An organization representing 40 churches is holding a series of hearings to exchange and gather information on public education in Prince George's County, but has agreed to leave aside the volatile subject of busing.
Whitty Bass, director of the Community Ministry of Prince George's County, said the issue of busing for racial balance has eclipsed other education issues that need to be aired.
"We wanted to find out what happens to the kids after they get off the bus," Bass said.
At a hearing in Hyattsvile Sunday, speakers told panel members that teachers need aides, math teaching is poor, suspended students tear up public parks, inner Beltway shcools crumble while new neighborhoods get new buildings, PTAs are ineffective except to raise money for band uniforms -- but that programs for talented students are good. One speaker questioned compulsory education.
Other hearings were held in Bowie, Lanham, Camp Springs and Upper Marlboro.Two more will be held next weekend.
Bass said information gathered at the hearings, which drew from three to 20 speakers each, will be compiled in a document to be given to school board members, administrators, churches, libraries and the press.
At the Hyattsville hearing, Melda Henry, a retired elementary school princial, suggested giving aides to all teachers so the teachers can spend more time with individuals and special ability groups.
"Kids are absolute geniuses at covering up what they don't know," said Henry. "Teachers themselves do not want to know what the children don't know" because each one cannot be individually taught. So teachers "present a good program" and hope the children learn it. If they don't Henry said, teachers blame it on broken homes, alcohol, drugs or other targets.
"We do a fantastic amount of kiding ourselves in the teaching profession," she said.
Frances Gulick, a college mathematics professor, criticized the teaching of mathematics and recommended public schools teach the subject using Montessori materials including beads, peg boards and games. The Montessori method of teaching young children stresses the development of a child's own initiative. "Kids taught with Montessori don't have math anxiety," Gulick said.
She suggested the county should set up an elementary school where the Montessori method is used and another where foreign languages are stressed.
Terry Johnson, in charge of parks and recreation for Hyattsvile, said suspending students is a poor solution for discipline problems because once out of class, the students often destroy public property. She said students think suspension is a "free day, a big joke." Suspensions are not effective "unless the parent is concerned and that child is sat on at home," she said, because they "just cause more problems out in the community."
Alvin Kushner, City Council member from College Park, condemned the school board for spending money on new schools in Bowie and Laurel while schools inside the Beltway deteriorate.
"The schools inside the Beltway have been shortchanged," he said. He called for a moratorium on building in new neighborhoods until older schools get their "fair share of the resources."
Another speaker condemned PTAs as ineffective organizations that merely raise money for band, cheerleader and athletic uniforms. Robert S. Knight, associate dean of student affairs at Howard University School of Dentistry, said more dialogue between teachers and parents would help discipline problems.
"At one time teachers were almost required to attend (PTA meetings)," he said, "But now without the teachers it becomes a Parent-I-Don't-Know-What Association.
A spokeswoman from the Riverdale Presbyterian Church said an education seminar there questioned the concept of compulsory education.
Disturbed about the lack of discipline, racial tension, busing and increasing demands that schools "be everything to everybody," she said, the group said one solution would be abandoning the requirement that every child attend school.
School officials were curious about the hearings, but undecided about their impact.
"Any time people gather to discuss modern educational issues either at a board meeting or at a home or in a church, it's a good thing and productive," said Edward J. Feeney, superintendent of Prince George's County Schools. s
"This has never happened before, anything on this kind of scale," said county school spokesman Brian J. Porter. The group's recommendations "will be taken with great interest like any group. The board will listen but whether or not they are bound to act is another thing."