Moments that change the field of education are few and far between, yet programs that would revise the way students learn in the classroom are too often criticized for not being a panacea for our education troubles (“A computer for every student? It’s backfiring,” Feb. 1). As with any tool, the effectiveness of laptops in a student’s education is limited primarily by that student’s innate willingness to learn — a force multiplier, in effect. It would be foolish to expect technology to have the ability to transform an unmotivated student into a paragon of virtue, and to blame technology for the distractions of the former would be an unwarranted conclusion.

It especially disappointed me to see the Feb. 1 commentary conflate “low-income” with “low-potential”; the immense talent chained by poverty is one resource our nation would be wise to tap. Technology in our schools provides a vital means for those with inspiration and dedication to leap past the obstacles that plague low-income areas. Further, the advantages of a connected classroom for motivated students is unimaginable — access to humanity’s combined knowledge is an underappreciated tool. In response to the allegation that technology fosters inequality, I can only say this: A race to the bottom may be worse than no race at all.

Kenneth Han, Eden Prairie

SCHOOL QUALITY

Work to do, inside and out. And still …

A Jan. 29 article about the disparity in education between the Bethune and Hiawatha community schools (“2 schools in 1 city are worlds apart”) stated that a quarter of Bethune’s student population was “homeless or at risk of losing their housing.” Providing stable housing must be a priority in addressing the growing educational inequity in Minnesota.

On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, security in housing is identified as a second-tier need for humans (the first being breathing, eating, etc.), and self-actualization, the level at which learning happens, is the final of five tiers. A study from 2004 (Rafferty, Shinn, Weitzman) stated that children from unstable housing are more than four times more likely to score at or below the 10th percentile for performance in reading and math.

While teachers and administrators can do great things in the life of a child, they are but one component in a high-quality education. As we look to address educational inequity in Minnesota, housing needs to be a key component of this effort.

Joshua Connell, Montevideo, Minn.

• • •

I agree with the Jan. 29 headline but not the conclusion. Both schools are worlds apart from where they should be. I would argue that Hiawatha has the poorest record considering that it has such an advantage over Bethune in student demographics, parent involvement and teacher experience. The fact that with all of those advantages still less than half of its students meet math and reading standards is scary.

Don Nightingale, North Oaks

• • •

I volunteer at Bethune. It’s sometimes a hotbed of chaos. If you expect quiet children with their hands folded politely on the desk, you’re in the wrong place. It’s like asking for the vegetarian menu at a good steakhouse: It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

When I read with students, are they defiant, disrespectful or mean? Not at all. They read with eagerness, energy and focus. They soak up the one-on-one attention I give them. We answer questions on a worksheet and sometimes the answers we come up with are wrong — or are they just different? My bad.

What these students need and what they crave is the fuel of interaction to spark their minds. There is a massive supply of untapped potential at Bethune. And whereas the parents at Hiawatha can afford the time to help in the classroom, parents at Bethune cannot, so it is up to the rest of us to fill in the gaps.

To the students at Bethune, thank you for allowing me to read with you. I’ll be back. Sometimes I’ll give you the wrong answers, but you will teach me with your wisdom.

Sam Catanzaro, Minneapolis

 

TEACHER DIVERSITY

Pay would help. And other efforts do help.

In an effort to get “more diverse teaching staffs” and “encourage more people to enter certain teaching fields” (“Taking stock of state’s teachers” editorial, Feb. 2), the editors recommend that “high school counselors and schools of education” advise interested students in that direction. If counselors have a conscience, how can they give that advice?

The average college graduate has substantial debt, while starting teacher pay is about $36,000. Among those who do go into teaching, about half leave in the first five years due to the enormous workload, the low pay and the difficulty of the job.

And now some want to take away teacher tenure so that teachers will not have that protection when they finally reach a livable salary. School districts have been unsuccessfully trying to recruit minority teachers for years.

Why don’t the editors suggest a solution that might actually work: raising teacher pay?

Michael Holm, Minnetonka

• • •

As a longtime teacher in St. Paul, I have long been uncomfortable with our teaching force’s lack of diversity. My colleagues have, too. I would like to tell you some of our efforts to change this.

Several years ago, a group from the St. Paul Federation of Teachers promoted Future Educators Clubs in each of St. Paul’s high schools, wanting to encourage our diverse students to consider the teaching profession. Future Educators is a national organization that wasn’t expressly designed to diversify the teaching force, but we see this as an excellent way to do so. I advise my high school’s Future Educators.

Our students have teaching experiences in many service projects. We have raised funds to purchase readers for kindergartners, and have read to them in their classroom. Our students have learned the “Dads Make a Difference” curriculum, and then have taught seventh-graders. They have trained elementary students in Red Cross safety.

It’s unfortunate that those who adopt a bird’s-eye view of the shortcomings of our educational system so often neglect the vibrant grass-roots work of teachers and students.

Nancy Solo-Taylor, St. Paul

 

OBITUARIES AND GENDER

Writer should stick to her own continent

Alexandra Petri’s item about gender bias in obituaries (Short Takes, Feb. 3) was a degradation and disgusting display of ultra-feminism. What she didn’t state was that the obituary that upset her was for the internationally bestselling author of “The Thorn Birds” and that it appeared in The Australian. She just said, “It was an Australian obituary.” It was not a U.S. newspaper, and her characterization of men was inappropriate. We don’t do that here. All of the obituaries I read are respectful of the deceased regardless of gender.

Rich Osborn, Edina