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Phonics in school should not be a...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Phonics in school should not be a political issue

I was both heartened and dismayed by the article "Turning Back to Basics," announcing Baltimore County's decision to listen to parents and use phonics to teach children the fundamentals of reading instead of the "whole language" method it has long promoted.

It was heartening because the intensive teaching of phonics is crucial in the beginning. To read proficiently, one must be able to decode the written language. . . .

I was dismayed by the example of Collin Cessna working on the short "e" sound. At a time when the teacher should have been reinforcing the sound of the combined letters "sm," she was instead breaking up the combination and pointing to an abstractly related picture. While this might help the reasoning process, it didn't do a thing for teaching phonics. What might that tell us about how well prepared our teachers are?

I was also troubled by the interview of Professor Bess Altwerger of Towson State University, an expert on "whole language."

She says that if the scores have been bad it's because the teachers haven't been doing it right. Never mind the fact that she and others in her department, as well as many teachers' schools around the nation, have been training new educators to use this method for years. If these teachers weren't trained very well, why did TSU and other colleges and universities give them degrees?

The problem is that there has been so much invested in careers and materials in the "whole language" method that the need to keep it entrenched in the teachers' colleges and public schools has, until now, been greater than the need to see children succeed.

Professor Altwerger says this change is "part of the conservative agenda . . ." As a moderate liberal, I can say this isn't about politics. It's about being able to read and learn and grow. . . .

Patricia M. Williams

Essex

The Oct. 11 article "Turning Back to Basics" by Marego Athans was excellent. It is particularly important to stress that phonics instruction is most needed in the early grades. Research showing that early code-emphasis instruction pays off later is overwhelming. . . .

The remarks by Bess Altwerger of Towson State University were distressing. What chance do student teachers have of learning to evaluate a child's language skills or learning to assess children's knowledge of phonics when their college professors cling to a belief that says all children learn to read in exactly the same way?

These professors claim that those whose views differ are being "political." The parents I know who sent their children to tutors didn't do it because they were conservative. They did it because older siblings, who had had phonics instruction, learned to read while younger siblings who were simply immersed in reading as whole language purists recommend did not.

To reduce children's acquisition of reading skills to "politics" is dangerous. . . .

Sara M. Porter

Jarrettsville

Book bannings? Not in America

It is interesting that in your Oct. 6 lists of "Endangered authors, endangered books and 1995-96 bannings," you chose to "ban" the whole truth from being told.

By choosing to report some but not all the facts, you have misled your readers, a more devastating form of censorship.

You neglected to tell your audience that throughout our entire country's history, no book has ever undergone true censorship -- the prior restraint of free expression by a government agency, preventing or rescinding publication of material.

The books you listed were "challenged" by concerned parents and educators who questioned their age-appropriateness and easy accessibility to readers of all ages.

Last year, there were 152 incidents in which books were "challenged" or "banned," according to the American Library Association. Of those, only 23 occurred in public libraries, and in the end, no books were removed or restricted.

The remaining incidents occurred in schools. The majority -- 80 out of 120 -- resulted in no action and the parents' concerns were dismissed. The remaining 49 cases involved limiting or restricting access to the materials because of age-appropriateness.

Parents and educators raised objections to these books because they dealt with such topics as homosexuality or homosexual characters, graphic stories of pre-marital sex, rape, orgies, violence, alcoholism, explicit and foul language. I think most people would agree that such reading material is not suitable for any young child or even most teen agers.

Those parents and educators have a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to express their concerns regarding the education of their children. That guaranteed right should protect them from efforts to misconstrue their objections as narrow-minded attempts to "ban" books. It should protect them from unsubstantiated labels such as "censors" and "book-burners" by People for the American Way, the American Library Association and The Sun.

You may not have explicitly done so with the publication of those lists, but it certainly was implied, particularly with your use of "endangered" and "bannings," in addition to the quote by Rebecca West. What other conclusion did you expect your readers to draw?

The content of the material you selected to print and the manner in which it was presented lead one to believe that "book banning" is as horrendous a practice as neglecting to protect or willfully harming endangered wildlife, and as evil as infanticide. Neither those books nor the authors are in danger of anything.

