SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Teachers take stand for planning time

The Sun's editorial "Rules of work" (Aug. 24) reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the teachers union's call for teachers to "work to the rule."

The editorial states that "caring teachers who prize professionalism should be less interested in 'work to rule' than in resolving an issue to the benefit of students."

But it is precisely because teachers want to help students that they are "working to the rule" and refusing to relinquish time for lesson planning.

Planning time is necessary to structure lessons and provide students the maximum benefit in the classroom.

And Sun readers should know that Baltimore teachers are given less time for lesson planning than teachers in any other school district in the state.

At present, Baltimore secondary teachers are allowed five 45-minute planning periods - or 225 minutes per week - and elementary teachers are given three 45-minute planning periods per week.

Baltimore County gives secondary and elementary school teachers 225 minutes per week. Prince George's County not only guarantees 225 minutes per week for lesson planning for secondary and elementary school teachers but also provides an additional 25 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted planning time during student lunch periods.

Montgomery County guarantees 245 minutes of planning time for elementary school teachers, gives secondary school teachers five preparation periods per week and gives all teachers three full days each year for planning and grading.

"Caring teachers who prize professionalism" know that a structured lesson plan is essential to the educational process - particularly when, as in the case of Baltimore's schools, that process must compete with such distractions as old and dilapidated buildings with dysfunctional heating and ventilation systems, a larger than average number of at-risk youths and classroom populations of 35 students or more.

These distractions exist despite the fact that the Baltimore school system has a budget of more than $1 billion and a staff of more than 12,000 to accommodate a population of approximately 83,000 students.

Every school district in the state, with the exception of Baltimore's, understands the importance of planning time.

But Baltimore's school administrators seem to think either that planning time is a luxury teachers can do without or that, for some reason, Baltimore's teachers don't need as much planning time as other teachers do.

If "working to the rule" is necessary to get the city school board to acknowledge what every other school district in the state knows and accepts, then Baltimore's teachers will work to the rule.

Marietta English

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

Shuttle at station still waste of time

While it's a good idea to make the light rail ride from Penn Station to Camden Yards easier, the Maryland Transit Administration should really consider making the everyday task of getting from the Mount Royal stop to Penn Station easier and faster ("Nonstop light rail to Penn," Aug. 23).

Ninety percent of the time, it's faster for a northbound commuter to walk from Penn Station to the Mount Royal light rail stop than to take the Penn Station light rail shuttle. (Just witness all the people crossing Charles Street around 5:10 p.m. and 6:10 p.m. each evening.)

That other 10 percent represents the oddball times when light rail leaves Penn Station shortly after a commuter's MARC train arrives.

If you take a chance on finding such a train, however, you can easily add 30 minutes to your northbound commute if you don't find a shuttle right away.

Is it any wonder so many MARC commuters from areas north of Penn Station will drive to West Baltimore or Halethorpe or even pay for parking in and around Penn Station rather than use the light rail?

Bill Ballantyne

Baltimore

ADHD medication helps patients thrive

Unfortunately, Karin Klein's column "ADHD drugs: oversold and overused" (Opinion

Commentary, Aug. 23) panders to parent and patient fears about treatments for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that, in fact, are highly effective.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8 percent of U.S. children have ADHD, and according to the largest psychiatric study conducted, 4.4 percent of U.S. adults also have the condition.

By following children with ADHD for 10 to 20 years, researchers have come to understand that 30 percent to 50 percent of these children will continue to suffer ADHD symptoms that will impair their lives as adults.

Medical research has clearly documented that untreated ADHD leads to significantly higher rates of tobacco use, alcohol and substance abuse and teenage pregnancy and to lower levels of education, reduced annual incomes, increased risk for driving accidents that cause injuries and higher rates of divorce and unemployment.

Untreated, ADHD is clearly a chronic, disabling illness with severe negative consequences.

Comparing data on prescriptions to estimates of the number of Americans with ADHD shows that only 56 percent of children with ADHD are being treated with stimulant medication while less than 15 percent of adults with ADHD are being medicated.

For 15 years, I have diagnosed, researched, published and treated hundreds of adolescent and adults with ADHD. The success stories are clear.

Ms. Klein's opinion that ADHD medication is "oversold and overused" is not supported by the medical research.

