Education Opinion


February 23, 2000 14 min read

Pokémon Facts From Mrs. Regnier’s 3rd Grade Class

To the Editor:

Thank you for the interesting Commentary about Pokémon (“Pokémon Comes to School,” Feb. 9, 2000). My class has been reading a Beverly Cleary book in which the main character, Ramona, writes a letter to the editor about a problem she has with an advertisement in the newspaper. We also have been talking about the appropriate ways to disagree.

The Pokémon Commentary came at a perfect time. My students were inspired to write by inaccuracies they found in the essay. I have never seen so much excitement in my classroom.

I hope you will read each letter from a child’s perspective, and not take offense at their disagreeing with adults. They worked very hard to present facts, not just opinions, to make their case.

Thank you for providing this interesting educational opportunity for my class.

Jettie Regnier
West Street School
Granby, Mass.

Editor’s note: We regret that we are unable to publish in their entirety all of the 20 letters we received from Mrs. Regnier’s class, many with carefully drawn illustrations. We hope that the following sampling will touch all factual bases and give readers a flavor of the children’s enthusiasms and complaints.

That’s not what Onix looks like. The Pokémon cards cost $3.29 for 11 at Toys R Us, or you can get 60 cards for $9.99. Charizard is a lizard. Snorlax is not a cat, it’s a bear. Pikachu is not a Japanese Pooh bear! He is an electric mouse.

—Ashley Forrette

I don’t know the states or the capitals and I hate Pokémon.

—Will Hastie

Not all baseball players on cards are good role models. Kids are too smart to be tricked into paying too much for Pokémon cards.

—James Kennedy

That picture of Onix really makes me sad, because I love Pokémon and they’re not mean. Pokémon is not bad for learning. It helps me when I am stuck on a math word problem, because if I use Pokémon, it is easier to figure it out.

—Molly Malone

There are 160 cards, not 151. All Pokémon cards are different prices. Not all principals and teachers think Pokémon is bad.

—Toby Rock

Pokémon cards are not $3.99 for five cards. There are 11 cards in a pack for $3.29. Charizard is not a dragon. It is a lizard. That is not what Onix looks like.

—Heather Conti

Pokémon does not teach us kids to gamble. We can trade the ones we get that we already have. My parents don’t know everything I know and they’re not supposed to. I am my own person with my own interests. All Pokémon cards are different prices. Diglett is only 25 cents.

—Molly Bragiel

I have a big complaint! Do you even know what you’re talking about? First of all, Pikachu is not a Japanese Winnie the Pooh. Do you know what Onix looks like? Because you got the head right, except the eyes. And do you know that not all kids like Pokémon?

—Brian (the No. 1 Pokémon fan)

Please do not make fun of Pokémon. It makes me sad. And I do not even know the states or the capitals. Our teacher did not teach us that yet.

—Megan Lee Gazda

Nobody choked from eating a Pokéball. It got stuck to their face. And it was a baby, not a 7-year- old.

—Nicole Cadieux

They are not monsters. They are cute.

—Aileen O’Grady

It is not the fault of Pokémon cards that kids fight. There will always be bullies.

—Chris J. Lecca

Hitmonlee is not worth $10, he is worth $5. Not all principals and teachers think Pokémon is bad. Ours like Pokémon.

—Tyler Carter

I don’t think Pokémon teaches kids to gamble. Pokémon is good for kids’ education because, in the game, you have to read and do math.

—Mary Mancuso

Not all kids like Pokémon! I like playing with my dog. And to do things with my family. I bet Pokémon is not good. Next fad, I hope it is better. Do you?

—Kyle Wolf

Texas Law Confuses Grades, Learning

To the Editor:

A Texas law that guarantees students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes will be admitted to public universities has generated considerable discussion about its status as an alternative to, or version of, affirmative action. However, your lengthy front-page article (“Minorities’ College Enrollment Improves in Texas,” Feb. 9, 2000.) ignores the fact that students will now be compelled to pay even more attention to grades—as opposed to learning.

An impressive collection of research has demonstrated that the use of—and, even more, the tendency to emphasize—traditional letter or number grades reliably produces three results: Students’ thinking becomes more superficial, their interest in the learning itself declines, and they come to prefer easier tasks (since avoiding challenge maximizes the probability of a higher grade). Still other research has found a striking negative correlation between a “grade orientation” and a “learning orientation.” More broadly, causing students to become too focused on how well they are doing in school tends to undermine their engagement with what they are doing.

But the news from Texas is even worse: What counts is not merely good grades but better grades than one’s peers. Here the emphasis isn’t merely on performance (which is disturbing enough from a pedagogical perspective) but on triumph. A separate body of research demonstrates that creating competition among students is decidedly detrimental with respect to achievement as well as motivation to learn. Moreover, these disturbing effects are visited upon the winners as well as the losers.

