Letters to the Editor: Week of March 12, 2014

Timelines only go so far 

The sestercentennial of St. Louis is yet one more occasion to review and celebrate the history of Jewish life in the Gateway to the West. Bob Cohn’s Feb. 19 “Cohnipedia” column about B’nai El is but one lovely effort along these lines.  Sadly, though, what often passes as of historical interest is but a timeline of when and where edifices were erected and the demographic trends of their supporters. Except for periodic references to infighting over customs, defensiveness in the face of anti-Semitism, publicized programmatic offerings, as well as the hiring and firing of clergy, little seems to be transparent about the spiritual stagnation or transformation of our denizens. 

To take the spiritual pulse of St. Louisans, we have relied mostly on national population studies focusing on ritual observance, synagogue attendance, communal affiliation, attachment to Israel, friendship patterns and self-identity. Unlike our sacred texts, these hardly provide penetrating windows to the soul. Indeed, responses to many of these inquiries reflect cultural shifts on the American landscape and the narrowing or broadening of one’s options as driven by one’s personal resources. I hope there is a cache of relevant, local resources that can be astutely mined.

Rabbi Scott B. Saulson, Ph.D., Consultant to the B’nai El Collaborative

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Common Core standards

The Feb. 27 commentary “Class Warfare” by Marty Rochester contains inaccurate and poorly researched information. The author incorrectly states that the Obama administration developed the Common Core national strategies for K-12. As informed educators know, the standards were developed by the nation’s governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Teachers, parents, school administrators and experts from across the country worked to establish a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics. Forty-five states adopted the standards about three years ago to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for college or the workforce. Identifying Common Core as “Obama standards” is not only unfair and false, it politicizes the effort. 

Rochester declares further that states were “forced to accept” the standards; this statement is also untrue. If it were accurate, all 50 states would have adopted. Moreover, the article incorrectly claims that the standards represent a “national curriculum.” Common Core standards and proponents have repeatedly pointed out that the standards are guidelines for topics to be taught; a quick examination of the information reveals that no teaching methods, styles or organization are proposed. The standards establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach. 

Rochester’s proposed solution to elevate what he terms as “dumbed down” and poorly taught K-12 schools is to dismiss efforts to identify important content and establish high expectations across the country. His conclusions are based on faulty logic and information, and are therefore unsupportable. 

Helene Sherman, St. Louis