The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Schools Are Better Than You Think They Are, Natalie Wexler

on September 6, 2015

For a long time I’ve  made it a practice to send a “Letter to the editor” of a newspaper whenever I see an article about education that pleases or irritates me. In the past, most of my letters got published, but not recently. Do the newspapers think my comments are trivial or poorly written? Or are they just tired of me? I decided to post my most recent–and unpublished– letter to the New York Times for your opinions. Let me know what you think.

To give you some background, I was responding to an Op-Ed, “What Kids Really Need to Know”, by  Natalie Wexler, published on August 27.  In it she argues that E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s “Core Knowledge Curriculum,”  is the best tool for educating children, and it should replace the current emphasis on improving reading skills.  To my mind, Wexler is setting up a “straw man.”  In the schools I visit teachers have not gone wild on reading skills, ignored the need for background knowledge, or stopped teaching social studies and science. They don’t need a curriculum based on a series of informational topics.

But enough of my defensiveness; here’s my letter to the Times.


To the Editor:

In her OP-Ed Natalie Wexler is correct when she says that students need background knowledge as well as skills in their education.  But she is wrong in assuming that those two components of reading are detached from each other and that a knowledge based curriculum is necessary. When teachers choose high quality books for reading instruction, read aloud to their classes regularly, and encourage students to read widely on their own, skills and knowledge grow exponentially and in tandem.

It really doesn’t matter if the class time for science and social studies is limited in elementary school classrooms, as long as some of the materials  available contain information about one or the other, presented in a compelling  and age-appropriate way. A good education is like a healthy diet: high quality food, presented attractively, in reasonable quantities,  and available every day.

Sincerely yours,

Joanne Yatvin

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One response to “Schools Are Better Than You Think They Are, Natalie Wexler

  1. Allen Berger says:

    Joanne, with all respect, your unpublished letter is too wordy with too long sentences. You could cut much in half by deleting all that should not be done and focusing only on what should be done, and why briefly. You might wish to reconsider your whole second paragraph because the first sentence is rather dogmatic and the last sentence, about a healthy diet, needs to be tied in better to the op/ed. I do like the sentence that you have in your background statement; you might consider using that in your actual letter; e.g., In the schools I visit. . . .

    Thank you for having the courage to share your letter and for all that you do for education.-

    With best wishes,-Allen

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