Book banning in its true sense is horrendous, but it does not exist in our country, and even if it did, it is incredulous to think that the life of a book is as valuable as the life of an infant.

In a day and age when our children have so much going against them, shouldn't we applaud those courageous parents and teachers whose heart-felt concern compelled them to voice their opinions and protect their children from the emotionally and socially damaging content of these books?

Karen M. Williams

Baltimore

Naval Academy's Admiral Larson is a true leader

This responds to Peter C. Schon's Oct. 4 letter about Adm. Charles Larson, superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, and also relates to The Sun's egregious front page article about Admiral Larson, Sept. 21.

As chairman of the Naval Academy Alumni Association, I am well positioned to observe the performance of Admiral Larson.

He is without doubt among the ablest leaders I have known in industry (I have been a senior officer of three Fortune 500 companies, and a director of four), government (I served as a member, Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System), or in naval service.

A distinguished congressman, John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, recently told me that he knows all of the senior officers at the military services and Admiral Larson is the ablest we have to lead our great Naval Academy during this difficult time.

The secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations imposed on Admiral Larson not to retire and earn the rich income he could in the private sector but rather to continue to serve his country by returning to the Naval Academy for a second tour as superintendent. We are blessed with his presence.

Had a lesser man been serving as superintendent last April when a series of disciplinary events occurred and a disaffected professor who knew he would not get tenure went public with a diatribe similar to Mr. Schon's, that man would not have survived and would have been relieved.

As to breaking a federal law in the Zamora case, that is abject nonsense.

The secretary of the Navy put a former CINC, Admiral Larson, -- who as CINCPAC had responsibility for half of our nation's military forces -- in command at the Naval Academy. He and we expect that such a man would use his experience, wisdom, maturity and common sense in handling an issue like the Zamora case. And Admiral Larson did so with dispatch.

The mother of the murdered girl has said that it was indeed fortunate that her daughter's accused murderer was at the Naval Academy and that Admiral Larson was in charge, or the case would not have been solved.

Just because the bureaucrats at the Naval Investigative Service were not involved -- and they would have taken weeks, or months -- is not cause to criticize Admiral Larson.

If Admiral Larson suggests he was not familiar with a Secretary of the Navy regulation (not federal law) then he wasn't. But a commander of Admiral Larson's rank and quality of judgment is expected to use his judgment. And he did to good effect.

It is time to stop criticizing Admiral Larson -- a truly splendid leader and extraordinarily competent superintendent, and to stop denigrating the great institution and national resource that our Naval Academy is.

John E. Sheehan

Annapolis

The writer is chairman of the board of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association.

Crack conspiracy charge needs answers

I watched a CNN program in which a former CIA agent repeatly dismissed the validity of a report that connected the CIA to a drug ring operating in minority communities in Los Angeles whose profits were used to fund a war in Nicaragua.

He relentlessly chided the report as untrue and relied on his history of book writing and investigative journalism to establish his credentials as a CIA watchdog. This was the third program on which he had been adamant about the lack of validity of this charge.

Just as his dismissal began to resonate with the audience of this program, his credibility was dashed when he was forced to admit that despite his many denials he had not investigated this story himself. Why was he so dismissive of this story? It may be helpful when evaluating the probability or likelihood of any conspiracy to examine it in context with the history of those involved. It is being suggested that these drugs were introduced in minority communities and therefore had an implicit dual purpose of funding a U.S. government-backed war while further exacerbating existing racial tensions by dramatically increasing the cesspool of anti-social and illegal behavior in these targeted communities. Is this silly or what?

If someone had told this same former CIA agent that some very educated and politically connected Germans sat at a table and decided to systematically destroy the Jewish race, he probably would have denied it without prior investigation.

If someone would have suggested that the CIA and FBI were spying on black leaders in the 1960s, he would have denied it.

If someone would have told him that doctors were mistreating and not treating black men for venereal disease in order to learn more about its effects, he would have denied it and stated that educated, civilized people, bound by the Hippocratic oath, would never do such a dastardly thing.

