Relative PovertyEditor: Margaret Orman's letter asks why...


Relative Poverty

Editor: Margaret Orman's letter asks why we don't care for our own American poor before allocating money to aid foreign people. America is not an island needing nothing from other nations. The aid is part of the return. America is also the No. 1 power in the world, which, in an intercooperative family of nations, has a responsibility attached to it.

Additionally, the plight of the Kurds is a situation in which America has had a playing hand, therefore obligating us in the healing process. And Bangladesh certainly has not cornered the market on natural disasters; it could even happen here, it just hasn't yet.

The poor right here in Baltimore are much better off than the poor in other countries. While our poor may live in blankets on steam grates, or in rundown, filthy apartments, eating out of shelters and soup kitchens, human beings in foreign lands sleep in the disease infested muck and search desperately for a cup of drinkable water.

A blanket and a cup of rice are all they need. You won't find them wondering how to live on $400 a month in welfare benefits.

Not to discount the plight of the poor here in America, for surely it is no picnic, but poverty is a very relative thing. There is a saying, "I complained I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet."

' Georgia Corso. Baltimore.

Health of Elderly

Editor: It is a fact that most seniors have numerous health problems -- heart, arthritis, high blood pressure, stress, etc.

It is a fact that most seniors have financial difficulties and spend from $200 to $300 a month for prescriptions which are needed to exist and which are greatly overpriced.

Dr. William H. M. Finney, in a letter May 21, stated that the repeal of the catastrophic health bill, several years ago, was ill advised.

This bill would have paid seniors:

(1) A six-month stay in a nursing home.

(2) 50 percent coverage of prescriptions costing over $600 a year.

(3) Prevention of a 25 percent estimated rise in Blue Cross-Blue Shield premiums.

It is not too late to pass the repealed catastrophic health bill of two years ago.

avid Chupnick. Baltimore.

Real Solutions

Editor: In his column of May 16, Michael Olesker cites the grand jury report on the Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School for delinquent youth as an example of government's failure to perform its legal duty at a reasonable cost.

In another Sun article by Mark K. Shriver on May 14, we are told that the state plans to transfer management of the Hickey School from the state to a private contractor.

Shriver cautioned that private management, without a fundamental shift in the way we remove youth from the community, will not be a panacea.

In my judgment, both columnists place an unrealistic expectation on the possibility for constructive change through institutionalization, regardless of management strategies or efforts.

Alex Kotlowitz's book, "There Are No Children Here," tells us why no program can work so long as children are exposed on a daily basis to the street culture: violence, early death or serious injury, the lure of easy money from selling drugs, no realistic alternative for making it, pervasive criminal and anti-social behavior, and the pains of alienation engendered in trying to be different.

Unless we do something about the street culture, nothing will change. Ghettos or concentrations of the poor, the unemployed and unemployable, the misfits and failures, will always be breeding grounds for rage, hatred, despair, violence, and lawlessness.

When will we come to realize that containment is not a viable option? We can run, but we cannot hide from the pain we inflict, from the reaction to that pain, from the overwhelming cost of protection and safety, from the ever-increasing litters of abused and neglected children.

We must make the streets safe again for children and families by adequate policing. We must offer effective job training and the opportunity to earn a livelihood, affordable housing, schools and homes that truly educate and prepare our children for financially-secure adulthood, healthy recreation, and goals that challenge the best within them.

We must not allow pockets of sub-standard living to exist and contaminate healthy surroundings. We have the power and resources to accomplish these things. Do we have the will?

$Lawrence B. Coshnear. Baltimore.

Helping Mother Earth

Editor: What a great headline and picture on the front page! The dedicated volunteer groups cleaning up the thoughtless deluge of trash which followed the Preakness at Pimlico were indeed an inspiring sight. Perhaps it may encourage other groups to do likewise -- school groups especially -- to help them learn the great lesson of caring for the Earth.

'Lucretia B. Fisher. Baltimore. Editor: Regarding the article, "Prolonged Battle with Pesticide Costs Family Their Home," I am very sympathetic toward the family and the problems its members have encountered. However, there is no clear-cut, conclusive evidence to suggest that their problems are solely pesticide-related. In fact, your article says the levels of chlordane existing in the home were so low they could not be considered harmful.

