Credit Public Education for Some Successes

Your recent article "Fifteen Years of School Reform: New Ideas, Modest Results" (Sept. 2), as well as "Brouhaha on National Testing" and the editorial "Put Schools to the Test" (both Sept. 3), commendably focus on schooling in the United States.

Unfortunately, your tone follows a popular negativism fostered by politics, ignorance, and those with personal agendas. The underlying assumption is that "conventional public schools" are poor and that a "crisis" is ongoing. Yet, consider these points: (1) No other nation attempts to educate all its children to the extent that the US does (a laudable effort), with educational opportunities kept open almost forever; (2) changes in the family and society in general (drugs, weapons, teen moms, most parents working) greatly impact schools adversely; (3) how many Americans value learning per se, versus how many pursue education solely to get a better paying job? (4) pay and prestige do not favor education when young people are considering career choices.

Today the US has a very productive work force, great business prowess, leadership in computer technology and the sciences, outstanding agriculture, more Nobel prizes than any other nation, and more genuine democracy than in most of the world. Surely public schooling has had some role in all this. In fact, our top 25 percent of high school graduates compare very favorably with the best of any nation.

Finally, national tests really call for a national curriculum. Tests, to be valid, must be geared to what is taught, and that practically calls for a national school system. Paper and pencil tests have limitations and don't measure many goals of education.

Our "at-risk nation" has done pretty well. Our education system deserves better press. Improvement doesn't come in splashy ways but through steady, positive efforts in our federal system, involving parents, all citizens, businesses, and professional educators.

Grover J. Moore

Wolfeboro, N.H.

Land mines: to ban or not to ban

I must applaud the US decision to not support the antipersonnel land-mine ban signed in Oslo this week.

The principal objection to antipersonnel land mines (APLs) is that three-quarters of the victims of land mines are innocents, i.e., women and children. These numbers cannot be and are not disputed. Nations such as China, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union spread APLs indiscriminately in erstwhile proxy war zones, with the primary objective of killing civilians to spread terror through the enemy population.

It seems that the objection to APLs concerns their irresponsible use, not the weapons themselves. Ironically, the very nations that intentionally spread mines in areas that endanger civilians have not been a party to the Ottawa protocol from the beginning.

Furthermore, US strategic military doctrine, in times of war and peace, has been one in which US forces depend on the innovative use of tactics and equipment to make up for the force-number inferiority that is inherent in our modern, downsized military. A key to defense of our outnumbered forces is the use of APLs and antitank land mines to protect beachheads and fire positions surrounded by enemy forces. It has been ambiguously suggested that there are alternatives to these defenses, yet none have been outlined.

Until a viable alternative has been suggested and accepted, the US must make use of all resources to defend its forces abroad, in war and in precarious peace. The US has almost always risen above the tactics of rival nations, eschewing the underhanded tactics of terror and intimidation of civilians to achieve war aims. We must not punish our forces by making it harder for them to defend themselves because others use APLs with such impunity. Pressure should be refocused to hold accountable those countries that spread the mines for the damage they cause after war. Only then might the despicable use of these weapons in civilian areas be stopped.

Christian A. Lowe

Richmond, Va.

Your letters are welcome. Letters should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed to oped@csps.com

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