Letters to the Editor

Radical Unschooling

The article on "unschooling" ["School's Out Forever," by Lauren Kern, April 20] was very interesting. The tone set by the reporter was sort of an admonishing bemusement, with the continual reminder that the Furgason children can do whatever they want, so they play Pokémon all day. Yet several times mention was made of reading books, writing books and e-mails, and other things of that nature. They must be spending some time doing that.

A lot of time is wasted in school. Believe me, it isn't easy herding even a few kids for a day, let alone 25 or 30 of them. In a public school classroom, it inevitably is going to take a lot more time to teach anything, and then it is often rote learning, which is not going to stick.

Miss Fallon is almost always amusing. Here she goes again, saying that home-educated children should be required to take the TAAS test, just like all other children in the state. Oh, excuse me, Ms. Fallon, private school students do not have to take the TAAS.

And Fallon is certainly wrong about the Furgason children -- they will never be a burden on society. Why would they be, since they're not now? They are resourceful and are not likely to wind up at McDonald's. But if they do, so what? I would much rather have them taking my order than some of the dull-eyed kids I have to deal with now. I'm confident that they would get my order right, and there's no dishonor in that.

Marie Angell


As a home educator, I read your article with a sense of almost shock. From what you wrote, the description of Mrs. Furgason as a radical hippie seems apropos, if you gave an accurate picture and didn't focus on the abnormal just for its shock value and potential to stir up trouble for all homeschoolers in Texas.

You wrote: " 'One of the problems with homeschooling,' says Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, 'is programs like these.' " Fallon has never met the Furgason family, but she thinks their educational philosophy is "absolutely flaky" and a disservice to their children. "We went through some of that garbage in the '60s with the 'Well, the child will tell us when he's ready to learn' and turned out a pack of illiterates," she says.

The educators of the '60s produced far fewer illiterates than the '80s, '90s and now the '00s are producing. If you'll honestly open your eyes to see the dumbed-down high school graduating classes of the last few years, you'll see what I'm talking about.

Charlene Smith

Cove, Texas

"Apparently the child had other things he'd rather do that were competing for his time. He may think it's [great] when he's nine or ten, but it may not be quite as much fun when he's 30 and going, 'Do you want fries with this?' "

I thought this comment by Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, was rather ironic. Don't public schools turn out the majority of our burger flippers?

While I do not think unschooling is the best form of education (I am a homeschooler), I do think that the children who are raised in such an environment are far less likely (as a percentage of all students taught that way) to become welfare dependents or work in low-end jobs than their public school counterparts. I think public schooling often hinders the growth of the minds of its students, while unschooling at least stays out of the way.

Becky Smith


The unschoolers miss the point completely. Young people need tough but caring teachers and tough intellectual challenges. What may have turned some parents to unschooling were too many unimaginative, uncaring teachers in their own lives who prejudiced them against formal education. I fondly remember those elementary, junior high, high school and college teachers who thought enough of me to make me think. The rest I have forgotten. Little can equal the adrenaline rush of solving a tough problem -- good teachers know that. I pity those poor kids. As the saying goes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Pat V. Powers


Have you ever read the Essential Elements of Education, the basis of what is supposed to be taught in the public schools? I have, and the things that those Furgason kids are learning are a lot closer to the spirit and the letter of the law than many of the tired, worn-out "courses" taught in the system.

Michele Murphy


I am a homeschooling parent of three children. This is our eighth year of homeschooling. We began with a strict curriculum of texts, tests, etc. We now are happily unschooling, a transition that took place and was finalized after our third year of homeschooling. My oldest daughter, who is 20, is enrolled in a private college and is doing well. My other two are still homeschooling.

Your article implies that by unschooling, the results of the student will be less than that of a structured curriculum. School official Fallon states: As for a boy like Justin who doesn't read until the age of 11, "we assume he's five grade levels behind his peers and that remediation is critical."

How ridiculous. As a parent who once used a structured curriculum and now unschools, I can testify that this is definitely not so. A prime example is my middle daughter, who "refused" to read until she was almost nine, when she "suddenly" began reading on her own. Within one year she was reading at an eighth-grade level. Now, at age 13, she reads high school- and college-level books.

