One thing that you can't deny about Little Rock is that it is a cosmopolitan, multicultural, civilized — even genteel — city. I mean, no matter how you slice it, and/or how many apparent "faults," "lacks" or "failings" you may perceive it has, it is, after all, a state capital, and it possesses many amenities, virtues and charms that you just can't find in many other American cities with a far greater population.
As a recent arrival, an individual belonging to an ethnic minority (Latino), and someone who has lived in a fair number of large and medium-sized cities in the U.S., especially in the Far West, Southwest and Midwest, I can categorically state that Little Rock is a very good place to live. Perhaps the same cannot be said of other regions of Arkansas or the southern U.S. in general, since, as a rule, racism has a way of rearing its ugly head in many parts of the South. But Little Rock is, at least nowadays, the exception to that rule.
One of Little Rock's greatest assets is that it's family-friendly. It is a very good place to raise kids. It shares many characteristics and values with cities and towns of the Midwest: an enduring philosophy that puts common sense as one of its highest tenets, a people first and if-it-ain't-broken-don't-fix-it attitude, and a down-home, simple, folksy, authentic, relaxed hospitality and friendliness. These things, coupled with "do the right thing" morals, and, of course, very, very strong family values, all add up to the city I've come to know and love.
That is the Little Rock I encountered since the first day I moved here in May of 2009 and the one that I still marvel at every single day I have the privilege of living here.
The KIPP record
In his guest column on KIPP charter schools, ("Charter Schools' Hidden Agenda," 4/20/11), Dr. Paul Hewitt highlighted a new report by Western Michigan University researcher Dr. Gary Miron, and called the charter school movement "an unethical charade." After reading his column, I feel compelled to set the record straight. I teach pediatrics in medical school and have a strong interest in how children learn. I know of KIPP's work through my daughter, a product of the LRSD who teaches at a KIPP school in Washington. According to her experience, KIPP educators are incredibly passionate and driven, constantly seeking constructive critique in order to improve. I firmly believe this attitude is largely responsible for its success. KIPP is nationally renowned for improving academic performance in predominantly low-income kids at 99 schools in 20 states, including Arkansas. Having recently visited KIPP Delta College Prep in Helena, I have seen firsthand the transformative impact KIPP is having on students in the Arkansas Delta. The four schools in the KIPP Delta network are achieving dramatic educational gains for students living in rural poverty. KIPP Delta's founder, Scott Shirey, has received a national Milken Educator Award for his extraordinary contribution to public education in Arkansas. In his critique of KIPP, Dr. Hewitt failed to critically review the Miron study in two major ways. First, in calculating KIPP's $5,700 private per-pupil revenue, Dr. Miron only looked at data from half of KIPP schools, and ignored the fact that charter schools like KIPP have to find and pay for their own facilities. The New York Times reported KIPP's actual private revenue, which is closer to $2,500. Dr. Hewitt also repeats the Miron finding that KIPP loses 40 percent of black male students. This is simply not true. In a new report published in April, Mathematica Policy Research looked at student-level data for both KIPP and neighboring public schools, and found that KIPP actually loses fewer black boys. KIPP has an open-door policy and encourages people to visit its schools. Dr. Miron has admitted he's never done so. I encourage anyone interested in innovative educational systems to consider a visit, so that we may objectively identify what's good and what needs improvement. When addressing new models in education, professors of education must not pick sides without critical review. Otherwise they are teaching our future educators a dangerous lesson: that innovation is suspicious, and the status quo is our best bet.
Dr. J. Gary Wheeler
Choice for women
Recently, local and national op-ed pages have brimmed with both pro- and anti-choice positions stemming from federal and state legislators and their decisions concerning women's reproductive rights. Though we will be debating the question of abortion forever, or for at least as long as women are deemed subservient to men, it all boils down to the simple issue of traffic control. Yes, traffic control.
Here's how it will pan out: We finally do away with safe, legal abortions sending poor, desperate women into back alleys and wealthier women to enlightened countries. But we'll still have thousands more unwanted children. We'll put them all in foundling homes, orphanages, out on the street or just out of sight. But the real problem will be the heavy burden this unforeseen plethora of children will place on traffic enforcement officers. For they are the ones who will have to control the gnarled traffic jams, bleating horns, and rattled nerves of all the anti-choice activists who will be rushing head-long, with unbridled enthusiasm and heart-rending compassion, to adopt the unfortunate wee ones. If fortune smiles on the future families-to-be, the children will all be physically, mentally, "socially," aesthetically, racially and developmentally acceptable and will thus find loving homes immediately. And let's all keep our fingers crossed that it works out that way. But there's a caveat. To qualify for their new roles as parents, the "anti-choicers" must promise faithfully to continue to elect politicians who reside only on the moral high ground. They may never vote to fund any social programs that even hint at feeding, educating and providing medical care for future unfortunate children, thereby "keeping the stream alive."
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