Does being an alternative weekly excuse your reporters from simple things like providing attribution? The account of the paddling incident involving Classical School principal Alvin Jackson ["The Boom Boom Method," by Lisa Gray, April 24] is provided without attribution, so as readers we do not know whose version we are reading. Though the account of the events leading up to the incident provides scant attribution, most of it comes from the child and his mother. As far as the paddling incident itself -- nothing resembling attribution is evident. I can only assume the account came from the mother. If this is true, the story is not balanced, and should have been held until additional research and reporting could have been completed.
Another problem with the story is the writer's reliance on the newspaper date to establish the date of the photograph of the bruised buttocks. I have old papers, and if I wanted to take a photograph establishing an earlier date than the actual date the photograph was taken, I would use one of the old papers. Your article does not specify whether pictures of the bruising were provided to Children's Protective Services the following day. If so, the date could not have been faked, and the writer's reliance on the photo would make sense.
Lisa Gray's article, to its credit, does avoid some of the smugness that routinely exists within Press articles -- a smugness also found throughout the paper (including the replies to letters critical of the Press's work). It is a smugness so irritating that I only occasionally read your paper these days.
However, Ms. Gray's biases are not totally hidden, as the above noted journalistic errors establish. As far as the Classical School is concerned, perhaps the Press could come up with an alternative idea to solve the emergency problems afflicting minority education these days. Perhaps the Press could use a bit more racial diversity on its writing staff to provide diverse perspectives on issues such as this. Perhaps a bit more racial diversity would be useful so that the biases, of which this article is only one example, would occur less often.
Craig L. Jackson
Lisa Gray replies: In reconstructing the paddling incident, I relied chiefly on a report from Children's Protective Services in which Erik Vidor, Alvin Jackson and two of the school's teachers described the episode. I also directly interviewed Erik and another eyewitness about the event. (As stated in the story, Jackson referred all questions to his lawyer.) The accounts meshed remarkably well, and I do not believe that the facts, as I stated them, are in dispute.
I also checked Alvin Jackson's charge that the photo of Erik's bruises was faked, but found no reason to believe that. Independent observers confirm that Erik was, in fact, bruised: Both a CPS investigator and a pediatrician directly examined the boy soon after the spanking and found the bruises consistent with Erik's account of the paddling. Likewise, the Houston Police Department photographed Erik's bruises days after the incident; a police department spokesman confirms that HPD's photo shows the same pattern of bruising as the photo published in the Press.
Pedagogical Use of the Wooden Board
I wish to congratulate the Press for "The Boom Boom Method" and to commend Lisa Gray for her superb investigative skills and insight. This article proves that the corporal punishment issue does not need to be debated: It needs only to be exposed. Show what's really being done to children -- you did that -- and argument becomes redundant.
I know there are some parents who rush to defend violent, incompetent teachers. They convene on cue and make a lot of self-righteous noise. That's to be expected. In defending the bad behaviors of others, they are defending their own. This helps them relieve the guilt. They reason: "Since everybody is doing it, including professional educators, I'm really not so bad after all."
A large part of the problem lies in the reluctance of people who know better to speak out; keeping their own careers running smoothly on track comes first. Child abuse is somebody else's business. Ask almost any department head working in any accredited teachers' college in any paddling state: "What do you tell your teaching-credential candidates about the pedagogical uses of battering children in the pelvic area with a wooden board?" You'll get a blank stare. Maybe a sly smile. Not much in writing, of course. If you can find someone willing to talk, it will be "strictly off the record."
Ask your state government education office about this practice, and you'll be told to take the matter up with your county or local school board. And the school board will encourage you to consult with your school principal who, in turn, will happily set up a private consultation between you and the person who's been terrorizing your child. Abusive teachers understandably interpret the silence from above as a clear sign of official approval for their activities.
This pervasive climate of buck-passing provides the perfect setting for charlatans and incompetents to infiltrate the education field, where they entrench themselves for life and do untold damage. Nobody's willing to call them to task until they do something so outrageous that it gets them arrested.
The tragedy is that children are stuck where, and with whom, they're dumped. As captives, they have few options. They can become ill or run away. They can learn to self-medicate. Or they can identify with their abusers, swallow their anger and redirect it later at smaller, weaker victims. Some of these children are destined to become our next generation of bullies, wife-beaters and child abusers. They will fill the prisons as fast as we build them and keep the battered-women's shelters, rehab clinics and psychiatric services working to capacity. They will become the quacks and fast-buck artists of tomorrow.
The Press article raises the standard for the discussion of corporal punishment well above the level of coarse comedy, where it has always been. Hopefully, this will prompt others in positions of influence to come out of hiding and settle down to the task of ridding society of this shameful, barbaric practice.
