Monday, January 23, 2006

A ‘loveless society’?

The Supreme Court simply scratched the surface of the debate in opining that the federal government can’t control narcotics to stop assisted suicide in Oregon. Suzanne Fields digs deeper in deploring the loveless society that “celebrates suicide” (“When society celebrates suicide,” Op-Ed, yesterday).

With the elderly often disdained or discarded by their own families, consider the incentives for a state-sponsored suicide program like Oregon’s. Why fritter away an inheritance on expensive end-of-life care? Why care for those who are no longer “productive” to society? Don’t the financial and emotional tolls of terminal illness suggest a “duty to die”?

I spent several months conducting research in the Netherlands, which, like Oregon, has legalized medical killing. I interviewed family members who were still grieving over loved ones lost to state-sponsored euthanasia. In one case, Dutch doctors had withheld food and water from a beloved grandfather while administering overdoses of morphine. He had never requested euthanasia. The family discovered the scheme too late, and the grandfather died without goodbyes. Government-sponsored studies reveal that nearly 1,000 Dutch patients are terminated by doctors each year without ever having requested euthanasia. Yes, euthanasia and assisted suicide provide autonomy — but for doctors, not patients.

The answer to state-sponsored suicide includes more sophisticated and, in certain cases, more aggressive pain-relief-prescribing regulations. Hospice care and tools to help alleviate the financial burdens of the terminally ill also can help tremendously. However, the most powerful prescription for a terminally ill person is the unwavering love of family and friends and the hope of a life to come in which “there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.”


Senior policy analyst

Christian Medical Association

Ashburn, Va.

Reading, writing and gender bias

The gender bias against boys is even greater than the perceptive article “Academic underachievers” (Page 1, Sunday) suggests. Two factors not mentioned in the article are how students are taught and evaluated.

Consider the neglect of political and military history, which involve the real forces of politics, war and peace. Boys are more interested in these than are girls, but such subjects are downplayed in favor of “social” history. For example, my son’s American history class devoted one class period each to changes in women’s fashions during World War II and discussion of the battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Consider that when writing is taught, great emphasis is placed on keeping journals and expressing feelings, which generally are more interesting to girls than to boys, at the expense of a gender-neutral emphasis on expository writing and argumentation. Which is more useful in life, the ability to compose paeans to me, myself and I or the ability to set down one’s ideas in cogent form?

Consider the importance given to writing throughout the curriculum, even in mathematics and science classes, which favors girls over boys. By contrast, no educator has ever emphasized the importance of teaching mathematics across the curriculum: Sciences courses have been stripped of math requirements, and social studies courses neglect statistical topics and even the use of data to illustrate important demographic and population trends. This emphasis exists despite the fact that mathematics is extremely useful in everyday life and for many careers, while few jobs require the kind of writing that schools stress.

Consider the revised SAT, with its recently added writing section. Writing again is elevated at the expense of mathematics, which is only one-third the total score. Again this shows bias against boys, who traditionally excel at mathematics, and in favor of girls, who are more likely to like writing. Consider the growing bias in favor of using mixed ability groupings, which downplays individual competition in favor of interpersonal cooperation and places a great burden on students to manage each other. Finally, consider grading practices that emphasize student behavior and assignment completion but not test scores. Tests are far better measures of what is learned, but because girls are better behaved than boys, de-emphasizing test scores favors girls over boys.

Unless these deep and pervasive biases in grading and curricula are addressed, boys will continue to lag behind.


Former commissioner

National Center for

Education Statistics

U.S. Department of Education


A-la-carte cable

I read with interest Thursday’s Op-Ed column “Choice, decency and cable TV,” about recent government proposals to require cable companies to offer channels on an a la carte basis — one channel at a time.

On the surface, a la carte seems appealing. Certainly greater consumer influence over programming has merit in light of the horizontal and vertical integration in cable programming and distribution. For a generation, a consolidated cable industry kept out diverse new channels.

Nonetheless, the few diverse, independent channels that have managed to survive must be preserved, and new independent channels must not face insurmountable barriers to entry. Unintentionally, a la carte would ring the death knell for program diversity.

To understand why, think of multichannel cable as a video library. In a traditional library, natural curiosity motivates visitors to browse the shelves and check out books they never have heard about. In the same way, cable channel surfing allows viewers to encounter and enjoy programming they never would choose with cable a la carte.

If traditional libraries operated a la carte, they would only need drive-up windows. Readers would only order books they already had heard about — one book at a time. Far fewer books would be published, and most books would be mass-appeal titles. Our intellectual and cultural life would lose much of its vibrancy and depth.

Similarly, under cable a la carte, new channels featuring gospel music, international culture or movies about blacks would never get off the ground. Without the daily exposure that comes with channel surfing, it could take these new channels decades to attract the millions of loyal viewers they would need to recoup the costs of producing high-quality programming for a national audience.

As we watch six to seven hours of television every day, we’re exposed to cultures with which we’re unfamiliar and ideas with which we disagree. Without that programming diversity, Americans would become less informed, less enlightened and more culturally illiterate.

That’s why a la carte isn’t just a “technical” cable-television issue. It’s a potential stake in the cultural and intellectual heart of our nation.


Executive director

Minority Media and

Telecommunications Council



Congress is once again considering a major change in how consumers receive and pay for their cable television channels. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin has raised the specter of mandating a la carte pricing for cable television, but government regulators should think twice, as such regulations would have a devastating impact on consumers, small cable-television providers, and minority programmers.

Study after study — from Bear Stearns to the FCC to the Government Accountability Office — found that this type of pricing would increase prices for consumers, as the advertising revenue that small programmers receive from being on a tier with the most popular networks would all but vanish. In fact, many of the channels dealing with black themes, such as TV-One, might find it extremely difficult to survive with the reduced subscriber base they would find under a la carte.

Heavy-handed federal regulation that curtails diversity and hurts consumers is not what we need from Washington.


National chairwoman

National Congress of Black Women

Silver Spring

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