The new secretary of education, Terrel Bell, believes in freedom of speech, but he also believes in what he calls "freedom from speech." He believes there are certain authors and books which students should have freedom from, books that should not be taught as part of the required curriculum in US public schools. The list includes celebrated authors and several whose books are standard reading in high school literature courses, from J. D. Salinger to Chaucer.
Dr. Bell would remove from the required-list in public schools: J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye"; William Golding's "Lord of the Flies"; books by Eldridge Cleaver; Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Slaughterhouse-Five"; novels by Faulkner, James Joyce, and Hemingway; James Jones's "From Here to Eternity"; Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"; and Richard Wrights "The Kitten" (an excerpt from his autobiography, "Black Boy," in which a cat is drowned in a burlap bag).
"Lord of the Flies," "The Catcher in the Rye," Eldridge Cleaver, and "The Kitten" were among the works Dr. Bell spoke about in a "freedom from speech" address he gave to a 1974 textbook publishers' convention when he was commissioner of education in the Ford administration. In the course of a recent two-part interviewer, Dr. Bell himself brought up those books and the controversy surrounding them, amplified on it, explained his position, and added the other authors mentioned above.
In the first interview, he tipped back slightly in his chair at an oval, walnut conference table in the vast secretary's office and began talking about "the controversy I got into in West Virginia [in 1974] over textbooks. My argument is that you need to have freedom of speech, you need to have freedom to read. I'm not one of those book burners. But I think you need freedom from a few things, including vulgarity or crudity of speech if they insult your sensibilities and the standard of the home from whence you come. . . ."
He was talking about the visit he'd had from fundamentalist preachers who came into his office in 1974 when he was commissioner of education and protested against the inclusion of "Lord of the Flies," "The Catcher in the Rye," Eldridge Cleaver, and "The Kitten" in the public school curriculum in West Virginia as required reading. It was whose opinions he defended in his textbook publishers' speech. At the time of his remarks, the American Library Association and the National Education Association expressed fear of federal censorship.
He says today, "Now I think that if you think it's all right for youngsters to read that kind of literature, then let them have it in their home, but don't force it on me by making it required reading."
Speaking of "Catcher" and "Flies," he admits they're "old standbys in literature courses, but if I have strong religious persuasions about that [kind of book]," and a teacher includes one of these books on the required-reading list, "then I don't have freedom fromm that book, you see."
"Now that's the other side of having freedom to have access to it. And all of us say, 'My, let's not go in and burn the books.'
"But what about forcing the minority individual . . . who comes from a home where they feel their youngsters at that age should not be exposed to that kind of literature? And if the state says, 'We have a compulsory-attendance law, and you must send your child to school," and if the state says, 'We have a state textbook adoption system and therefore the school must use the book we've adopted,' . . ." then it's wrong, he says, for such books to be on the required-reading list.
At the time of the original controversy, Dr. Bell told the textbook publishers to chart a course "that supports the values and standards of the family," citing the Bible, the McGuffy Readers, and "The Wizard of Oz" as examples of good classroom literature.
"Young people need faith and hope and confidence in the future. They need a yellow brick road," he said.
Dr. Bell says now that "when the 'yellow brick road' story came out . . . I was misunderstood about that among some of the intellectuals around this country. They thought I was a namby-pamby and I was for the Bible and the McGuffey Reader and 'The Wizard of Oz,' and they made fun of me about it. They said, 'Yeah, there's the commissioner of education coming out for that stuff.' And all I was doing was standing up for the right of the fundamentalist preacher to shield his children from that if he felt strongly enough.
"That right is just as sacred a right as the one that let the book with some of the strong language be available in the library, if you want to go read it."
Later he adds, "What may be offensive to you may not be offensive to me," he says, speaking of the list of books mentioned above. "Now if you don't mind four-letter words and a little back-alley and gutter language . . . if you say, 'Let my kids go ahead and read that stuff," [then] there are always bookstores and all kinds of places where you can have your children have that." But the state, on the other hand, can "compel a student to go to school under the compulsory-attendance act" and has the power to choose the textbooks. "So, No. 1, we force them into school. No. 2, we force them into the books." So the books that are required need to be "requiredm of everyone . . . . Yes, part of the curriculum, not at your discretion but required of everyone, and absolutely you've got to study and master that. And if that's offensive to me and my standards because of my Mormon upbringing and it's not offensive to you . . . then I say freedom from,m as well as freedom of,m in that regard.