In the end, medical science, not personal opinion, will lead to accurate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, and patients and their families will benefit.

Dr. David W. Goodman

Baltimore

The writer is director of the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland and a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

New Medicare rules overlook infections

On the surface, the recent announcement that Medicare will stop reimbursing hospitals for preventable errors seems to be welcome news ("Medicare won't pay for hospital errors," Aug. 19). However, a little scrutiny of the new rules can be disturbing.

For example, consider the epidemic of hospital-acquired infections caused by antibiotic-resistant "super bug" bacteria.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) are the two most out-of-control antibiotic-resistant pathogens rampaging through our health care institutions.

Data from a recent survey sponsored by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology indicate that the number of MRSA infections alone may be as high as 1.2 million per year, and that more than 10 percent of the victims may die.

Yet, astonishingly, the new Medicare rules do nothing to specifically address MRSA or VRE infections that are acquired in hospitals.

Most, if not all, hospital-acquired MRSA and VRE infections are preventable. And treatment for these infections results in tens of billions of dollars in excess health care costs every year.

While we can all agree that the new rules are a start, they fall woefully short of holding our health care institutions accountable for this massive waste of precious health care dollars (which drives the cost of hospital services ever-higher) and for the long-institutionalized negligence that has caused a staggering amount of human suffering and untold grief to patients and their loved ones.

Michael Bennett

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Coalition for Patients' Rights.

Right way for state to use slots revenue

Now we're talking - and we've heard it straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak: Former Maryland Jockey Club financial executive Frank Trigeiro cut to the chase and laid out the right kind of plan for slots in Maryland ("Only lobbyists link racing with slots," letters, Aug. 25).

Just think of the temptations we could avoid and the money the state could reap if we follow Mr. Trigeiro's plan.

The only provision I would add is that we should use the state's proceeds from the slots, augmented by funds from Program Open Space, to buy up conservation easements on the remaining 685,000 acres of Open Space farm land currently used by the racing industry.

This would inject additional capital into Maryland's racing industry right from the start.

Then the state should use another portion of its gambling proceeds to create a compensation and reinvestment plan for watermen displaced by failing fisheries and for steelworkers displaced by international competition.

Marguerite Whilden

Annapolis

Food aid program is working very well

I was dismayed to read The Sun's editorial "A bold gesture" (Aug. 21), which backed a proposal by certain private relief agencies to transform our nation's humanitarian food aid program and give aid providers cash to use to purchase commodities from farmers overseas.

When the House of Representatives passed the new farm bill, it omitted such a scheme - and for good reason.

First, Food for Peace, as this humanitarian program is known throughout the world, is not a tactic for disguising pork-barrel spending.

Rather, it is a program that generates nearly $3 billion in U.S. economic activity for every $1 billion of food aid it donates.

If that amount were "donated" in cash, the United States would lose all the benefits the program generates at home, including those for our state of Maryland.

Second, it has not been proved that providing cash for local food purchases or food purchases through the United Nations' World Food Program would mean that food would be delivered sooner or more efficiently.

The WFP's costs for transportation and other administrative overhead are about the same as those of our government.

Third, our government has had a long and unhappy experience with the unchecked expenditure of cash in Third World economies.

Corruption in Third World countries has been rampant in the distribution of aid and aid cargoes since the days of the Marshall Plan.

The Food for Peace program has been a visible symbol of America's generosity and a valuable asset of American foreign policy for more than 50 years, feeding millions of starving and chronically ill people worldwide while providing economic benefits to Americans as it ships food aid bearing the banner "Gift of the People of the United States."

In today's world of shifting alliances, global terror and civil, political and military strife within many of the countries that receive U.S. food aid donations, Food for Peace (using American farm products) is more important than ever.

Let's really be bold and preserve a proven program.

Helen Delich Bentley

Lutherville

The writer is a former member of the U.S. Congress and a former chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

U.S. Cuba policy is immoral, illegal

Steve Chapman's column "U.S. Cuba policy not improved under Democrats" (Opinion

Commentary, Aug. 24) reminded me of the pundits who criticize the Vietnam and Iraq wars as "blunders" rather than as what they really are: fundamentally evil and inexcusable acts of aggression.

