Mistaken tax figures reflect education fads, declining...


November 03, 1999

Mistaken tax figures reflect education fads, declining math skills

As a lifelong resident of Baltimore, I found Tom Pelton's article about the city's shrinking population interesting ("Differing views on housing problem," Oct. 22).

As a mathematics teacher in Baltimore for more than 20 years, I found Mr. Pelton's inability to compute percentages disconcerting.

Based on the numbers the article supplied for property taxes on a $100,000 house, Mr. Pelton actually understated the disparity in tax bills between the city and other localities.

The city's bill is 65 percent (not 40 percent) higher than Baltimore County's, 135 percent (not 57 percent) higher than Anne Arundel's and up to 98 percent higher than Howard County's -- and 26 and 74 percent (not 20 and 42 percent) higher than those in Cleveland and St. Louis, respectively.

Then again, considering how state education officials are trying to get teachers to teach ("School reform kills schools," Oct. 24) maybe Mr. Pelton is just ahead of the game.

He was definitely using a real-world application, as well as employing upper-level thinking skills.

I'm sure he used technology in getting his answers, and he may have worked in a group to draw his conclusions.

Unfortunately, the numbers were incorrect.

As mathematics teachers are encouraged to stress such fads at the expense of teaching skills and concepts (the traditional approach) that provide a foundation for students' understanding of mathematics, the students will suffer.

To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy: Some people will see a mathematical mistake in The Sun and ask, "Why?" Others will see the mistake, grade it using a "holistic scoring rubric" and ask, "Why not?"

Paul L. Evans, Baltimore

Computer mania may be overstimulating our kids

Reading of the trend in private schools to require students to have their own laptop computer, I was struck by an educator's remark that "we didn't do it to just jump on the laptop bandwagon" ("At private schools, laptops among latest requirements," Oct. 23).

But the absence of any hard evidence confirming the educational value of these expensive gizmos suggests otherwise.

More to the point was another private school administrator's remark, "Everyone agrees that this thing is taking us by storm. . . . Now we've got to figure out how to make that technology work for us."

This reminded me of Marshall McLuhan's observation that we tend to "put things out before we think things out."

In our readiness to buy into the technological juggernaut, for example, we are failing to consider whether exposing our children to all this electronic imagery may be harming their nervous systems.

The epidemic of attention-deficit disorders among the young might call this computer-driven stimulation into question, especially when it's presented as an educational tool.

Even if our children's immersion in electronic imagery isn't hurting them physically, it is reinforcing a dubious value system -- in which faster and faster is being equated with better and better.

Howard Bluth, Baltimore

Violent television saturates our kids

David Grossman's column "Violence as entertainment is destroying our children" (Opinion Commentary, Oct. 25) was one of the most honest, clear and to the point articles I've read on this subject.

Youngsters have long copied the movies, in their dress, language and social behavior -- and television now is a constant part of their environment.

Parents, schools and religious congregations should protest as loudly about crime and violence on TV as physicians do about cigarettes and cancer.

Mr. Grossman's article should be distributed at every PTA meeting.

Sylvia B. Mandy, Baltimore

If prayer works, why restrict it?

The Sun recently covered a study that suggests prayer helps heart patients ("Study hints of benefits of prayer for heart patients unaware of it," Oct. 26).

I am a firm believer that prayer does work. It not only works for healing, but in daily living. If you doubt that, try it: Prayer really works.

Betty Musgrove, Baltimore

Prayers benefit the sick and the dying.

Yet it doesn't appear to be good enough to be in schools -- for the young, the well and the mischievous.

Rosalind Todd, Linthicum

Senator inspires case of Georgia-envy

I heartily concur with Neal Thompson's moving portrait of Georgia Sen. Max Cleland ("The truth about Max Cleland," Oct. 24). My associate and I had occasion to meet with Senator Cleland in Washington a few weeks ago.

On a very busy day for him, we expected to briefly shake the senator's hand and be sent on our way.

To our amazement, Mr. Cleland warmly welcomed us to his office, knowledgeably asked about our proposed private bill and engaged us in a 20-minute discussion about his passion for improving public education.

Mr. Cleland impressed us as an honest, humble and genuine individual -- more like a next-door neighbor than a typical politician.

I left the meeting so impressed with Mr. Cleland that I almost wished I were a Georgia resident and could vote for him myself.

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