"and I stand up and I defend the right of the family that says, 'You can't force us into school and force us into that kind of literature that's offensive to our family and to our standards and to our beliefs as to how we ought to bring up our children . . . .' [You] can't use the power, the police state power , of the state in that regard."
Dr. Bell is asked if he, ascretary of education, is recommending that the curriculum in public schools be guided by what would or would not offend the children of a fundamentalist preacher. His answer: "That may be difficult to do. I'd just say the curriculum ought to be sensitive to the people it's designed to serve. . . ."
In our second interview, after Dr. Bell has explained the views quoted here, he is asked again whether he believes authors like those listed above should not be part of the curriculum in public schools as required reading.
He answers, surprisingly making a differentiation between curriculum and requiredm curriculum:
"Oh, no. I didn't say that. I didn't say that. I said that you'd ought to have, as far as the requiredm curriculum is concerned, you'd ought to have some alternatives. Now I can tell you, you can read a lot of Chaucer and be OK, but if you want the 'Miller's Tale,' you know, some of the humor you may think is great humor, and someone else may think it's vulgar humor. My own personal taste is, my teen-age youngsters -- I wouldn't object to them reading to 'Miller's Tale.' I'm not that straight-laced, personally. But if you are, I don't want to use the police state power to enforce that."
In other words, that should not be part of the required curriculum?
"Yes," he answers. "And if it is, there ought to be some alternatives to the required curriculum."
He pauses. "I suppose that alternative is in competition with the required curriculum," inadvertently making the point that critics of this idea will be quick to deduce: if a book is not part of the required curriculum, it will not be taught nor will exams be given on it. It will be regarded as supplemental, or optional.
As he explains in talking about Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five":
"I don't think that ought to be required reading or you don't pass English I, and if you don't pass English I, you can't graduate. Now supposing you were teaching a literature class and I were the parent. If you presented me with a list and over here are the required readings, and over here are the optional ones, and you say 'Pick 3 out of these 15 optional ones,' [then] my children and I could get away from 'Slaughterhouse-Five' if we wanted."
Dr. Bell, in his views on writers who should not be required reading, specifies tha they should apply to all public schools, up to and including high school. But he also has a few thoughts on James Joyce as required reading even in the college curriculum.
"Read James Joyce if you want to. As for me, I wouldn't make it required reading in mym class, [but I] certainly wouldn't want to join the ranks of those who would charge in, rip it off the shelf, and throw it in the bonfire. But that's the point I made, that there ought to be freedom from speech as well as freedom of it."
The man who said all this is the author of five education books and one novel , "The Prodigal Pedagogue," as well as the former Utah commissioner of higher education. He is a kindly-looking, white-haired, neat, precise man with dark-rimmed glasses over eyes the color of root beer and a quiet but warm smile. You would never describe him as a big man, and indeed he describes himself, one of a family of nine children, as "always the littlest. I've tried to make up for it with feistiness. I guess you'd call it bluster," he says with a small laugh. "What's the old, corny remark? IT isn't the size of the dog in the bite but the size o the bite in the pooch."
In person, though, he seems quite contained, sits almost motionless, his hands folded in front of him, for most of the interview. He wears an unobtrusive navy blue suit, a white shirt, and a navy, white, and light-blue-shadow plaid tie. He could very well be presiding over a meeting of the Utah State Board of Reagans, of which he was chief executive officer. But he is not. He is making policy for, as he likes to point out, one-third of the nation.
"Thirty percent of the people in the United States are involved in education, " he says. "Thirty percent. That sounds strange, but I can document it. When you count the students attending school, kindergarten through graduate school, public and private, and then you count the employees of that enterprise, you find out that 3 out of every 10 people in the US are involved in education as their full-time occupation."
Terrel Howard Bell grew up in LAva Hot Springs, Idaho, one of five brothers and four sisters who were raised by a mother widowed early in life. There was a huge hot spring in that resort town, and several swimming pools. He grew up knowing how to swim before he could walk. HE went from that little village of fewer than 1,000 people to Southern Idaho College of Education (BA), the University of Idaho (MS in educational administration), and the University of Utah (doctorate in the same subject).
Then he became a grunt, serving as a first sergeant, a machine gun instructor in the Marines during World War II, and learning one of the most important lessons of his life, he says.
"I learned not to be so outspoken. I learned not to be too open with my comments when I was in the Marine Corps. When I was in boot camp I made some suggestions as to how they could improve the place; they gave me three days' bread and water to think about my suggestions. So they fought the rest of the war without any advice from me."
