Education isn't just jumping through hoops

Published June 26, 2000|Updated Sept. 27, 2005

One of the most memorable cartoons for me by the late Jeff MacNelly featured the Professor staring out the window. He was asked, "I thought you were a writer? Why aren't you pounding on the keys?" His response was, "Typists pound on keys. Writers stare out windows."

Many of my students at the time, the early '90s, didn't get it. I suspect many readers were similarly confused, and it occurs to me that those readers must have become politicians or businessmen. One of them appears to be John F. Kirtley, author of the June 22 column School competition works, in which he compares schools to dry cleaning establishments.

Good writing is like most scholarly pursuits in that the task itself is less important than the thought that goes into it. Yes, there is certainly a place in our world for deadline-driven writing, and perhaps one can teach the most basic competencies by focusing solely on the ability to spew out on-demand, task-specific, readable prose, but one need only look around to see the results of de-emphasizing the contemplative aspects of education.

Why are mindless talk-shows like Jerry Springer's popular? Why are stage companies fighting for survival while sophomoric movies pack theaters? Why is society in general so much more approving of rude and inconsiderate behaviors? Why is it becoming the norm for a city's residents to trash the city after a sports championship? The questions are endless, but they all have the same answer: We don't think much of thinking today, or think much at all if we can avoid it. The person admired is the decisive, get-the-job-done individual who throws the consequences to the wind _ unless, of course, the consequences might affect the profit margin.

I see the effects of this in my college-level classrooms daily. The typical student resists deep thought, looks for shortcuts, wants to spend as little time in class as possible while being given (and I do mean given, not earning) the highest possible grade. Those rare students, cherished by myself and other educators, trying to get the most of their education are often drowned out by the whining of others worried more about missing the next episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (without actually working for it) than in learning. They seek knowledge spoon-fed directly into their craniums, formulaic learning that will get them past the test without engaging any higher-level thought processes.

The "improvement" in schools sought by Kirtley and his ilk is the same "improvement" sought by lion trainers: "Will they be able to jump through our hoops?" If we are seeking to raise our children to be good animals, spending their lives jumping through hoops without asking why, then standardized testing and mind-numbing "competitiveness" is unquestionably an effective approach. But if we raise our children like animals, we shouldn't be surprised when they act like animals as adults.

Brent Yaciw, Wesley Chapel

This is like improving at gunpoint

Re: School competition works, June 22.

Who wouldn't do what the person holding a gun to his head wanted him to do? This in essence, is what Gov. Jeb Bush and voucher proponents have done.

Sure the schools improved. Unfortunately, most of our students this past school year have done nothing but learn the FCAT test. For the most part, science and social studies went untouched. Is that what we really want? The threat of an F grade is enough to motivate just about anybody. However, this really shouldn't be the direction to take.

We need to start from the bottom and work up. We need competent teachers in our classrooms who want to be there; administrators who are making the right decisions for our schools; students who care about learning and parents who care whether their children are progressing. Until these basic issues are addressed, I guess you'll have to keep the gun at our heads. It's a sad commentary, isn't it?

Anne Kluga, Safety Harbor

Asking questions often helps

Re: A Message to Garcia. June 21.

The concept of trying to complete an assigned task without asking questions is ridiculous. By asking the proper questions it is possible to save a half-day, or even an hour, time that could be used for other things like completing an important task, praying or helping someone who needs help.

It's admirable to be an independent thinker, but more important to use one's time and talents efficiently and to best advantage. If asking questions helps to do this, then ask!

Wayne J. Smith, Largo

Embargo does no favor for Cubans

Re: Cuba and China are very different, Sen. Connie Mack's June 19 letter.

The senator's Castro-bashing is typical of those who seek to rationalize a grossly inhuman and illegitimate policy as an attack against one man, as if the 11-million other Cubans on the island did not exist. But the demonization of Fidel Castro cannot provide a moral or legal basis for the U.S. government's policy toward Cuba, any more than the demonization of Saddam Hussein can justify the continued mass killing of innocent Iraqi children by means of economic strangulation.

Mack makes it clear that one of his problems with Cuba is that it refuses to allow foreign companies to "set the working conditions, health standards, hours and salaries of its employees," while he says American companies in China seek to "develop an empowered middle class in China and move power away from the Chinese government." What treaty or tenet of international law guarantees private American corporations the right to intervene in a country's political and economic decisions?