We had similar experiences with mathematics and writing with my middle daughter. She seemed to "lag behind the norm," but at certain points she made the connection of wanting to know and figuring out how to do it (with my help and on her own), and now she is exceeding "typical" standards. In public school perhaps she would have been forced to reach some level of competency before the ages she actually did achieve results. But I assure you that she would not be at the high level she is today, had she been so forced.

To even think that public school produces individuals who are ready for college or the workforce shows a real out-of-touch perspective. Employers throughout this country claim they have a tremendous dearth of capable employees. You do mention a few homeschoolers get into college. What you do not state is that many colleges actively recruit homeschoolers.

Your article implies that unschoolers, if left to their own devices, will not produce responsible members of society. I find this totally outrageous. I know many unschoolers and can point you to several books about unschooling that show this to be untrue.

Name withheld by request

Fairfax Station, Virginia

Worse Than Marriage?

Brian Wallstin's excellent article ["Absent a Mother," April 20] on the hazards of divorce is a warning to those who hope to find justice in divorce court. The first thing divorce lawyers do is ask their clients to list all their assets so the property can be divided. On the first day in court, the judge will divide these assets equally among his lawyer, her lawyer and the children's lawyer. This formula seems to apply whether the amount is $5,000 or $500,000. Whatever the amount, it is soon used up and the pauperized couple is now expected to borrow still more before the judge or lawyers will decide on division of property, children and temporary support.

If child custody is disputed, the couple must pay for "child experts." One quack will testify that the children belong with the father, while another quack testifies they belong with the mother. This frees the judge to award custody to the client whose lawyer who contributed most heavily to his election campaign. All this is said to represent the best interests of the children.

Let us suppose that a couple draws up their own divorce decree. Alas, the judge will say that he cannot approve the documents because it might be unfair to someone and thus he must hear the case. Again, before the couple can get out of the courtroom, their assets will have been divided among the three lawyers.

A couple would be better advised to cash in their assets and gamble in Las Vegas. Most likely they will lose (but not more than in divorce court), but they could win big and be so rich that they can stay married and just screw around like other rich people. Poorer couples could just fool around. They soon discover that what they get is less than what they had.

John D. Griffith


I'm appalled at the treatment of this fine lady. A probe into Smith County politics would be a coup for your paper. Karen should have her kids with her. It's all about money and the good-ol'-boy system. Something needs to be done to help her!

Jean Robinson


I can add to your intriguing story. Before one of the hearings for Karen Shrader in Tyler, I wrote a long letter to Judge Ruth Blake. I asked her to please consider the possibility of letting the children be with their mother, for her to have custody. I felt it was very important to the happiness and stability of the children to keep them in the town where they were raised and had many friends who could help provide comfort and support.

I marked the outside of the envelope the letter was mailed in "CONFIDENTIAL," and I placed the word "CONFIDENTIAL" across the top of the letter.

At the next hearing I was not present, but I understand that I was called to the bench, for Donna O'Shea had opened the letter and found some rather harsh words about herself, Steve Spain and Jerry Bain.

I do not believe it is proper for someone to open a confidential letter addressed to someone else, especially a judge of the court.

Just wanted to share that with you, as I am Karen Shrader's minister and still have a deep concern for her and her children.

Royce Riley

Mabank, Texas

Steve Spain has made a complete mockery of our judicial system with his ability to pay for what he wants, and he has no regard for his children's feelings. I am Karen Shrader's minister's wife, and the children told my husband, when they were still able to visit, that they wanted to be with their mother. The church that the Spains attended while in Gun Barrel City is still in prayer for these children and their parents. We are all in shock that things have transpired as they have. Karen is a good mom, and she would never harm her children in any way.

Linda Riley


I am e-mailing in response to the Karen Shrader travesty. I have known Karen for ten years, and the article was very accurate. I hope someone who reads the article can help Karen. The thing about this entire ordeal I have never been able to understand is how a person can have the capacity to treat people daily as a doctor and yet not be sane enough to visit her children. I believe Karen is probably the sanest person I have ever met. She is my personal physician, and I indeed trust her with my life and the lives of my family members. I will continue to do so as long as the Tyler court system allows her to practice. I believe she will be allowed to continue to practice medicine because that is the only way Steve Spain and the Tyler court system can continue to bleed money from her.

