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Looking to the future in educating Florida

Re: A new lesson on educating Florida, Sept. 29.

The accumulation of wealth, title and academic acumen, without the accumulation and ability to employ human and conceptual skills in a time of crisis, is worthless. We are in a time of economic and educational crisis, and it appears we will be in one for a long time to come.

Bravo for the work of the Florida Commission on Educational Reform and Accountability in its attempt to bring more emphasis on conceptual and human skill training into the classroom instead of our centuries-old emphasis on just technical skills.

Robert E. Jarlenski, Education Chairman,

West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, Hudson

The Sept. 29 issue of the Times contained an article about what Florida's "schools of tomorrow" may be like according to reforms proposed by the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability, which will become well known to the public as Blueprint 2000. Ten general performance standards were suggested for educating the "students of tomorrow." Much of this is exciting and promising just as it is untested and challenging to put into practice.

The reforms, aimed at improving the lot of students, should not be read as an indictment of the many successful teachers and students who are now in or who have been educated by the public school system. There is much working in public education for many students, but far too many have been falling into intellectual and career graveyards without proving their potential.

We should wish Blueprint 2000 a successful voyage as we have plans and ideas that have come before it. What the article did not deal with is whether current teachers, students majoring in education, administrators, the system of public education itself, and politicians and taxpayers will accept the profound changes that diversity, autonomy and accountability will effect. As a nation and state, we appear to be losing ground in educating students in the grades K through 12, and the cost is enormous individually and collectively.

If a new vision of education indeed comes to pass and is able to move Florida off its low rankings, then I trust the successes and failures of the new vision will be sharply drawn and subject to rapid response to correct where required.

James R. Gillespie, St. Petersburg

Re: Operation education, editorial, Sept. 21.

School advisory councils (SACs) are supposedly made up of "teachers, parents and community members." If "these councils will have extraordinary influence over school policy," the process by which the council is formed is critical to its independence from the influence of the existing school administration.

If local schools are truly supposed to have "more control over their own educational programs," then the process of forming a school SAC and its bylaws must not be controlled by that school administration.

The concept is sound, the law is good, the process smells "more of the same."

S. Michael Ostow, Seminole

They say our schools need fixing: phonic reading instead of look-say, a professional teaching staff, longer school year, longer days, teach liberty, teach ethics, teach facts, teach concepts _ and always, always, more money. Everyone has a different solution.

Not that our schools can't be improved, but they are not the main problem; they are a symptom of the problem, which is society as a whole. It is easy to tinker with the school system. It is much more difficult to change society.

Are our schools really less efficient than they were, say, a century ago? It is difficult to compare their products because of changed conditions, but the early schools had several distinct advantages.

It is well known that parochial schools have smaller staffs than public schools. That is because the former must be financially self-sufficient. Without an incentive for efficiency, public schools have become entrusted with bureaucrats who make teaching a chore and cut into teaching time.

Modern schools are expected to compensate for society's shortcomings. Busing has nothing whatsoever to do with the purpose of schools, but it happens to be a convenient way to integrate races. With the demise of traditional religion, our schools have been charged with the task of teaching morals. Nurses, counselors, advisers, sports were unheard of in the old days. And yet, those people made this nation great.

The high schools today act as holding tanks and baby sitters for non-scholars who disrupt the learning process for others. At the turn of the century, quitting school in junior high was the norm because most families were poor and unskilled jobs were available. This cleared the classroom of individuals who had reached their intellectual potential anyway. Today, with machinery doing the heavy labor, non-scholars are kept in school to the ruination of our schools.

The students in those early schools had respect for authority. I was one of those nascent non-scholars; immature, spoiled, hyperactive, ignorant and opinionated (hey, that's not nice). More than once, I was knocked on the head, shaken, pinched, and stood in the hall. I never thought of protesting because I deserved it. And it created an atmosphere conducive to learning.

Even in the '30s, there was a cadre of professional teachers. All six of my teachers in public junior high were middle-aged and elderly spinsters. They chose to teach children rather than bear them. Today, teachers come and go.

Each society has its distinguishing characteristics. With excess leisure and wealth, America has gone the sports route. That is better than slavery, institutionalized warfare, human sacrifices or cannibalism. Unfortunately, the sports craze has been foisted onto our schools. Organized sports have nothing to do with the true function of schools. They merely take time away from the learning process and put emphasis in the wrong place.

