Kudos to Wendy Gaal on her May 5 Maine Voices column regarding the crisis of reading instruction (“Let’s put our knowledge to work for children struggling to read”).

As a reading tutor, I see daily the damage inadvertently done to children by the still-raging fashion of “whole language” programs, now re-marketed under the label “balanced literacy.”

Rather than falling into the trap of blaming overworked, underpaid teachers who entered into a demanding profession with the best of intentions, it is time to expose the truth about what does not happen at the university level where teachers receive training.

It is entirely possible for a teacher to receive a graduate-level degree in “literacy” here in Maine or at one of thousands of colleges and universities around the country without ever receiving instruction in the science of reading, including the components of the effective, systematic phonics instruction that so many children desperately need.

Well-intentioned adults spend a lot of time and money pursuing degrees to become “experts” so that they can help children learn to read without ever receiving the tools that they need to do so.

In education, there is a simple maxim that you cannot teach what you do not know. Until teacher certification and training programs step up and catch up (perhaps with firm prodding from our Department of Education and from parents’ groups), teachers will continue to enter the field with good intentions, unaware of what they don’t know about reading and how to help struggling students.

For the many teachers who are increasingly aware of this void in their own training and endeavoring to learn more on their own time, there are very few resources currently available to them.

If we are serious about improving reading instruction in schools, we need to take a close look at what is happening in the institutions that teach our teachers how to teach.

Julie Boesky

Cape Elizabeth

Since I will be addressing Portland educators in the fall on the subject of early reading acquisition, I feel compelled to respond to the comments of Mr. Bo Hewey, “Teaching reading much more than a matter of rules and tests” (May 11).

After three years of intensive research, I found that the empirical evidence that undergirds reading pedagogy is so consistently powerful that those who deny it are akin to flat-earth proponents.

That is contained in my book, “Leaving Johnny Behind: Overcoming Barriers to Literacy and Reclaiming At-Risk Readers.”

Tragically, the anti-science position ascribed to by Mr. Hewey has denied countless children reading instruction with the clearest and most unassailable link to actual reading achievement.

As Wendy Gaal pointed out in her May 5 column, this requires direct and systematic attention to precursor skills such as phonemic awareness and phonics.

Holistic practitioners like Mr. Hewey continue to take exception to that, but in doing so fail to see the symbiosis that exists between the two constructs.

Failing to take advantage of that middle ground on behalf of children who need us the most is unconscionable.

In fact, attorneys have a word for it — they call it malpractice.

Anthony Pedriana

Retired urban school teacher and principal

River Falls, Wis.

U.S. could wage war better with smaller, elite units

 

The United States has become trapped in an endless and unmanageable war with no clear hope of resolution. We have thousands of troops stationed unnecessarily in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we spend billions supporting these troops who do not need to be in active service.

This is a problem that needs to be addressed in order to move forward.

The solution to this war is something simple that we have done before. It lies in replacing our huge amounts of ground forces with small specialized groups working with cooperative local militias to keep peace and root out hostile targets.

Special Forces troops can be sent into enemy territories to help locals who are working against terrorist organizations. These special units would be able to call in air support in the form of supplies and airstrikes to assist the locals on our side.

They would also be able to assist in planning tactical missions and share their training with the people they are fighting alongside. This approach would build trust with possible allies, reduce the impression of American occupation, and significantly lower costs, both monetarily and in lives.

This plan has worked in the past. The United States’ first reaction to the 9/11 attacks was to send elite Special Forces deep into Afghanistan. As few as several dozen men were sent into the country to work with local tribes who were already fighting the Taliban, offering support in supplies and military training.

The Special Forces soldiers were able to use local soldiers effectively to fight back the Taliban and gain control of much of the country. It would be irresponsible to not look for alternative ways such as this to pull out of this war on terror.

Sol Melendy

Bath

 

Is GOP the ‘Party of No’? Yes, but there’s more to it

 

The May 6 letter about the Republicans, “The Party of No,” actually being Groucho Marxists was very funny.

I found out recently, though, that the label “The Party of No” is a shortened moniker, which should be printed “The Party of NO!” The longer, much-less-used version, is this:

“The Party of (when you ask us to join you in your habitual apologizing for the greatness of the country, to assist you in turning the nation into the People’s Republic of the Enlightened Elite, and to help you in placing an unsustainable burden of debt and reduced liberty upon the backs of our children, you’ll have to please excuse us but we’ll just have to say) NO!”

Who can blame the Dems for using the short version of the label?

Mike Anderson

Falmouth

 

Political signs shouldn’t be placed on public property

 

Campaign signs fill our parks and hinder intersection visibility. A gantlet of signs in the Casco Bay Bridge median strip greets those arriving in our city, and our public works employees have to remove and replace these signs during their mowing.

So, I’d like to remind (or inform) South Portland residents that a majority of our city councilors refused to pass out of workshop a proposal to allow political signs only on private property. You might ask them why.

Ralph Cabana

South Portland