Weathering coming storms

Milder winters may be nice, and an open Northeast Passage may be economically beneficial (“The winter that never was,” National, March 26). I’m a proud Canadian, but I can see past the potential effects climate change will have on our national identity. What’s most important at this point is to consider ourselves citizens of planet Earth, and realize the much worse devastation our home will face across the globe, not just in our own backyard.

Bradley J. Dibble, Midhurst, Ont.

Why can’t Johnny count?

I am a high school math teacher in Ontario, and today’s curriculum is bunk (“Have you finished your homework, mom?” Society, March 19). Every year, I see students who cannot perform basic arithmetic without a calculator. I see Grade 12 students who do not know the difference between “10 divided by three” and “three divided by 10” and cannot even comprehend how to perform the division either way. The best math students in my experience are generally foreign trained or have parents who were. Is it a coincidence that the domestic generation—raised on a steady diet of self-esteem and instant gratification—has no attention span for memorizing math facts or persevering through challenging problems without the aid of electronics?

Shannon Matthews, Toronto

In a Grade 3 classroom last week, I saw students excited about math. Some were using concepts well above the curriculum. Others were operating at the curriculum level but showed real number sense sharing long mathematical sentences. The teacher there has high expectations. Students are regularly required to demonstrate knowledge of the facts. Math is presented in a context of meaning. Multiple strategies are explored but the teacher does not insist on doing it one right way. We need to look at our many successes and figure out how to make the joy of mathematics happen for everyone.

Trevor Calkins, Victoria

Most of the children in my elementary class understand a variety of math strategies. The curriculum states that the traditional standard algorithms also be taught, so it is incorrect for your article to suggest they aren’t. Many people who were math whizzes back in elementary school used a wide variety of math strategies intuitively. Now these intuitive strategies are being taught.

Cathi Stewart, Waterloo, Ont.

Your article makes it sound as if a couple of English teachers sat in a basement one summer and developed some cut-and-paste activities to make math fun. Many experts in math from universities and schools and business identified what students needed and how best to go about teaching it. Working with Grade 5 students over the past 25 years, I noticed many students had great difficulty with division. After we started using pictures and numbers and stories in multiplication, the class scores in division were all over 70 per cent. The new math curriculum works.

Kerry Armstrong, Ottawa

I can see some of the alternative methods working for those with various forms of dyslexia. But what percentage of the children are dyslexic? My daughter is dyslexic; numbers to her were just squiggles on paper, and yet continual iteration helped. There is nothing wrong with rote when needed.

Constance Dwyer, Halfmoon Bay, B.C.

Shifts in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment over the past two decades should reassure many when we consider how Canadian 15-year-olds performed on international assessments such as PISA. Our kids topped out again in reading, science and, yes, math, with other top performing OECD countries. The kids’ test results speak for themselves.

N.S. Carlton, Abbotsford, B.C.

I fully agree with your alarmist cover headline “Why is it your job to teach your kid math?” I am shocked that some teachers expect parents to help their kids with math homework! Don’t they know we’re busy?! The next thing you know, they will want parents to teach kids manners, too!

Terry Hogan, High Prairie, Alta.

“Why is it your job to teach your kid math?” Because you elected a succession of governments whose only focus is on keeping taxes low. The result is a chronically underfunded education system. In a class of 30 kids there will be a number of children who do not speak English, or are learning handicapped, or have emotional problems, but teachers’ aides have been eliminated in order to save money. The system will look for more ways of shifting the onus to you, the parent. This will only get worse. Get used to it.

R.E. Langemann, Calgary

Opioids and addiction

Your article “The latest opium war” (Health Report, March 19) touches on a number of problems, including the myth of addiction in patients with chronic pain on opioids. Addiction is extremely rare in patients on narcotics for control of chronic pain. I treated a patient who required a very large dose of morphine to control severe metastatic bone pain. He had developed a significant tolerance but he was not addicted. The day after radiotherapy for his cancer pain, he was able to reduce the dose by more than seven times.

