Learning and Teaching

As a teacher, I hope that I have made a difference in a few students' lives, just as Sharon Draper surely has. ("America's Top Teacher Gives Tough Assignments - and Plenty of Support," May 5.)

Nevertheless I am troubled by this excerpt from her essay: "Four hundred years ago someone taught Shakespeare to love the language and to make it sing through the ages."

I am told by someone knowledgeable in the field that the historical record is too scant to give specific evidence of any such teacher. The sentence seems to be based on the assumption that learning must be the result of teaching: That is a harmful assumption. Often the best learning is the result, not of teaching, but of personal drive. Some of the most interesting people, those who are or have been the greatest assets to our culture and our civilization, were self-educated. I remain unconvinced that any of the visions of Lincoln, Thoreau, King, and Sandburg were "prepared" by a teacher.

Jack V. Wales Jr.

Ojai, Calif.

Parents - the first and best teachers

I enjoyed reading "Extending a Hand, if Schedule Permits" (April 24), but the last line concerned me. I was always taught that parents are the first and best teachers. Schools can help parents teach their children. But if the "best" teachers are not teaching their kids by reading with them, or listening as the child reads, the school is going to have a hard time teaching that child.

Journalists should look at the roots of the problem, not just the surface. In this case, the root of the problem is the parents; the surface is the school.

John O'Malley

Blacksburg, Va.

Public schools underappreciated

I always turn first to "Readers Write," but on April 17, I refolded the paper with sorrow. I am a teacher, and three out of four letters that day attacked public education.

The first letter blames premature sex on schools not teaching about "good and evil." The next says that our nation suffers from poor race relations because " children have been taught 'the big lie' about the War Between the States - that it was a war to end slavery." Another reader claims that cutting college course offerings by 30 percent makes economic sense.

Rather than addressing these issues, I have a question: Where did this picture of educators come from?

We are not people who turn our backs on morality, lie about history, and squander public money. We're not even strangers. We're your neighbors. After years of college we chose low-paying (and obviously low-prestige) jobs precisely because we feel a calling to serve truth and morality. Scientist R. Buckminster Fuller said there are only two ways to make wealth: Build a tool or teach a child. We chose to teach.

Educators are not a monolithic "them" with a social agenda. We are simply the part of "you" who have rolled up our sleeves to do the hard work of building tomorrow. Don't knock us down, join us. Class dismissed.

Griffith H. Williams

Bothell, Wash.

Vouchers suit needs of each student

Regarding "The Pros and Cons of Public vs. Private Schools" (April 28): With 10 percent of American families opting for private schooling at some point for their children, it seems fair to interject a plea for vouchers.

Society should financially support education for its children. But is it right for that tax money to be monopolized by one school system? Clearly, many families are finding that they prefer other schools for some part of their children's school years. But after paying taxes for public school, many families feel they can't consider a choice. Vouchers for each school-age child would provide equal access to a broader range of opportunities to meet individual needs. I would even go so far as to include home-schooling families, who could redeem the vouchers for books, equipment, and classes on their own.

Danis Mutchler

Peterborough, N.H.

Your letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. Letters for publication must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. Letters should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed (200 words maximum) to oped@csps.com

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