Public playgrounds plentiful

      In a recent letter and in The Voices of Nature, Judge Timothy Grendell has appeared to misquote, or at least to intentionally misunderstand, a comment attributed to a Protect Geauga Parks member that, "If someone wants their children to play at a playground, they should move to Mentor."

      In fact, what Judge Grendell seems not to comprehend is the difference between a playground and a nature park. Most, if not all, communities have public playgrounds where families can enjoy sporting events or playground equipment.

      But what Geauga parks can offer families and individuals is the opportunity to be outdoors where they can enjoy passive activities in harmony with nature. The many lovely parks and trails afford nature lovers opportunities to observe birds and animals in their natural habitats, to learn about biodiversity in woods, fields and wetlands and to enjoy the sounds of bird calls and the wind moving through the trees.

      I think most members of Protect Geauga Parks would agree that few things please us more than seeing families out learning to appreciate nature in nondisruptive, nonintrusive ways. There is so much to love about the Geauga park system, if we only take the time to let the parks speak to us.

Brenda Moosbrugger, Chester

Propagandists smear parks

      In response to what many of you view as reasonable changes at your Geauga Park District, a small group of citizens known as Protect Geauga Parks continues to grapple for a park system run under their extreme views. They have hijacked the letters to the editor, somehow implying that your parks are in disarray.

      While I could cite many examples of the false propaganda associated with their views, I will spare recital of much about nothing.

      Buyer beware! One only need look at the definition of propaganda to understand what is going on here. Propaganda is defined as information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular cause or point of view. And there we have it, your Geauga Park District, their Protect Geauga Parks.

      They continue to sponsor misleading events. Recently, they held an event at Frohring Meadows park with the fancy name "Shelter Sound Off -- Pipe up With the Spring Peepers!" All of this as if it were a Geauga Park District program. All of this is nothing more than an extreme disservice to park staff who conduct quality nature-themed programs. Their same program message is touted as wanting to "hear ideas, suggestions and concerns about how best to safeguard the mission of Geauga Parks to 'Conserve, Preserve and Protect.'"

      There is no mention of the facts associated with your quality experience in visiting a Geauga park. If there was, it would show there is no concern, there is no reason for safeguard. Just narrow-minded naysayers. It's a few individuals that are attempting to brainwash the public into their extreme views. These few extremists assume you, the Geauga County resident, should fit their mold of parks only being used for certain programs and agendas.

      There will be more letters to follow with personal attacks, character assassination and rumored allegations. Please show up to one of our board meetings and see for yourself. The real shame here is that your Geauga Park District has been hijacked by a few extremists.

      I have been privileged to meet with many county residents regarding the reasonable change happening within your parks. Many of you have encouraged me to stay the course and implement common-sense programs, activities and accessibility to your parks. All without compromising the preservation, conservation and protection of your parks' natural wonders. You have supported hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and common-sense recreational amenities and activities that don't jeopardize the overall integrity of our natural areas.

      I give credit to the former members of Protect Geauga Parks who have abandoned this group and reached out to me in meaningful dialogue.

      In the end, it's the fact that well over 90 percent of your Geauga Park District-owned lands remain in a natural state for people to enjoy the plants, animals and quality habitats. I, along with a competent staff, will stay the course of providing quality parks while providing access to nature. This is what quality park systems do. We owe it to the 90,000 citizens of this county. Enjoy your parks.

John Oros, Executive Director, Geauga Park District

Answers lie with humanity

      In the March 31-April 1 issues, Gerald Patronite responds to a column on evaluating teacher performance. The original column proposes exchanging educators in high-performing schools with those in lower-performing schools, keying in on educator accountability for students' educational outcomes. Mr. Patronite responds by making two points: teachers cannot be held solely culpable when district-level factors are also relevant; and parents play a large role in children's educational outcomes.

      While I broadly agree with the points that Mr. Patronite makes, I have two concerns. First, he uses the analogy "domesticated tabby" and "feral" or "outdoor cat" to refer to more advantaged and less advantaged students, respectively. I find this analogy offensive. It is inappropriate to refer to other humans, particularly children, as wild or undomesticated. This type of dehumanizing language lends itself to treating others with unequal amounts of concern and compassion, which, in turn, lends itself to labeling certain groups as undeserving.

      The specific interventions that would most effectively improve educational outcomes for less advantaged students gets to the heart of my second concern with Mr. Patronite's editorial. While I agree that non-school factors have a large influence on children's educational outcomes, I believe that focusing on parenting is reductionist and fails to appreciate the complexity of child development.

      Shockingly, by the time a child reaches 18, he or she has only been in school for approximately 13 percent of his or her waking hours. Current standardized testing methods in Ohio have no way of soundly determining what percentage of test scores is attributable to school factors alone.

      However, other standardized tests elsewhere address this question more effectively. These other tests consistently find that schools are highly successful at educating both more advantaged and less advantaged students, meaning that our current obsession with school accountability is wrong-headed.

      For those who are interested in exploring these findings further, I would suggest the research of scholars like Karl Alexander, Douglas Downey, Doris Entwisle or Sean Reardon.

      If we agree that non-school factors matter, the question remains: Which non-school factors? Although parenting styles are perennially hotly debated, other non-school factors have a consistently demonstrated impact on educational outcomes. Importantly, these other influential factors vary based on a family's level of resources.

      Key non-school factors, which begin to influence cognitive development even before a child is school aged, include health -- which is influenced by stress levels, access to health care and exposure to environmental hazards like lead -- and how often a child moves.

      Further, even if a parent is highly invested in a child's education, work obligations may stymie involvement. It is well known that recent job growth has included many low-wage service jobs which often require unusual shifts or necessitate working several jobs to make ends meet.

      The bottom line is that improving educational outcomes for less advantaged students requires a more multi-pronged approach than targeting schools or parenting styles alone. The most effective educational policy is likely one that combats the negative effects of poverty -- a condition beyond the control of children, which, unquestionably, does not render them feral.

Lora Phillips, NSF GRFP Fellow, Department of Sociology, Ohio State University


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