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    Letters to the Editors

    Testing shows what has been learned

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

    Re: Learning is what's sacrificed for testing, by Martin Dyckman, March 4.

    I'd like to invite Martin Dyckman to visit my fourth-grade classroom. He could view the students' reports and their shoe-box floats for our "Parade of States." On the wall he'd find their colorful diagrams of Earth's layers. He'd just have missed our February bulletin board display of Lincoln and Washington and the students' Presidents' Day packets of work.

    Dyckman could enjoy reading some of the two-page narrative and expository essays that the students have learned to write. He might also like to read some of their long responses to passage questions, which illustrate their high level of reading comprehension. The best part is that if he visited other schools, he'd find hundreds of classrooms like mine.

    No, Mr. Dyckman, learning is not being sacrificed for testing. State testing is showing what is being learned. Come, visit and see the truth.
    -- Barbara Hungerford, Palm Harbor

    Other text biases

    Re: Some private schools' texts teach a twisted view of history, by Robert J. Safransky, March 4.

    If Safransky is sincere in wanting the textbooks that our children use to be as free from bias as possible, I would suggest that he limit his argument to just that issue. Certainly and not surprisingly, some private school texts are greatly lacking, but I am suspicious that Safransky's real target is the voucher proposal and public support for private schools.

    We must balance the examples Safransky cites with the following: It has been widely known and written about that the supposedly mainstream, middle-of-the-road texts used for the past 30 years in public education are filled with implicit biases, mostly from liberal and from anti-religious perspectives (they overlap often). This happened during Safransky's watch and -- I am guessing -- without a word of written comment or complaint from him.

    It will not do to argue that these texts did little harm because by the time Safransky and other teachers like him retired, many students were not literate enough to read the texts. Our educational system is in a shambles and it is a national shame that the most vociferous opposition to the only workable plan that offers any degree of hope to our children comes from the public school establishment.

    It is a shame, but it is not a surprise.
    -- Robert G. Walker, St. Petersburg

    It's simple math

    Re: Growing out of control, by Jon East, Feb. 25.

    Jon East hit the nail on the head. A friend recently moved back from Puerto Rico, which used to be an island paradise but is now miserably crowded, congested and polluted. I had a similar experience when I visited family in the Philippines, which has 10 times our population density and one-tenth our average annual income.

    Simple math. Finite resources divided by overpopulation equals poverty.

    Where are taxes higher, rural Florida or crowded New York City? Yet, while the Times writes that crowding destroys, the Times cannot seem to force itself to endorse "enough-is-enough" candidates in our state, county or city elections.

    Could that be because the Times is media, like commercial radio and TV, and its profits come from advertising fees, which increase as its "readership base," our crowding, increases?
    -- Early M. Sorenson, Dunedin

    Death tax by definition

    Re: "Death-tax" repeal looks less certain, by Bill Adair, March 4.

    In this Page 1 news article, the author has editorialized, a practice observed frequently in the Times. He writes, "The Republican effort picked up steam when GOP leaders shrewdly dubbed it "the death tax,' giving the impression it was a broad tax that affects everyone."

    Internal Revenue Service Form 706, United States Estate Tax Return, is used for the "Estate of a citizen or resident of the United States... " and is "... to be filed for decedents dying after Dec. 31." The federal government levies the estate tax when -- and only when -- a person dies. By definition, it is a death tax! Neither the Republican Party nor members of Congress who are Republicans have anything to do with this designation.

    The author's premise is incorrect, and the linkage between the two thoughts is speculation. Regardless, he does aptly portray the Times' anti-Republican bias.

    Currently, the estate-tax exclusion amount is $675,000. While this amount will permit many to avoid paying an estate tax, the estate tax remains a serious concern for middle-income Americans whose home and investment values have increased faster than the exclusion amount has increased.

    As a matter of principle, death should not be a taxable event... period.
    -- Al Hickerson, Clearwater

    Prepared to pay the price

    Re: Let us all lift a toast to our blissful forgetfulness, March 4.

    We usually find Mary Jo Melone's remarks interesting and informative, but this time we feel that she was way out of line.

    She implied that our Hernando County commissioner, Nancy Robinson, had no sense of civic-mindedness when she remarked that "We need to have some better rationale than that we're doing it for the counties to the south of us," in response to the question about water restrictions and restrictions on development in Hernando County.

    We are very water conscious and do indeed conserve water, letting our shrubs, grass, etc. dry up and almost die rather than watering them when so many people are in danger of not having water to drink. This, despite the fact that we are on a private well, which recently cost us $6,000 when it was necessary to drill a new one, in addition to $20-$40 monthly for purification equipment and maintenance.

    In all fairness, we feel that Nancy Robinson was correct in one respect. We notice that both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are still not considering a moratorium on further development, yet they have done little toward using desalination and/or reverse osmosis to help solve the water shortage -- which is quite likely to be a permanent one. And when we have seen lakes and wells sucked dry in Pasco County, immediately south of us, by overpumping to supply water to Hillsborough and Pinellas, we tend to agree with Nancy Robinson's assessment of the need to restrict watering and development in Hernando County.

    Community spirit seems to be something that some of our south-county neighbors expect of us, not of themselves. We lived in Pinellas County for 20 years and still have many friends there who certainly do not agree that development and lawn watering should continue unless and until the residents of the two affected counties are willing to put forth some effort and the necessary money to develop sensible solutions such as desalination and/or reverse osmosis to solve the whole area's water problems!

    We all have to bite the bullet and realize that water is priceless. We must be prepared to pay the higher price of desalination or some other sensible solution to convert salt water if we are going to continue to live in Florida.
    -- Billie O. Mock and Glenn F. Mock, Brooksville

    A hopeful message

    Bill Maxwell's March 4 column Some Palestinian students find political act in studying rather than fighting offers a glimmer of hope regarding the Middle East. This is the message that Israel's elder statesman and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shimon Peres, has been advocating for some time. Peres has had a vision of Israel playing a role in aiding its neighbors through technology. Israel has done this with a number of African countries.

    Unfortunately, Israel's efforts to help its neighbors, including the Palestinians, have been rebuffed. In fact, many of the Arab tyrants fear Israel's model of democracy.

    While Maxwell's interaction with the Palestinian students appeared promising, the closing comment by the student indicates the deceptiveness of the Palestinian claim to have seen the light. The suggestion that "the Israeli Air Force may blow up Al-Azhar University and kill everybody on campus" is outrageous. Actually, Israel helped establish some of the Palestinian universities.

    While Bill Maxwell presents a hopeful message, he may have been seduced by the ability of the Palestinians to play the victims. Unfortunately, the Israelis, sidetracked by their effort to survive in a very hostile area, are prone to be rough in their interaction with visitors. Maxwell has indicated this in columns in the past. Hopefully, he can be careful to deal with Israel's concerns nevertheless.
    -- Lenore Blumenthal, Palm Harbor

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