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Letters to the Editor

Readers write about declining food access and how teachers should prep students for tests.

April 24, 2008



Population growth will outpace food production

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Regarding the April 18 article, "How to ease squeeze on food access": With clear evidence before us, I find it unsettling that an article on food scarcity has only a single passing reference to population – one that implies that continuing population growth is something we have to cater to rather than challenge. With diminishing freshwater supplies, decreasing arable land, and the rapidly approaching peak of oil production, assuming that we will be able to "produce a lot more food" for an ever-growing population is a flight of fancy.

The article also erroneously claims that humanity has historically found answers to all challenges of meeting increased food demand. History shows otherwise. Whether it was the Easter Islanders in the South Pacific who ended up resorting to cannibalism, the Mayans of Central America who "disappeared" when they outgrew their food resources, the fall of the Romans in Europe that led to the Dark Ages, or the Sumerians in the Middle East where salinization reduced food yields, mankind in each case was only able to survive because resources still existed in areas beyond one population's control. However, when our contemporary global civilization similarly falls, we will have no viable fallback position, no new territory with new resources into which we could expand. We shall have eaten ourselves out of house and home.

Allen Inversin
Riverdale, Md.

Thoughts on 'teaching to the test'

Regarding Walt Gardner's April 17 Opinion piece, "Good teachers teach to the test": I understand Mr. Gardner's logic; however, I caution against it. For starters, Gardner assumes that the test is worthy of teaching to. Many of these state-mandated tests are solely multiple-choice questions. Assuming for the moment that the content of the test is good, are we to assume that our students should spend large amounts of time "practicing" multiple-choice questions in similar ways that a track coach would have his or her team practice sprints?

In terms of content, I fear that if teachers teach the test – even in the general, philosophical way that Gardner is suggesting – they will miss the mark.

Scott Voss
Apple Valley, Minn.

In response to Walt Gardner's recent Opinion piece on "teaching to the test": I do not disagree with Mr. Gardner's main point, namely that teaching to the test is good if done properly. What disturbs many parents is when the entire last month of school is devoted to practicing for the test, with instruction geared to the lowest common denominator of ability in order to meet state or No Child Left Behind goals. Average to above-average students lose one month of teaching while teachers review remedial material for lower-performing students.

Keith Hoile
Greensboro, N.C.

Regarding Walt Gardner's recent Opinion piece on education's testing focus: I agree with Mr. Gardner's point about "teaching to the broad body of skills and knowledge that a test represents." Quite often when I was a student, teachers did not cover the entire curriculum. In 1961, the last modern history unit was about World War I. Because I had never studied about World War II or the Korean War, I was unable to answer test questions correctly. I hadn't been given the opportunity to learn the facts and ideas about those conflicts.

This is one reason that when I became an elementary teacher myself, I vowed that I would plan lessons to cover the entire curriculum. I wanted to be sure my students did not lack the opportunity to gain the knowledge and practice skills on which they were tested. That is the best way to teach to the test in a general and effective way, and teachers can do that creatively.

Jayne I. Hanlin
St. Louis

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