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[Susan notes: Walt Gardner scores again. His letter makes me want to read the article.]

Published in Education Week

To the editor

Edmund W. Gordon’s ambitious plan to nurture the intellects of disadvantaged children through enriching out-of-school activities is a realistic recognition that schools, even at their best, cannot do everything alone ("A Cultural Odyssey," March 23, 2005).

Through no fault of their own, many African-American children bring huge deficits in socialization, motivation, and intellectual development to school. By compensating for these factors, Mr. Gordon carries in his hands the potential to narrow the persistent achievement gap that has so far defied well-meaning attempts by others.

In this context, it’s hard to understand Abigail Thernstrom’s statement that Mr. Gordon is “writing off the hours children are in school.” On the contrary, he is trying to make those hours more effective by creating the kind of environment that middle- and upper-class children enter when the school day is over. It is precisely this atmosphere that makes such a tremendous difference in learning outcomes.

While nothing is ever as powerful as what parents do to reinforce the lessons taught in school, surrogate figures can play an important role.

Mr. Gordon may not be the first to recognize the value of outside-of-school educational experiences, but he is not just writing about supplementary education; he is actually providing it.

Walt Gardner

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