I was glad to learn that I was not the only person completely offended by the cartoon which you printed in "Female Troubles." [News, by Steve McVicker, February 2.] I had the unfortunate task of handing that very cartoon to my employer (an attorney) when one of his friends (also an attorney) considered it appropriate to fax to him.
At the time I could not fathom why this behavior was not found to be reprehensible (besides the renowned case of stupidity suffered by the faxing attorney). However, after reading your article I've come to the conclusion that this episode was not considered such (or even considered an action to which serious thought should be given) because the Bar not only turns its head in dealing with such behavior but goes so far as to defend it in the media.
The Privett Question
Michael Berryhill told the story of how HISD would not give $1 million to a businessman, John Privett, to implement a back-to-basics curriculum, called DISTAR, in three elementary schools ["The Curriculum Question," January 19]. Berryhill portrayed this as yet another story of an insensitive bureaucracy standing in the way of doing what is best for students. The article made a populist hero out of Privett, while subtly discounting the reasons HISD chose not to fund his proposal.
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Berryhill implied that HISD was disingenuous in claiming it could not afford Privett's million-dollar price tag. While it is true, as Berryhill implies, that $1 million is a small portion of the district's budget, Privett wanted to spend the extra million on just three schools. HISD has 247 schools, and that $1 million is equivalent to about 70 percent of an average school's budget. HISD recently reformed its budget process to ensure equitable distribution of funds among schools. Unless HISD could afford to sponsor Privett's project at every school which desired it, sponsoring it at three schools would have been unfair to the other 244 schools.
Berryhill mentioned Privett's association with the Tax Research Association as a way of bolstering his credibility, to show Privett was an expert in school budget matters. He should have been more up-front about the TRA's mission; it is an organization bankrolled by downtown corporations for the purpose of holding down their tax rates. It is an interest group in the most narrow sense of the term, and its primary effect on education has been to ensure that HISD has the lowest spending per pupil of any comparably sized school district in the nation and the fifth lowest among Harris County's 20 school districts. As TRA's president, Privett made his living on the argument that HlSD could do a better job with less money. Ironically, he now feels that an extra million would be necessary to improve education at just three schools.
The best reason for not giving Privett the money is that, as Thaddeus Lott, DISTAR's chief HISD proponent, said, "Why should we pay this man a million dollars to do something we should already be doing?" Privett got the idea for DISTAR from Lott, who has had dramatic success using DISTAR without the addition of an extra million and without paying off a middle man.
Privett's rationale for why HISD should pay him is that only he could sidestep the district's rigid bureaucracy. Berryhill throughout his story supports this reasoning by implying that HISD leaders have prevented schools from making needed changes in curriculum. In fact, since the departure of Joan Raymond, HISD has given schools substantial leeway in selecting curriculum; and schools have chosen a wide variety of curriculum approaches, some of which, such as Accelerated Learning, have proven just as successful as DISTAR. To show how much of an obstacle HISD has been to the introduction of DISTAR, the district has expanded Mr. Lott's authority so he is now responsible for four schools.
At the conclusion of the article, Berryhill writes that Privett is "biding his time" waiting for the Legislature to adopt charter school legislation, which would let schools choose his approach. Considering the price Privett has put on his program, it would not matter how much choice schools have unless the Legislature pumps a whole lot more money into public education. Privett represents an emerging throng of entrepreneurs who smell big money in the current dissatisfaction with public education. If given free rein, these hawkers will have a feast at the public trough resembling that of the nation's military contractors.
We couldn't agree more with Michael King's excellent letter, "A Fish Story" [Letters, February 9].
If you're going to run a story about opera, a little knowledge about it on the part of those involved is a helpful prerequisite.
At the risk of being perceived as not "fey" enough, I have to respond to Michael King's letter ["A Fish Story," January 9]. My comments in a previous issue in an article by Tim Fleck were based on a speech given by Harvey Milk in Dallas in June 1978. The speech was recorded by David Lamble, formerly of Houston. I heard the speech when given and have heard the tape many times.
In his opening remarks, Harvey Milk said, "It's good to be back in Texas where one can turn on the radio and hear good country and western music. I live in San Francisco, where all you can get is the opera and that stuff gets boring." Harvey went on to give his now famous "Letter from a young man from Altuna, Pennsylvania" speech.
Neither the Houston Press nor Tim Fleck deserves the heat they have received over this matter. If Harvey was just exercising a little regional hyperbole for the benefit of his audience, I alone deserve criticism for not understanding.
I did see a performance of the opera. I found it bold, inspiring and well done. The set design was original and contributed to the effectiveness of the message. Both Harvey Milk, the opera, and Harvey Milk, the person, were inspirations for me.
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