It remains to be seen whether high school class rank is correlated with college grades. The more urgent question is whether secondary schools can maintain (or create) a focus on intellectual exploration when their students are not only rated but ranked against one another and forced to view their classmates as obstacles to their own success.

Alfie Kohn
Belmont, Mass.

Essays on Testing: Ironic Juxtaposition?

To the Editor:

I couldn’t help but ask myself whether you purposefully, and ironically, placed the continuation of E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s Commentary “The Tests We Need,” (Feb. 2, 2000) on the same page with the continuation of Alan Stoskopf’s Commentary “Clio’s Lament.” The pieces, as I read them, represent two contrary and opposing approaches to teaching and learning.

Mr. Hirsch gives us examples of “good” and “bad” test items in history, using two versions of a multiple-choice question asking students to identify the year in which the Civil War ended. Just below that on the page, in Mr. Stoskopf’s essay, we read that “students learn dates and events, but they take more time doing it and make meaning of events by going into more depth from a variety of perspectives.” This more in-depth approach to learning that he is describing is assessed through portfolios, not short-answer tests.

How are readers able to make sense out of this contradictory information about educating? On the one hand, they are being asked to support curriculum, evaluation measures, and standards that are based on behavioristic notions of teaching and learning. On the other hand, they are being prodded to examine curriculum, assessment, and standards from a constructivist approach to learning and teaching.

The eclectic stance toward education you take by publishing both approaches appears to be pluralistic and democratic. I wonder, though, if it isn’t irresponsible, especially if readers are not provided with the necessary context in which to evaluate both approaches.

Nancy Lester
Associate Professor
Medgar Evers College
City University of New York
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Contractor Disputes Report on Ky. Audit

To the Editor:

I was dismayed by your article “Kentucky Auditor Probes Spending by State Ed. Dept.,” (Feb. 2, 2000). It only briefly mentions the cooperative that handled the funds involved in the alleged embezzlement of $500,000. Yet our organization, the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, or OVEC, is named repeatedly.

Our sin? We have had a contract since 1991 with the Kentucky Department of Education to provide a payroll service for their top administrators. This contract has been approved by the state government, the General Assembly, and the funds are put in the education budget by the governor. Yet, because a political official is attempting to make headlines with careless and reckless charges of “conflict of interest,” you devote half of your article not to the criminal case, but to the OVEC contract!

You report that Kevin M. Noland, Kentucky’s interim education commissioner, has asked for an independent audit of the eight cooperatives. No, he has asked for an independent audit of his department. Why? Because the same state auditor making news was the one who conducted the last three audits of the department and found nothing wrong.

You state that OVEC pays 89 employees of the department. Wrong—currently, OVEC pays 74 employees. We did start with 89 in July, but the department this summer and fall moved 15 or so staff members back to state employment. Our contract for $7.9 million assumes a maximum of 110 staff members working full time from July 1 to June 30.

I am disappointed that you chose to write such an article without the benefit of calling our office for comment. Instead, you relied on political types who like to see their names in print, regardless of the truth behind their charges.

John Rosati
Executive Director
Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative
LaGrange, Ky.

‘Simple Recipe’ for Schools’ Turnaround

To the Editor:

Your article on the changes in the Sacramento, Calif., city schools (“Sacramento Mayor’s Legacy: Improved Schools,” Feb. 2, 2000) offers a lesson to school boards of both large and small districts.

The intervention by a mayor in running a highly politicized slate of candidates to take control over a school system is certainly not something to be copied nationwide. The election of a new school board majority that then fires the superintendent, although becoming more common, is not something to emulate as quality governance.

Although I believe the path taken in Sacramento was not a recipe for universal success, the end result is. Often people mistake the process for the result. In the case of Sacramento, it is the result that should be copied. Ultimately, the successful turnaround of the Sacramento schools boils down to a very simple prescription that can be copied by any major school system in America.

First, elect a board composed of people who are focused on improving the education of children. Ensure that these people are of high character and can work together as a governance team to provide stability and confidence in the staff and community. Then employ a superintendent who can gain the full support of the board and develop a consensus vision for where the district is going.

Finally, the board must empower the superintendent to carry out that vision and hold him or her accountable for the results, while not dictating the means. In short, the board should set policy, and a superintendent should be allowed to administer it. This concept is universally accepted in all good school districts. It’s amazing that so many districts around the country, large and small, just can’t figure it out.

Show me a stable board that works together with a common focus and has a professional and supportive working relationship with its superintendent and I’ll show you a good school system.

To Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna’s credit, when the new board was elected, he did not attempt to intervene and control, as we are seeing in other large metropolitan areas. He supported quality people and then let them govern.

