Opinion | Mississippi’s Many Education Lessons

Responses to Nicholas Kristof’s column about education progress in Mississippi. Also: The “frenemy” relationship; predictions about tech; keeping your home safe.
Opinion | Mississippi’s Many Education Lessons

To the Editor:

Re “Mississippi Is Offering Lessons for America on Education,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, “How America Heals” series, June 1):

Mississippi schools prove that all the reasons for the failure of children to learn how to read and excel have been excuses. Critics will no doubt claim that its success is an aberration, but the evidence is clear. The only question now is whether its approach is scalable.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles
The writer taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Education.

To the Editor:

“Thank God for Mississippi” is both the beginning and the exuberant ending of Nicholas Kristof’s article. It starts with the imagined sardonic invocation of those four words by Arkansas and Alabama (ranked, respectively, sixth and eighth among all states in child poverty) because even with their rankings, they could trust that Mississippi would score below them. Ah, the glee of not placing last!

Poverty is out as an excuse, a Harvard economist and education expert declares in the middle of the ebullient piece, which ends with a heartfelt “Thank God for Mississippi!” from Mr. Kristof because the state raised test scores while spending less on education than other states.

Thank God for Mississippi ranking No. 1 in child poverty (28 percent)? Thank God for 43 percent of its Black and Hispanic children living in poverty? Really? I cannot and will not thank God for Mississippi allowing students to grow up in poverty.

As a teacher for 30 years, including 17 in a low-income, minority school, I was interested in learning how Mississippi raised test scores. Yes, poor students can learn, but Mr. Kristof dismisses the burdens of poverty. Conditions in Jackson, Miss., resemble those in a developing nation. It lacks clean water and students cannot drink from school water fountains.

Mr. Kristof’s sole focus on test scores is like a swim coach’s obsession with improved times but no concern for the well-being of the youngsters swimming in toxic water. We should be concerned with the children’s overall well-being, not just their test scores. Where is the outrage over child poverty?

Katherine Murphy
Falls Church, Va.

To the Editor:

Regarding the recent success story about teaching reading to low-income children in Mississippi, imagine what their achievement could look like if the same strong coaching and support were given during the first three years of life, when brain growth and development are at their peak.

Mary Meland
The writer is a retired pediatrician and a member of the advocacy group Doctors for Early Childhood.

To the Editor:

Nicholas Kristof’s article on education in Mississippi contains good news, but the premise is highly misleading. The state, as usual, didn’t invest two cents in improving education; Jim Barksdale donated $100 million. Now Mississippi can brag about its educational progress, without increasing taxation or its investment in education.

I love the way that red states refuse to fund public programs, but they go around with a tin cup, asking others to contribute. Public education should be funded by the public that benefits, and Republican states should raise taxes so that the rest of us aren’t funding their initiatives.

Barbara Barran

To the Editor:

Re “Frenemies May Be Hazardous to Your Health,” by Adam Grant (Opinion guest essay, May 29):

It is nothing new to therapists like me who have worked with abused clients that ambivalent relationships are incredibly dangerous.

The abusive partner may act remorseful and guilt-ridden after brutal attacks. A parent may sometimes be loving and sometimes vicious. Gifts may be given after acts of brutality. There may be tearful and anguished requests to be forgiven.

For the partner who hopes the abuser will change and the child desperate for a parent’s love, these seeming acts of contrition are truly damning. The adult partner has reason to continue hoping the abuser will change, especially with the many reasons that make it so difficult and dangerous to leave the relationship.

The child soaks up demonstrations of love and may feel responsible for the abuse, a way to experience some sense of control where there is none.

We turn away from stories about such abuse and its effects. It’s much easier to read about a toxic boss. Bosses like the one described in the essay do damage. But we must stop turning away from the abuse that partners and children experience in this country. It is a horrific problem, one more often leading to death than any of us want to believe.

Laurie Rostholder

To the Editor:

As a resident physician who worked on the front lines of the pandemic in 2020, I appreciate Adam Grant’s discussion of the issue of “frenemies,” which unfortunately underlies many interactions in our broken health care system.

Toxic work relationships between members at different levels of the medical hierarchy likely exacerbate the epidemic of burnout among health care workers.

Attending physicians may take credit for good treatment plans suggested by residents, while blaming subordinates for any negative outcomes. Other times, supervisors subject underlings to private humiliation, while hypocritically showering them with praise in the presence of patients, creating a facade of a cohesive team. These conflicting messages instill “impostor syndrome” among trainees, eroding our precious little confidence.

Let us strive to do better by our colleagues and patients, and avoid perpetuating this vicious cycle for the next generation.

Aamir Hussain

To the Editor:

I was encouraged by “Fears About A.I. Could Be Warranted, or Not” (Sunday Business, June 11).

The article took me back to 1970 when I was sitting in an ethics class at a Jesuit college. The instructor began talking about the potential dangers of cloning: the potential for an army of clones, germ warfare and a direct assault on what it means to be human.

About midway through his rant, I leaned over to my friend and said, “Cloning, that’s what I’m going to do.”

After 50 years in the field, I am proud to have been part of the biotech revolution. I have had a first-row seat to introducing hundreds of lifesaving medicines and tests, new crops requiring fewer pesticides and water, and many products affecting significant industries.

But I am still waiting for the army of clones.

Bill St. John
San Francisco

To the Editor:

“Protect Your Home From Intruders When You’re on Vacation” (Here to Help, June 8) focuses on tech solutions but fails to mention a couple of obvious suggestions.

The first is to tell neighbors when you will be away from home, so that they might report unusual activity to the police. Enough people are working from home these days, making unofficial neighborhood watches a sensible way to stay protected. Old-fashioned but quite effective.

And, the most obvious suggestion: Stop posting on social media where you are visiting, in effect telling the world that no one is home.

Daniel Grant
Amherst, Mass.