One thing you failed to mention in the article was that often several people went to court with Karen to show support. At one point everyone in the courtroom was placed under oath, sent out of the courtroom and told we were about to be called as witnesses. We were told we were not to discuss this case with anyone or we would be held in contempt of court. That was nearly two years ago, and still none of us has been called to testify.

I sincerely appreciate your printing the article. Hopefully something good will come from it for Karen. However, be prepared for the worst.

Phil McGlothlin

Kemp, Texas

Reading Brian Wallstin's article "Absent a Mother" left me feeling little sympathy for Karen Shrader. More though, I suspect, than Wallstin feels for the countless American fathers who routinely endure the same exact abuses in family court.

Wallstin seems aghast that protective orders were issued against Shrader without evidence or corroboration. He conveys shock that her children were so easily and injudiciously withheld, that she was financially and emotionally devastated through the arrogance and insensitivity of an obtuse, perhaps rigged, family court. Happens all the time, to men.

As Wallstin rides in chivalrously to rescue Shrader, he acknowledges, then excuses, her repeated defiance of court orders and her provocative treatment of most everyone involved in the case. Men don't have to act this way to get stepped on in family court; they only have to have a penis.

Shrader stupidly put herself on the bad side of a bad system. A system that doles out identical abuse to men, by design. Had Steve Spain been the victim of this scenario, would Wallstin have written about it? Would the Press have run it? Would anyone even care?

The article was well written and researched, and might have highlighted some very serious problems in family courts, were it not dripping with such bias.

Paul Elam


Taking Offense

Would Jew Don Boney have the same understanding and tolerance of Diana "Jew them down" Ruhtenberg [The Insider, by Tim Fleck, April 20] if she had described shoddy engineering practices as "nigger rigging," or the more politically correct "African-American engineering"? Boney and C.L. Jackson surely would have been at the head of the picket line demanding her resignation, even though she used a "common phrase."

Name withheld by request


No Magic Here

I read Houston Press articles regularly. I don't always agree with your takes on issues, but I have admired your reporting, which is deeper than that of many other local publications and, notwithstanding natural journalistic bias, causes me to see issues you cover in a new light, from another perspective. I suppose your publication rather enjoys its ability to appear to take a cavalier attitude (displayed in the "Letters Policy"). However, I call your bluff.

I propose that Richard Connelly's article of March 30 ["Low and Outside"] was poorly researched and lacked the basic element of truthful reporting, a skill taught to first-year journalism students. It would appear Mr. Connelly does not remember one of the fundamental aspects of journalism: the necessity of reporting the facts. The actuality is, American Catholics do not go to church to watch a magician. They do not believe in hocus-pocus. I cannot laugh over the pompous, incorrect statement made by Mr. Connelly pertaining to the Roman Catholic Mystery of Holy Communion, because I am aware of the hundreds of thousands of martyrs who died refusing to refute their belief in Christ's presence at Holy Mass.

I think Richard Connelly stepped over the line when, in a pompous gesture to seem smart and witty, he ignorantly maligned numerous peoples who have died and countless others who are free today to practice their Catholic faith. In an attempt to be funny, you erred. Care to make a confession?

Katharine Dillon


Connelly confesses that he never in his lifetime thought he would read the sentence "The actuality is, American Catholics do not go to church to watch a magician."

Bad Smell

Regarding your article in a recent issue ["Bad Dog," by Brad Tyer, April 13], I have this to say: First off, I think the people at James Coney Island sound like skunks. They were obviously trying to avoid doing anything about the matter until it was handled by an attorney and brought to court.

However, I must also say this: For a family who really wanted only $2,000 and an apology, why did they have their lawyer go after JCI for $60K? What's wrong with a $10K settlement? Now, a jury has obviously decided that James Coney Island acted in such bad faith that they award the family $227K in damages. Isn't that a bit exorbitant? And why is a child, who will never remember this, going to be granted (upon the appeal holding up the decision) $160K when he's 18? I think the family should certainly receive compensation, but that if $200K of it is for punitive damages, this money should be used to create a fund that would help those less fortunate -- for public housing, education, job training, etc.

Alex Clayton


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