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Letters to the Editors

Formula writing teaches conformity

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 14, 2002


Re: Taught to remove all thought, by Lynn Stratton, July 7.

Re: Taught to remove all thought, by Lynn Stratton, July 7.

As an ex-teacher in the Pinellas County public schools system, I saw the absolute truth of what Lynn Stratton was saying. I made a similar decision three years ago for the same reasons. I could no longer be part of the corruption. I couldn't pretend that, in supporting the corruption, I wasn't corrupt myself. Even though my class of fourth grade "struggling" students scored above the state average on Florida Writes, it was a hollow accomplishment. That year, my students, who had already experienced the frustration of "failure" in the "regular" classroom, had to take seven major tests. It was absurd, and had nothing to do with real education.

In her article, Ms. Stratton shows clearly what happens when the absurdity is extrapolated to the college level. Conditioning first kills spontaneity, then creativity, and finally curiosity. We cannot say exactly how this will affect the larger society in years to come, but it cannot be in added goodness or righteous action.

There is no love or wisdom in teaching kids what to think, only in teaching them how to think. When we show kids the freedom of thought, to see who and what they really are, writing is a natural expression, not a formula. In seeing themselves clearly, they see each other and wonder is alive.

In teaching conformity to any system, we only condition them to fit into a corrupt system. Conformity always leads to mediocrity in the psychological realm, and that's what the politically elite and the wealthy "movers and shakers" want. They want us all to sit down and shut up.

This "educational" system has run out of ideas. Standardized testing is the last refuge of a fool.
-- John Owen Cotton, St. Petersburg

Read good writing

Re: Taught to remove all thought, by Lynn Stratton.

I read this article about the writing curriculum used in Florida schools with extreme sadness, but also a sense of familiarity because I am a product of the useless, color-in-the-lines, paint-by-numbers educational system our state has adopted. I graduated from a small liberal arts college this May, but it wasn't that long ago that I was preparing to dumb down my natural writing style to produce bland three-point essays, as I had been instructed.

Thankfully, I had parents who encouraged my creativity and took me on regular trips to the public library where I was exposed to real writing, writing filled with passion and interest and wisdom and opinions. Thankfully, I had a high school English teacher who actually encouraged a class of gifted students to make fun of the Florida Writes video that "taught" us how to be good writers. Thankfully, I went to a college where my professors encouraged me to articulate my own opinions in essays that were longer than five paragraphs.

If anyone who decides the curriculum is listening, please know that you are only hurting the children by asking them to simply regurgitate information that has been drilled into them. If you want to build strong writers, make them strong readers. As Ms. Stratton hinted, a child learns to write well when she reads good writing consistently. Standardized tests only teach children how to pass standardized tests, and there aren't many of those in real life.
-- Maureen McCartney, Lutz

A useless experience

Re: Taught to remove all thought, by Lynn Stratton, July 7.

Some time ago, the idea that schools should be run on a business model was accepted by our legislators in Tallahassee.

It is a profoundly and perfectly stupid idea.

Writing cannot be judged by counting to three (ideas) or seven to 10 (words per sentence) however much money the state may save by hiring people to grade papers by this criteria. The state could save even more by hiring fifth-grade classrooms to grade papers by these standards.

I returned to college in my 40s and sat through English classes in order to obtain a diploma. I have worked as a freelance writer but I was still required to endure the experience so well described by Lynn Stratton. Instead of learning something I didn't know, it was a useless and disheartening experience.

We were told over and over that it didn't matter if the writing was interesting, informative or lively. All that mattered was the form and that we write enough words to satisfy the legislators' requirements for words written per course.

My time and money would have been better spent on comic books.
-- Leanne Toms, Largo

Speech writer opportunity

Re: Taught to remove all thought.

Well, it seems that after years and years of learning to write by formula, our students have finally "got it." Our government has said all along that it knows the best way to teach children. Writing by formula must be a valuable skill, otherwise why would it be so important to master and learn at the expense of every other type of writing?

Our officials have had our state dedicate great amounts of time and money over many years into producing students who are able to write in this manner. Now it is time to see how this valuable asset translates into the real world. Government officials should be more than eager to prove to the doubting people of the state that they were right, and give us a big "I told you so."

Perhaps one way to do this would be for the government to hire graduates proficient in the formula. These young people could write press releases, position statements and even speeches. It might be refreshing to hear a speech that is only five paragraphs long and doesn't contain the word "I."
-- Laurel Evanson, Clearwater

Nuclear realities

Re: Nuclear cargo, July 7.

Your editorial was interesting and thought-provoking but unfortunately like most stories on this topic it was incomplete and misleading.

Yes, nuclear waste is a very dangerous substance but if this country is to continue using nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels (which environmentalists also hate and refuse to allow new exploration for) it will have to be dealt with sooner or later in a responsible manner.

Lets look at some realities:

1. There have been many studies and research on the problems of transportation, and current federal regulations require transport containers to be constructed in such a way that they are resistant even to explosives deliberately detonated on them.

2. The transport of any toxic substance such as chemicals, petroleum, fertilizers, etc. by road or rail is inherently dangerous but with proper precautions the risks can be made minimal. It's not practical to just not ship these products where they need to go because they pose a risk. We have been shipping radioactive materials like these for years without incident.

3. The spent fuel rods, or "deadly nuclear waste" as you labeled it, is now just sitting in temporary storage at all of these plants. This storage is basically a large, industrial strength swimming pool filled with water to keep the rods cool and away from the open air (the St. Petersburg Times did a story on the storage sites several years ago). They are not surrounded by a reinforced containment structure like the reactors and are quite vulnerable to terrorist attack as well as natural disasters such as flood, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

It is a scary thought to have to deal with this problem, but in the long run it is much better to have this dangerous material 1,000 feet underground in the desert in one place where it is secure than to have in scattered all over the country in large swimming pools.
-- Mike Gallina, Tarpon Springs

An unconscionable risk

Re: Nuclear cargo, editorial.

Shipping nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain is unconscionable! We should not be willing to risk the lives of the people who live along the routes to Yucca Mountain or scare the daylights out of the residents of Nevada where all the nation's waste will be stored forever, supposedly contained.

Aside from the fact that we will be accommodating the prolonged use of this insane energy source, the likely outcome of the Yucca Mountain project is that any inevitable accidents will make areas of the country uninhabitable.

Or are we going to be asked to believe that the affected areas can be cleaned up and made "safe" again so that people will feel comfortable returning to their homes. Wonder if any surveys were done asking the residents around Three Mile Island how comfortable they felt?
-- Darlene St. Martin, Largo

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