Donald L. Hymes of Edgewater, Md., is a reporter of excellent repute. So is his wife, Val, whom many of you have heard on the air.

Don is critical of a column I wrote recently, and I think his criticism is worthy of your attention. He writes:

"As a fan and friend of yours for nearly 25 years, I was really distressed to read your comments Friday about that teacher in Montgomery County.

"It's bad enough for him to be getting folk-hero status for crying 'First Amendment' or 'academic freedom' or whatever. But to link this issue to Agnew and Mandel and the so-called liquor scandal! Low blow, Bill.

"The facts are these:

"That teacher is not charged with expanding the minds of 10th graders. He's charged with repeatedly violating a very important set of procedures required by his contract, and repeatedly ignoring the direct lawful orders of his supervisors.

"Those same procedures, incidentally, become very important to lots of people when they feel a teacher has overstepped his or her bounds in assigning readings that might smack of sex education, or promote racial or sexual stereotypes, or contain vulgarities and so forth. They require teachers to use materials included on lists compiled by committees of other county teachers -- materials considered appropriate to students at various grade levels.

"Other procedures establish course sequences so that students, as they progress from grade to grade, will not miss an important topic because some teacher went off on a tangent for a semester.

"That was the case here. There was no prohibition against using Machiavelli or Aristotle to expand those kids' minds. It's just that this teacher was supposed to be teaching something else. And while he was permitted to introduce those books to his students as supplementary reading, the committee had felt that they were too hard for the average 10th grader to have an entire semester's grade depend on them.

"In other words, the gentleman was charged with insubordination, and the tribunal in question was a personnel hearing. I have never yet seen one of those open to the press and public, and as a still dyed-in-the-wool newsman I could not honestly insist that they be."

Don, you make a good case for disciplining the teacher. However, if he is to be disciplined, I think it is more appropriate for the school board to make the case, publicly, and for the teacher to defend himself, publicly.

Once the "First Amendment" and "academic freedom" issues are raised, the public can have little confidence in the outcome of a trial held behind closed doors, especially a trial upon which a job and a career depend.

I can have no judgment on the merits of the case because the school board doesn't want me to hear either the charges or the response to them.

I abhor the "we've always done it this way" syndrome that enables officeholders to conduct public business secretly -- to influence hiring, firing, buying, leasing and the granting of scores of government benefits and juicy little flavors in Star Chamber proceedings.

I think it is the essence of an open society that the press and public have a right to observe the decision-making process. When that right is abridged, democracy cannot function.

I did not think I struck a low blow by noting that the locale for this case was a state that has in recent years been afflicted with corruption. I still do not think so, but I am truly sorry that I offended you.

I respect your opinion. I respect authority. I respect rules. I respect the wisdom of the elders. I respect the regular order.

I just can't abide the notion that everything government does must be a state secret.

The possibility that the Russians might find out that we have a teacher who doesn't follow instructions is a risk I am willing to take. THESE MODERN TIMES

Bob List of Alexandria writes, "I realize that comic strips do not necessarily portray reality. But sometimes they strain credulity.

"Today, Rex Morgan, MD, wrote his 'admission diagnosis' in a perfectly legible script."

For heaven's sake, Bob, don't take the story line too literally. It's fiction. In this strip, the doctor also makes occasional house calls. If you believe that one, I'll tell you the one about The Three Bears.