Notes from devoted readers
The sixth-graders interviewed in “A Test of Faith” (August 28) about Wellesley Middle School’s field trips to a mosque sounded wiser, more open-minded, and more relaxed than the fearful adults who criticized the trip from a distance. This summer my family hosted two Iraqi high school students for 10 days as part of a program sponsored by the US government. These engaging, funny, and endearing teenagers observed Ramadan while they lived with us. We visited a mosque with them; they visited a synagogue and churches. They cooked halal chicken for us; we made them waffles. We talked about Muslim and Jewish customs and holidays. We took them to the ocean and, of course, the mall. The one place they wanted to visit above all was Harvard. My teenage son is now their friend on Facebook. The Wellesley schools obviously understand that the more we know about one another, the richer our world.
Janet Linder / Auburndale
Teaching comparative religion has nothing to do with faith. It is really an issue of survival, because an educated public will better understand the conflicts that come from religious confrontation. My contemporaries, some octogenarians, wouldn’t have known a Sunni from a Shiite if they fell over them. Now, the next generation has to know the cause of that religious conflict, as well as the wars developing wherever Islam and Christianity bang against each other. Christian evangelicalism is on the move around the world. Islam is fighting back. Judaism, politically irrelevant for nearly two millenniums, now identifies with an Israel growing increasingly orthodox; it also has The Bomb. All we have known is thousands of years of war in the name of God, from the Hebrew Bible to this very moment. Study religion in school? Damn good idea!
Sol Gittleman / Professor, Tufts University
I respect the Wellesley school district’s willingness to step into the thicket of the church-state debate, as well as its commitment to continue the program in the face of controversy. Still, I have to wonder why they evidently cannot find any time, in a half-year course, to teach about Buddhism, a millenniums-old religion practiced the world over, including by millions here in the United States – and at least a handful, I imagine, right there in Wellesley.
Michael Avitzur / Natick
I am very much offended that the Wellesley class does not seem to address atheism as a viable alternative to organized religion. Most atheists are as moral and ethical as most of those who observe the precepts of their respective religions. However, while religious people can use holy books such as the Bible and Koran as the basis of their beliefs, atheists must rely on other resources to develop value systems they can live by. How do students learn about the thought processes that lead people to reject religion? How do they learn that there are books that address the development of a social conscience without recourse to religion? When do students learn that being an atheist in the United States can be a challenging and trying experience?
Lisa Dames / Roslindale
The ship’s shape
I read with great interest and concern “The Last Battle of the Cassin Young” by Phil Primack (August 28). I have a unique association with the ship. I was both commanding officer of a Navy Reserve unit and also Massachusetts state president of the Navy League of the United States. It was through my contacts that the National Park Service brought USS Cassin Young to Boston. A will to save the ship for future generations and a means to obtain the necessary funding must be found. This bit of history represents a Navy hero, the historical period of World War II to Korea, the men who served and died aboard her, and the special place for a Fletcher Class destroyer in the Charlestown Navy Yard, where others like her were built and repaired.
Ivan Samuels / Newton
The first time I saw the Cassin Young was with my father in 1980, and it was from there that my future 20-year service with the Navy began. I learned not only the staples of the naval service aboard the Young, but to cherish and honor the service of my two great uncles, John and Sunny Doherty of Charlestown. Jimmy “Sunny” Doherty served aboard the cruiser San Francisco in November 1942 when it and Captain Cassin Young ran headlong into an attacking Japanese force on its way to bombard the Marines on Guadalcanal. To hear that Cassin Young’s namesake ship is in danger of being lost to the ravages of time and the lack of funding is heartsickening. No, she cannot be surrendered without a fight. It would not honor those who died aboard her, nor those whose lives have been profoundly shaped by her. If she is to die, then let her go down knowing every effort was made toward her salvation. It is not the least we can do, it is what must be done.
Daniel Rush / Bremerton, Washington
Several years ago my wife and I went to visit the USS Constitution. The line was massive, and there was no way we were going to wait. Across the dock was a Navy ship that I had never heard of: the USS Cassin Young. There was no line. For the next couple of hours, about 10 of us had the pleasure of what seemed like a private tour of the ship with a very knowledgeable Park Service ranger. I will never forget it. I hope that somehow the Park Service and the Navy will find a way to save the ship.
