Education: Sin of Commission?

When she began teaching English at Venice (Calif.) High School, Florence Russell, 28, was determined to enrich the minds of her students. She got a supply of good paperbacks for students to buy if they wished. Principal Walter Larsh approved so long as no student was compelled to buy the books (against the law). Teacher Russell's 51 juniors snapped up the books, though pennies are scarce in Venice, a brassy seaside settlement on the western edge of Los Angeles.

One day last month. Student Barbara Jean Herin, 16, came home with The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse, asked her mother to...