A higher path for higher education | Feb. 21 and The cost of higher education | Feb. 28
Don't underestimate value of arts
There is good news and bad news about the "New Florida" campaign to double state support for higher education by 2015.
The good news: This much-needed initiative, supported by the influential Council of 100, will likely improve the quality of higher education and spur economic development in Florida. The bad news: This program vastly underestimates the role of the arts and humanities in creating what its supporters call "knowledge-based economies."
While our country desperately needs more students majoring in the so-called "STEM" programs — science, technology, engineering and math — we also need those students to be acquainted with the subjects that enhance the capacity for creativity, imagination and discovery. The study and practice of literature, painting, sculpture, music and other areas of the arts and humanities play a vital and too often unrecognized role in shaping and inspiring the capacity for innovation, without which more STEM programs will do little or nothing to promote research or to encourage economic development.
As Curt Carlson, CEO of the Stanford Research Institute, which has recently established a research center in St. Petersburg, said to me recently, "Without the creative platform provided by the arts, academic science goes nowhere, and nothing productive is accomplished." It is not coincidental that Carlson is a violinist as well as a highly successful entrepreneur and scientist.
"New Florida" is a fine initiative, but it needs to be smarter about its investments in higher education if it is to provide true economic benefit to our state.
Donald R. Eastman III, president, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg
The cost of higher education | Feb. 28
A failure to understand the nature of education
As a college student in Florida, I read psychologist B.F. Skinner's book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and I learned that the number of people engaged in improving the design of automobiles greatly exceeded those who were concerned with improving life in the ghetto. It is not that automobiles are more important than people, according to Skinner, but that the economic contingencies that induce people to improve automobiles are very powerful.
Sadly, Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville stated that "When the No. 1 degree granted is psychology and the No. 2 degree is political science, maybe before we ask $100 million more of taxpayers we should redeploy what we have. That way we make sure we're not sending graduates out with degrees that don't mean much." Obviously, Sen. Gaetz fails to understand the true nature of a liberal arts education. In the end, who determines the value of a degree?
My father happens to be an 87-year-old retired chairman of a college art department in Georgia, and he is currently working on a new painting. Perhaps it would be cheaper for the state to finance vocational and technical schools and dispense with the farce of respecting, let alone funding, true higher education properly.
Nevertheless, I wonder if a psychologist can explain why we continue to elect politicians like Gaetz — who majored in religion and political science as an undergraduate at Concordia College — as representing forward thinking for creating a stronger higher educational system in Florida.
Dr. Keith Berry, professor of history, Hillsborough Community College, Tampa
John Hopkins Middle School
A lack of consequences
I retired after 32 years of teaching in Pinellas County, and the articles about John Hopkins Middle School and the letters to the editor were no surprise.
The reason there are behavior problems in our schools is that there are no consequences. In real life, we are fully aware that for every action there's a reaction; this does not apply to our schools.
The administrators could not do anything because their hands were tied. The teachers could not do anything because their hands were tied. The resource officers could not do anything because their hands were tied. It's that simple.
It absolutely amazes me that educators are continually blamed for all the ills of our educational system when they have no real power to change it. Can you imagine trying to do your job with your hands tied behind your back? I'm so glad I'm retired!
Melanie Woods, Palm Harbor
As fights continue, chief of schools exhorts parents | March 5, story
This article says that Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen wrote a letter to parents and sent it home with the students.
What? The "good" kids will bring it home, sure. But the "bad" kids, the ones causing all the ruckus, probably pitched the letter in the trash before even leaving campus.
Perhaps the School Board should have sprung for postage and mailed the letters home.
Cyndi Raskin-Schmitt, Dunedin
Stick to the basics
Why spend more money to create more schools when we already have an education system in place called "public schools"? Why not just improve the system we have?
All we have to do is improve the methods to discipline the problem students and teach those who want to learn. We older people can remember discipline at school and then the additional discipline at home because of it. We need to allow the schools to teach, not spend time handling unruly students.
We must, I think, get back to basics in education and concentrate in early years on the "3 Rs." Teach the language skills, math skills and particularly reading. These are the skills that get you through life.
Two of my grandchildren recently had a math test (ninth grade) and could use their calculators. What a joke! I was recently in a store and their computer/cash register was not working. While there, a customer was ready to check out with a $12 item that was discounted 15 percent. The clerk asked me if I had any idea what 15 percent of $12 is, and I said, "$1.80." She asked how I knew that, and I said they used to teach us that before we had calculators.
Calculators are great tools, as are computers, but maybe we all need the basics first — and we should be able to get them in our public schools.
Mike Gettings, Homosassa
Dobson signs off with lump in throat Feb. 27
A man of quality
While the editors found room on Page 1A for articles around the New York governors' intervention in a domestic violence case, the low (24 percent) domestic violence prosecution rate in Pinellas County and the daily Tiger Woods update, they relegated the retirement of James Dobson to only four sentences on Page 4A, characterizing him only as "an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay marriage."
James Dobson founded Focus on the Family 33 years ago with the goal of promoting values like integrity, honesty and the priority of marriage and family. Today, that organization produces radio programs that air on more than 5,000 stations in 155 countries with an estimated audience of 220 million.
That's huge. It's too bad you couldn't find room to profile the values that Focus on the Family and Dobson promote.
Mark Dawson, St. Pete Beach
Monkey seen | March 4, story
Too much monkey business
I note that the media are having a field day covering the monkey-on-the-run story, which has been ongoing for a year.
But the time our civil servants waste trying to capture the animal is costing us big bucks. I believe our priorities are badly placed. As long as the animal is not a problem, leave it alone.
Give PETA and the ASPCA the right to waste their money. They always seem to get involved in all these animal problems — warranted or not.
Bob Kinder, St. Petersburg