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[Susan notes: Kudos to educators who take the time to rebut a columnist who thinks he knows all he needs to know about how best to educate our youth.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

David Brooks is right that schools need to teach poor children the things that middle-class children learn automatically -- good habits and routines ("Teaching the Elephant," column, Dec. 3). But not all "elephants" are created equal.

Mr. Brooks praises "authoritarian" programs like KIPP Academy that teach young people to actively listen by using the "approved posture" for sitting. Indeed, scripted educational programs that micromanage students' behavior are extremely popular in this age of "standards."

I prefer to teach kids other habits: how to develop fulfilling interests, how to understand and empathize with different points of view, and how to change our world for the better.

Jeremy Kaplan

Brooklyn, Dec. 3, 2006

The writer, who has taught grades 7 through 12 in the New York City public schools, works as a literacy coach for Region 8 in Brooklyn.

To the Editor:

David Brooks is correct that effective learning requires a structured approach to the art and science of teaching but is wrong in suggesting that students need to sit in "desks in a row" and be "rigorously" drilled in order to learn.

We moved students out of rows into learning groups because most students don't learn by being "talked at." Children require an interactive environment, one that has them using computers and problem solving, as individual learners and in concert with fellow students.

As a result, students learn the real-world skill of respectfully working with others as they explicitly verbalize their thoughts through conversation with others.

Students from homes that have provided them limited opportunities to "think aloud" need school to facilitate more of this dialogue, not less.

Structure, planning and disciplined minds are imperatives of effective teaching and learning. All can happen outside neat, tidy rows.

Marc F. Bernstein

Superintendent of Schools

Valley Stream Central

High School District

Valley Stream, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2006

Jeremy Kaplan and Marc F. Bernstein

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