JULY 5, 1961
NEW YORK—We have just celebrated the Fourth of July, that glorious day in American history when we pay tribute to our ancestors and remind ourselves of what our Declaration of Independence stands for.
I wish that on these patriotic occasions we would think more often about those areas in our national life in which we do not live up to our best standards of freedom. One of these areas has been on the books, I think, for our consideration for a long time.
Early in June, religious leaders issued an appeal to the New York City Board of Education. In this appeal, they brought up again the cases of the five teachers and the school principles who have been suspended for five years or more from their posts because they were accused of making false statements in their applications. They ask that these people be reinstated.
The following paragraph is important for all of us to understand, so I quote it here:
"The Board of Education of New York City should be above a spirit of vengefulness. Yet its continued refusal to reinstate these teachers, concomitant with the retention of other teachers in the same situation and against whom no charges have been preferred, could suggest that the board is seeking by adminstrative device to achieve what the courts have clearly enjoined it from doing; namely, to compel teachers to 'inform on other teachers'."
Those singing this petition bear names that have long been known as honorable. They cite in their statement the shortage of competent teachers and that these suspended teachers have been highly qualified and experienced and that their teaching competence has never been challenged. They say:
"The board has a heavy responsibility to teachers and the public alike. The Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that mercy as well as justice are basic to the moral structure of our society. New York City cannot be an exception to this principle. Keeping these teachers in the darkness of uncertainty for periods of five years and more is a cruel and unmerciful punishment."
They end with the following words: "Conscience requires that the Board of Education now dispose of this issue by restoring these educators to the duties that each had performed in exemplary manner for many years."
It is not enough to be concerned with belatedly seeing that the schools of New York City are repaired and properly cared for. At the same time an effort should be made to provide good teachers, and if a wrong has been done—as the harshness in the treatment of these teachers seems to indicate—it should be acknowledged and the teachers taken back.
To add to the troubles of the New York City schools, it seems that the psychologists who are supposed to evaluate, diagnose and treat disturbed children in the public schools find themselves loaded down with an utterly ridiculous number of patients.
What can one man do when the current ratio is one psychologist to 8,100 patients? The New York State Education Department recommended a ratio of one psychologist to 2,500 pupils, so it is evident that this kind of care is not really available to the children in New York City, and pure discouragement makes it quite natural that a great many psychologists have left the school system. Isn't it about time that the school authorities gave a little thought to this situation?
And now, clear across the country, we find the Northern California Teachers Defense Committee putting this question in a public letter: "Can good teachers teach in California?" And the trouble seems largely to be that one person informs against others with whom he has worked or been in close contact.
I know that the Un-American Activities Committee, both in California and in other parts of the country, considers it a crime when a person refuses to inform against others. It seems to me questionable when government treats people, who act on the very principles that we as children were brought up to believe in, like criminals.
A child who tattletales on his playmates is in disgrace with them and with his parents and teachers. Yet we do not act on the same principle when it comes to teachers in our public schools.