What front-page articles like this do is inflame an already frightened, chemophobic public -- without facts and without just cause. No mention is made about the millions of safe applications of pesticides by legitimate companies that are made daily without contamination throughout the United States.

It might also be noted that many companies, including our own, have annual blood analyses of our employees to determine levels of pesticides in the body. This would be the first indication of a problem since our employees handle pesticides in concentrated form on a daily basis. Our employees' test results have always fallen within the norm. Interestingly, very little is ever mentioned about how pesticides protect our environment and our health.

It seems unfortunate that a homeowner would invest a large sum of money in a home-protection service purchased from a door-to-door peddler without checking his references or calling another company for a second opinion.

& H. Jeffrey Maslan. Baltimore.

The writer is an entomologist for Melco Pest Management.

It's Not Science vs. the Humanities

Editor: In an exhibition of rhetorical technique, Stefan Martin (Opinion * Commentary May 2) managed to suggest that the public concern about the level of mathematics and science knowledge of our students will effect the general downfall of our civilization. He postulates a new conspiracy theory to fit his thesis that "greater scientific proficiency" precludes a broader PTC education and creates dehumanized individuals.

It is not conspiracy, but the march of history that makes mathematics and science important.

At one time, literacy was the domain of a select few. Nowadays it is generally recognized that universal literacy is necessary for a functioning society. It is also generally ceded that everyone needs to be able to do elementary arithmetic.

What is becoming evident is that basic arithmetic is not sufficient to function well in this technical and quantitative world of ours. A recent 15-year study by the U.S. Department of Education concluded that "other than demographic factors, the strongest predictor of earnings nine years after graduation from high school is the number of mathematics courses taken."

In a 1988 symposium, a representative of Marriott Corp. stated, "declining educational standards eliminate some applicants from consideration. We estimate that 30 to 40 percent have limited mathematics and science fundamentals." A 1986 survey of offers by recruiters offering jobs to undergraduate college graduates revealed that over 95 percent of the jobs offered were to people in majors requiring some calculus, including fields such as business and finance.

Concern about mathematics and science is not a conspiracy of defense-based corporations. It is recognition of a fact of modern life, which no amount of lamentation will change.

Moreover, as a school subject, mathematics is different. It is the only subject that is cumulative through a student's education. Each year's material depends critically on material of previous years. Thus the chain of mathematics learning is only as strong as its weakest link. A student who falls behind one year likely will never catch up.

Indeed, a student casually placed in one class or another in elementary school is likely tracked for life. It is a pair of modern tragedies that minority students are largely out of science and mathematics classes by high-school, and that girls are encouraged to settle for less than the full science and mathematics education due them.

We must look to our educators and ourselves to demand full opportunity for all, not assert that the sciences and mathematics are not important, or, worse, are destructive.

More and more departments in colleges and universities are requiring more mathematics background of their students. Lack of adequate mathematics preparation is the single main reason college students cannot major in the fields they want and the single main reason they do not graduate on schedule.

I find it unfortunate that someone would choose to phrase the discussion as science vs. the humanities. As evidence from other countries and from programs in our own country show, our students' brains can absorb all we can give them in science and mathematics, in the arts and humanities and more. Perpetuating the false stereotype of a science "nerd" is its own form of bigotry.

In fact, students who accomplish in science and mathematics usually are accomplished in other subjects as well. They become complete adults. Just as a scientist must be able to write, must know of his or her historical heritage, must know the workings of our political institutions and should appreciate fine arts, so a politician, a journalist, a historian, a writing coordinator must know how to interpret statistical information, should know of astronomical discoveries that are changing our understanding of the universe, must understand something of environmental science, and must know about the current revolution in biology -- one of the half-dozen most important societal phenomena of the 20th century.

There is much to discuss about the education we provide our students, but the value of mathematics and science is not among them. Our political, corporate and educational leaders are not being conspiratorial in seeking to improve science and mathematics education for all students. Rather, they would be derelict if they were to back off from their efforts.

' James C. Alexander. College Park.

The writer is a professor in the department of mathematics at the University of Maryland College Park.

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