`Reading, writing, and arithmetic'

You would never know from Merle Rubin's review of my book ``The Pied Piper'' (April 29) that it is a sympathetic portrait of a complicated person who happened to be affiliated with the CIA [``Biography of '60s activist leaves real questions unanswered'']. Rubin also omits the extensive documentation of Lowenstein's activities. This is not guilt by association because I never suggest there is anything to be guilty of. Working for the CIA is not a criminal offense. My evidence is detailed, which an objective reader would find credible. Publishers Weekly called ``The Pied Piper'' ``brilliant and impartial.'' If Merle Rubin had been either of these, the review would have been very different. What I criticize is not Lowenstein's opposition to Communism. Rubin incorrectly suggests that I am assaulting him from the left for advocating working within the system. I served on the staff of Republican assemblyman Perry Duryea, the Republican candidate for governor of New York in 1978 and former speaker of the New York State Assembly. The suggestion that I am a Communist sympathizer is an outrage. My criticism of Lowenstein is for his intolerance of any politics to his left and his preoccupation with the threat of Communism when there was none, as in Mississippi, where he worked to get rid of the Lawyers Guild and fought with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). A detailed and sympathetic analysis of Lowenstein's congressional career is a vital part of my book. Richard Cummings Bridgehampton, N.Y.

Apropos Jonathan Kozol [``Illiteracy in America: a growing threat to democracy, author says'' April 29], I agree it is a serious problem and one that should be eradicated for the good of the country, as well as for the individuals involved. But to say that without money nothing can be done is to miss the basic problem. As one who directed a local Laubach Literacy Program with practically no success, I know whereof I speak. A large group of volunteer teachers were available, but at no time was I able to find enough pupils. Illiterates are skilled at concealment.

I look forward to the time when a means can be found to persuade illiterates that they can learn. But how do you tell them about the chance to learn? They can't read the notices posted in the public library. Few can bring themselves to reveal their inability.

Abundant money has been spent to establish programs, programs that can work. What is needed is thought, finding ways to locate people who can't read and showing them the advantages of being able to read, and to do it in such a way that there is no social stigma attached to their situation. Mrs. Robert W. Merritt Kalamazoo, Mich.

The editorial ``Nation of readers'' (May 13) prompts me to boast of one of the few completely successful educational experiments I conducted in over 35 years of teaching English. The experiment was conducted not in a classroom but in my home. The teacher was yours truly, and the sole pupil was my son, then about 12 years old.

He had learned to read early and devoured books with ease. The only trouble, as I saw it, was that he was wasting his superior gifts on inferior material. From what he told me of his English classes, I gathered that not much of substance was going on in them.

Next to reading, he liked having money. So I said I'd pay him to read first-rate books. The basic rate was to be about 50 cents a book. Actually, the money was no more than an inducement to him to begin reading the book, for I was sure that, once he was well into it, his own interest would propel him on to the end.

After a year and a half or two years, he wearied of it, and we dropped it; but while it was in operation it produced superb results. He read some books that not all college students have read. The following were among them: ``The Iliad'' (50 cents), ``The Odyssey'' (50 cents), ``Don Quixote'' (in its entirety, probably for $1), ``The Castle of Otranto'' (35 cents), ``Great Expectations,'' ``Hard Times'' (Dickens, not Studs Terkel), ``Fathers and Sons,'' ``Dead Souls,'' and, for $1.25, ``War and Peace.'' He read every word and knew the books better than I did. His background stood him in good stead when he went to college, and to this day he recalls the experiment with pleasure and gratitude.

I have never felt like blushing even slightly at the capitalistic method by which I led my kid to the greats. What he earned in money was next to nothing compared with the experience those masterpieces gave him. Carroll Cole New Haven, Conn.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to `Reading, writing, and arithmetic'
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today