DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from a student who received detention for "respectfully disagreeing" with her teacher during a discussion of world events. In your reply, you suggested that the writer's comment may have been "disruptive," justifying the detention, and advised that it would have been more "diplomatic" to have voiced the disagreement in private. I take exception to your answer.
I am semi-retired now, but as a manager I had tremendous difficulty convincing subordinates that it was not only safe to disagree with me, but that I needed their frank opinions. I trace this to a situation described by John Holt in his 1964 book, "How Children Fail," in which he points out that the education system kills creativity, teaching students to anticipate what the teacher wants to hear and to feed it back to him/her.
I am currently co-director of the Master's in Health Physics Program at the Illinois Institute of Technology, engaged in the training of radiation safety professionals. It is essential that a safety professional be prepared to challenge his/her management when it proposes to do something that's contrary to law or regulation, or prejudicial to safe operation. The type of education described by Holt produces individuals who go along with management no matter what is proposed.
It is despicable that a teacher would conduct a "discussion" in which she entertains only opinions that agree with her own and punishes those that don't. The result for the students and our country is tragic. You should have supported the student. -- LAURENCE F. FRIEDMAN, PH.D.
DEAR DR. FRIEDMAN: You're right; I should have. And thousands of readers wrote to tell me so. (The e-mails, when printed out, weighed more than 15 pounds.) Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Your advice to the student to follow the "diplomatic" approach and wait until after class to comment was still reverberating in my mind when I moved on to a USA Weekend story, "First Amendment Rights Lost on Teens," describing a Knight Foundation poll of 100,000 students which found that the majority of them assign little or no value to their constitutional right to free speech. Your response to that student makes you part of the problem. -- UPSET IN SANTA CRUZ
DEAR ABBY: That teacher was behaving unprofessionally. I have been teaching for more than 20 years and have strong opinions of my own. One of them is that students be taught to think for themselves. The student should have been listened to with respect instead of punished. -- TEACHER IN EL CERRITO, CALIF.
DEAR ABBY: Any educator who uses the classroom to pontificate on his or her political or religious views and allows no dissent is more a tyrant than a teacher. Send that kid to my classroom and give the teacher detention! -- ENCOURAGES THOUGHT IN INDIANA
DEAR ABBY: Prejudice comes in many shapes and forms, and I applaud that student for standing up against it. Punishing a student for having a different political opinion sounds more like North Korea than the U.S.A. As it stands, these students are being cheated in their education because they are being taught about the world only through the narrow opinions of one misguided teacher. -- OUTRAGED IN DUBLIN, CALIF.
DEAR READERS: My answer left something to be desired, and for that I apologize.