Navigating the math and reading wars

Regarding the Feb. 10 opinion piece "One way to end the math and reading wars": Jonathan Zimmerman's description of the whole language/phonics controversy is the most accurate account I have read. He notes that the conflict involves "competing conceptions of human nature and development. One side thinks children develop naturally, while the other believes that learning must be imposed upon their natures."

But one fine point: Mr. Zimmerman points out that according to whole language theory, children "learn words and sentences from their context." More precisely, children learn to read by reading, by understanding what is written on the page. They are helped in this by context: their knowledge of the world, their knowledge of the story, and their knowledge of language - which includes previously acquired grammar, vocabulary, and phonics.

Contrary to what one often reads, the research does not firmly support skills/heavy phonics approaches. Studies confirm that those who read more, read better - and that access to books has a strong influence on reading ability. Of particular interest are studies showing that better school libraries mean higher reading test scores.
Stephen Krashen
Los Angeles
Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Southern California

In response to "One way to end the math and reading wars": The way to end these wars is to rely on experts and data in choosing curricula, rather than the pipe dreams of bureaucrats and school of education fanatics.
Jonathan Goodman
New York
Professor of Mathematics, New York University

Jonathan Zimmerman seems to think that good teacher preparation, irrespective of the reading and math wars, is the key to solving major problems in public schools.

He's wrong. Good teacher preparation, including ongoing teacher training, is only part of improving our inadequate education system.

Good programs based on reliable research are also key. Teachers are presently asked to conduct the orchestra while creating the music. It is basically impossible to write a sound reading or math curriculum, teach the program, and provide students with individualized support.

Teachers neither have the time, nor knowledge to write full programs. Time spent creating programs detracts from their main job: teaching children. Unfortunately, New York City's elementary school teachers will be using two very inadequate programs. Quality counts.
Marvi Hagopian
Sacramento, Calif.

No 'hicks' in Appalachia

Regarding your Feb. 7 opinion piece "Reality TV's 'hick hunt' and the Appalachian truth": I am very pleased to see such a well-done response to CBS.

I can trace my roots to Kentucky's Cumberland Gap where the first white settlers entered the territory. I have found the people of Kentucky to be the salt of the earth. And frankly, I think that CBS is going to be looking for "real Beverly Hillbillies" characters for a long time.

The cartoon character "Li'l Abner" and his backward community of "Dogpatch" were the creation of Al Capp and tended to portray "hillbillies" as lazy and ignorant. But, real people like them are nowhere in sight. I hope that this nation has grown to the point where such unfair caricatures no longer pass as humor. I, for one, will not buy any product that is advertised as "The Real Beverly Hillbillies."
Mark Hampton
Calumet City, Ill.

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