Every day there are more articles about the decline of the American educational system, including the problems with teachers’ unions, the high cost of college tuition, school dropout rates and the effects of poverty.

A major problem with the American educational system is that the students are not taught critical thinking and writing skills. This is reflected in their inability to think clearly and to write a critical essay.

What I have found over the last eight years of teaching is that roughly 95 percent of my students did not know how to write a history essay or a term paper.

At the last Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations, I had a chance to ask professor Stephen Walt about the writing skills of his students: graduate and undergraduate students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

He said the majority have no idea how to write a critical essay on a given history or foreign affairs topic. He spends the first week teaching them how to write, using “A Rulebook for Arguments” by Anthony Weston as a textbook.

Students should learn basic analytical skills of argument, statistical modeling and laboratory procedure. Professor Stanley Fish in an article in the Yale Alumni Magazine, “Education: The Deflationary View,” in 2008, argued that these skills are central to politics, ethics, civics and economics. An essay, therefore, should “render a verdict:” Is the argument logical, and is the case proven?

The problems in our education system go deeper than science, technology and math. We need to teach students that writing is an intellectual activity that proceeds from thinking.

C. Patrick Mundy

Spruce Head

During the last several years, there has been a lot of discussion and regarding public education reform.

Most recently, the state of Maine has approved the creation of 10 public charter schools.

There is also discussion of a “school choice voucher” system whereby parents in Maine could transfer their child to a public, private, or religious school using local and state taxpayer dollars.

Another proposal being forwarded is to use local and state taxpayer dollars to contract with out-of-state “virtual” high schools whereby students could obtain their high school education “online.”

Reform and change are always necessary and are usually difficult to achieve. As we strive to make positive changes in our public schools, it is important that Mainers define what we truly want from our education system.

Historically, public education in the United States has provided (1) a tuition-free education for all students; (2) the promise of equal educational opportunities regardless of race, gender, or economic or social status; (3) a commitment to the potential of upward mobility for all members of society, and (4) the advancement of democratic principles and values.

As we debate the future of public education in Maine, I hope we do not implement policies and reforms that benefit only those students most likely to succeed in the first place. I hope we do not implement policies and reforms that relegate those least likely to succeed to second- or third-rate modes of education.

I encourage all Mainers to pay attention to the debate on education reform and support measures that endorse a commitment to access, opportunity and quality schooling for all children from every background.

Craig King

Topsham

GOP opposition to bill ignores safety of women

Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate” rape comment is only the most recent evidence of the GOP’s neglect for women’s safety and well-being.

The Violence Against Women Act was enacted in 1994 and allocates funds to investigate and prosecute crimes, such as rape. Unfortunately, the future of this once completely bipartisan act is currently uncertain as it continues to be held up by the Republicans in Congress.

In Maine, grants from the program help York County to hire assistant district attorneys to prosecute domestic violence cases, enable the Maine Department of Public Safety to make protection-from-abuse orders more efficient and accessible, and assist the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault with support services and community awareness efforts.

On May 15, Senate Republicans joined a Democratic majority to reauthorize the bill that extended protection to gay and transgender individuals, immigrants and undocumented women. The House Republicans then passed their own regressive version of the act that excluded these already vulnerable communities.

The GOP has decided that its anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-woman sentiments are more important than protecting the lives of women and children.

Sen. Olympia Snowe and Rep. Chellie Pingree have voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Senate candidate Cynthia Dill has called the GOP’s delay “outrageous, dangerous, designed only to put women at risk.”

As a young woman, I am concerned for my future if the GOP’s war on women continues. I urge my friends and neighbors to consider voting for pro-choice women this election season.

Kate Elmes

Woolwich

We’ll all breathe easier with EPA soot standards

The air Mainers breathe should not inflame our lungs or increase our chances of suffering a stroke or heart attack. Yet, our air is still polluted with particles like soot from coal-fired power plants, making it toxic for us to breathe.

The good news is that the Environmental Protection Agency is developing clean air standards to clean up soot pollution. A strong standard could save more than 35,000 lives each year, by making the air cleaner and safer for us to breathe.

Mainers should urge the EPA to move ahead with the strongest possible soot pollution standard, and call on Maine’s elected officials to do the same. A strong soot pollution standard will mean cleaner air and healthier lives for all Mainers.

Lolly Lim

Volunteer, Environment Maine

Portland

Paper’s intrepid explorer must have celebrated early

Just finished reading “Tracing the Fore” in the Sept. 1 Press Herald.

John Spritz weaves an entertaining tale, but if he thought he saw a 1,587-foot vessel at Merrill’s Marine Terminal, I think he may have been nipping at the strawberries and gin before he began his epic voyage.

Mike Mulkern

Portland