Executive director, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education
Yay, Cotswold! Kill Da Bums!
You should be ashamed of your criticism of the Cotswold project ["Cotswold Unspun," by Bob Burtman, May 1]. Finally, people are doing something about the sorry state of affairs downtown. Leo Linbeck III and his group should be applauded, while Metro and the Star of Hope should be the focus of criticism.
The deterioration of downtown is in good part the result of a lack of planning by Metro. Downtown streets are now Metro traffic hubs that are not conducive to restaurant and retail development. Downtown used to be vibrant and bustling with activity; unfortunately, bureaucrats at Metro like Rafael Acosta took federal tax dollars and created an urban wasteland.
It is difficult to believe that it takes over $4 million to create more "diamond lanes" and to reroute bus traffic around the Cotswold project. Metro's current plans do nothing to relieve the traffic congestion that has created urban decay downtown; in fact, it seems that its plans bring in more congestion and decay. If Rafael Acosta cared more about Houston and less about federal tax dollars, then Metro would create a type of "bus port" on the side of downtown. This "bus port" could connect to trolleys which would take riders all over downtown, relieving congestion and bringing new life to the area.
The Star of Hope also contributes to the decay of downtown. Because of the Star of Hope, downtown is a haven for vagrants, not economic activity. This was made clear when one of the vagrants at the Star of Hope attacked a judge who was forced to defend himself with deadly force. Instances like this result in a negative image of downtown.
People like Leo Linbeck III's group and Randall Davis are visionaries -- the government, Metro and the welfare state should get out of their way and allow them to bring life back to downtown. It is strange that Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States, needs an image campaign (I am referring to the one headed up by Mrs. Lanier). One of the reasons for this is that Houston is more nationally known for its topless bars than its downtown. That is a shame.
Editor's reply: If the government and the "welfare state" got out of the way, the Rice Hotel would still be a shuttered, urine-reeking eyesore, since $9 million in federal housing funds from the Houston Housing Finance Corporation was used to help secure the financing to turn the building into high-priced apartments -- with proceeds from a special taxing district being used to pay off the debt. One other small point: Rafael Acosta is a Metro board member who operates a small business, not a "bureaucrat."
It's Got a Ring ...
Why Cotswold indeed? After El Mercado del Sol, massaging Metro's megabucks, the willingness to chuck the Market Square Renewal and the transparencies regarding property tax funding for a new downtown playpen, these keepers of the public trust should have given a little more thought to naming this new promise.
Why not "Cuckold"?
Now Everybody Wants in on the Act
I've been developing a "happy hour" idea I had similar to the Cotswold water gardens. It involves the city deeding me control of 60 acres in the Galleria for my Hill Country wildflower gardens.
Would you be kind enough to provide me with the names and numbers of the city of Houston and Metro officials who can provide me with free consultants to get this presented to City Council? Thanks.
Your NBA Champs: The Cotswold Rockets!
Let me first state that I am 100 percent in favor of the Cotswold project, from what I know about it. I own a home off of Washington Avenue and have no financial interest in this project. I only want desperately to be proud of the place where I live and work. This project would go a long way toward improving the city's image and sense of community. It does not bother me that some folks might profit financially from this project.
Bob Burtman's article mentions Cotswold's "considerable differences with Metro" and Cotswold's "antipathy toward buses [and] those who ride them." I don't see it. Metro trustee Rafael Acosta doesn't explain how 800,000 annual rider trips are going to be lost, or how service will be reduced on the 88 different Metro routes leading into downtown.
I ride 36-Kempwood daily, transferring, like a lot of people, on Main Street to get to the courthouse where I work. As I recall, most of the streets in question are five or six lanes wide, so how much "narrowing" are we talking about? The article even admits later on that "ridership may actually increase if Cotswold brings more people into the area."
And I cannot fathom having to refund money to the FTA at a time when the federal government is mandating alternatives to the car. By definition, mass transit works more efficiently the higher the population density. Cotswold, the Rice Hotel and loft projects and the like can only raise that density.
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In conclusion: Go Civic Pride! Go Cotswold! Go Rockets!
Robert F. Alexander
Really enjoyed your review of The Whole Wide World [Film, "Pulp Friction," by Michael Sragow, May 1]. My youngest daughter and Renee Zellweger were on a soccer team together back in their early days in Katy, and we had the delightful experience of having Renee at our home quite often, what with sleepovers and dinners out, etc.
You are right on the money about her smile. I haven't seen Jerry Maguire yet, but every time I see the previews and she smiles, I smile right back. Our family is very proud of her success.