Critical ThinkingIn response to Tim Baker's April 25...


May 04, 1994

Critical Thinking

In response to Tim Baker's April 25 column on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, I suggest he reread his own piece.

I found -- as I have as the parent of a testee -- that the embarrassed party in the current scoring should be those who write the curriculum, not the student or the implementers (teachers).

All this thinking of ". . . high-order thinking proficiency . . . and . . . global economy. . . ." amounts to using our children as one would a computer. We are finding that, unlike a computer, the student can store only so much in the memory bank.

I do not believe my child, in third grade, is capable of being at a 50-mhz, 420-mb hard-drive level.

But he could learn to spell, read with comprehension relative to his mental capacity of 9 years of life and master basic math -- if that was a part of a curriculum instead of what is the current performance-driven curriculum.

It's no longer a matter of mastering the basics as a foundation to higher education; it is an assessment of information. I question the ability of the average 9-year-old to "assess," let alone "problem solve."

I challenge Mr. Baker to this task: Ask 9-year-olds to define "critical thinking," and if they can, then ask them how they apply the ability.

I think he will find that they cannot do that which they have not been taught, not only in school, but in total life.

I personally will respect the candidate who holds the curriculum for responsibility in the scoring of these tests, not the student or teacher, who are at the mercy of an educational system that has lost sight of "learning."

I read his piece as further proof that what isn't effective is the performance assessment program. Perhaps Mr. Baker sends his children to school to assess knowledge, I send mine to acquire knowledge.

The system that shows the highest degree of effectiveness is based on fundamental learning, not outcomes, as seen with the Calvert School curriculum. And the candidates that can assess this will be the ones supported by the voters and teachers.

Kathryn Schultz



The April 8 article by Richard O'Mara is based on stereotyped views of the engineering professions.

Hubble, Stark and Three-Mile Island are not examples of engineering failures, but of management failures.

Engineers pleaded with their managers that the Hubble lenses were inoperable long before the launch. The success of the Hubble space walks, the overwhelming success of our nuclear safety (as compared to foreign operations) and our military technical superiority, which won the Cold War, attest to the superiority of our technical assets.

Our business managers and lawyers drove our patents across the Pacific, not the lack of our own engineering talent. Our schools remain strong magnets for training the world's best engineers.

The contribution of the Johns Hopkins staff to Japanese quality control engineering remains one of our most formidable exports. It was our management that failed to recognize that talent, not the engineering profession. Richard O'Mara advocates hanging the wrong messenger.

Although your writer concluded that "it would be hard to exaggerate Sputnik's impact on the technological and scientific community in the United States," the author attempts to do just that.

During our initial space lunar mission plans our scientists and engineers drew primarily on the existing experienced engineers (and a few -- very few -- former German engineers). It would have been quite impossible to restructure our technical community significantly in that short space of time.

Prodding by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology has raised serious problems in training new engineers.

By adding humanities in inappropriately large doses it has made engineering student recruitment quite difficult. Imposing humanities requirements on top of an already overburdened curriculum is often fatal to interest in the occupation. This will not result in better engineers, just fewer of them.

Len Jarrell


The writer is vice president of the Maryland Council oEngineering Societies.

BSO Found New and Appreciative Audience

I was pleased to see the coverage the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's recent Dance Mix concert received in The Sun.

The satisfaction a performer derives from feedback, discussion and reflection following a performance is second only to the satisfaction derived from the performance itself.

It is important, however, that those who participate in this discussion have accurate information regarding the program's development and results.

In his April 24 commentary, music critic Stephen Wigler acknowledged that the BSO performed a terrific concert featuring a Who's Who of America's younger composers.

We planned this concert for two reasons: to take a fresh look at how we do what we do, and to take a step in addressing some fundamental issues faced by orchestras across the country.

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