Stephen Gilman / Sharon
I find it ironic and sad we can’t come up with the money to do repairs on warships like the Cassin Young largely because we are still fighting two other wars. I think one question is: Does the Cassin Young have as much historical significance as Old Ironsides? I would say yes.
Sandy Wadlington / Rockland, Maine
Educating the educators
I have been an early childhood teacher and parent educator for more than 30 years. I taught kindergarten when Massachusetts first mandated it in public schools in the 1970s. Never then, as I integrated basic skills teaching into play activities, did I hear that a child didn’t want to come to school. Now, in my work with parents and teachers, it is one of the most common issues they bring up. In her essay “The Heartbreaking Point” (Perspective, August 28), Laurie Swope powerfully captures the genuine despair I hear more and more from parents and highly qualified kindergarten teachers around the country. It has been brought on by the many new government mandates to “teach to the test.” Fortunately, Swope has the resources to home-school her son. What about the heartbreak of all the parents whose children have the same feelings as her son, but do not have the resources for home schooling or private school? What happens to their children, who day after day dread their time in school, but have no way out?
Diane E. Levin / Cambridge
Even before having kids, I’d considered the option of home schooling. I face several dilemmas, including a father who taught public school for 35 years. I live in a town with a “good school system,” but I worry about what that means now. I’d hate to deprive my 2-year-old son of something he could learn in school, but I’d also hate for him to be deprived of life learning while stuck in a classroom. I don’t want to home-school out of bitterness but out of an enthusiasm for learning. We are fortunate to live in an area with many great educational resources and opportunities within a close drive. A few years back, I saw Dr. John Ratey of Harvard University lecture at a conference. His life’s work is reinforcing the importance of exercise and play on children’s cognitive, behavioral, and academic development. It reinforced for me what I’d been taught in nursing school: “Play is the work of children.”
Megan Quinlan / Reading
In my long kindergarten teaching career, I worked hard to supply a rich array of materials, to give children choices, to encourage the arts, to get to know the children and support their individual strengths and interests. Clearly, national priorities have shifted, and legislators and officials far from the daily life of the classroom are dictating programs that stifle children’s learning and growth and teachers’ freedom to respond creatively to children’s needs. What is needed is a national movement of parents and teachers to gather the facts about what is actually happening in early childhood classrooms and how it is hurting children and teachers, and then contrast it with the research results of such organizations as the Alliance for Childhood. Then this needs to be widely publicized, and legislators and school administrators need to be confronted and challenged.
Anne Martin / Newton
I recently talked with a kindergarten teacher who had opted for early retirement because she “couldn’t take it anymore.” “Take what?” I asked. The taking of “childhood away from our children,” she responded. Why are our students burned out at the end of high school? Why do so many need a breather before college? Why is everything aimed at targets? Getting on the right team in first grade so you can be a starter in high school? We can make a difference if like-minded people get together. Let’s start now.
Dorrie Kehoe / Concord
The most important thing we can teach our children in kindergarten is not a particular subject or task but rather that school is a wonderful, exciting, interesting, and joyful place. We need to help children understand that kindergarten is just the beginning of a wonderful journey. If we successfully communicate that message to our children, I have no doubt that academic achievement will follow.
Rosemary K. Torpey / Woburn
I have worked as a teacher’s aide in a full-day preschool with severely disabled children. It really was like boot camp – children who didn’t obey the rules were punished by timeouts, no recess, and extra work. If children dropped their lunch trays, they would not get replacements. Absolutely no coddling of any kind was given to help a child adjust to a classroom structure. In fact, I was instructed not to look at a child who was crying. I could go on about the bad parts, but let me also tell you about the good parts: The kids learned how to follow directions, walk up and down the stairs carefully, put on their coats, become potty trained, and make friends. Most of them adjusted to this new regime and I believe even started to enjoy school. Many of the children were proud of the new skills they had learned. Having said all that, I don’t know if forcing kids to learn these skills sooner gives them a great advantage. The only true benefit of school at this age is the social aspect of making friends and being with their peers.
Debra Vincuilla / Watertown
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