Goats are not an easy fix to prevent forest fires

In the national spate of hand-wringing over the Los Alamos fire disaster, we've heard all sorts of simplistic proposals to avoid the problems which led to the perceived need for a controlled burn of the forests in the area.

Beware the quick fix, such as the one proposed in your May 24 editorial "Chewing out fire danger." Putting goats on the range or the forests can cause major unintended consequences. Over-grazing can speed erosion and invasion of alien species. The entire area north of Big Bend National Park was over grazed by goats and other animals in a crash effort to produce food for World War I troops. Places that were known as Green Valley and Paradise Valley were quickly reduced to cat-claw, mesquite, and cactus. Giant arroyos opened up as rains dropped several inches of water in a few hours, and thousands of years of light soils disappeared overnight. These places won't recover in our lifetime.

Ecosytem management is the current guiding philosophy of the Forest Service. Thoughtfully applied, this will do the trick, whether it be use of fire or goats to prevent the accumulation of dangerous amounts of fuels in the forests.

Donald Gibbon Pittsburgh, Pa.

The ethics of teaching to a test

Regarding your May 31 article "States scurry to lift pupil scores:" My youngest daughter asked, "But aren't we cheating?" after many days of being given pretest worksheets immediately preceding taking the required standardized tests. (The pretest questions often look identical to the real test questions with only minor changes.) My daughter also asked me why the teachers didn't just teach them "how" to do the problems better.

I am a credentialed teacher in California, and have spent the past year working in a math-assistance program in the public school system. This program is aimed at helping children at risk for retention by helping them develop math skills they either never learned or simply don't understand. Although I review the weak spots on their tests in order to plan my lessons for them, the idea of "teaching to the test" in order to boost their scores (and my reputation and job security), seems not only unethical but unfair to the children. I have found the most success in taking a look at where their true strengths and weaknesses are, gathering materials relevant to their needs, and enlisting the help and commitment of their parents. Sometimes this daily help on the part of the parents was difficult, but when the commitment was made by all (teacher, student, parent), success would generally follow.

Honest testing is a useful tool when used properly, but when high test scores become the bottom line, we are not only abusing the system, but failing to meet the educational needs of our children and sending them an improper moral message.

Corinne Winslow Temecula, Calif.

Internet privacy will spur consumers

Thank you for your May 26 editorial "Loose loop on digital snoops." While our family will look up the availability of items, we do not purchase them over the Internet because of all the confusion about how our personal information will be handled. We have worked hard to get off mailing and phone lists to protect our privacy and prevent waste. Why expose ourselves to having our e-mail and other access points filled with information we don't want? Responsible consumers are able to make educated decisions without meaningless marketing.

Providing greater privacy will result in much more business being done over the Internet.

Brenda Wilson Edgewater, Md.

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