Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The New York Times has published a letter I sent them:

To the Editor:

Re “In Elite Schools, a Dip in Blacks and Hispanics” (front page, Aug. 18): I teach at an after-school enrichment program in an Asian immigrant neighborhood in New York City. There, by studying English and mathematics in depth and at an accelerated pace, students in effect start preparing in elementary school for the entrance exam for the specialized high schools.

Well over half of the academy’s students are admitted every year.

Perhaps if the Specialized High School Institute were expanded into the lower grades, instead of prepping students for a mere three months before the exam, its students would achieve similar results.

New York, Aug. 18, 2006

'"Nearly all" are admitted' would have been more accurate, but I didn't want to sound too cocky.

They didn't publish this letter, which I sent a few weeks ago:

To the Editor:

I'm baffled by the hostility of your letter writers to an academic program in kindergarten ('Can't We Let Children Be Children,' July 31). While my kindergarten classmates and I played in the afternoons, in the mornings we had a rich program of reading, writing, and arithmetic. I don't think it made me "deficient" in "social and emotional skills," or "derailed [my] ability to think for [my]self," to quote your readers. In fact I would probably have been bored if I'd had to play all day. And best of all, I had learned to read fluently by first grade.

Bologna, Italy, Aug. 2, 2006

I remember when Sr. (then novice) Helena-Marie handed out our phonics workbooks she told us that by the end of year we would be able to read absolutely any word in the dictionary; most pupils gasped in amazement, but not me. “Of course we will! It’s about time,” I thought, but couldn’t help feeling very pleased at the prospect as I tried not to smile.

First thing every morning she read us a portion from the Iliad or the Odyssey; after our work was done she'd read other Greek myths. I remember as if it were yesterday Sr. Helena Marie showing us how an oboe worked, how it differed from a flute, or exhorting us to lift the spirits of those who are sad. (I pictured someone levitating.)

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