And we wonder why Johnny can't read. The wonder is our schools do as well as they do.

Francis J. Sullivan, St. Petersburg

Proposition 161

Re: The slippery slope of euthanasia, Sept. 30, by Nat Hentoff, opposing California's Proposition 161 on Death With Dignity was supported Oct. 6 by a demagogic letter to the editor. They both need a rebuttal.

The purpose of Proposition 161 is to permit a terminal patient (not doctors, not family, but the patient) to get medical assistance to bring his/her life to a close to avoid purposeless suffering. Ample safeguards against misuse are contained in the proposed law.

Calling Proposition 161 a "slippery slope" implies that further measures of euthanasia will follow automatically. This is of course not the case. Any further steps will face the same types of debate and procedure as 161 itself. The statement in the letter to the editor, "involuntary euthanasia for senior citizens and infants, based on the sole judgment of the medial profession, will be the next step" is absurd and outrageous. A case can indeed be made for some measures beyond those covered in 161 _ perhaps, for example, extending its privileges to patients with confirmed, ongoing diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease, even though they are not within six months of death, allowing the victims to escape years of death-in-life _ but such an extension would require its own campaign.

The allegation that the objective of Death with Dignity supporters is to save money on the medical care of senior citizens is beneath contempt.

Florida, with its large senior population, would prevent much agonizing and useless suffering if it enacted a law substantially along the lines of Proposition 161.

John Lee, St. Petersburg

A crazy world

Is this a crazy world or what? Last week I received a four-page mailing from Carol Moseley Braun's campaign. (For those who do not recognize the name, she is running for the U.S. Senate from the state of Illinois.)

The salutation on the letter was, "Dear Fellow Democrat." Whoops! I have been a registered Republican since 1952.

Braun may be a fine Democratic candidate for Illinois, but I resent a politician from Illinois soliciting campaign funds from me, who has been a citizen of Florida since 1970. If I were to contribute to any politician it would be to those in my own state.

Guy M. Hunicutt, Seminole

Where is the decency?

Is this what we must do to become president of the United States? Must we make charges and countercharges, tell lies and half-truths, go back 20 years in a candidate's life? Is there no decency? Shades of ancient Rome just before its downfall.

Mrs. Rita Ziegler, Palm Harbor

To all presidential candidates: Please let's have a kinder, gentler campaign. We want to hear what each of you would do if you became president. We don't want to hear what you think the others would do. The only thing you know for sure is what you would do.

Eleanor Widman, St. Petersburg Beach

Media bias charged

Re: The media really are anti-Bush, Sept. 27.

The column by Philip Terzian in the Sunday Times was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant commentary section, in contrast to the self-serving column by Ellen Debenport on the first page of the same issue (Now about that media bias).

Terzian's column was an indictment of "journalists" such as Ellen Debenport, but I doubt she appreciates the fact. She appears to have problems even with the entire concept of "balance." She defines it as the opposite of bias, which she wears like a badge of courage. She relates that "Opinions do not fall neatly into a 50/50 balance. The job of reporters is to tell what's really happening, not to find a favorable comment to offset every negative." I suspect that Terzian would find it presumptuous of Debenport to suggest that she and other reporters know "what's really happening," as opposed to their opinion of such.

Balance does not demand a positive remark to offset every negative. It does, however, require that both sides of every issue are presented and purposeful distortions avoided. Debenport's column suggests that such cannot be expected from the Times staff writers who demonstrate nothing but disdain for the entire concept of balance.

Gregory C. Scott, M.D., St. Petersburg

Campaign evil

If love of money is the root of all evil, then assuredly, there is overwhelming evil in our present system of financing political campaigns.

Special interests are riding high, often to the detriment of the common good and with mockery of the democratic premise that we have government by the people.

Common Cause is to be applauded for initiating a ground-swell campaign to secure a pledge from every candidate for our national legislature that he will support genuine campaign finance reform.

Paul W. Coons, Bayonet Point

"Look it over'

If Gov. Clinton becomes president, here is my advice to the young men of the country: If war breaks out, look it over. If you decide you don't approve of it, refuse to go and move to another country where you'll be safe. Surely he wouldn't have the gall to criticize you.

C. Rogers Klein, Gulfport

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