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    Letters to the Editors

    Media should focus on immigration

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 17, 2002

    Re: Could this happen again?

    Part of the answer depends on the ability and determination of the media to prod politicians to act on our immigration problem. On the front page of the Times Nov. 25, 2001, headlined Loopholes leave U.S. borders vulnerable, was an article depicting the lack of ability and acumen of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. One would think that after such a thought-provoking article, there would be almost daily reports concerning this serious problem.

    Apparently, lobbyists have the power to sweep the immigration issue under the rug. Even former President Clinton's indiscretions gained more time and energy from the media than the fact that we are harboring terrorists within our borders because legal and illegal immigration is out of control.

    Special-interest groups in Washington have made immigration "untouchable." The head of homeland security, to my knowledge, has not come down on the inept INS. It seems their excuse for blatant blunders since 1993 is that they are undermanned. If that were really the case, something like a two-year moratorium would surely help. Unfortunately, that won't happen, owing to immigration's status as a sacred cow, to be left alone for the folly of special-interest groups and not for the well-being of the citizens of our country. It seems that this is so clandestine that a lot of capital must be involved.

    Does Washington think more of the tourist industry, cheap labor and student exchange than of our safety? Politicians say we need immigration but never say why, except that we've always had it. That certainly is "logical," considering that for more than 100 years women were not allowed to vote, but we woke up and corrected that wrong.

    What Americans know about current events is what they see on television or read in the newspaper. And what becomes important issues to them are items that are placed before them in an ongoing fashion. Ninety percent of Americans know the name Monica Lewinsky, but does anyone know who heads the INS?
    -- Warren Friel, South Pasadena

    Muslim schools' indoctrination

    Re: Torn between two worlds, by Valerie Strauss and Emily Wax, March 10.

    It is, indeed, true that Jews and Catholics in the past had to face the experience of teaching their children in a pluralistic America that was founded on Protestant Christianity and established to promote freedom and limit authority. As you say, the Muslim community now faces the same challenge.

    I was raised in a strict Roman Catholic family, instructed in Catholic parochial grammar schools, high school and a top-notch Catholic University. Looking back, some of the early-grade instruction was ludicrous. We were told not to associate with Protestants, and constantly told that we were a minority among the heretics. All history was slanted to prove the Catholics were right and the Protestants were wrong.

    The schools enforced discipline, and if you slipped, you were sent to the hated "publics." Priests and nuns were messengers of God. One had to attend church faithfully and contribute money or fear "losing the faith."

    They were similar in many ways to the Muslim schools described, except for one thing: The Catholic schools taught a fervent patriotism. Catholic boys were expected to enlist in wartime. We all swore to defend God and country. Allegiance to America and to all the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights was drummed into us firmly, possibly because Catholics, as a minority, treasured the protections given them in this country even if they believed the majority was wrong. Even today, government agencies such as the FBI and the CIA are eager to hire patriotic graduates of Catholic parochial schools.

    This attitude of reverence for America is lacking in the Muslim schools. By teaching allegiance to a foreign religion with outspoken hostility toward America, the Muslim schools are instilling dangerous tendencies. Young children are not capable of differentiating between truth and fiction in school and some grow up never questioning what they were taught. This policy is dangerous to the children and to the country.

    As they grew older, many Catholic children from the parochial schools began to question what they had been taught. Thoughtful people left the church. I did. However, I cannot accuse the Catholic school system of ever instilling disloyalty to the country that gave that church religious freedom.

    I fear that the Muslim schools cannot say this.
    -- Mary T. Dresser, Clearwater

    Teaching a parrot?

    Re: Bush hooked on reading model, March 10.

    Would that both Bush boys had more wisdom when it comes to ordaining the education of America's and Florida's children. I am a retired teacher/educator who continues to teach part time, because of my love for education. For many years, I specialized in the field of teaching and reading both to children and to adults. Several of the statements in last Sunday's article are enough to insult every parent and teacher, particularly the one about the proposed program which the governor wishes to mandate that every school and teacher use.

    I quote: "After first grade, teachers build vocabulary and fluency. Then comes comprehension." What happens to the comprehension and knowledge that a child has during the first six or seven years of life with that program? It sounds like "teaching a parrot" program.

    I am shocked that a psychology professor at Florida State University advocates "focus on simple language." Young children learn to read "automobile" and "cornucopia" as easily as they do "car" and "horn." Doesn't he know about psycholinguistics and learning? Maybe all teachers would benefit from some in-service training with the LEA (Language Experience Approach), which would not necessitate spending millions of dollars on new programs. The best place to put the $98-million from federal and state funds, the cost to mandate the new program, is into decreasing the number of students per teacher, restoring the reading resource teachers, and anything other than that which the governor is proposing.

    Yes, I am concerned about the education of our children and the spending of our tax dollars. Aren't you, too?
    -- Beth Stevenson, St. Petersburg

    Police professionalism

    Re: A no-frills assignment, March 10.
    -- I hope most readers enjoyed the positive story about St. Petersburg police Officer Carrie LeBlanc passing the arduous program to become the city's only female SWAT officer.
    I am impressed by Officer LeBlanc's accomplishment, because she hurdled a tough process, and she doesn't appear to rely on brawn. It is positive she was encouraged to try out by a male SWAT instructor and that another male officer kids her about needing to put her sweat-drenched hair in a band. While gender-specific, that comment is humorous and should be normal banter in such a cohesive team as SWAT.
    The profile of Officer LeBlanc is a testament to growing professionalism in law enforcement as well as a sober reminder why we need SWAT and officers who are "warriors" as required. This complements and reinforces the modern strategy of community policing, which appears to be mandatory as urban society becomes more diverse. I have great respect for the men and women in law enforcement who do this and live by a code of professional conduct.
    James R. Gillespie, St. Petersburg

    Raise cigarette tax

    Re: Let's have more substance and less rhetoric, by Philip Gailey, March 3.

    You point out the Democratic candidates for governor can't dodge laying out their alternatives to Gov. Jeb Bush's policies. Here's a "red meat" suggestion: Why don't the Democrats propose a tax increase on cigarettes?

    One of the most effective ways to reduce teen smoking is to raise the price of cigarettes through tax increases. Florida is 28th in national ranking at 33.9 cents tax per pack. Why not raise the tax to $1 per pack?

    Florida last raised the state tax on cigarettes on July 1, 1990. Florida's youth smoking rate is still at 19 percent. The revenue raised could be used to assist lagging budgets for underachieving students in the public schools of Florida.

    Let's hear from the candidates. Are campaign contributions influencing what they'll do about this issue?
    -- Bert Blomquist, Tampa

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