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  1. Letters to the Editor

Sunday's letters: Want students to read better? Get off teachers' backs and let them teach.

If we want students of any economic background to learn to read and write, we must take one giant step: Get off teachers' backs. Let them teach. Let them lead. Let them work with students and parents. Treat them as professionals, as champions of literacy. Thank them for their service.

Over four decades, I have had the honor of working with language arts teachers in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. I can attest to their tireless efforts, their devotion to children and their love of language and literature.

These honorable teachers have managed to stay afloat in spite of two anchors hung around their necks by bureaucrats and politicians. The first is a set of academic standards imposed upon them from afar, standards that will continue to shift like the Florida sands.

The second is a system of high-stakes testing that most people hate, a form of assessment that distorts instruction and traumatizes stakeholders. Predictable failures on these tests become data for newspaper investigations.

Each July the Poynter Institute, the non-profit school that owns the Tampa Bay Times, conducts a three-day Summer Language Arts Institute for local teachers. Almost 750 teachers have participated so far. To see them collaborating on behalf of students is an inspiration.

We have come to agree that in any society if you want to be literate you have to practice three behaviors: read with insight, write with purpose and speak with meaning. Every day in every classroom, students should be coached to read, write and speak. If we want students to learn, we have only one choice: Let the teachers teach.

What happens in the home life of children is another issue for another day.

Roy Peter Clark, St. Petersburg

The writer, senior scholar emeritus at the Poynter Institute, is director of the Summer Language Arts Institute, which runs July 16 to 18.

Reading riddle | April 21

Owner's manual for babies

A very simple solution might be for each hospital to give the new mother an "owner's manual," similar to what you get when you buy a new car, for what to do to raise the new baby at different stages of growth from birth to 5 years of age.

The problem is that many new mothers have no idea how to nurture a baby along during the early stages of growth. For example, what should she be doing for the baby at 2 years old — what to be doing to develop the baby's brain, what to be reading and what the mom should be doing.

John Kercher, Tampa

Reading is imagining

I think we can spend millions of dollars on reading programs and on teaching reading, but if the child is not interested in reading, none of this will help. Before the days of YouTube, Netflix and videogames, one had to use imagination to understand the story one was reading. Or you had to read to discover ways to do things. Today YouTube can teach you anything you need or want to do. Children today see more real life or make-believe life in these new forms of entertainment without imagination. They can be more exciting or more "real."

I wonder if I would have been born 50 years later if I would have read as much as I did when I was younger. I can see for some why reading is boring or maybe simply old-fashioned. And with the report, many children live in environments where talking and reading does not take place. This problem is much bigger than spending money for reading programs. It is a cultural and economic problem where we have single-parent households who have to work two jobs and have little time to spend with their children. For many, their main problem is food for them to eat, and the reading takes a back seat.

Jim Demmy, Kenneth City

Indifference to flu's danger

The flu can kill

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that we are more likely to die from the flu than a gun or an auto accident. Yet, our society is relatively indifferent to that risk. Last year approximately 80,000 people died from the flu and its complications. This year, between 35,000 to 55,000 are expected to die. Many more endure considerable physical distress and are unable to carry out normal daily functions. U.S. workers are estimated to miss more than 100 million work days and $16.3 billion in earnings annually due to the flu.

In evaluating the flu's threat to society, we should be aware that twice as many people died from the flu in 2018 as from auto accidents and gun-related deaths. Gun violence and auto accidents get a lot of attention. There are laws, government regulations and substantial societal interest in reducing those threats. Driving while intoxicated is illegal, and the penalties for doing so are steep. Wearing seat belts is required by law.

But our society allows a flu-infected person to freely go into public areas (work settings, malls, churches, airplanes), placing anyone nearby at risk of contracting a potentially fatal illness. Getting a flu shot is not required by law even though it would save many lives.

Flu vaccines prevented more than 40,000 deaths in the United States over a 9-year period ending in 2014. But less than half of the country gets a flu vaccine. Society's failure to give the flu the attention it deserves will be a deadly mistake for many.

It behooves everyone to realize that the next time you pass a hacking, flu-infected shopper at the mall, you could die as a result.

William Sacco, Tampa

Robbing teachers to pay charters | Column, April 23

If the name fits ...

A note to Republicans who charge Democrats with being "Socialists." Local citizens raised their own taxes to improve public schools. "Big Government" Tallahassee Republicans swooped in, want to confiscate part of the money raised and reallocate it to their favorite charter schools. Sounds "Socialist" to me.

Stephen Phillips, St. Petersburg