And yet, Terrel Bell manages to land on Page 1 of the major newspapers fairly often with candid comments about his 30-percent-of-the-country constituency. Last week, for instance, he made news by saying his department would not actively press lawsuits for achieving school desegregation through busing. He also said he would not oppose a federal law or constitutional amendment forbidding busing as a remedy for segregation.
In his two-part Monitor interview, Dr. Bell expressed similar views on a related subject: segregated state colleges.
In January, before the Reagan administration took over, the Department of Education ordered four states, Alabama, Delaware, South Carolina, and West Virginia, to end "vestiges of unconstitutional education" in their college systems, giving them 60 days to do it. The department was not alleging that the states maintain discriminatory admission policies today, but that they had failed to integrate public college systems that had begun when segregation was still legal (before 1954, when the Supreme Court outlawed segregation). In alabama, for instance, the state's traditionally white public colleges remain 88 percent white, while the black colleges remain 88 percent black. In Delaware, the University of Delaware is 94 percent white, Delaware State 75 percent black.
In fact, Dr. Bell's attitude on this subject may come as a surprise to those who believe desegregation of publicly supported colleges and universities is a federal mandate.
"None of these systems are functioning as segregated systems because whites are discouraged from attending traditionally black colleges or vice versa," he says. "I say [they are] neither prohibited nor discouraged. I think that we have the degree of racial concentration there because of tradition, you know -- 'My parents went to this Florida A&M, so I go there,' and I'm talking now as a black youngster. Because they feel more comfortable and more confident that they can make it at that institution. And I would hope that we can . . . deemphasize the stick in the closet -- the cutoff of federal money."
Is Dr. Bell saying he doesn't feel there should be a cutoff?
"Well, I wouldn't say that absolutely under all circumstances there should not be a cutoff. I'd say that we ought to use that stick in the closet very sparingly, and only after colleagues have sat down together in an atmosphere of high-level trust and understanding and have talked about how they can get together. And that's the thing I want to do."
Dr. Bell, who has a professional reputation for compromise and conciliation, says: "I think we need a lot more conciliation, and a reaching out to each other. I think some of our letters and communications from the Department of Education have been a bit too strident in tone, too menacing, in the word structure, and that in and of itself gets the dander on the other side. . . ."
The states involved, which now include Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida, could lose millions of dollars in federal funds if the "stick" were taken out of the closet.
Here's the central paradox about the man who has been described as the "second -- and last -- secretary of education." Although President Reagan appointed Dr. Bell to fulfill a Reagan campaign pledge to dismantle the Department of Education created by the Carter administration, Bell testified on Capitol Hill on behalf of its creation and says he would do so again. He's on the record as saying he has "no intention of presiding over a dying department."
If Dr. Bell is not going to dismantle the department he's been named head of, what is he going to do with it? Will the department be scaled down? Will it become part of a revamped Department of Human Resources at some have suggested?
In his quiet, controlled voice with its faint Western twang he says, "Well I don't know what the outcome is going to be with that. The administration has a campaign commitment that says that the creation of the department was a mistake. . . . I testified on behalf of the department, and if I had the option between having education in HEW [the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare ], huge and unwieldy and cumbersome, and a mass of governmental bureaucracy too large for anyone to manage . . . ."
He veers from the subject for a moment to say of HEW: "And I lived with some horrendous months of trying to get decisions approved, contending with endless numbers of assistant secretaries who outranked me and knew very little about education, some of which I wasn't even aware of until they were made and handed down to me from on high. And I was furious about it. When I think about it I get angry all over again!
"The other side of it is that we have been moving steadily and almost relentlessly toward more and more federal control over education in this country. . . . And this department has been promulgating regulations that violate the autonomy of states, state legislators, state boards of education, and local school boards. And if we don't reverse the trend we could be moving unwittingly toward a federal ministry of education, and that would be a disaster. . . . If you get a federal ministry, your inclination is to tighten up the control and have everybody singing out of the same page of the hymn book."
Dr. Bell's central point on the Department of Education is that it doesn't necessarily have to be a department, its head doesn't necessarily have to have cabinet-level status, but that he must be the one to make the informed decisions on educational policy in this country, whether Education becomes part of Commerce or Labor, or a separate free-standing agency like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
He is adamantly opposed to his department's being swallowed by a giant Department of Human Resources where it would be lost in the bureaucracy again. Dr. Bell says his understanding with President Reagan is that he will propose a series of alternatives to the department on which the administration might then propose legislation.
Is there anything he's recommending at this point?
"No. We have a group studying it, looking at it."
Does he have a personal preference?
"No, I don't."
The man who is czar of all the blackboards and textbooks is the father of four boys, a man who loves above all to go skiing along with his family.
