- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Peace in Sudan

Editor’s note: Francis Deng, the U.N. Secretary General’s representative on Internally Displaced Persons, has described Sudan’s situation in the following terms: “We must consider not only the vast numbers of individuals that have been killed…but also the communities whose existence as identifiable cultural entities has been destroyed: The Nuer and then Dinka, who are among the best-studied peoples in the world…If you eliminate a cultural community as such, that to me is genocide.”

Your editorial on Aug. 15 (“In search of peace in Sudan”) makes several deeply questionable assertions that cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

You claim that the Sudanese government has engaged in “genocidal assaults on the people of the south.” If this was even remotely the case, why have millions of southern Sudanese civilians voluntarily trekked hundreds of miles from southern Sudan — often in difficult circumstances — to seek refuge in northern Sudan, and particularly Khartoum? Most people do not flee toward “genocidal assaults.”

You would appear to be unaware that as part of the Sudanese peace process, the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) — a State Department-funded body headed by an American brigadier general — has been in place to investigate precisely such claims. Its work is a matter of record. Investigating the sort of claims you have made, the CPMT revealed that such assertions were unsubstantiated.

Your editorial also makes the particularly facile claim that Sudan supports terrorist groups. Sudan’s offers in the 1990s to actively cooperate with the United States in counterterrorism were rebuffed by the Clinton administration. These offers were belatedly accepted by Washington, and our record in counterterrorism speaks for itself.

False and fabricated allegations in the past led to the tragic mistake of bombarding the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant by American missiles — the act that deprived millions of people of basic medicine for malaria, tuberculosis, typhus and other diseases.

The Sudanese government is committed to peace. It is clear that there are those who are actively seeking to prolong the Sudanese civil war. Newsweek International’s Aug. 18 issue published an article showing how some American Christian groups are trying to impede peace in Sudan.

We can agree that an end to the Sudanese conflict is within sight and that it is our country’s best and last chance for peace. It is time to cut away the dead hand of propaganda, hyperbole and undemanding journalism that has for so long obscured the reality of events within Sudan. This is the challenge we all face.

KHIDIR HAROUN AHMED

Ambassador

Sudan Embassy

Washington

Human rights in Zimbabwe

As a member of the “international human rights crowd” mentioned in the Commentary piece “Amin’s grisly legacy” on Friday, I take issue with the author’s assertion that we have not spoken out about the human rights violations perpetrated by the government of Zimbabwe. From the time the abuses began, numerous human rights organizations have published reports and issued press releases condemning the continued state-sponsored harassment, attacks and torture directed at the opposition in Zimbabwe, and calling on the international community to put pressure on the Mugabe government to end these widespread violations of human rights. On the very day this commentary was published, Amnesty International put out a press release urging leaders meeting at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit to bring “all possible pressure to bear on the Government of Zimbabwe to respect and protect the fundamental human rights of its citizens.”

Amnesty International’s recent report, entitled “Zimbabwe: Rights under siege,” details the sharp escalation of state-sponsored intimidation, arbitrary arrest, torture and attacks on the political opposition, independent media and human rights organizations since 2000. Having lived in Zimbabwe from 1998 through 2001, I witnessed firsthand the deterioration of the basic rights of Zimbabwe’s citizens, and can attest to the fact that international human rights organizations took notice and spoke out. The international community, and in particular, African nations, must follow suit and publicly condemn the government of Zimbabwe for the country’s spiraling human rights crisis.

KRISTA RIDDLEY

Advocacy director for Africa

Amnesty International USA

Washington

Crunching numbers?

I would like to relate an experience in teaching that reaffirms the “Sweet memory” item in the Aug. 12 Culture, et cetera section. I was an out-of-work engineer able to substitute teach by virtue of a college degree.

I enjoyed teaching so much I went back to school and earned a teacher’s certificate. My first and only teaching job was in Austin, Texas, teaching seventh-grade math, eight-grade history and seventh-grade reading. I started during mid-year, replacing another teacher who quit. Memorization of famous speeches or even the arithmetic tables was discouraged; it was seen as interfering with the student’s cognitive development. The other bogus teaching concept was the need to maintain a student’s self-esteem at all cost. Low grades, such as a D, were seen to cause low self-esteem because they meant below average; therefore, only A’s, B’s and C’s were given for passing work.

I was teaching fractions, a topic most students find difficult at first. Understanding how to manipulate fractions requires a student to master multiplication and division. I was teaching the concept of multiples, essential for adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing and simplifying fractions.

The students understood the concept of multiples; for example, it was easy for them to see multiples of 12 were 1 x 12, 2 x 6 and 3 x 4. After explaining the concept, I used a practical application in which I asked the students to identify the multiples of 24. About a third of my class of 35-plus students quickly began looking into the palms of their hands.

As I maneuvered behind a couple of these students, I could see they were looking at a 2-inch by 2-inch card with a 9-by-9 matrix printed on it. One to nine was printed across the top and along the left side and numbers filled in the rest of the card. To multiply 4 x 6, you would follow the 4 row until it intersected the 6 column and there was the answer, 24. The students had been taught to divide by first finding the number to be divided in the matrix on a row or column with the divisor number; the answer would be on the other corresponding row or column.

These students were not able to form any relationship between a number and its different multiples, although they understood what a multiple was. When I asked who had given them these cards, the response was that their elementary school teacher had given the cards to them because they had difficulty memorizing the multiplication tables. Checking with one of the vice principles and later with the district office, I was informed that in order to maintain the students’ self-esteem, they were given the cards when they displayed difficulty in multiplication.

Being given the multiplication tables on a card as a crutch and not being required to memorize the multiplication tables, these students never internalized the arithmetic relationships between these numbers and could not grasp the higher mathematical relationships of numbers required to understand fractions.

This shortsighted attempt at saving these students’ self-esteem, combined with an aversion to requiring them to memorize arithmetic tables and the rules of mathematics, doomed many of these children to a high probability of becoming mathematically dysfunctional.

Because of this and other differences in the goals of education between the Austin Independent School District and myself, I was not hired for the following year, and subsequently found work as an engineer. My short stint as a secondary school teacher has greatly shaken my faith in American public schools. I no longer am surprised that academically, the United States is among the lowest-rated countries in the industrial world.

MICHAEL D. HOWARD

Woodbridge, Va.

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