the editor:
Theodore Dalrymple’s article "Zero Intolerance" (Summer 1998) illustrates the steady drift toward lawlessness when police decide to act only against certain crimes. My experience as a local councillor in England suggests that this attitude, unchecked, spreads to other organizations that help maintain public order.

Graffiti spraying in Brighton and Hove is epidemic—taking place even in sight of police security cameras in the town center. The police response: "There is nothing we can do." The results are predictable.

A spate of graffiti recently appeared on a railway bridge in my ward. When I asked the company that owns and manages the railroad infrastructure to remove it, I was told that the company policy was to remove only racist or obscene graffiti. If the scrawl does not fall into one of these categories, it stays—a blank check to wanton graffiti spraying. Now, gang symbols have appeared on private homes and businesses in the district.

New York’s mayor has shown that persistent prosecution—intolerance—is the answer to this (and so many other) crimes.

Brian Oxley
Brighton and Hove Unitary Council
Hove, England.