He would have offered these denials, as so many did before him, without ever investigating the people involved. He would have ,, been wrong about the Nazis. He would have been wrong about the spying on Martin Luther King Jr. and others. And he would have been wrong about the Tuskegee Experiment.

There are now allegations that the Pentagon was aware of Gulf War Syndrome even while it denied it. There is also some evidence that officers of high rank wore protective clothing while advising their subordinates that such clothing was not necessary. Given this current and historical backdrop, how can anyone in good conscious summarily deny the validity of such allegations without even the pretext of an investigation?

It would be difficult for anyone familiar with the conditions in South Central L.A. in the early 1980s to deny the plausibility of this story. This was/is a blighted minority neighborhood of unemployed, underemployed, undereducated and disenfranchised people. It was already fertile ground for the sale of illegal drugs, although cocaine had not yet made its migration from more affluent communities. Sixteen years later, a 35-year-old black man is facing 30 years in prison after being convicted of being the architect of L.A.'s crack epidemic.

How was this then 19-year-old black youth able to meet and negotiate a deal with the foreign drug lords who subsequently delivered the drugs (without detection)? How was he able to secure a location for the concealment of the tons of this drug that were stored in Los Angeles? How was he able to form a relationship with a financial institution that would enable him to launder the profits? How was he able to outfit his employees with the automatic weapons needed to enforce his trade? And, given the rate of incarceration for black men, how was he earlier able to avoid detection?

If those who summarily deny these allegations can provide credible answers to these basic questions, they would go a long way toward diminishing the skepticism in the black community and restore its faith in our government and in the so-called "war on drugs."

Michael G. McFadden

Baltimore

Unfair portrait of yacht clubs

Being a commodore is not a meaningless title as depicted in your Sept. 19 article on yacht clubs.

A title is an identifier, such as editor, so to demean the title is to demean the person.

Thus, on formal occasions such as a flag raising, it is proper to salute each other as well as the flags while they are being raised.

The fact that the participants are civilians rather than military does not diminish the protocol and respect due the occasion.

There were some valid points in the article. The overall tone, however, diminishes the position of commodore and paints an unfair portrait of yacht clubs in general.

Too bad your reporter took such liberties with the truth about

yacht clubs.

Harry P. Seeback

Bethesda

The writer is commodore of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Clubs

Association.

Put BSO reviews in all editions

Baltimore is supposed to have three major league teams -- the Orioles, the Ravens and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The Orioles and Ravens get reams of copy about their exploits, good and bad, but your paper couldn't manage to find room in the first edition for one column to review the Oct. 3 symphony concert.

This is not the first time that this has happened when a major soloist such as pianist Horatio Gutierrez has appeared with the orchestra. A review in the next-day's Sun would help ticket sales for the following performances.

Now that performances begin 15 minutes earlier, the reviewer should have no trouble making the deadline for the first edition.

Robert Landau

Baltimore

Appreciated Agnew commentary

Thank you for running the Sept. 27 commentary by Matthew Scully titled "Agnew finds quiet rest, memorial."

As a close relative of the late vice president, I agree with Mr. Scully that despite the unfortunate circumstances of history the man still spent a good portion of his life in service to the country, the state of Maryland and our municipality. He should be remembered for that service. At long last he will be.

I want to say that it was refreshing to see a positive piece concerning Mr. Agnew come out of your newspaper, instead of the usual "nattering" of "negativism" whenever something about him is put in your paper.

Bill Amos

Carney

Kissing a classmate in elementary school

I would like to thank North Carolina for contributing another chapter to my impending book, "America Gone Mad." I refer to the six-year-old first-grade boy accused of sexual harassment for kissing his little female classmate, incidentally at her request.

?3 May we all celebrate the death of common sense.

M. Bognanni

Baltimore

Cone paintings look better in Japan

According to the photo in The Sun (Oct. 4), visitors to the Cone Collection currently in Japan are more fortunate than people visiting the same collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The Japanese are privileged to see the masterpieces in their original frames, which were tailored to complement each picture and are more appropriate than the harsh and distracting black-and-silver frames in which they are hung at the BMA. Here, we are deprived of their uniqueness by being shown in the same stark moldings like soldiers in a regiment. Why?

Betty White Garthe

Baltimore

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