Mr. Chapman takes issue with "our vain effort to starve Havana into submission" not because the policy is immoral and illegal but because the effort has been in vain.

When Mr. Chapman speaks of the need to "overhaul our Cuba policy," he is not advocating a policy of nonintervention toward the island, which would mean lifting the U.S. embargo completely. Nor is he acknowledging the devastating effects of U.S. policy on Cuba.

And he is not arguing for adherence to the international legal consensus on Cuba - which would mean recognizing the authority of the numerous U.N. resolutions that have condemned the U.S. embargo on Cuba over the past two decades.

Mr. Chapman also perpetuates other media stereotypes about Cuba as a "tropical prison camp" controlled by a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship.

While he is attentive to Cuban-Americans' viewpoints on the embargo, he makes no mention of the opinions of Cubans themselves, and offers no explanation as to why the allegedly unpopular Fidel Castro feels so safe arming the Cuban citizenry.

Mr. Chapman is committed to the same basic goals as the U.S. government and those Cuban-Americans who seek to overthrow Mr. Castro and restore a subservient U.S. client state in Cuba.

There is a need for constructive debate about Cuba and U.S. policy. But at least some of the voices in that debate should come from people who oppose the extension of the U.S. empire overseas.

Kevin Young

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Old instruction ways won't work today

Victor Hanson is wrong on a number of points in his column "Get politics, therapy out of classrooms" (Opinion

Commentary, Aug. 26)

In the first place, he criticizes what he calls sermons on race and environmentalism and recommends that the "popular therapeutic curriculum" be scrapped. But race and environmentalism are crucial issues in today's society. Does Mr. Hanson mean to suggest that schools should ignore these topics?

Mr. Hanson also notes that the disintegration of the American nuclear family and the warped nature of our popular culture are complicating the task of educating youths.

That is true. So why does he advocate scrapping "sermons" on sex, drugs and self-esteem in schools? These are exactly the issues on which so many of our families are failing to educate our youths and the popular culture is "educating" them into unhealthy attitudes. Where else but the classroom can kids get more constructive messages about substance use and sexuality and learn how to care for themselves and others?

Mr. Hanson also says that counseling is "desirable" but not "crucial."

In fact, counseling is crucial to students' success not only because families often fail to provide emotional nurturing but also because the family is often the site of considerable stress and emotional trauma for children.

Finally, Mr. Hanson questions the value of educating teachers with "theories about how to teach."

But teachers today must deal with children from a wide range of backgrounds, including many children who have never received proper discipline in their families.

And that's all the more reason teachers should be trained in appropriate classroom management and in effective ways to engage learners.

In other words, Mr. Hanson's prescription for the failures of today's education system is to return to the practices of the 19th century - a time when vastly different conditions existed in American society and the world.

Elizabeth Fixsen

Savage

The writer teaches English at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Bill Hagy's death marks end of era

Last week's news that William "Wild Bill" Hagy had met his maker instigated some beautiful, albeit bittersweet, recollections of the fun had by all in Section 34 of Memorial Stadium during the height of "Oriole Magic" ("Thanks, Wild Bill, for the memories," Aug. 23).

The Sun and local radio and television stations featured touching tributes to this ordinary fan who grew into a Baltimore sports icon.

I'm not ashamed to admit that during more than one of these remembrances, a lump formed in my throat and tears welled in my eyes.

This unexpected reaction forced me to examine why I would cry over the loss of a man I did not know personally and hadn't thought about in years.

I'm no psychologist, but I quickly came to the realization that Wild Bill's demise was simply a stark reminder that time marches on. And for many of us, the passing of time is chronicled by our sports memories.

The games, the players, the coaches, the stadiums and sometimes even fellow fans like Wild Bill all help to write chapters in the personal sports narrative we use to measure time.

For anyone who regularly attended Orioles games in the 1970s and 1980s, our recollections include so many on-field events - Eddie Murray's clutch hits, the Lowenstein-Roenicke-Ayala platoon in left field, Earl Weaver's animated arguments with umpires, all the pennant races - as well as what was going on around us in the stands: Wild Bill's cheers, Chuck Thompson's voice on a transistor radio and those opening chords of "Oriole Magic." They all interweaved to form the perfect storm that made being an Oriole fan so much fun in those days.

