JANUARY 5, 1962
NEW YORK—The report by Dr. Mark Schinnerer, long-time superintendent of schools in Cleveland, on the New York City schools should move the State of New York to a greater sense of responsibility in helping the city with its school problems.
It is perfectly evident that what is needed is more money, but the city cannot meet the budget increases that this report would call for.
I am one of those who believe that increases in teachers' salaries, as a means of obtaining better teachers, are well worthwhile for insurance of a better future for children of the city, state and nation. The burden, however, should be carried not by any locality or even any state, but jointly by Federal, state and local governments.
The Federal government will need a comprehensive school bill to enable it to bear its share of any increase in school expenditures, but so far we have been unable to pass such legislation, partly because of opposition by special religious groups and partly because of opposition by states that fear Federal interference in the management of their schools.
The report on the New York schools should make it easier for the Federal government to get a comprehensive school bill passed if the people of the nation read this report and translate it into terms that will fit every large city in the country.
I would like to add, however, that it is not only money that is needed to get persons of greater talent as teachers. We also need an attitude that gives teachers a position of greater dignity in the community.
Not long ago I was talking to someone from a Far Eastern country who said: "My teachers were almost more respected than my parents, if that is possible."
Many teachers do not feel free to express their opinions on certain subjects, since any deviation from the thinking of the local school board is not tolerated and gets teachers into immediate trouble.
When we reach the college level, however, there is more academic freedom. There, teachers are usually expected to express their own opinion even when they try to present the opposite point of view, and all of them provide reading lists that cover every shade of opinion.
This should be done in the secondary schools, too, because only then can our teachers become a real influence in every community of the country.
I was glad that Dr. Schinnerer's report said he had met many highly qualified and dedicated teachers in his study in New York City, because I think we all can attest to this fact. It is evident, however, there are not enough teachers.
It has long been my feeling, too, that instead of establishing special schools for difficult children, as has been done in New York, we could put more teachers into the regular schools, thereby cutting the size of classes. This would enable the teacher to give more individual attention to his or her pupils and establish a close friendship with them, something needed sorely by children from both the underprivileged and the more privileged homes.
If the manual training instructor in every school could be chosen with care and remain in the school throughout the afternoon and early evenings, children would not of necessity be thrown into the street for occupation or entertainment. This alone would make an enormous difference.
If, in addition, this teacher would possess the imagination and understanding to keep his pupils really interested, not only on personal but on group projects, this could become a useful way to fight juvenile delinquency.
I believe, too, that much could be accomplished by bringing in other persons who are not really teachers but able to do things now occupying the time of teachers—things like lunchroom duty and other tasks for which teacher training is not required.
It is well that we are being called upon to consider this question at the present time, because there is nothing more important than our children.