- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

Reforming Pakistan’s madrassas

Your editorial “Madrassa alert” (Thursday) was notable for an egregious error: the apocryphal claim that there are “up to 1 million madrassas” in Pakistan.

Considering that the population of Pakistan is about 140 million and the average attendance per madrassa is 100 students, we can see that your mathematical assumption has gone awry. As a matter of fact, there are about l2,000 madrassas in Pakistan — a figure your national security sources in the CIA would not dispute.

Beyond that, it is a flawed assertion to claim that there have been “notable setbacks” in the reform program. The reforms are on track: The madrassas’ curricula have been widened and expanded under the law, and it is mandatory to include the basics of a well-founded education program — math, language, geography, history, et. al.

The reforms are revolutionary in effect, and it will take a while to fully implement them and wean the madrassas from providing just religious education.

Finally, Pakistan welcomes the suggestion in the editorial that the United States should increase its aid to education in Pakistan. We need help, not criticism, to address a problem we have inherited by being the front-line state during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

TALAT WASEEM

Press counselor

Embassy of Pakistan

Washington

O’Connor’s flawed perspective

I read with sad outrage about Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s threat that international law and opinion, rather than our Constitution, could be considered in future Supreme Court decisions (“Inside Politics,” Nation, Thursday).

Does she not realize that the United States has risen to the heights it has only because it is unlike any other country on Earth? That founding contract between the governors and the governed created most of the world’s wealth, industry, new ideas and inventions.

Thanks to the freedom that Americans and our Constitution demand, the world has myriad modern wonders, from penicillin to flight to indoor plumbing. It is precisely because we, like our forebears, refuse to think and act like the people who allow themselves to be dominated by a ruling class in the countries that were left behind that we are the single most important country man has ever seen.

In case you haven’t noticed, Justice O’Connor, this is a great nation — not because we follow other countries, but because we lead them. As long as we do that, the world becomes a better place.

One doesn’t need a law degree (much less be a Supreme Court justice) to see that whenever someone talks about the Constitution being a “living, breathing document,” it always means curtailing rights for American citizens and increasing authority for the government.

You people have the right to govern, Justice O’Connor, with the consent of the governed and no one else. Until you govern the whole world, you have the authority to abide by the United States Constitution and its laws.

BOBBY FLORENTZ

Falls Church

Counteracting the inequalities

Is the College of William & Mary racist? In a wave of recent criticism, the college’s Summer Transition Program (STP) has come under attack as a program that practices “reverse discrimination” and promotes “resegregation.”

William & Mary formed the STP in 1983 in response to a court finding that the commonwealth of Virginia had not made sufficient progress in desegregating its institutions of higher learning. The program was designed to help the college recruit and retain minority students. The STP begins in the summer before the student’s freshman year and continues throughout the academic year, providing each student with an upperclassman mentor.

In an article titled “The Mythology of multiculturalism,” published Aug. 24 in The Washington Times, student Jeanne McDonnell expressed concern over the program’s race-based selection criteria and criticized the program for sending the message that only minority students need extra academic assistance, thereby offending minorities and denying white students opportunities to improve their study habits.

Further criticism of the program appeared Sept. 25 in the cartoon “Mallard Fillmore,” accusing the college of “condescendingly invit[ing] all minority students, assuming they need ‘extra help.’… Thereby discriminating against whites, and insulting minorities.”

Miss McDonnell also said the program encourages minority students to segregate themselves from the rest of the campus community. In reality, the STP constantly encourages participants to “branch out, make new friendships and share their experiences with people on campus,” said Chon Glover, director of the Office on Multicultural Affairs. If Miss McDonnell had taken the time to contact the office, the odds are that she would have reconsidered her views that STP promotes resegregation.

Does inviting certain minority students to a skills-enhancement program imply that they were admitted to the college based on race instead of merit? Minority students have been accepted to the college because the office of admissions believes they are capable of succeeding in a stimulating academic environment.

According to President Timothy J. Sullivan, individuals in the STP “are not deficient students. After all, every student at William & Mary takes the same classes, is graded the same way and meets the same requirements for graduation. There is no separate track for anyone and no place to hide from the college’s demand for excellence.”

Sadly, the true purpose of the STP has been misconstrued in the wake of recent negative publicity. Though labeled by the media as a simple skills-enhancement program, the program is intended to allow minority students to establish a network of fellow students and mentors who can provide assistance to those who face the daily pressures of being “different” among the nearly 82 percent white student population on campus.

For minority students, many of whom come from ethnically diverse neighborhoods and schools, arriving on the predominately white campus of William & Mary can be culture shock. The STP, (as well as other multicultural organizations), caters to the needs of many minority students who naturally feel pressure stemming from not being a member of the “norm.”

By hosting the STP, the college acknowledges that the experience of a minority student on this campus may include extra pressures that are not experienced by non-minority students. Is it safe to say that the entire campus community at William & Mary is colorblind? Unfortunately, our society has not reached this state of perfection. In an environment where minorities are underrepresented and white is “the norm,” it is next to impossible that minorities will not experience stereotyping or prejudices based on their appearance.

The most compelling defense of the STP stems from solid facts. While figures show that minority students have a lower graduation rate at institutions of higher learning, evidence has shown that STP participants graduate at a rate equivalent to that of the rest of the student body. In addition, veterans of the STP count among their ranks a student body president, a senior class president and a host of other campus leaders.

As a whole, students who have participated in the STP have a higher rate of studying abroad than the non-minority population on campus, according to Sam Sadler, vice president of student affairs at the university. Are these figures just a coincidence? Rather than being a program that gives minorities an unfair advantage over white students, the STP serves as an attempt to counteract the inequalities that continue to exist in our imperfect world.

KATIE LEACH-KEMON

ELIZABETH KEENER

Williamsburg, Va.

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