Letters to the Editor

Readers write about freedom of the student press and how to engage teens with learning.

Student press freedoms are essential to US democracy

Regarding the April 15 article, "California eyes new free-speech protections in schools," on the pending legislation that would further protect the rights of student journalists and their advisers: This legislation is, of course, important to those involved in scholastic journalism, but I would argue that it will provide impetus to the civic education of the next generation of public-minded citizens.

During my more than 30 years as a high school and college publications adviser, my students and I enjoyed the support of many wise administrators who valued the First Amendment, even when it stung a little.

Students learned to report responsibly, think critically, and write accurately. Although they at times might have missed the mark, their growth as journalists and citizens far outweighed any potential harm that might have resulted from their work.

In many cases, on-target student reporting served to inform the reading public and fostered the implementation of needed changes in school policies.

The future of democracy – whether in school or out – demands an informed public and a thoughtful press. The California legislature is setting an example that freedom lovers in every state should want to emulate.

David R. McFarland
Godfrey, Ill.

Ways to curb dropout rates

Regarding John Bridgeland's April 15 Opinion piece, "The key to keeping teens in school": I think freedom of school newspapers and protection for the teachers who sponsor them is key to keeping teens in school. Many teens, even with the incentives of careers and college, lose interest in school because they have no outlet to express themselves honestly and effectively. There is little room to criticise schools and, therefore, no hope for change.

Such stagnation is death to a teenager and, I might add, to democracy.

Sherry Blair
Hayward, Calif.

In response to John Bridgeland's recent Opinion piece on school dropout rates: As ever, the solution to the problem is seen as lying with schools. Mr. Bridgeland calls for "making school more rigorous, relevant, and engaging."

This ignores the root cause of the problem. The students who drop out of education are ones who got turned off learning because they struggled with learning to read and never really came to grips with it.

Because of the inconsistencies of English, only children who receive sufficient help with reading from a very young age manage to achieve an acceptable level of literacy.

This problem will persist until English spelling gets improved sufficiently to make at least learning to read easier.

It is quite impossible to learn much or develop a taste for learning generally without acquiring that skill first. Noah Webster advocated this nearly 200 years ago because he understood the confusion that English spelling conventions cause.

The only other alternative is to spend far more money on identifying children who are likely to fail and start helping them sooner and more than is the case now.

In other words, educational spending needs to be increased far beyond current levels.

The real choice is between spelling reform and much greater permanent educational spending. Everything else can only make minimal, temporary differences.

Masha Bell
Wareham, England

Member, Simplified Spelling Society

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