Paul M. Hewitt
Mother Lode Union School District
Placerville, Calif.

Inspiration From a Chief’s Longevity

To the Editor:

My congratulations and best wishes to Burdette W. Andrews, who is still an active superintendent at age 92 (“Mich. Superintendent Still on the Job at 92 and Counting,” Feb. 9, 2000). That’s an inspiration to 47-year-old punks like me.

David Anderson
Cambridge, Wis.

Tenure, Charters, and Teacher Standards

To the Editor:

In the letter headlined “On Teacher Quality, Forget the Rankings,” (Letters, Jan. 12, 2000), Karla R. Christensen states, “While school choice and charter schools have their merits, they have very little impact on teacher quality.”

Three paragraphs later, Ms. Christensen concludes: “Eliminating tenure would probably be the single most effective means of enabling schools to improve their teaching staffs quickly and efficiently.”

Few charter school teachers, and virtually no voucher school teachers, have tenure protection. Using Ms. Christensen’s argument, charter and voucher schools would be expected to improve teacher quality.

Glenn Noreen
Fullerton, Calif.

Homage to Howe: ‘Overly Generous’

To the Editor:

I waited in vain for a letter-writer to challenge the propriety of the overly generous homage recently bestowed on former U.S. Commissioner of Education Harold Howe II (“Educators Honor ‘Doc’ Howe’s Contributions,” Jan. 12, 2000). There is reasonable doubt that Mr. Howe, who you say “ushered in an unprecedented federal role in schools,” is deserving of the huge acclamation that he received.

For example, the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which he was instrumental in getting passed in 1965, has proved to have as many handicaps to effective public education as it supposedly is of help to it. Notable here is the coercive climate it created, in which federal super-bureaucrats mercilessly decree that local school districts must meet arbitrary performance standards, while schools strapped for money to do so deny funding to more appropriate programs in order to meet the federal demands.

The ESEA, aimed at forcing public schools in the nation to racially integrate, also has been a failure in that respect. Today’s schools are about as segregated as they were when Mr. Howe was in command of implementing the ESEA to enforce integration. The courts at present are resigned to the fact that the federal actions in this regard, flawed at their outset, turned out to be futile and thus cost- inefficient. Thus, it is erroneous for Jerome Murphy, the dean of Harvard University’s graduate school of education, to contend that Mr. Howe’s endeavors in this respect in the past were “crucial to [school] desegregation of the future.”

The bits and pieces of Mr. Howe’s “reflections” on what is ideal public education, as reported by you, also indicate the tiresome obsoleteness of his thinking in this regard. He continues to vigorously defend the discredited idea that the federal government must be an ever more important player in helping schools. He ironically assumes that this federal control can be exercised without being intrusive.

To the contrary, never have government agencies gained an “enlargement” of their powers and then assumed a “hands off” attitude, Mr. Howe’s views to the contrary notwithstanding.

Patrick Groff
Professor Emeritus
San Diego State University
San Diego, Calif.

Earlier Is Better for Second Languages

To the Editor:

Brad Marshall’s Commentary (“Is There a ‘Child Advantage’ in Learning Foreign Languages?,” Feb. 9, 2000) overlooks the chief advantage of learning a second language in early elementary school. It consists of the boost to the concept of language in the mind of a child, and the consequent scholarly improvement. Adult study is decades too late for this formative exercise.

A monolingual person is trapped inside his native language. Seeing only its inside surface, such a person lacks the ability to put his or her language into perspective. Such a person instinctively embraces the fallacy that there is a real tie between the word for an apple and the apple itself. English speakers who speak German learn that its articles must be declined, while ours aren’t. However, we use “a” and “an” in different circumstances. Students of Spanish note how much nearer it is to being phonetic than English, whose 46 sounds are inexpressible with only 26 letters. Our 23 ways to pluralize can best be conceived in relation to the relative simplicity with which this is done in other languages.

The effort to package thoughts in a different language forces attention onto the essential meaning concealed in English idioms. The undisciplined nature of English—its many synonyms and words with multiple meanings—gives rise to fuzzy thinking through confusion. Is “travels” a future tense verb? No? What about news reports that “The President Travels to Africa Next Week”?

In this way, a second language helps children become able to deal with the warts and bumps of English. An additional advantage that children gain lies in the civilizing effect of another language. Children can learn early that their city and state are not the center of the universe. Diverse customs and geography are integral parts of learning a second language.

From my point of view, the best second language to achieve the above goals is Esperanto. Its freedom from needless complexity permits more rapid learning and expedites gaining the advantages inherent in all of the ethnic languages.

Kent Jones
Commissioner for Education
Esperanto League for North America
Chicago, Ill.

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2000 edition of Education Week as Letters