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July 28, 2006

Not to Worry: Neal Gleason Responds to Marc Eisen's "Brave New World"

Neal Gleason in a letter to the Isthmus Editor:

I have long admired Marc Eisen's thoughtful prose. But his recent struggle to come to grips with a mutli-ethnic world vvers from xenophobia to hysteria ("Brave New World", 6/23/06). His "unsettling" contact with "stylish" Chinese and "turbaned Sikhs" at a summer program for gifted children precipitated first worry (are my kids prepared to compete?), And then a villain (incompetent public schools).

Although he proclaims himself "a fan" of Madison public schools, he launches a fusillade of complaints: doubting that academic excellence is high on the list of school district pirorities and lamentin tis "dubious maht and reading pedagogy." The accuracy of these concerns is hard to assess, because he offers no evidence.

His main target is heterogeneous (mixed-ability) classes. He speculates that Madison schools, having failed to improve the skills of black and Hispanic kids, are now jeopardizing the education of academically promising kids (read: his kids) for the sake of politically correct equality. The edict from school district headquarters: "Embrace heterogeneous classrooms. Reject tracking of brighter kids. Suppress dissent in the ranks." Whew, that is one serious rant for a fan of public schools.

Eisen correctly observes that "being multilingual" will be a powerful advantage in the business world; familiarity and ease with other cultures will be a plus." Mare than 20 years ago, my kids began to taste this new world in the diverse classrooms of Midvale-Lincoln Elementary, and continued on through West High with its 50-plus nationalitities and a mix of heterogeneous and advanced classes.

They did just fine in college and grad school, emerged bi-and tri-lingual with well worn passorts, and started interesting careers at high tech internationl companies. How will Eisen's kids acquire modern cultural skills if they are cloistered in honors classes, sheltered from daily contact with kids of varied ability?

Neal Gleason


Posted by Jim Zellmer at July 28, 2006 11:59 AM
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