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Doctor's Orders

I disagree with some of Dr. Lawrence Diller's comments in "Driven To Distraction" [October]. I have a lot of experience with attention deficit disorder: My husband of 25 years and two of my children have ADD, and they were all diagnosed well before it became so popular among physicians.

Genetics has a great deal to do with their ADD, not the school system, as Dr. Diller suggests. It was obvious well before my kids entered school that there was a problem.

Dr. Diller also implies that ADD did not exist a hundred years ago. I think they just had other labels for it back then: dummy, dunce, bad kid, and such. They also had terms for adults with ADD, terms that are still used today: alcoholic, drug addict, abuser, and the like.

I was most surprised by Dr. Diller's statement: "We're no longer willing to intimidate children into compliance, but we might just be willing to drug them into it." Dr. Diller apparently does not know how ADD medication works. Giving Ritalin to a person with ADD is no different than giving insulin to a diabetic.

I would hope in the future that a professional magazine would not print material that encourages bias against people with mental disorders.

Mary Broomhall
Conway, New Hampshire

From the editors: The article referenced above appeared only in the print version of the magazine.

Thank you for Dr. Lawrence Diller's excellent article and the excerpt from Jane Healy's book Failure To Connect ["Softwary," October].

If you go back 50 years or so, most classrooms had nearly 40 students. There were no special education classes, and children were not on Ritalin. Many classrooms contained two grades, and desks were in rows. If such conditions discouraged learning, as their critics suggest today, how did students of that time learn to read and master arithmetic?

We are told that more children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the United States than in any other country. Why? In the past 50 years, we have seen the growth of television and the introduction of videos and computers into the classroom. Many schools allow videos to be shown that are not educational. Some teachers show the video of a novel after it has been read in class. No wonder many of our students cannot comprehend what they read. They cannot make "a movie in their mind" of the story.

And now we're putting very young children on computers. As Healy points out, children up to the age of 8 should not be exposed to computers. Optometrists are seeing more and more young children because of computer use, and doctors are seeing more children with ADHD-like symptoms. If children are having difficulty reading or doing arithmetic, they need to interact with a person, not a machine.

Educational leaders should stop experimenting with these so-called solutions.

Barbara Pavoni
Tinley Park, Illinois

From the editors: The article referenced above appeared only in the print version of the magazine.

Fight On

Please keep us updated on the Peggie Boring academic freedom case ["Dramatic License," October]. I experienced exactly the same thing, and it resulted in my district destroying a thriving, profitable theater program. I didn't have the strength or cash to sue. Now I wish I had. I pray that Boring prevails.

Cary Beatty
North Liberty, Iowa

From the editors: Please see "Briefs: Appeal Denied," in this issue.

Choice Opinions

Though I think your editorial "Voucher Baloney," [October] is correct to argue that too much is made of vouchers, I don't think the anti-voucher side understands the purpose of vouchers. They are designed to give parents a choice as to where to send their children. My view is that most of the public schools can't be fixed. As a result, parents should be given a choice. It's as simple as that.

David Lemire
Manhattan, Kansas

The very same children that you want to see vouchers help will be the ones left behind in poor urban schools, where every student must be accepted. How would a corporation fare if it had to hire everyone that walked in the door, regardless of past training? Apply that analogy to public schools, and you'll see why they have a harder time educating students than private and parochial schools do. Violent, emotionally troubled, and abused children need more than special educational services to help them. And with vouchers, public schools could become special education schools.

Keith Newman


Having taught for nearly 25 years in public schools, I believe the article about Ben Schmookler ["War Of Attrition," August/September] answers a lot of questions about why it's difficult to keep good teachers.

Schmookler credits his parents with getting him through school, despite his self-described rowdiness. Why aren't parents today being held accountable to make their children stay in school?

Schmookler also points to the problem of teacher evaluations. I have found that if principals do their jobs properly, then people who are unfit to teach will be removed from the profession. But many principals do not do evaluations well. Tenure does not protect unfit teachers; it's simply that principals and other teacher evaluators aren't doing their job.

Ben Schmookler has raised important issues, and he is a living example of why there is teacher burnout.

Brian Koharian
Kindergarten teacher
Ft. Yukon, Alaska

Confused Science

Steve Olson's article "Science Friction" [August/September] about California's science- standards struggle is perceptive and even-handed. Yet it invites some confusion.

There is massive research evidence that children learn much less than their teachers believe they do, but very little evidence on what methods of instruction are effective. The article allows the easy inference that anyone who is against an unlearnable glut of content must necessarily be in favor of students "rediscovering" everything for themselves.

This perception gives the pro-quantity side an unfortunate advantage in dismissing their pro-quality opponents as obviously fuzzy-headed. The legitimate differences between the two sides should be about what is learnable and by whom.

One article can hardly cover everything, of course, but I was surprised that Olson's article did not mention the outpouring of criticism of the proposed standards from major scientific organizations.

Andrew Ahlgren
Associate Director
Project 2061
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Washington, D.C.

Teacher Books

I agree with your October "Clippings" comment that Samuel Freedman's book Small Victories is one of the best books ever written about a public school teacher. I'd like to point out that the story "Harlem Knights" in the same issue was written by Jessica Siegel, the wonderful teacher who was portrayed in Freedman's book. I'm glad to hear that she is still teaching.

I'd like to nominate some other good books about teaching: Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren, Emily Sachar's Shut Up and Let the Lady Teach, Susan Ohanian's Ask Ms. Class, Art Peterson's Teachers, and Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase. Perhaps you will do a story on some of the best books about teaching or solicit your readers' favorite books.

Richard Siegelman
Oyster Bay, New York

Teacher Magazine welcomes the opinions and comments of its readers. Letters should be 300 words or fewer and may be edited for clarity and length. Articles for the "Comment" section fall under two general headings: Viewpoint and First Person. Essays should run no longer than 1,700 words (approximately five double-spaced pages). All letters and submissions should include an address and phone number. Mail them to Teacher Magazine, 6935 Arlington Road, Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814. Letters also may be sent to [email protected].

Vol. 10, Issue 3, Pages 8-9

Published in Print: November 1, 1998, as Letters
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