Letters To the Editors 21.2

Solidarity from the United Kingdom

Just a fan letter with huge thanks for your Rethinking Schools piece about the failure of charter schools [Barbara Miner, “Exploding the Privatization Myth,” Volume 21, No. 1].

We are battling [Prime Minister Tony] Blair’s version of such stupidity in the form of what his cronies call “city academies.”

Meanwhile, like Bush, Blair is on his last legs. He could still face arrest over illegal party funding. But we need every weapon we can muster to outflank him on this schooling matter because so many parents — and sadly many of our own members — get seduced by the prospect of new buildings and equipment. We know we can’t oppose that aspect, but it is the privatized management of public services — and public money — that we oppose. Taking the democratic high ground is an essential political step for us.

— Nick Grant 
National Union of Teachers United Kingdom

Nonnative Invaders?

Regarding “Yuck! Worms are Disgusting!” [Rachel Cloues, Volume 20, No. 4]:

All species of earthworms and night crawlers that appear in the soils of farms, woods, and deciduous forests of northern temperate regions from Maine to Montana are nonnative invasive species — brought to North America by northern European settlers. The native decomposers of our northern forests are microbes, fungi, and other tiny soil dwelling organisms, not worms.

Among forest ecologists and natural resources professionals of the Midwest, we now know that these worms (which we thought were so beneficial) are actually the cause of the collapse of some forest ecosystems in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

While I applaud your efforts to support educators in innovative ways to engage their students in ecological and social lessons, we need to make sure our lessons apply to our bioregions, or we could be acting as a source of misinformation.

I noticed that the author, Rachel Cloues, is from California, so she can be excused for not understanding the consequences of portraying “worms as our friends.” That they may be helpful in a composting or garden situation is true.

In Minnesota, the most proactive of our northern states affected by worms, most bait shops now display large posters encouraging fisher-people to dispose of their extra worms properly — not to release them at the boat landing.

In Wisconsin, my colleagues and I are actively teaching “worm workshops” to loggers, foresters, private land owners, park personnel, and natural resource professionals regarding the effects of worm invasions on our forests (loss of plant diversity, erosion, soil compaction, interference with natural tree regeneration, loss of fungi necessary to plants).

How about an article for teachers on how they and their students can survey for worms and understand the ecological consequences of worms in our woods?

— Gigi La Budde, forest ecologist 
Community Forestry Resource Center 
Spring Green, Wis.

The author replies:

Thanks to Gigi La Budde for bringing to my attention the problem of nonnative earthworms in the forests of the Midwest and Northeast.

I agree that teachers should be informed about basic ecological issues and local concerns before embarking on related science projects with students. Exploring the interaction of native vs. nonnative species in our bioregions is important and cultivates critical thinking skills in our students.

A worm bin in the classroom is self-contained. When teachers have an awareness of regional ecological concerns — especially if using vermicompost outdoors — then a worm bin is a valuable model for studies of decomposition and cycles.

— Rachel Cloues, San Francisco

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