Everybody Loves Sex Ed

To the editor:
I was appalled by Wendy Shalit’s article "Sex Ed’s Dead End" (Spring 1998). Ms. Shalit never called SIECUS for comment and seriously misrepresents our work, the goals of comprehensive sexuality education, and the research that shows that skill-based programs can effectively help young adults either delay becoming involved in sexual intercourse or use contraception and condoms if they do become involved.

Ms. Shalit ignores overwhelming evidence that parents and professional organizations believe young people benefit from sexuality education. More than 80 percent of parents support sexuality education. More than 115 of the country’s major national organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Council of Churches, and the YWCA of the USA, endorse sexuality education for all children. Those who want the facts should visit our website: www.siecus.org.

Debra W. Haffner
President and CEO, SIECUS

Wendy Shalit responds:
Ms. Haffner never once says how I misrepresent SIECUS’s position; she merely offers up the address of its website. Well, I encourage people to visit her website, too. That is, in fact, where I first learned that SIECUS recommended "oral sex," "pleasure," and "fantasy" as "sexuality topics for parent-child discussions." It was also on SIECUS’s website where I learned that "the nation’s most prominent researchers in sexuality education" were having doubts about sex education.

The only thing Ms. Haffner has to say in SIECUS’s defense is that parents and various organizations believe that young people benefit from sex education. Not according to the material on her own website. Look under the "SIECUS Publications" icon and click on the box entitled "But Does it Work?" But the point of my article, which Ms. Haffner doesn’t address, is that sex education hasn’t been good for those receiving it. Talking about these intimate subjects in kindergarten—as SIECUS advocates—erodes children’s natural embarrassment and, in the long run, has only made kids more vulnerable to disease and heartbreak. Frankly, if I were the president of SIECUS, I would be appalled, too.

Enraged, Indignant, Incensed

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald’s article "Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach" (Spring 1998) willfully, maliciously, and wrongly frames the discussion about diversity and multiculturalism as a one-sided debate about race. What I asked my large lecture hall full of not just white students, but students who represent the rich tapestry of diversity found in this city, was, What labels do you place on young people that are based on your background, beliefs, biases, and assumptions? This is dramatically different from what Ms. Mac Donald elected to focus on in her effort to misrepresent, dishonor, and disparage the importance of not only teaching, but knowing, understanding, acknowledging, and appreciating others who are not like ourselves. Both Johnny and his teacher are human beings first before they are anything else. How Ms. Mac Donald decided to characterize this reality served to make her position more xenophobic, intractable, and misinformed than I believed possible. The discussion about what Johnny’s teacher needs to learn in her preparation program often excludes the Johnnys, Janets, and Josés: a wide range of students who come with many different experiences, needs, talents, and dreams.

Teachers College, an institution that prepares hundreds of teachers to teach in schools all over the world, is bravely tackling its moral responsibility to help all teachers to become aware of their potential clients: students with a wide range of learning styles, needs, interests, talents, not to mention those whose first language may not be English and who represent different ethnicities, nationalities, origins, and religions. This knowledge serves to help teachers to know their students and teach them well. All good teachers, regardless of ethnicity, race, or religion, are engaged in a delicate relationship with their students that involves building cultural, intellectual, and emotional doorways that they and their students walk back and forth through all day, every day.

Valerie Henning-Piedmonte,
Ed. D.Teachers College, Columbia University

To the Editor:
Heather Mac Donald criticizes New York’s teacher education programs for emphasizing the latest pedagogical trends over mastery of subject matter—the "Anything But Knowledge credo," in her words. Ms. Mac Donald implies that Hunter College’s education program tolerates "potential teacher ignorance"—an opinion not based on objective fact.Indeed, Hunter undergraduates who wish to become teachers take approximately three-quarters of their courses in the traditional liberal arts and sciences. They major first and foremost in a specific subject. Thus, the college insists that prospective teachers demonstrate solid knowledge of the subject they plan to teach and acquire a well-grounded education in the humanities and sciences.