Many of us who were fortunate enough to enjoy those great times had been too young to have had that same experience with the Unitas-era Colts.

Last week, as we wept while envisioning Wild Bill waving his trademark cowboy hat, maybe we finally understood why our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles get that little gleam in their eyes when they talk about living in Baltimore in the 1950s and 1960s and cheering for the Colts.

It's not just the fond memories that open the tear ducts; it's the realization that those days - perhaps their best days - are forever in the past.

And if you didn't live through a special era like that, you can't fully appreciate what its passing means.

So while Wild Bill's death is not a personal loss, I can't help but think that Baltimore sports fans lost a little piece of themselves last week.

The games last forever in our memories, but the people who participate in them and the venues where they're staged have finite existences.

When they go, they are gone forever, and they take our youth with them.

Marc Bouchard

Phoenix

Controlling city's dangerous dogs

I would like to thank Lynn Anderson for Sunday's article about dogfighting and The Sun for its excellent coverage of this topic in recent months ("Putting a leash on dogfighting," Aug. 26).

For all of us who care about both human and animal welfare, it is gratifying to see this horrific crime finally come into the public spotlight and be taken seriously by government officials and the public.

But what is sometimes lost in this discussion is the true nature of pit bulls, which, contrary to popular mythology, is not to be aggressive toward people.

Already victimized by those who want to use them for the brutal blood sport of dogfighting, these dogs now also have the misfortune of being the current dog of choice (as Dobermans, Rottweilers and even German shepherds were in past years) of criminals, who use them to guard drug deals and for other nefarious purposes.

They are often carelessly bred, raised by people who have little sense of responsibility toward animals - or their community - and brutally trained to be dangerous.

Sadly, these are the dogs we hear about in the news and that people who do not know the breed think of when they hear the words "pit bull." Often lost is the reality of countless pit bulls that live happily with human families and are good with children, loyal and extraordinarily affectionate. Many are also incredibly forgiving. Despite having suffered the worst kinds of abuse and neglect, they still approach people with hope and friendliness.

All of us who have been involved in animal rescue have hoped for years that the traditionally underfunded and understaffed Baltimore animal control agency would one day be able to truly fulfill its mission and that the city would vigorously investigate and prosecute animal cruelty in all its forms.

As we know, abuse of animals does not happen in a vacuum, but is intimately connected to violence against people and many kinds of criminal activity. More vigorous enforcement of animal protection laws will help make our society safer for all of us.

Bonnie Rachael Hurwitz

Baltimore

The writer is president of an animal rescue group.

I would like to applaud The Sun's article on the world of dogfighting in Baltimore, which put this issue on the front page so that people could know how much dogfighting does go on in our area.

If Michael Vick accomplished nothing else, he did help make people aware of how awful dogfighting is ("Vick pleads guilty, apologizes," Aug. 28).

Cruelty to animals and to humans goes hand in hand.

So I was happy to read that the city has stepped up and created a dogfighting task force, which is badly needed.

Laurie Burghardt

Parkville

While the brutality of the dogfighting culture was long overdue for the spotlight that the Michael Vick case has helped bring to it, Baltimore's leaders, animal officials and residents will be in peril if they react as if vicious dogs exist only in the poorest, most blighted or most drug-infested areas of the city.

The city has plenty of dangerous dogs in middle-class neighborhoods and few ordinances regarding their control.

One case in point: the communities of Homeland and Old Homeland in North Baltimore, which are inhabited by hard-working professionals.

At least five pit bulls live near my home on Bellona Avenue, which runs along the border between these communities.

Two of those dogs have attacked a neighbor of mine in two separate incidents within the last three months.

Even the gentlest pit bull raised from birth by loving owners has a natural instinct to protect and be territorial.

In a city setting, this instinct can be especially dangerous.

Unless the city takes proactive measures to address the ways ordinary neighbors house, handle and restrain dangerous breeds of dogs, it won't be just those in the drug or dogfighting trades who see firsthand how lethal these dogs can be.

K. L. Park

Baltimore

After reading the article about dogfighting in Sunday's Sun, my reaction is: Ban pit bulls from Baltimore.

Susan W. Talbott

Baltimore

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