Letters to the Editor

Readers write about vehicle fuel efficiency, longer school days, the importance of outside play for children, and a light-hearted look at US counterterrorism work.

Incremental fuel-efficiency gains will be best for all

The June 12 article on possible new automobile fuel-efficiency standards, "Safe cars versus fuel efficiency? Not so fast." draws largely on studies by experts in fields outside the automobile industry. The thrust of the article, that the industry is stonewalling on improved fuel efficiency, fails to consider the economic feasibility of the necessary changes. There is a vast difference between technological and economic feasibility.

Developing new vehicles and engines to meet sudden increases in fuel-efficiency standards requires many billions of dollars. And many billions would be required because there are very few cars of any size that can meet the suggested 35 m.p.g. standard, much less a manufacturer's fleet of vehicles capable of that level.

The vehicles that do provide 35 m.p.g. are either very small or use alternate powertrains – diesel or hybrid. US car buyers have consistently rejected diesel power, although it is widely used elsewhere in the world. And hybrid powertrains are more expensive than gasoline engines alone.

Undoubtedly cars and trucks can be made more efficient than they are today, but the changes need to be made incrementally, as they have been with safety and emission standards. The environmental and energy analysis manager for American Honda Motor Co. had it right when he used the word "reasonable" to describe fuel-economy requirements that would not adversely affect safety. Any sudden jump is not reasonable.

Lee Sorensen
Cross Plains, Wis.

Longer hours, restless students?

Regarding the June 14 article, "Do longer hours equal more learning?": Longer hours could mean more learning? Hmmm.

It seems to me that making kids spend more hours in school will in the long run lead to an increase in the dropout rate. I know I could never pay attention in a math class for 90 minutes. As an adult it sounds like pure torture to me. Even though I did well in geometry, I came close to failing algebra II, despite the fact that I made a point of sitting in the front of the class.

Have the schools with longer hours increased the lunchtime to an hour? Students often have to wolf down their food during lunch. After a bathroom stop and waiting in line to purchase a hot meal, there isn't enough time allowed to sit and relax with friends and chew and swallow.

More important, there isn't an opportunity for kids to run around in the fresh air and daylight, socializing and having fun before sitting through the rest of the afternoon. Many child-development experts have written about the importance of exercise and daylight in enhancing brain function. Are we listening?

Margarette Bull
Kirkland, Wash.

Regarding the article about students spending more time in school: Has anyone asked the opinion of children's specialists about the physical effects on students of longer school hours?

As a teacher for 25 years, I observed that the attention span of young students was around 15 minutes, and that after that time the activities needed to be changed to keep the children interested and concentrating.

In Mexico, the schools have schedules of only four hours daily for children under high school age. The schools have two shifts – morning and afternoon – sometimes with different teachers for each shift, so that the children return to their homes and the teachers have time to plan their subject matter. And some schools turn out a lot of well-prepared scholars. I suggest further study before US school systems begin to treat children like factory employees.

Leila Gillette
Alamos, Mexico

Let children play to learn

Thanks for your great June 13 editorial, "Bring back fun playgrounds." The overconcern about safety is completely stifling American children's opportunities to develop confidence, creativity, and foresight. I would be very happy to see the cultural emphasis shift again toward teaching children to foresee and alleviate risks, rather than completely eliminating their learning challenges.

German playgrounds are so much more fun than American ones! Also, through my experiences volunteering for American children's groups, I see the same problem: This overconcern for safety is teaching our children to be afraid, rather than giving them the tools they need to gain self-confidence. Let's teach our children and give them adequate supervision, rather than limit them and try to make them fearful.

Laura McMillan
Vaihingen, Germany

A light-hearted look at US counterterrorism work

The June 13 article, "Spending a day at the National Counter Terrorism Center," is a wonderful blend of top-notch descriptive reporting and a gentle mockery of the US obsession with secrecy. The writer's revelation in the last paragraph that the secret of the center's location is routinely broken by the receipts from the cash register in the gift shop is precious.

The description of the control room was so vivid that I felt I had seen it myself. In fact, I think that a live webcam on the balcony above the control room would help reassure all of us that our government is working "25/9" to protect us from terrorism.

David Pope
Inyokern, Calif.

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Any letter accepted may appear in print or on our website, www.csmonitor.com.

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