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The Best Of One's Knowledge

February 10, 1991

Let me come right out with it. Bruce Cooperstein's review of William Schaefer's "Education Without Compromise" (Dec. 30) is both dishonest and deficient.

His summary of the book's content does not represent what is there. He faults Schaefer for not listing "democracy" in his index, as if Schaefer did not believe in democracy. He condemns Schaefer for failing to discuss the university's "responsibility for citizenship preparation," as if Schaefer did not do so, in somewhat different terms. He criticizes Schaefer's belief that knowledge is good in itself, when, says Cooperstein, students today "question the importance of all knowledge," as if Schaefer had said that knowledge should not be questioned.

Cooperstein then leaps on the word "coherence" in the subtitle of the book. Coherence can be achieved, he says, "only by suppressing conflict" and "compelling students to passively receive prepackaged truths." What an absurd remark! In fact, coherence is achieved precisely the way Schaefer says it should--through the logical ordering and analytical treatment of essential subject matter.

Your reviewer takes history as his example, tediously observing that its importance is not found in lists of names, dates, events, etc. but as "part of a means by which each of us develops a social consciousness." The mistaken implication is that Schaefer fails to discuss the need for students to draw out meaning and analyze data. Schaefer also is aware of the university's obligation to help develop social consciousness, but above all, he wants the study of history to improve the student's intellectual grasp of the world's greatest ideas and accomplishments. For him, this is also the university's prime purpose.

There is, indeed, a lot of questioning and debate going on in our universities. The trouble is, too much of it lacks substance, acquired through hard work and the ability to sort truth from falsehood, fact from fiction, information from opinion. Worse, much of the present questioning of knowledge falls prey to the political ideology of professors. Schaefer discusses this sorry situation and points up ways to deal with it.

Cooperstein's final act of dishonesty is his claim that Schaefer's approach to educational reform is "frightening." Truly frightening is the production of a snide review by a person relatively unknown among scholars seriously interested in the study of education.

GEORGE F. KNELLER, UCLA Professor Emeritus, LOS ANGELES

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