Learning starts in first years Mike Bowler's column...

March 17, 2001

Learning starts in first years

Mike Bowler's column "Guide by first lady is a promising start" (March 4) demonstrated a lack of understanding of some very important education research.

Research suggests that critical brain development, which prepares children for beginning reading instruction, takes places before children are 3 years old. If children are deprived of important sensory exposures during that time, they do enter kindergarten "not fully prepared for the rigors of that first year of schooling."

To be ready for beginning reading instruction, children need to understand language, have a sense of how words work and be exposed to beginning phonemic awareness.

And research further suggests that how parents and caregivers interact with infants and toddlers sets the stage for children's future interpersonal interactions.

Informed educators today realize that we cannot ignore this important research and must find ways to offer quality early childhood experiences to all children.

The Maryland State Department of Education is a national leader in requiring that this brain research be included in course work for all teachers in Maryland. The Maryland Council of the International Reading Association's Parent and Reading Committee, which I chair, is also committed to the dissemination of this important research.

I interact daily with kindergarten teachers from schools throughout Maryland. I can assure Mr. Bowler that there are many very dedicated educators in this state who are making extraordinary efforts to meet the needs of the "60 percent of 5-year-olds who aren't ready."

But education and brain research suggests that their efforts come too late. We must make every effort to extend the best possible start to all children.

Sharon Pitcher, Towson

The writer teaches reading instruction at Towson University.

Slapping teen-ager is never proper

Michael Olesker's column about a mother arrested for child abuse because she slapped her 14-year-old son's face concluded: "Where, precisely, is the line drawn between child abuse and a parent showing a child, in no uncertain terms, that some kinds of behavior will not be tolerated ("Trying to agree on the line between discipline and abuse," March 4)?

This implies that there are times when physically disciplining a teen-ager is both appropriate and necessary parenting. That is incorrect.

The deleterious effects that physical punishment has on the parent-child relationship as well as on the adolescent's self-esteem far outweigh any positive effects that it may have on his or her behavior.

I do not believe that all physical punishment is child abuse. Nor do I claim that physical punishment is never effective.

But physical discipline is not the most effective form of punishment, and it is not a necessary part of discipline. And physical discipline is not appropriate for teen-agers.

It would not be fair to judge this family based on the limited information presented in Mr. Olesker's column, but this family is potentially in crisis.

Instead of being assessed by trained professionals who could have educated her on alternative forms of discipline and on resources for dealing with a challenging teen-ager, the mother was publicly humiliated.

The system failed not because it did not allow her to discipline her child as she saw fit, but because it over-reacted and missed an opportunity to help.

Dr. Pasquale Bernardi, Baltimore

The writer is a member of the pediatrics department of the Johns Hopkins Medical Services Corp.

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