ISSUE | CHARTERS

Stacking the deck

on school success

Self-selection by parents and students who seek charter schools increases the likelihood of success, given that such interest in education marks an important ingredient to the success of any school ("The facts on charter schools," Nov. 23). While these individuals are a testimony to the potential among disadvantaged students, often overlooked are the students left behind when they fail to take the initiative to self-select charter enrollment.

These students are often those whose disengagement from academics undermines the education of their classmates. When these students are left behind, it should not be surprising that a charter school, with fewer disengaged students, succeeds where a public school fails. Until we acknowledge this, our debates about charter schools will remain vacuous.

Creating a school environment not overwhelmed by the problems that accompany poverty is possible, but no school - public or charter - will succeed if they and their students are confronted by too many of these very problems.

|Ronald L. Zigler, associate professor of educational psychology, Penn State Abington, Abington

ISSUE | ROADWORTHY

Wide awake by law

In Berks County last week, the driver of a tractor trailer was charged for falling asleep and causing an accident that left two people dead and nine other motorists injured.

There are federal regulations that cap the number of hours a trucker can drive in a certain period. The restrictions are complicated, but, in short, it limits a driver to 11 hours of driving per day, or up to 70 hours per week. If a driver is found in violation, he can face a fine of up to $2,750 and his employer can be fined up to $11,000 if the firm allowed the driver to exceed the limit by more than three hours.

Pennsylvania has always been notorious for the number of tractor trailers on its roads, and with the nationwide epidemic of truckers falling asleep at the wheel, it is left especially vulnerable. The state currently has no laws that exceed the federal regulation, but Harrisburg lawmakers should consider invoking stiffer penalties. Since Pennsylvania is geographically well-positioned, it can enact tougher trucking laws that protect citizens without fear of losing business from truckers detouring elsewhere.

|Pat McKlindon, Macungie

ISSUE | TRADITIONS

Joining hands

As an American Muslim, I wonder about celebrating Thanksgiving. Sure, I enjoy eating turkey and gathering to watch football, but what does my faith say? Recently, I read a passage in the Quran that stated, "If you are grateful, I will surely bestow more favors on you." (14:7). The idea of being giving thanks is something cultivated in me by my religion. It's the same reason Plymouth colonists organized the original Thanksgiving feast after their first corn harvest proved successful in 1621. So, as I watch the game and eat my fill, I can proudly say that this holiday is something that goes hand in hand with my faith.

|Madeel Abdullah, M.D., Newtown Square, madeel1@gmail.com

ISSUE | HEROES' THANKS

Inspired by mother-soldier ties

Thanks to the authors of Unbreakable Bonds for heightening our awareness of the cost of war and the grief of loved ones, and for offering a glimpse of the physical and moral injury of our wounded warriors ("Milestones of recovery," Nov 23). We read of the brave mothers and their grief, as they tap into their own warrior nature to attend to their grown children.

One way we can all give back in this season of thanksgiving is to channel our gratitude by growing in consciousness as to the costs of war. Read the book, visit a veterans' facility, send a card, all in the service of saying thank you. It's the least we can do - a small cost in time for those of us who are the beneficiaries of American soldiers' bravery and self-sacrifice.

|Lil Needham, Westmont, lilneedham75@gmail.com

ISSUE | PAPAL COVERAGE

A welcome reminder of a special event

As the digital age brings ever-increasing pronouncements on the demise of newspapers, it was indeed refreshing to see from Sunday's front-page account of the 1979 papal visit why papers like The Inquirer matter ("Touched by the pope," Nov. 23). What blog would bother to reflect and present such a personal, touching piece on how our city came alive for John Paul II? The historic photos and intimate remembrances detailed by people such as Jim Murray conveyed an in-depth sense of time and place that simply cannot be captured by any other form of media. Long live print.

|Tom Giacoponello, Warwick

ISSUE | EATING WELL

Finding calcium in all the right places

As a new student to the study of nutrition, I enjoyed the explanation of the paleo diet, but felt that Drexel professor Vickie Schwartz's comments regarding calcium warrant further discussion ("Paleo out of the cave," Nov. 13). While it is true that some green, leafy vegetables like spinach contain oxalate that inhibits calcium absorption, other green vegetables, including broccoli, kale, and bok choy that are lower in oxalates, are viable sources of bioavailable calcium.

Although dairy is marketed by the industry as the best source for calcium, evidence supports that a well-balanced, plant-based diet supplies adequate calcium and, moreover, is protective for osteoporosis.

Looking at calcium content of individual foods alone misses the larger context of the myriad factors involved in bone density and fracture risk. Variables such as overall diet, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies, protein intake and medications are just as important in determining calcium status.

|Jennifer Hoffman, Philadelphia, jennifer.nutritioncoach@gmail.com

Welcoming table for those in need

I have the pleasure - and it is just that - of volunteering at the nonprofit kitchen run by MANNA, and therefore thoroughly enjoyed Craig LaBan's interview of chef Keith Lucas ("Talking food and dignity with Keith Lucas," Nov. 23). It is most obvious that MANNA clients' needs are always highly considered, and what is prepared and delivered is a far cry from hospital food.

I often see chef Lucas doing his magic with spices and herbs and combining unusual food items. He really tries to stimulate the clients' palate and thus help them enjoy tasty meals and, hopefully, return to good health. I can recall being told that on Thanksgiving each client receives dinner for four so they can host their own guests. Now, that, to me, is caring.

|Bernice Sherman, Philadelphia, abclady@cavtel.net

ISSUE | MANNERS

Sorry, but there's too much apologizing

Something that I've noticed in the college psychology courses I teach, as well as at school in general, is a tendency on the part of people to apologize for what amounts to appropriate self-expression or even, it seems, existing ("When an apology really isn't," Nov. 24). For example, it is not unusual that a student will approach me and, before saying anything else, say, "I'm sorry." When I ask what the apology is for, there frequently is a perplexed look. Not only does this happen with students, but it happens with colleagues as well.

Using apologies in this way cheapens them and can lead to squirmy apologies like those from Govs. Christie and Corbett, former Lincoln University president Robert Jennings, former state Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, and others. So I've made a rule in my classes that apologies that are not specific and sincere are to be dropped from my students' conversation. Sadly, it seems "I'm sorry" is going the way of "How are you?" in becoming little more than hardly sincere greetings.

|Marc D. Henley, professor, Delaware County Community College, Media, mhenley@dccc.edu