In the past year, we have added requirements to ensure that students receive even broader exposure to the arts and sciences, demonstrate effective writing, and pass a series of academic benchmarks in order to continue in the teacher-education program.

Hunter’s education students are superbly prepared for teaching. In January 1998, our students scored an average of 83 on the Liberal Arts and Sciences test required for New York State Teacher Certification—seven points higher than the statewide average. On the teaching skills test, Hunter students averaged 91—eight points higher than students from all other institutions. We believe that our pride in our education program is justified.

Hugh ScottDean,
Division of Programs in EducationHunter College, CUNY

Heather Mac Donald responds:
I thank Dr. Henning—Piedmonte for her inimitable demonstration of both the "Anything But Knowledge" doctrine and ed-school prose style. I have searched her letter in vain for any awareness that the crisis facing teachers today is student ignorance, not student "difference." Teens are graduating from high school knowing ever less about history, language, math, geography, and science. Reversing that trend should be educators’ all-consuming passion; instead, like Dr. Henning-Piedmonte, they amuse themselves with ever more baroque elaborations of identity politics. Her classroom sounds like an encounter session, not a place where teachers transmit knowledge.

Good teachers intuitively treat their students as individuals. Columbia’s obsession with difference is not about individuals, however, but about institutionalizing certain group identities to use as a bludgeon against society. And while an awareness of student individuality is helpful, it is no substitute for giving students a core of common knowledge.

Dr. Henning-Piedmonte is right about one thing, however: race is not the only difference Teachers College obsesses about. The college requires its social studies candidates, for example, to study the "needs" of gay and lesbian students, though surely a firm grasp of history would serve a prospective history teacher better than knowing the academy’s latest take on homosexual politics.

Hunter College’s liberal arts and sciences requirement is indeed an improvement over many undergraduate education programs. Unfortunately, Hunter has by no means repudiated the most egregious ed school malpractices—witness the widespread assignment of illiterate Marxist ideologue Donald Macedo and other merchants of multiculturalism. Hunter’s math program embraces the new anti-drilling, anti-memorization dogma that is producing math illiterates. If Dean Scott truly wants to produce educated graduates, he should eliminate political propaganda and focus exclusively on core knowledge and authoritative teaching methods.

Teaching American History

To the Editor:
Joy Hakim’s A History of US, highlighted in Sol Stern’s article "The Rebirth of American History?" (Spring 1998), has much to commend it, particularly when compared with the unimaginative and politically correct volumes which have come to dominate the school textbook market. Unfortunately, Ms. Hakim’s series is itself seriously flawed by these same ideological distortions.

I take no great pleasure in pointing this out to the readers of City Journal, since the John M. Olin Foundation provided a small grant some years ago to underwrite the author’s research expenses. This support was approved after a review of early volumes in the series, which we judged to be clear and fair-minded narratives on the settlement of the American continent and the origins and development of our institutions. With respect to those volumes that guide young readers from the origins of our country down through World War II, Mr. Stern’s praise is well justified.

Like many writers, however, Ms. Hakim appears to have lost her intellectual balance when she came to write about contemporary American history. Her discussions of the events and personalities of this period run along conventional liberal lines.

The final volume, in particular, contains an openly ideological attack on President Ronald Reagan and his policies. Ms. Hakim recycles every canard raised by Reagan’s opponents. For her, the 1980s were a decade in which "the rich got very rich, and the poor got much poorer." She ignores Reagan’s success in bringing down inflation and federal taxes and in setting in motion economic growth that continues to this day. Nor does she give him any credit for ending the Cold War, other than to call him a "flexible negotiator."

By contrast, Ms. Hakim’s appraisal of Bill Clinton reads like an advertisement from the Democratic National Committee: "There was something appropriate about the American people picking a leader who had been born in a town named Hope. And it was fitting that Bill Clinton had a big smile and a confident manner to go with that beautifully named hometown." Mr. Clinton "wanted to help Americans pursue happiness" in a nation where (quoting his inaugural address) "everyone has a place at the table and not a single child is left behind."

