The election and the GOP, reading and phonics, affirmative action, the Dan Patch Line

Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes letters from readers online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


I was grateful to read the post-election analysis (“Hopes dashed, GOP tried to pick up the pieces,” Nov. 13) with thoughtful comments by state GOP operatives.

Republicans seem to be grasping that appealing to women in Minnesota is a key to winning an election, especially when fundamental human rights (reproductive agency and overall health) are at risk. Young Minnesotans, too, weighed in and leaned Democratic — their “kitchen table issues” like saving democracy and choosing candidates who offered hope drove them. And highly charged fearmongering (with strobe-light urgency and doom-and-gloom TV advertisements all day, every day) didn’t carry a majority of Minnesota voters, either.

Republicans blamed outsized and outside money flooding into Democratic coffers and diminished rural populations for their losses. I, for one, would support publicly financed and time-limited campaigning, so maybe the GOP could work for that? And maybe Republicans might consider why urban voters lean Democratic — could it be that living in proximity to lots of folks who don’t look, sound, pray, travel, learn or love exactly like us makes us, if not familiar and comfortable, at least sympathetic to policies that support rather than isolate or demonize the “other”?

Coming of age politically in the 1980s, I always heard the GOP describe itself as the party of “small government.” Maybe the Minnesota GOP might instead reinvent itself as the party of “compassionate” or “inclusive” (or at least not “restrictive” or “frightful”) government, and more votes may follow.

Tracy Nordstrom, Minneapolis


Minnesota Republicans are so incompetent at running viable candidates for statewide office, I wouldn’t trust them to run my bath water, let alone my state. All I had to hear to seriously consider any of them were denunciations of former President Donald Trump and the election deniers. I heard crickets instead. Give those of us who support democracy reason to believe you feel the same. Inflation and crime have been and always will be cyclical. Democracy in the US may not have a second chance.

Mark McHenry, St. Louis Park


Just as one of the writers shared in the two Nov. 13 letters about reading instruction, I had a phonics book back in the 1950s to help me master reading. What I find shocking, however, is these writers’ lack of understanding about how teachers are trained today.

Elementary teachers are fully trained in the teaching of phonics and receive additional training almost every year through workshops and in-service sessions. The focus on phonics began three decades ago, but then became an almost exclusive way to teach reading 20 years ago. This change was true not only in Minnesota but throughout the country.

You may remember the 9/11 clip of President George W. Bush being interrupted as he observed reading instruction in a classroom. That teacher was using direct instruction, a phonics-driven program. Phonics as a way to teach reading over the past two decades has become so extreme in some places that many schools adopted programs that actually forbid any other method. Students who struggle with reading are pulled out of science or art or gym or music to receive extra phonics instruction.

If you truly feel students are not as skilled in reading as they once were, lack of phonics is not the reason. The phonics book I had in the 1950s was a very light version of what students receive today. Learning to read comes easily for some of us, not so for all. What is important is providing an environment where all children can learn.

Ruth Thorstad, Dresser, Wis.

The writer is a retired Minnesota reading specialist.


I taught kindergarten and first grade for more than 30 years. Laura Yuen’s Nov. 6 column (“We’ve been sold a story on reading”), to which the Nov. 13 letters responded, did not take into account that reading is an abstract operation that happens in the brain. And, this happens at different ages, and in different ways. Some children teach themselves to read without any instruction. Some just don’t “get” phonics, and they need other ways to learn to read.

Yes, phonics is a wonderful way to decode words. Whole-language instruction did not forbid phonics. But, not all children “get it.” I was a child like that. I had been taught letters and sounds, but I never got the connection. Parents and teachers just kept reading to me. And, in third grade, I just started reading, not by using phonics. Sometimes, children need some cues other than phonics while they are learning until they master reading. Decoding the word elephant before a child knows “ph” sounds like “f” might use a picture to help them, because if reading is too difficult, a child might get discouraged.

As one recent Opinion Exchange article said, stop giving teachers restrictions about how they teach. Yes, one should consider scientific data on good teaching practices. But let’s not make teaching so prescriptive that teachers cannot use their skills to adapt to individual children.

Janet Merrill, Minneapolis


Peter Hutchinson’s reference to US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s “zero-sum game” comment in the Harvard and North Carolina affirmative action cases before the US Supreme Court was very misleading (” ‘Act affirmatively’ to expand opportunity for all,” Opinion Exchange, Nov. 13). Counsel for Harvard asserted that the school’s racial classification system was permissible because it was intended to help, rather than harm, certain students. Alito responded that given the finite number of students who could be admitted to Harvard, discriminating in favor of some students effectively discriminates against others. Thus, Alito rejected only the concept of benign discrimination.

Hutchinson takes Alito’s narrow point out of context to suggest that “the assumption lurking behind the entire five-hour debate” was that “opportunity is limited.” Having listened to the entire debate, I found that only Justice Clarence Thomas expressed skepticism as to whether diversity was a compelling goal. The focus of the questioning from both justices who hinted they supported the admission programs and those who opposed them was on alternative methods of achieving diversity. There were many questions about other means the schools could use to achieve diversity targets without the direct use of race in the admissions process, such as eliminating legacy admissions, or focusing on socioeconomic measures.

Where I agree with Hutchison, and I suspect most of the justices would as well, is that a society open to all creates more total opportunity as we benefit from diverse perspectives and talents. If the court declares that race cannot be used directly as a factor in university admissions or other programs, there are many options to continue promoting diversity. Affirmative action won’t be going away, just slightly changing its course.

Jerry Anderson, Minneapolis


The Nov. 13 article “Railway merger could lead to more bike trails” left out one particular rail line in the south metro that hasn’t been used by trains for more than two decades. The corridor I’m referring to is the Dan Patch Line, which in railroad terms is “out-of-service” for approximately seven miles between Savage and Lakeville.

If you managed to find the tracks buried in thick vegetation, you would probably assume they’re abandoned, but Canadian Pacific still owns the right-of-way. With the proposed Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern merger, this could be an opportunity to have that land in public hands and give it new life as a regional passenger rail corridor and recreational trail corridor. Transportation options in the Twin Cities need to be more than just cars, and the Dan Patch Line could significantly improve travel by walking, biking and public transit.

Eric Ecklund, Bloomington

The writer is the founder of the group Support the Dan Patch Rail Line.

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