Before Sen. Mack sets out to reform Cuba's system perhaps he should show what he has done to improve the working conditions, health standards and salaries of Florida's farm workers. I have met Cuban farm workers in Pinar del Rio who would revolt at the idea they had to live under the conditions of workers in Immokalee.

Mack claims his goal is to "support the suffering Cuban people in their struggle for freedom," but I presume he is referring only to Cubans in the United States, because the last thing Cubans on the island will ever support is interference by the United States in their country's economic or political affairs. Mack and his pals in the pro-embargo crusade are deceiving themselves if they think anyone in Cuba is grateful for the U.S. embargo. If Mack really wants to "empower the Cuban people" he should first listen to what they have to say, and I don't mean the Cuban American National Foundation.

I urge readers to write, call, fax or e-mail members of Florida's congressional delegation and strongly suggest that they support the Nethercutt Amendment, which removes food and agricultural products from the Cuban embargo. And while you're at it, ask them to support the effort to lift travel restrictions. We need to move beyond the destructive embargo to a new era of peace, friendship and cooperation with our neighbors.

Michael Canney, St. Petersburg

Greed and profit are real issues

Re: Cuba and China are very different, June 19.

The real flawed logic here is the implication that American businesses, if allowed to invest freely in Cuba, would have more concern for the Cuban people than Fidel Castro. This is absurd. Look around. They seem to care little enough about their own country's workers.

There would indeed be very little left for the Cuban worker if Castro were to take 90 percent of the pittance U.S. corporations typically pay workers in foreign countries. The truth is American businesses know they would not have the same free hand to exploit the Cuban people they've become accustomed to in underdeveloped countries all over the world. This lack of control over exploitation means less profit and less profit means Corporate America (read Congress) has very little interest in an "open" Cuba. China has proved irresistible as a potential market because of its tremendous size, certainly not because it cleaned up its act on human rights issues as Sen. Mack implies. As usual, greed and profit are the real issues, not democracy or human rights _ in both Cuba and China.

Tom Tremblay, Seminole

Change needed in U.S. policy on Cuba

I enjoyed the recent article by David Adams, Miami exiles working to restore credibility. This comes after Cuban exiles mishandled the Elian Gonzalez case in a way that was called "embarrassingly bad and stupid" by Joe Garcia, the new executive director of the infamous Cuban American National Foundation.

In my opinion, the crude political exploitation of this innocent child has had one salutary result: The U.S. public-at-large now understands the degree to which American hospitality has been and continues to be abused by Cuban refugees. Even some pandering Florida politicians seem to understand the new reality and are backing off.

I intend to do whatever I can to end this abuse. I also intend to do whatever I can to end failed U.S. policies toward Cuba, loudly endorsed by misguided refugees but which still leave the Castro dictatorship firmly in control after more than 40 years.

Don't misunderstand the tone of these remarks. I was interested in Latin American affairs long before the Castro miscarriage occurred, and I consider myself a friend of our Latin American neighbors. But 40 years of ineffective policy (often dictated by biased newcomers to our shores) and consequent stupid mistakes are enough

I pray that the Times, realists in the Cuban community in Miami (and elsewhere) and other interested U.S. citizens (including courageous officials in Washington), will succeed in bringing about obviously needed changes in attitudes and policies. But I don't have many years left, and I surely would like to see Castro removed in my lifetime.

Paul E. Oberst, Largo

Emissions tests were a boondoggle

Re: Emissions tests.

Thank you, Gov. Jeb Bush, for ending a local boondoggle! The people who are wringing their hands and calling the governor names are the ones who should be called idiots.

Consider the fact that during the winter months, we are covered over by the good folks from up north, many of whom do not get their cars' emissions tested. Plus, think of the people who travel daily into this area from Pasco, Sarasota and Manatee counties, as well as other parts of the state that do not have emissions testing. Also consider all the trucks in the area that do not get tested!

Wake up and smell the coffee!

Chas. Sentlingar, Largo

Other counties add to our pollution

I live in Pinellas County and luckily less than two miles from my work. I have more than 30 fellow employees who reside in Pasco County and drive here every workday. If we want the testing resumed, let's make these individuals get their cars tested also. Their driving miles and pollution output in our county far exceed my output.

Frank Rybczyk, Clearwater

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