Plainly, the fair-mindedness of Ms. Hakim’s early volumes was discarded as she approached the end of her narrative. It is unfortunate that such gross distortions mar the final volumes of an otherwise valuable series.

James Piereson
Excutive DirectorJohn M. Olin Foundation

To the editor:
Objective journalism bases itself on research. I would need a research paper to show the many flaws in Sol Stern’s article. Instead, let me offer an example.

We believe that the United States is a great country that represents the ideals of humanity and provides opportunities for all. At Newcomers, however, we don’t believe in a dominant culture in which newly arrived immigrants must be dominated, lose their ideals, and accept the past as something that cannot be changed.

You condescendingly note about our school that "Some 1,000 students with limited English skills are trying to get up to speed in the English language while they begin taking some regular academic subjects, an admirable goal." This is an example of a dominant-culture mentality.

In addition to a strong ESL program, we offer regents classes to students, including advance placement classes, and we have won academic and cultural awards throughout the city. We are also a successful participant in the American Social History Project sponsored by the graduate center of CUNY.

We believe that "Diversity Is Our Strength." There is no ambivalence in our commitment to the democratic values embedded in the United States.

Lourdes BurrowsPrincipal,
Newcomers High School

Sol Stern responds:
I have no quarrel with James Piereson’s view of Joy Hakim’s chapter on the Reagan presidency. Had I been reviewing A History of US, I would have said much the same thing. My point in citing Hakim’s volumes was to contrast their clear, confident narrative voice and generally optimistic and patriotic tone with the turgid multiculturalism and America-bashing that most students must endure. For those of us who still care about teaching a common national history, Lourdes Burrows’s letter expresses exactly what’s gone wrong: too many public school educators think teaching newcomers about the American heritage somehow means that we’re dominating them.

Juvenile Justice?

To the editor:
We must respond to the lop-sided content and belligerent tone of Peter Reinharz’s "Juvenile Justice-Texas Style" (Spring 1998). New York’s experience doesn’t support his contention that juvenile crime hasn’t decreased and that juvenile offenders are more lethal than ever.

In fact, violent juvenile crime has decreased 17.8 percent in the city since 1994. And New York State already has tough sentencing provisions for juvenile offenders. Youths 13 to 15 years old who commit certain violent acts are tried as adults automatically. Further, New York is one of only three states in which a child at age 16 is considered an adult for all offenses, is tried in adult court, and is sentenced to adult prison. More, research has not found that trying youths as adults and sentencing them to adult prison reduces juvenile crime or lowers recidivism rates. Last, since juvenile crime triples after school between the hours of 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM, it’s incredible that New York has reduced spending on youth development and delinquency prevention programs by 20 percent since 1990.

Nancy Locker
Board of Directors
Citizens’ Committee for Children

Peter Reinharz responds:
Ms. Locker fails to describe New York’s law accurately. While some juveniles 13 to 15  years of age may be tried in adult court for a narrow set of violent crimes, New York State doesn’t try them as adults, nor has New York State ever tried any youth as an adult. Instead, the state sentences these teens as "Juvenile Offenders"— a very different thing. Even murderers can get paroled after five years, if they’re young enough. And even though New York starts adult criminal prosecutions at age 16, it grants most 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old offenders "Youthful Offender" status immediately upon sentence. The incarceration maximum—for any Youthful Offender—is one to four years.

Ms. Locker also notes that juvenile crime is down in New York. Perhaps it is. But the reduction has nothing to do with the policies Ms. Locker advocates. These practices were entrenched during the huge increase in youth crime during the late 1980s and early 1990s. If Ms. Locker is correct and spending has decreased along with the juvenile crime rate, then her argument for more social services is self-defeating. Rather than looking to social services to deal with violent thugs, credit must be given to the policing policies of the Giuliani administration.

Finally, Ms. Locker asserts that we need to do more between the hours of 3 pm and 8 pm when the bulk of juvenile crime occurs. But there already are dozens of after-school programs in every school district. Parents and other relatives ought to be the first line of defense to crime, and her call for more after-school child care only serves to abdicate parental responsibility.


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