Education Letter to the Editor


September 24, 2003 5 min read
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Writing on Neuroscience Requires More Research

To the Editor:

I was disappointed to read your feature story “Hand in Hand” (Sept. 3, 2003), in particular the sections on the support that neuroscience allegedly provides for holistic education, as described in the article.

You would have done well to interview a cognitive neuroscientist. The facts about the brain are true (if vague), but the conclusions are not. The relationship between emotion and cognition is complex, and the conclusion that teaching children to regulate emotions (a difficult prospect) will improve cognition is unwarranted. It is also true that stress can have cognitive consequences, but the consequences depend on the task. Stress can also improve cognitive function.

If you are going to invoke neuroscience to support educational enterprises, get the facts straight.

Daniel T. Willingham
Associate Professor of Psychology
Neuroscience Program
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Va.

Math Is Improved By Teaching, Not Research

To the Editor:

Not another $18 million to be wasted by the government on education (“Math and Science Get Own Research Center,” Sept 3, 2003). The major problem with math education is in the way it is taught.

I have worked with 1st graders, learning-disabled children, and gifted children in mathematics. All three of these groups can add better than some of the high school students with whom I have also worked.

Granted that successful teaching of a subject requires that dozens of factors are in synchronization, but educators already know what those factors are. Heavily funded research could merely reinforce this knowledge without producing one useful new piece of knowledge that can be successfully transferred to the classroom.

Math has been taught incorrectly over the years. There are several “new” approaches being tried by various school systems. Will they be successful? In the short run, yes, but in the long run, no. And many of those approaches were already funded by large government grants.

Why won’t they work? Mathematics is simple. The new approaches give teachers more work material than the old approaches. They are market-driven rather than educationally driven. Simply stated, they cost the districts more money.

Unfortunately, school districts are not too reticent to tell taxpayers that they wasted millions of dollars, so that many of those programs will continue whatever else is brought into the market. The problem that should be studied is how successful marketing leads to unsuccessful education.

Irvin M. Miller
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Hands-On History, Using Technology

To the Editor:

As a follow-up to your article “High-Tech Tools Help Students Put Veterans in Limelight” (Sept. 10, 2003), I would point readers to a Web archive of daily letters sent home during World War II and links related to the events and places referenced in the letters. It can be found on the Web site of Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Ill. In a resource called the Denk Letters, the school’s students have preserved this legacy. The letters can be accessed at http://www.wths .net/faculty/dbrown/denk_letters_link.htm .

Mary Olson
Gurnee, Ill.

Politicians: Put Money Where Your Mouths Are

To the Editor:

I am appalled at our federal government’s apparent lack of concern over the education crisis (“School Issues Vie for Attention of Congress,” Sept. 10, 2003). Our children are facing more stringent requirements at every level. Our teachers are facing a crisis of how to fit these requirements into children’s daily instructional program, yet still help every child who needs assistance. And with steep budget cuts at every level, the programs that work and our children’s needs are being thrown to the wayside.

Maybe we should reconsider who is leading our government. Maybe if every U.S. senator, member of Congress, and other out-of-touch federal official quit taking a pay increase and put his money where his mouth is, we could salvage, at least in part, some of the precious programs that are in danger of being lost.

For those of us who pay book rentals every year, where is our money going? I would like someone to explain to me why our children’s education is less important than the next congressional pay raise.

Cindy Smitka
Portage, Ind.

Testifying for ‘Nurture’ In the Debate Over IQ

To the Editor:

I feel very strongly about the ongoing debate over the influence of environment vs. that of genetics on children’s IQ (“IQ Study Weighs Genes, Environment,”Sept. 10, 2003).

I lived in several foster homes until I was 8 years old, when I was adopted by a family that gave me the support and encouragement that I needed to flourish. I didn’t learn to read until the 3rd grade and received uniformly failing grades up to that point. But with greater assistance and a change in the home environment, I was earning all A’s by the time I was in the 6th grade.

I have continued to be motivated educationally and will receive my Bachelor of Science degree in psychology this spring. I owe all that I have accomplished to my adoptive family and cannot imagine where I would be, had it not been for that change of environment.

Carrie Cleveland
Rowland Heights, Calif.

Soda in the Schools? Support Is Slipping

To the Editor:

Money from soda sales should not be the guiding issue in an institution of education (“School Soda Sales Lose Fizz With Calif. Lawmakers,” Sept. 10, 2003). Those revenues could easily be replaced by sales of a healthier juice drink. Thirsty kids will drink what is available. Why does this seem so complicated? Mothers have always served up the drink of their choice to their kids at dinner. The kids don’t turn the drinks down. We need to give them the proper choices.

Cheryl A. Breaux
MacArthur Foundation
Chicago, Ill.

To the Editor:

While I will agree that sodas can be a nice treat occasionally, I don’t think that regular access to such products, particularly in schools, is a good idea. In this era when we need to promote more healthy lifestyles—which include good nutrition—selling sodas in schools sends a mixed message.

Last time I checked, sodas did not contain any beneficial ingredients. Beverages such as water, seltzer water, low-sugar juices, chocolate milk, or caffeine-free teas are a much better idea. Students may be turned off to these in the beginning, but in the long run, nutritious drinks will become the norm, and those who are really thirsty will partake of them.

Who better to instill with the behaviors of good nutrition than the young?

Judy Blair
Falling Waters, W.Va.

To the Editor:

To me it’s simple: The child is the focus. School revenues should not be based on something that is not good for students and does not help them form healthy behavior patterns. Schools must find other, creative solutions to the problem of raising revenue, or else continue to share the responsibility for producing this country’s obesity epidemic.

We have a responsibility as educators not to take the easy path, but the wise and healthy one.

Teri Dunne
Pleasanton, Calif.


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