"It's probably my favorite recreation and the one that I'll miss the most back here in this flat country, coming from the Rocky Mountains."
His favorite dish is pumpkin pie, but he's also fond of a late-night snack of a bowl of bread and milk.
His favorite author?
"Hemingway. I think Hemingway is super. That may not square with what you were hearing awhile ago, but I think Hemingway is great. Now I don't think Hemingway is the greatest for nine-year-olds."
He enjoys classical music: Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, although he hesitates to mention Tchaikovsky, "because many people tell you people who enjoy Tchaikovsky enjoy feeling story for themselves. I like the 'Pathetique,' mournful as the tones are. . . . I don't enjoy the modern composers, Bartok and so on.
"It's like I don't like the art. It's my . . . it must be my illiteracy. I can't get much appreciation out of that over there in blue [he points to an abstract painting by a student], that doesn't communicate to me. Now I'm not going to be so pompous as to say 'That's terrible,' I'm just saying, 'That's beyond my grasp and so are some of the more mod classical composers,' which is kind of corny but that's the way I am."
Dr. Bell also has his roots deep in nature. A couple of years ago he leased 100 acres of farmland 50 miles west of Salt Lake City to develop a turf or sod farm, which his sons have supervised.
Dr. Bell's wife, Betty, describes him as a dynamic man, warm, humane, fair, "with a lot of empathy for persons of all natures." She disagrees with a New York Times assessment of him as salty, says he's a man with a good sense of humor and a real innovator.
A former colleague of Dr. Bell's, now the superintendent of the Salt Lake City school district, finds him "articulate, loyal, and equitable." The superintendent is Dr. M. Donald Thomas, the only non-Mormon (or "gentile," as that church views it) school superintendent in Utah. Dr. Thomas says that although some critics believed Dr. Bell's personal religious views "might impede his ability to implement government policy, I've always said, no, that's not true because of his equitability."
Dr. Thomas explained that Dr. Bell "has a strong interest in being fair to minority groups" and that former Mormon church strictures against blacks attaining priesthood in the church had no bearing on Bell's attitude toward carrying out federal policy on disadvantaged or educationally handicapped children.
He added the Bell's equitable approach would rule out, too, any questions about adhering to equal education for boys and girls because of the Mormon church's traditional emphasis on the role of woman as homemaker, wife, and mother.
The secretary's office is an impressive one, a huge room hung with long olive draperies at a series of windows like colonnades. There is wood paneling, and the comfortable couches and chairs are covered in a cream fabric bright with multicolored crewel stitching. In an outer waiting room sits a secretary, surrounded by more couches and a large bowl of the jellybeans which have become a trademark of this administration. Since Dr. Bell stresses promptness with his schedule, the waiting room is filled with his next appointment, in this case a solemn delegation of Indians who file silently in, large hunks of turquoise gleaming at their necks.
The day before our second interview Dr. Bell had had a visit from a delegation of South Carolina school superintendents concerned about the question of categorical (or specific) vs. block grants. Dr. Bell says he favors block grants because "they make it possible to provide aid to schools within a more flexible framework . . . make it possible to harmonize our federal aid moneys with their state aid funds."
Quoting the South Carolina delegation, he says "they're saying, 'Look, if you leave it up to us, we won't make the decision that's in the best interest of the youngsters.' And I'm saying, 'My word! Are you saying the secretary of education in Washington ought to be controlling our schools?' One answer was, 'I don't mean control, I mean protection.' And I said, 'I am surprised to hear you refer to that federal benevolence [and suggest] that I need to be your protector.'
"So it's just at the crux of the issue right now, and there's going to be an enormous debate in this town over what the federal role ought to be, whether we really ought to be protecting the interests of special student populations, and protecting them against whom? They're saying 'against the bad judgments of the local school board.'"
One of the most steamy issues in the federal role of education is a related one, that of the administration's backing of tuition tax credits for private schools. Albert Shanker, head of the American Federation of Teachers, says tuition tax credits for private schools "would be the end of public education as we know it in this country."
Dr. Bell counters: "I disagree with that.I fell that the private schools can have a positive impact on the public schools. Now there's nothing more contagious than a good example. And so we need to spread some of the impact of some of the good examples that come from outstanding private and public schools. And if we can do a few small things to render encouragement and help to our private institutions, I think it'll be beneficial to all American education."
How does helping private education help the public school system, he is asked.
His answer: "It helps by the friendly competition, the contrast, the freedom to do things and to try out things in a private setting that you can't do in a public setting."