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Feedback 7/25 

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The draft

and its results

Perhaps it's best if Foster Rogers ("Bring Back the Draft," Feedback, July 18) and all of us were reminded of the Vietnam War days when the military draft was active.

The US government deceived its way into declaring and waging that war –or was it just a conflict? – resulting in: the deaths of 50,000 Americans and 300,000 Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians; the destruction of much of the Vietnam landscape; and political, economic, and social-psychological upheavals that have merged with the reverberations of several centuries of the violent history of this nation.

This, to my way of thinking, is not a reflection of "greater common sense and balance to military engagements." What was the "totally good reason" for the Vietnam War and so much death, violence and destruction?

To have or to not have a military draft is obviously not the choice that matters. To not engage in violence and war may be the right and only choice.

Someone, with a small bird cupped in their closed hands, asked another, "Is the bird alive or dead?" The other answered, "The bird is in your hands."


The roots of

our violence

This is a horrible problem in our city ("Facing Facts on Violence," Urban Journal). I think we need to look at the elephant in the room. We can talk about the deep-rooted causes like poverty, but the immediate cause of this kind of violence is drug prohibition.

If we were to end the failed drug war, we would see a drastic decline in violent crime and gang-related crime. It was Prohibition that gave us Capone and organized crime, and it is drug prohibition that gives us the violence that we see in US cities.

If we would take the first step and legalize marijuana, we could bring an end to racist policing methods like racial profiling and Stop and Frisk programs. We could stop locking up thousands of young black male non-violent offenders, and turning them into hardened criminals.

These common-sense ideas will be ignored, of course, because Western New York's Prison Industrial Complex thrives on locking up young black men, and we ignore the true cause of this kind of violence, drug prohibition!


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I must respectfully disagree with your conclusion that hopelessness in the Black community is "too facile an explanation." Perhaps you have not seen the face of hopelessness in the thousands of black males who the Department of Justice tells us are racially profiled every year; the hundreds of African-American males who pass through our local special-education system which the Council of Great Schools tells us is skewed against providing fair special-education assessments to black and Latino male students; the thousands of black males who the US Department of Education recently told us are unnecessarily and disproportionally suspended from school; or the hundreds of thousands of black males who are disproportionally denied bail under circumstances where their white cellmates are granted bail.

As a black male, former prosecutor, defense lawyer, civil rights advocate and educator, I have personally seen the face of hopelessness in the eyes of black men (professionals and prisoners alike) in the courtrooms, classrooms, and communities of this country. It is real and has a definite impact on the choices they make.

And while the loss of hope may be a manifestation of a variety of underlying causes, the loss of hope (whatever its cause) does affect an individual's capacity for reasoned and rational decision making.

Irrational decision-making and the consequences of those bad choices only exacerbate the sense of hopelessness that these young men feel. Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr. once observed: "If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all."

Many of these young men of whom you speak have lost the will to "go on"


Posted on

You are right: there are roots of this violence in joblessness and poverty. But I think that the obvious is so obvious that we do not even notice it anymore. Young black men do not manufacture the guns that do the killing. They are not reaping profits from the steady stream of weapons into the streets of America. These young black men do not benefit from the big business of bullets.

The sad fact is that a lot of white people get rich from this maiming and murder, and what adds even greater desolation to this issue is that many of our politicians from all political parties are supported by the industry of this madness.


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Charters don't

get better results

"The March of the Charters" (June 27) states that "the verdict is still out on whether charter schools can deliver better results than traditional public schools." Actually there is a considerable body of empirical evidence, and the conclusions do not favor charters.

After a decade of reading instruction under No Child Left Behind, test results documented what the research had indicated from the beginning: the instruction did not improve students' reading. Similar evidence is available for assessing the instructional value of charter schools, but as with NCLB, millions more children will be educationally damaged because the research will be ignored.

A Stanford University multi-state assessment, for example, found that while nearly half of the charters studied had reading and math results comparable to those of local public schools, the results of 37 percent of the charters were significantly worse, which included the reading and math achievement of black and Latino students. Only 17 percent of the charters produced superior education outcomes.

Similar results came from Mathematica Policy Research: The academic outcomes between charters and public schools were small or nonexistent. In reading, none of the results were significantly positive, and in some states and cities they were significantly negative.

It is worth noting that in another MPR study, charter schools, compared with urban public schools, had markedly lower student-teacher ratios (15/16-1) and lower percentages of poor students. Yet even these advantages failed to yield overall superior academic outcomes.

Among the charters, the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools, hailed as a premier chain, have produced similar inferior findings. The recipient of millions in corporate funds, allowing the schools to spend more on per-pupil instruction, KIPP hardly represents a level playing field with public schools. Yet despite its significantly greater per-pupil spending over local schools, 40 percent of its African-American male students left KIPP schools between grades 6 and 8.

These results are not unique to the US. A study done by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries found that whether it was Austria, Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, or other OECD nations, the educational consequences were the same: choice schemes that include charter schools harm more disadvantaged and low-income families.

Studies also uncover some of the inferior instructional qualities that help explain academic outcomes in charter schools. For example, the average public charter school loses 25 percent of its teachers every year, almost twice the turnover in public schools. What does that figure say about teaching expertise, especially for educationally needy students?

Yes, there are some excellent charters, just as there are excellent public schools, but it's time to stop the smoke-and-mirrors game that portrays charters as the answer to educational and instructional inequalities. Instead, policy needs to be guided by a continuous line of studies (see, for example, "Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances," Russell Sage Foundation) amply documenting the solution: address the poverty in children's lives and the underfunding of their schools.


Gerald Coles is a researcher, writer, and lecturer on the psychology and politics of literacy and education. He was formerly on the faculty of the University of Rochester's Warner School.

The Scouts

and diversity

You miss the point that Boy Scouts of America is a PRIVATE organization and as such has the rights to set its rules ("Boy Scout Bigotry," News Blog). Diversity does not men everyone doing what you want. I do not care about the issue one way or the other except for the drumbeat of "I demand you do what I want."


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