46 Glen Ellyn Way

Rochester, NY 14618

July 7, 1970

 

John W. Bennion, Superintendent

Brighton Schools

Rochester, New York 14618

 

Dear Mr. Bennion:

 

     Both my daughters, Jessica and Diana, have now been through

the Brighton schools, and it seems to be time for me to summarize their

experience there as I have observed it, for whatever good the summary

can do for you and the children who follow them.

 

     My children are apparently counted among the successes of the

schools.  They learned to read and write very well; they received high

marks in school and on Regents' and College Board tests, and they are

now placed in fine colleges.  If the Brighton schools ever have to match

their product with that of other towns these children will surely fatten the

Brighton score.

 

     Yet I believe this attitude would be mistaken.  Jessica and Diana

were not successes at all, they were failures.  They learned to read and

write because their parents and neighbors were literate, not because their

teachers were.  Whatever is good in their view of their world and fellow

men they learned from home, from experience and from real books, not

from their textbooks, which were usually puerile, or their teachers, who

were often models of ignorance and ill-will.

 

     There are some things, unfortunately, which are not easily

learned from parents, neighbors, friends and the public library.

Mathematics, science, economics and foreign languages are such things.

It is precisely in these areas that my children ended up weakest.  There

was one exception:  Biology.  In the eighth grade there was a Mrs.

Silberman, who has since departed, who was a very fine teacher indeed.

And this past year the AP Biology course Diana took was very well

constructed, though the teacher was uninspiring.

 

     But mathematics, physics and chemistry were uniformly

disastrous.  the teachers were ignorant and the textbooks were mostly

ignorant and partly pretentious.  My daughters and all their friends are,

in consequence, woefully ascientific, and will now probably never be

cured, since science and mathematics rarely penetrate where there was

poor early preparation.

 

     I will not take time to document this failing of the Brighton

schools; I merely tell it to you as one responsible citizen to another.

You should look into it, and by this I do not mean that you should

consult Miss Foley or anyone else within the Brighton schools.  You

could, for example, ask any -- any! -- member of the physics department

of the University of Rochester to compare your textbooks with some

others which are available; then talk over the matter with him and your

own best science teachers.  The same for mathematics and chemistry, of

course.

 

     There were a few good things here and there, mainly music and

English.  Jessica had a good German teacher and Diana had -- briefly --

a good Latin teacher, who left.  There are a couple of perfectly awful

French teachers, but this sort of uneven quality is, I suppose, to be

expected.  What should not be tolerated is a bad program and bad books.

Brighton has too many of both.

 

     Each of my daughters ran up against at least one particularly foolish

and vicious teacher in her career.  Jessica had a Mrs. B---- as a homeroom

teacher, who wanted to mold her character more than she should have, and

Diana ran up against a Mrs. H----- in connection with Galaxy.  Mrs. 

H----- behaved quite badly there.  I hope whoever supervises Galaxy in the

future will be a person better equipped by temperament to guide without

interfering, so that Galaxy can be the joy of its producers once again.

 

     All in all, I do not believe Brighton high school is any better than

Polytechnic High School in San Francisco, which Diana attended one

semester.  Polytechnic is full of whores and dope addicts, and criminals

of various sorts, and very little is learned there, so that people point to it

as a sad example of a ghetto school, "inferior education for the blacks";

but the truth is that the difference between Poly and Brighton is only in

the homes of the students.  Teacher for teacher, textbook for textbook,

program for program, Poly is no worse.

 

     On the other hand, the best year of school my children had was

1961-1962, which they spent in Newnham Croft School in Cambridge,

England.  This was a local school, public (not 'public'); it had small

windows and very little central heating.  The classes were large, there

was no gymnasium or school bus.  My children, ages 8 and 10, bicycled

the two miles every day, or took the city bus.

 

     But they loved it.  The teachers didn't "teach children"; they

taught subjects:  history, English rhetoric and grammar, arithmetic,

science, and Scripture for those who didn't have a religious objection.

(Fervent Catholics, Atheists and Jews could play outside during that

period.)

 

     The principal of Newnhamn Croft had a pride in his work, which

communicated itself to all who worked there, teachers and children.  The

discipline was plain and effective.  The students learned what their elders

thought they should learn, were tested and ranked, and knew what they

had or had not accomplished.

 

     Brighton is not like that.  Diana, my younger daughter, graduated

last month at long last.  Neither she nor her friends has any sense of

pride in what the school has caused them to accomplish.  Rather, they

feel as if released from a long bondage.  Now, finally, there will be time

to learn something, instead of going to school.

 

     Diana is no radical, no bearer of signs or manifestos. She didn't

bother to go to Commencement, so I suppose everyone thought she was

content.  Actually her absence was not a "protest"; it was more of a

condemnation.

Sincerely yours,

<signed> Ralph A. Raimi

c:  Herbert Elins

    Brighton School Board

 

*******************************************************************************

 

Brighton Central Schools

Monroe and Elmwood Avenues

Rochester, NY 14618

 

John W. Bennion

Superintendent of Schools

 

July 30, 1970

 

Dr. Ralph Raimi

46 Glen Ellyn Way

Rochester, NY 14618

 

Dear Dr. Raimi:

 

I appreciate your taking time to express your impressions of the Brighton

Schools.  It is good for us to hear directly how the schools are affecting

our students.  As you would expect, I was disappointed to learn that we

have not been as successful as we might and should be in meeting the

educational needs of Jessica and Diana.

 

In a school community such as ours there is always the temptation to

become somewhat complacent and self-satisfied inasmuch as so many of

our students achieve at a relatively high level.  In my judgment, our

continuing challenge is to help each student to make the most of himself

and his educational opportunities in terms of his unique abilities, learning

style, and talents.  Feedbacks such as yours reminds us that there is still

much to accomplish toward the realization of that goal.  As an educator

yourself, working in a formal academic institution, I am sure you are

well aware of the various human and institutional limitations that are

imposed on formal organizations.   Nevertheless, our task is to make the

schools as responsive and effective as possible and I appreciate your

criticisms.  We will certainly take them into account as we plan for the

future.

 

Sincerely yours

<signed>

John W. Bennion

Superintendent of Schools

 

JWB:shw

 

********************************************************************************

 

46 Glen Ellyn Way

Rochester, NY 14618

September 30, 1970

 

John W. Bennion, Superintendent

Brighton Schools

Rochester, NY 14618

 

Dear Dr. Bennion:

 

     I believe your letter of July 30, which replied to my condem-

nation of the Brighton schools, missed my essential point.  I was not

complaining that my children in particular had been badly served by the

system; I only exhibited them as the best examples I had to support the

thesis that all Brighton is badly served.

 

     Your letter contained the following key statement:  "In my

judgment, our continuing challenge is to help each student to make the

most of himself and his educational opportunities in terms of his unique

abilities, learning styles, and talents."

 

     This is cant, you know.  Please be a little more modest.  You

might then be more successful.  "Unique learning styles," forsooth!  In a

class of thirty, with a common textbook and lesson-plan?

 

     Your continuing challenge should, I think, be something like this:

To provide your students organized access to a certain limited display of

human knowledge -- that which is basic in history, arts and science; to

outline carefully what the community expects them to know of all this;

then to find out, for their sake and ours, how much of that expectation

they have met.

 

     Their uniqueness should be, and except in a tyranny is, beyond

community control.   Beethovens and Hitlers are not created by school

systems; why pretend to try?  It is the common characteristics of

civilized men which a school is entitled to nurture.  I would want your

schools to attempt to teach children what everyone should know.  This is

already a large order.

 

                                      Sincerely yours,

                                     

<signed> Ralph A. Raimi