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Letters to the editor

Sunday, June 24, 2001

Home schooling and cyber-schools do no favors for children

After reading Bruce Barron's Forum commentary June 17 about cyber-schools ("No More Pencils, No More Books"), I was reminded of a science fiction story I read a few years ago. In that story, the heroes (a 12- and an 8-year-old) find a book that describes this unique and attractive place where all different kinds of children come together to play and learn. They were enthralled with the idea.

I worry that in our attempt to produce the most effective way to educate our children -- providing them with all the wonderful high-tech instruments -- we have denied them the opportunity to learn from the multiple questions and problems that are the reality of a sometimes inefficient but diverse school.

Encouraging home schooling and cyber- schools will not and cannot create a student who accepts diversity, nor one who is able to succeed in the real world -- a world that presents us with ever-changing problems.

The experience of listening to, arguing with and finally working together with various individuals is the surest way to expand our vision. True education is not merely the absorption of knowledge, it is the implementation of knowledge.

LAWRENCE M. EHRLICH
North Side

Change what is 'normal'

In his June 17 Forum commentary "No More Bullies' Dirty Looks?" Benjamin Soskis of The New Republic cautions that in the aggressive backlash to bullying we risk ostracizing bullies. The most effective programs addressing this problem re-educate bullies, the targets and witnesses, without isolating any of them. This is a new issue in its initial phases and the best practices will eventually prevail.

Mr. Soskis goes on to write, "The anti-bullying movement risks pathologizing behaviors that, however unpleasant, are in some sense normal parts of growing up and learning how to interact in the world." Perhaps it is time to change what is normal. The fact that a thing has persisted for a time is not sufficient reason for its continuance. This is not the type of progressive thinking I expect from a New Republic editor.

Soskis observes that anti-bullying programs "may not be in the long-term interest of either the bullies or the bullied." On the contrary, these programs are in the long-term interest of everyone. Consider the benefit to the international community if every country produced citizens who refused to be bullies, targets or passive witnesses.

LAURA HARRISON
Ross

Big (bad) government

In his June 10 column, "Big (Good) Government," Editor John G. Craig Jr. summarized the Brookings Institutions' list of 50 alleged achievements of big government that purport to show that our bloated, inept and occasionally murderous welfare state is in reality "a magnificent edifice." To his credit, Mr. Craig recognized that some Libertarians would dispute this. Well, one is.

It must be noted that at least half of the achievements claimed for big government in the United States amount to nothing more than attempts to clean up messes made by . . . government.

For example, in expanding the right to vote and promoting equal access to public accommodations, the federal government was belatedly exercising its power to override laws, passed by big government at the state level, that barred blacks from voting and forbade owners of public accommodations from treating black and white customers alike.

Two other claimed achievements of big government are programs to increase older Americans' access to health care and to promote financial security in retirement. These are feeble attempts to solve problems caused in very large part by the excessive taxation that supports big government.

Taxes at all levels now cost the average family more than food, housing and transportation combined. This confiscatory taxation steals the private resources that would allow most older people to have a comfortable and healthy retirement without the "help" of government programs. And the programs themselves are so poorly designed as to be in perpetual financial crisis.

Most remarkably, Brookings claims that reduction of the federal budget deficit is an achievement of big government. Excuse me, but what, except big government itself, caused the deficit? Crediting this to government is like praising an arsonist for helping to put out the fire he started. Is it an attempted joke, a failed effort by Brookings to show that liberals really are not totally devoid of humor? I doubt it, but how else to account for so ludicrous a claim?

THOMAS GILLOOLY
Forest Hills

Don't forget nuclear waste

In his letter of June 17 ("The Worth of Nuclear Power Goes Unacknowledged"), Joe Dornbrock makes the U.S. citizenry out to be far less intelligent than it is. He implies that the public is turned off to nuclear power due to the stigma of nuclear weapons, inadequate science education in schools and mass media "off-kilter portrayals of things nuclear." He states that nuclear technology is a half-century mature, implying that it is safe and reliable.

Indeed, Western nuclear power technology is highly developed. I don't believe those folks living near such facilities are overly concerned about danger from the plants in operation.

Many folks are concerned, however, with the accumulation of tons of nuclear waste containing a dangerously high level of radiation. The industry has no reasonable method of disposal for this waste; its plan is to encase it and bury it. Such a plan only shifts the responsibility for this waste to future generations, and the problem only gets worse as time passes and more waste accumulates. A natural disaster is always possible that would unleash this radiation.

To push forward with the current form of nuclear power without a reprocessing capability for its waste is, to put it mildly, shortsighted.

DON GRBAC
Valencia

A lesson for Democrats

The June 3 Forum commentary penned by Thiel College Democratic activist Nathan Shrader ("My Fellow Democrats: Wise Up") should sound a warning to all progressives that the overwhelming disaffection some feel in the wake of recent electoral defeats could mean an ominous realignment of the Democratic Party.

Mr. Shrader, like other Democrats, is justified in his frustration with the disheartening series of Republican victories in Pennsylvania. Such angst, however, logically leads to a shift in strategy, not a forfeiture of fundamental principles.

In his haste to chastise leaders of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party for clinging to perceived "politics as usual," Mr. Shrader fails to acknowledge many significant lessons of the 2000 election cycle.

First, Al Gore -- who did not "lose to George W. Bush nationally," but actually won by a margin in excess of 500,000 popular votes -- enjoyed his peak standing in the polls immediately after highlighting the overtly populist elements of his agenda at the Democratic National Convention.

By articulating the ideals Mr. Shrader calls "old, tired and lifeless," Gore handily carried Pennsylvania in November.

Among the greatest hindrances to today's Democratic Party is the willingness of many voters -- including Mr. Shrader -- to accept as valid the half-truths and distortions put forth by the GOP.

One party has consistently stood for Social Security; the other hasn't. One party has always believed in strong public schools; the other sought to eliminate the Department of Education.

One party has proudly protected the rights of minorities since 1964, the other shrugged off a systematic attempt to disenfranchise thousands of Florida voters last year.

These issues, rather than arcane intraparty battles, are what "wise" Democrats choose to address when granted the opportunity to speak publicly.

An inspiring message that promises to expand economic opportunity, protect workers' rights, preserve the environment and maintain a meaningful social safety net will appeal to a majority of Pennsylvania voters.

An ambiguous one, obviously crafted to avoid controversial issues, will reinforce the cynicism of the disillusioned. Pennsylvania Democrats have, with success, displayed courage and conviction.

ADAM A. MILASINCIC
President
Young Democrats of Butler County
Butler

Rockets' red glare

As we enjoy our tax-free fireworks this year, I hope we all remember they were brought to us by the civic pride of our local Pittsburgh businesses and the healthy competition of a two-party political system. It's nice when politics leads to good deeds, good business and tax savings, for a change.

JAMES CARMINE
Regent Square

Editor's note: The writer, the Republican candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh, led a fund-raising drive to support the fireworks.



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