W.W. Arkinstall, MD, Kelowna, B.C.

I wish to correct the statement attributed to me in your recent article about prescription opioids. The facts are these: OxyContin releases about 35 per cent of the medication immediately. This rapid absorption can help with the immediate relief of pain but at the same time can make it addictive.

Peter Selby, Clinical Director, Addictions Program, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto

African aid

M.G. Vassanji needs to be aware that we can’t have it both ways (“The trouble with Kony 2012,” International, March 26). Dependency on foreign aid need not negate Africans doing their own part for their own countries. Vassanji is correct: there are too many outsiders involved in the development of African countries. To that end, tomorrow I will contact World Vision and ask that my child in Malawi no longer receive my support and I will give it elsewhere.

Lee Masciarelli, Nanaimo, B.C.

When all else fails

So-called “quackbuster” Joe Schwarcz (“Who you gonna call?” Society, March 26) thinks that he is protecting the ignorant simpleton public from homeopathy. I’m a dentist and a homeopath; my patients are highly intelligent, informed, and many have tried the traditional medical routine only to meet with failure. This is not to say that medicine is a failure, but only that doctors are human. When these patients tried the alternative approach, many have met with improvement in what ails them. No one says homeopathy can cure everyone; we too are only human.

Gary Fortinsky, Toronto

The medical community has failed to embrace nutrition as both a source of, and cure for, many of our health problems, including cancer. What would Joe Schwarz do if given a diagnosis of stage 4 stomach cancer? Surgery and radiation are not an option. Chemotherapy offers abysmal prospects. Death within a year is almost certain. Would he wait for a double-blind clinical trial to prove nutrition and supplements could offer some hope, or would he stick to the limited choices science offers? Wouldn’t the $5.5-million federal grant Schwarz received be put to better use investigating food companies who put unpronounceable chemicals in our food supply, genetically modify our corn and who knows what else?

Frank Ninno, Toronto

Home on the free range

I hope Peter Clarke, chairman of the Egg Farmers of Canada, was blushing when he dismissed backyard chicken farming cloaked in his overwhelming concern for the consumer (“Running a-fowl of the Constitution,” National, March 19). Before I retired, I had an intensive hog operation; I know how difficult it is to maintain the health of livestock without the judicious use of vaccines and antibiotics. On the other hand, I have kept free-range chickens my whole life and no one in my family has ever caught a disease from eating the eggs and chickens. Trying to frighten people by playing the disease card is unworthy and is a tactic to divert attention away from the caged versus free range debate and to prevent people from accessing eggs from anyone else but Clarke’s membership.

Bruce Owen, Wadena, Sask.

Donors, death and safety

As Dick Teresi (Interview, March 19) points out, the declaration of death is an essential part of the organ donation process and, as such, it is only done in compliance with a stringent set of policies. Every three days, someone in Ontario dies waiting for an organ because there simply aren’t enough organs through donation available to meet the demand. These deaths are preventable. Not only can a single organ and tissue donor save up to eight lives and enhance as many as 75 others, but organ donation often offers comfort to a grieving family. They see something positive coming out of their loss.

Ronnie Gavsie, President and CEO, Trillium Gift of Life Network, Toronto

By definition, a patient with brain death cannot react to pain in any way. Everything above the blood pressure and heart rate centre, both low in the brain stem, is not working. It is true that heart rate and blood pressure can “soar” but this is the last dysfunctional sputtering of this cardiac centre low in the brain stem before it, too, ceases and has nothing to do with pain response. Drugs may be given to control these bursts, but otherwise anaesthesia is indeed not required. One only hopes that Teresi’s negative comments have not persuaded some family to withdraw their consent and support for the life-giving process of organ donation.

Russ Reid, MD, Kamloops, B.C.


Contrary to reports from the Icelandic press that were cited in our March 26 editorial (“Canada should embrace the Loonification of Iceland,” From the Editors), no Bank of Canada officials flew on an Irving Oil junket to Iceland, or visited Iceland, to discuss that country adopting the Canadian currency.