I love it when college types write letters claiming to know why urban schools fail ("The Schools' problem? Concentrated Poverty," March 30). It is particularly laughable when the observations come from folks who have jobs as trainers, staff-development experts, professional writers, consultants, or others who talk like farmers claiming to know how to cultivate poor, minority children.
What they always suggest is a clean, easy way to solve the problem: Take all of the kids who are lacking the proper soil and put them in a garden with roses and they will bare fruit. Wrong! The process will never be that simple. Improving urban schools will not involve moving the plants. It will involve getting a new farm, and that process will not be so neat.
If you want kids to blossom in school you can't be afraid to get knee deep in shit. Manure stinks, and all of the nice people who enjoy microphones, catered conferences, conventions, book signings, and panel discussions should stay away from the soil. Intellectuals who sit around in their forums end up with harmful collective think. What they need to do is ask the people who are on the front lines. Ask the families (mostly moms and grandparents), or the urban teachers, if more money or integration is the best way to improve urban schools. Some may say yes, but most would describe something more immediate, something that everyone curses but no one dare confront: the school system itself.
Most schools are not set up to inspire or bring about change. They are designed to maintain the status quo, and this is true from one district to the next. They are all structured in the same way with similar hierarchies. The chain of command is essentially the same in Pittsford as it is in the city. The difference is that the parents in suburban districts demand that school leadership continue to produce. They hold the managers accountable, and although most of these suburban schools could probably be much better, they remain stable, and that is good enough for the folks who have the money to make up for the schools shortcomings. This is not the case in the city.
Most city parents are every bit as emotional as suburban families but are not as "system savvy," so the district leaders in the city can afford to tinker when they should be dismantling. The three most important players in the equation --- the kids, their families, and the classroom teachers --- are unsupported, and many of them have lost hope. All of the lip service in the world will not change this.
What is needed is a complete breakdown of what currently exists. Schools must be reinvented from the bottom up. The emotional element must be brought back into them. Unfortunately, only two things will cause this to happen. The families could rise up and demand it, essentially causing a revolution. This is unlikely. The other way would be for the leaders themselves to give up what they now have. The big salaries, egos, comfortable chairs, heavy desks, secretaries, golden parachutes, and everything else must be given up. The teachers, families, and community leaders should be given control.
This is even less likely to happen. School leaders like going out to eat, they enjoy vacationing, they have bills to pay, college tuition, car payments, etc., and they are not going to give these things up any more than Gollum would give up the ring.
John Bliss, Nottingham Road, Rochester (Bliss is a city school district parent and activist.)
I agree that the stars of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" deserve more than the current remake, but KathArine the Great (Hepburn) deserves better than having her name misspelled in a movie review, of all places ("What a Difference a Generation Makes," March 30).
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Rochester
From the editor: You're right, and we're humbled.
The Marxist-progressive left in America has sought for decades to rewrite history to conceal the record of atrocities perpetrated on their own people by Communist governments the world over. In "Hero of the Revolution," (March 30) Arnold Matlin proposes the following rewrites in the case of Nicaragua:
• The US opposed the Sandinista government because "It was the threat of a good example."
• "The Sandinistas did great."
• "They were brilliant in being able to keep it together for 11 years despite all these attacks by proxy with the Contras and the economic attacks by the United States."
• "If the Sandinistas had been left alone...Nicaragua would be a far better place."
Is that really how it was?
The Sandinistas defeated the dictatorial Somoza government of Nicaragua by force in 1979. They wrote a constitution that provided for voting and the freedom to form political parties. Soon, Daniel Ortega and the 15-member ruling junta took complete control of the country. The constitution would have to wait.
By 1980, they set up a secret police and made military service mandatory. They forced the nationalization of more than 50 percent of the nation's means of production. They collectivized agriculture. They forced economic central planning and established press censorship. All the usual Marxist dictatorship moves. Democracy would have to wait.
In 1981, Sandinista forces attacked the 150,000 Meskito Indians and other tribes who lived on tribal homelands along the Atlantic coast. Tribal leaders were arrested. In 1982, 10,000 Indians were forcibly relocated to the interior. Bulgarian, East German, and even Palestinian "advisors" conducted much of the relocation.
Those who refused to go were left to starve on their lands. Anthropologist Gilles Battalion described it as "the politics of ethnocide." As justification for these atrocities, Tomas Borge, Ortega's Maoist minister, publicly announced, "The revolution can tolerate no exceptions." Caring for the poor did not apply to Indians.
In 1979, the first year of the Sandinistas' regime, they announced Decree 185, which set up tribunals outside the established legal system for the purpose of trying political dissidents. In 1982, the UN Human Rights Commission publicly expressed concern about the large numbers of people who had "disappeared" or had died "attempting to escape." By 1983, Amnesty International documented 3700 political prisoners in Sandinista jails.
The year 1984 brought the long-promised elections. Sandinista thugs caused so much violence and intimidation that the conservative candidate withdrew. His serious opposition effectively eliminated, Daniel Ortega was "elected."
That year also brought waves of arrests in the countryside. Members of non-Sandinista political parties were jailed. Fifteen thousand Sandinista special agents, trained by Cuban G2, detained people indefinitely without charge and used torture methods including electric batons, stress positions, isolation, mock executions, and worse to force confessions. Former Somoza guards were never more than 20 percent of the detainees.
These are the Sandinista practices and policies that caused a new civil war to begin in 1982, this time against them. It was begun by several groups with differing ideologies. In the north, former Somoza supporters and true democratic freedom fighters formed the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, or FDN. In the south, disenchanted former Sandinistas, anti-collectivization peasants, and Indians formed the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance, or ARD. These groups also resorted to atrocities.
They were eventually aided by the US under Reagan. The Sandinistas were aided by Cuba, East Germany, and North Korea under their various Communist dictators. In 1985, a trade embargo was begun by the US with support from most west European nations. By then, 50 percent of the Sandinista budget was going for military expenses, as they found it harder and harder to force their Marxist policies on a resisting populace.
In 1989 the Berlin wall came down. Communism was failing in eastern Europe and across the Soviet Union. In 1990, the Sandinistas also failed. They relinquished power by granting another election in which they were defeated by Democratic candidates, marking the first time in 160 years that power had been peacefully transferred in Nicaragua. With the ouster of the Sandinistas, democracy had finally arrived.
If the Nicaraguan people thought their country would be a better place with Sandinistas in power, they would have voted them in in 1990. They didn't.
Despite Arnold Matlin's claims, the Sandinistas were anything but a "good example," and did not "do great." Nor were their atrocities against their own people, "brilliant." Nicaragua is a nation torn not by US aggression but by the Sandinista government's aggression against its own people.
The Sandinistas' attempts to force a Marxist dictatorship on the Nicaraguan people:
1) Provoked a civil war which killed 50,000 people;
2) Led their original revolutionary goals astray;
3) Delayed the coming of democracy to Nicaragua for 11 years.
Arnold Matlin's efforts on behalf of the poor in Nicaragua are heroic. The Sandinista revolution was not.
Chris Nelson, Hendrix Road, West Henrietta
Those of us who have known Dr. ArnieMatlin have deep regard and respect for the work he has done over the years in the poverty-stricken areas of Nicaragua ("Hero of the Revolution," March 30).
However, when I was watching the public-television biography of Pope John Paul II, it was with some sadness that I learned that similar activities for social service on the part of the Catholic clergy were considered to be almost an anathema by the church, and priests were duly punished by banishment.
Bernard A.Yablin, Winton Road South, Brighton
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