Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

December 17, 2005

Focus on teaching basic writing skills

Hear, hear to state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden for his angry outburst at the city school system for adopting the Studio Course reading curriculum, and for threatening to make everyone diagram sentences ("School course set for review," Dec. 10).

It's about time someone got angry about how students write. In the last five years, with the proliferation of e-mail, students' ability to write has gone to the dogs.

I teach college, and I'm telling you that students' writing is just downright lousy (and I don't just mean undergraduates either).

Most college students can't write a concise and clearly worded, grammatically correct sentence. And when we get them in college, 12 years into the educational system, quite frankly it is too late to reverse the trend. But by that time most students don't have a clue how to write logically, or know where a comma or a period should go.

Their sentences are screwed-up grammatically and run on so endlessly that my head gets dizzy.

We now live in a time when writing is even more important than it was 10 years ago because business by e-mail looks like it is here to stay.

It's time to get back to basics in education - take out the ruler and crack some knuckles.

Jayne Maas

Baltimore

The writer teaches in the School of Business and Management at Loyola College.

Vouchers do little for foster children

Dan Lips makes the bizarre suggestion that what Maryland's foster kids need is not greater reimbursement for foster families or even greater funding for health and mental health care but school vouchers ("Give Md. foster kids a needed boost," Opinion Commentary, Dec. 8).

It is obvious to me, as a therapist who works daily with foster children as well as an observer of Washington politics, that Mr. Lips is attempting to further the school-voucher agenda while merely using Maryland's foster children as a prop in that campaign.

I see daily the great harm done to Maryland's foster children by grown-ups who claim to have these children's best interests at heart.

Be it revenge on a spouse, anger at a social service agency or worker or unresolved trauma from their own childhood, many adults involved in foster care are unfortunately looking to further their own agendas.

With his preposterous non sequitur of a suggestion that a solution such as school vouchers will help ameliorate the emotional pains of being a foster child in Maryland, Mr. Lips only continues this cycle of abuse at the hands of adults who claim to care for Maryland's children.

Jacob Dover

Baltimore

The writer is a child and family therapist.

Closing Hickey ruins education success

Amid the controversy surrounding the closure of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, the media and policy-makers have both oddly omitted an important part of the story ("Board opposes moving youths," Dec. 3).

A little over a year ago, in Aug. 2004, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), with the backing and support of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, took over the responsibility for the education of long-term care residents (serious offenders) at Hickey.

Substantial physical and human resources were allocated to the project, including the hiring of administrators, teachers and teacher's aides.

It was a difficult job in a difficult setting educating difficult students. But this program was very successful. In less than a year, dozens of students earned their GED diplomas, the most powerful tool in the struggle against recidivism. The remainder earned high school credits.

Yet, in June 2005, with this successful program only 10 months old, the decision was made to close the Hickey School and transfer its students and teachers elsewhere.

Thus, its innovative education program, Maryland's last best hope for long-term education for serious juvenile offenders, was unceremoniously shuttered.

Obviously, the best way out of the cycle of crime - education - was not a priority for the state and MSDE's program proved merely to be the expendable fuel in an engine of political expediency.

So how exactly have the state's actions fostered juvenile reform?

By announcing the closing of the Hickey School, instead of reforming it, the state sidestepped the federal government's requirements for a long-overdue overhaul at the facility.

Next, the state sent serious juvenile offenders out of state or, more ominously, back into your community.

Finally, the state abruptly disbanded the only long-term educational program for serious juvenile offenders, which it had just started 10 months earlier.

It all makes sense - in a political world.

Dudley Thompson

Riverside

The writer is an educator for the MSDE and a former teacher at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School.

Cruel to use death as a bargaining chip

It was with disappointment that I read the letter "Execution is a tool prosecutors need" (Dec. 10) by a student at the University of Maryland School of Law.

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