In Wednesday Journal’s April 25 Viewpoints, Ms. Joan Winstein criticized the major point of my campaign, as well as the WJ for supporting my candidacy. She made the observation that it is not logical to conclude that less homework leads directly to lower grade-point averages. She also asserts that it is not logical to “expect that students, who struggle with grammar and the organization of ideas, write research papers on Spinoza, or malaria’s impact on tribal migration, or the Meiji Restoration in Japan.”

To this I respond: She is absolutely right. It would be ludicrous to assume those things. And she is also correct in her assumption that I, as a teacher at OPRF High School, did not give the same amount of homework or cover the same amount of material in my honors classes as in my non-honors classes.

For those who believe that I made such assertions, I take full responsibility for communicating so poorly.

And yet I make no apology for having done so. Here is why: In a political election, it is very difficult to give detailed and nuanced explanations of complex issues and their proposed solutions. I consider the “achievement gap” an extremely complex issue, and one of my goals is to help District 200 work on a part of the problem that really is within its ability to control. Adequate communication about the details of such issues is very difficult to do in short quotations and the local version of “sound bytes.” I believe that candidates must communicate a coherent message adequately to a sufficient number of voters to become elected, and I believe that I did just that.

I believe that the voters who supported me (and to whom I am truly grateful) understand that when I spoke of lower homework expectations, they did not assume I was claiming that these lower homework expectations led directly to lower grades. I believe they knew that such expectations signaled something about a belief regarding the students’ own intellectual capacity. These voters understood that I did not expect basic level students to write the kind of investigative papers that might be assigned to honors level students. And they understood that I expected every bit as much effort to be exerted in the learning process by even the lowest ability students. It is this expectation of effort that concerns me most.

It is also our expectation of our own effort that concerns me just as much. Do we really expect ninth grade students to learn to read at grade level if they do not currently do so? Where is the evidence that we, the citizens of Oak Park and River Forest, are truly serious about this expectation? These are some of the issues that I hope the OPRF school board will deal with seriously over the next few years.

Now, obviously, the statements that I just made about the voters are quite self-serving; they more closely represent what I would hope to be the case. Still, it feels better to speak as though they were proven fact. I am glad that I was given another opportunity to explain what I was really trying to communicate.

Ralph H. Lee
D200 board member-elect

Join the discussion on social media!