It's wrong to change 'Huck Finn' | Jan. 16, Bill Maxwell column
The error of tampering with art
Bill Maxwell's column should be read by every citizen — of any color or ethnicity — in the land. For he is challenging a well-meant but vigorous attack on something fundamental. He is explaining very clearly the error of tampering with art, which is born in the very heart of a mature society. We are a free society, and hewing to a party line is not for us — and not for any artist who attempts to show us what life is, with all its shining joy and its ugly meanness.
Huckleberry Finn is a very great novel — undoubtedly one of the greatest produced so far in America. It is more searing in its depiction of human cowardice and hatred and honor and loyalty and courage than any sociological study. We cannot read it unmoved. We applaud Huck's clear-eyed (albeit fumbling) sense of fairness and his appreciation of love and sacrifice, plus his sheer joy in living.
We cannot forever eliminate any reference to evil, even if we can understand the efforts of those who would erase the bad and the obscene. But we can remind them that they cannot distort reality. The same nature that gave thorns to the stems of roses also produced the exquisite beauty of their blossoms. The life depicted in Huckleberry Finn is often squalid and nasty and shortsighted. But it is blessed with the beautiful, life-giving friendship of a black slave and an underprivileged poor white boy. And it is enlivened by touches of the refreshing humor for which Mark Twain is famous.
Abigail Ann Martin, Brandon
Vouchers for everyone? | Jan. 16
As the husband and father of Florida teachers I was amused to read Patricia Levesque's comment that "parents will make the best choices" with regards to their children's education. In reality, many of these parents would take a voucher to Amscot and try to cash it in to get a new tattoo if given the opportunity.
Many parents of students in Florida schools lacked the ability to properly care for themselves before they decided to have children. Why would a supposedly educated person make the assumption that these same parents will make responsible decisions now? Lack of personal and parental responsibility are never considered a cause of poor student performance by the "privateers." It would be difficult to sell this product if a student's failings were blamed on someone other than educators.
I realize the writer is just a paid mouthpiece trying sell a product, but trying to portray this money grab as genuine concern for children's education is laughable.
James E. Potter, Tarpon Springs
Cooperation brings results
I am a Swedish educational reformer living in Florida. In my mind education should promote the concept of self-empowerment, giving respect to the individuality of each student. It should be understood that education is an adventure with unlimited horizons.
About 15 years ago, Sweden took the first step toward school reform, evidenced by the government's approval of each parent's "right to choose" which school his or her child will go to.
Success in educational reform depends to a large extent on the commitment of students, teachers and parents to the school. Cooperation between school and home plays a vital role in creating an environment where knowledge and growth can flourish.
Children, like parents, have different personalities, interests and potential. For this reason, all schools cannot be the same. With educational reform, students and parents have the opportunity to choose a school that is right for them.
Those who advocate the right to choose a school realize that children and parents want to have the opportunity to choose schools that provide a better education. They also know that such schools will exist only if they have to compete with one another to attract students. If a social institution is never exposed to criticism, little development takes place and the results are poor.
Offering choice, however, is not enough in itself. There are still teachers who stubbornly stick to old schedules and lesson plans. Emphasis should be placed on the importance of having a flexible lesson plan that is adapted to the learning rate of the individual, and attempting to vary the lessons so that they are enjoyable and exciting.
Helena Wallenberg-Lerner, Tampa
Too many single parents
Both Patricia Levesque and Betty Castor ignore the underlying problem of why so many students fail to achieve their full educational potential. Levesque notes that "moms and dads want the best for their children." But a high percentage of American children are not living with both their moms and dads.
The National Center for Health Statistics reported that the proportion of all births to unmarried American women increased to 41 percent in 2009. In 1960 this rate was about 5 percent.
It is well known that children living with single mothers have significantly lower rates of educational attainment and substantially higher rates of social pathologies.
As Castor notes, 15-year-olds in the United States lag behind other industrialized nations in math, science and reading. Florida, despite recent gains, is 30th among states in eighth-grade reading and 44th in graduation rate.
We cannot compete with a nation like China if we allow this social cancer to continue. Neither vouchers nor improvements to public schools can make up for the absence of two live-in parents being involved in raising so many of our children.
Arthur Volbert, St. Petersburg
A colonial curse comes up for a vote | Jan. 16
Don't blame the boundaries
That Africa's problems are a consequence of boundary lines drawn by "19th century white colonialists" is an old and false excuse for the continent's mayhem. Try to think of something more artificial than the 49th parallel between Canada and the United States, or even the border with Mexico, which was drawn south of the ethnic settlement patterns of the day.
In fact, all boundary lines separating countries are a consequence of war, the threat of war, or negotiations resulting from a desire to avoid war — a combination of all three, for example, created the current U.S. borders.
Africa needs to stop blaming others for its own problems.
Derek Nelson, Clearwater