Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Substitute not to blame for schools’ failure

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As a retired secondary teacher of 30 years, I would like to comment on the letters published Jan. 24 in response to ‘‘Getting students out of the halls and into the classrooms,” commentary, Jan. 10. I find it disheartening that both letters seem to have missed Mr. [Lynn] Fox’s main point. In a very dramatic and graphic way, Mr. Fox illustrates the main question confronting young people beginning at about age 10: the question, ‘‘Who am I?” i.e., the question of identity or, more specifically, cultural identity.

What Mr. Fox illustrates is that students can find that identity in a transient street subculture — primarily created within the context of their peer group — or they can sit in classrooms where they will not be taught culture, their cultural heritage and cultural identity by adults, but will be taught to fit into a socio-economic structure that, for many young people, is a vague abstraction already recognized as an empty promise.

Mr. Fox’s lesson is that the American educational system fails its primary promise, which is to perpetuate in young people a cultural identity in the context of our unique democracy, replacing that lofty goal with economic utilitarianism — thereby driving young people to find their identity outside of the classroom. That failure is not on Mr. Fox’s shoulders. It belongs to all of us.

Robert Mitchell, Greenbelt