Stop asking questions! “When reading the professional literature, [12-year teaching veteran Ronelle] Robinson stumbled upon a surprising fact: Asking students questions was one of the least effective ways to help them understand their reading,” writes Elizabeth Duffrin in Catalyst Chicago (May). “Now she has a new routine that gets all students talking. On a morning in early April, Robinson sits cross-legged in a chair, holding up an illustrated story. Students sit before her, each beside a partner. The story, ‘Moses Goes to a Concert,’ is about a deaf boy who learns to play the drum. Every page or so, Robinson pauses [and prompts discussion with a comment such as] ‘We read another story earlier in the year about someone who became ill and lost their hearing. Talk about that,’ she directs. Around the rug, students turn to their partners and quietly discuss what they recall….’Turn and Talk’ is just one of several strategies she now uses. The day before, for instance, she read her class the same story, pausing to wonder aloud about story events, such as why deaf students hold balloons while they watched the concert–‘Was it to feel the vibrations?’ That activity models the thinking students must do to comprehend the story.”

“Personal responsibility” just ain’t what it used to be. Consultant Charles Benbrook, speaking at the Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Networking Conference on April 24 (“Agribusiness Examiner,” May 6): “The government must play a much more aggressive and effective role in getting people to take personal responsibility for public health.” How, exactly? The government should sue the dairy industry for its advertising, order soda and candy-bar machines out of schools, and transfer Food Stamps, WIC, and school lunch programs to a different federal department.

Did NAFTA undermine American manufacturing? Not according to Chicago Federal Reserve Bank economists William Strauss and Scott Walster (“Chicago Fed Letter,” June): “In fact, during the 1990s domestic investment increased, and the United States was the largest recipient of foreign investment. Two countries that stand out in the recent time period are Mexico and China. Mexico’s attractiveness stems from NAFTA and its proximity to the United States, while China’s developing economy offers relatively low wages. However, over the past two years, the capital outflow of manufacturing investment to Mexico and China was only 3% of U.S. manufacturers’ capital expenditures….American manufacturers seem to be more concerned with skill and education levels of workers rather than wages.”

Did NAFTA undermine American democracy? Yes, according to David Ranney, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (“PRAGmatics,” Winter): “Chapter 11 of NAFTA…allows corporations to sue governments and to hold the hearings in a supernational forum where ordinary people wouldn’t be invited into the room, let alone to the table. Even our political representatives wouldn’t be allowed to participate. The State of California is being sued by a Canadian corporation over the state’s ban on a gasoline additive that [the state thinks] causes cancer and is showing up in the water supply. But the political representatives in California who passed that law have no standing in this process.”

Next month: “Best & Worst Celebrity Cosmetic Surgeries.” On the cover of June’s Consumer Reports: “Best & Worst Theme Parks.”

Stupid president tricks. “After the first Gulf war, America’s allies wrote most of the checks that rebuilt Kuwait,” Peter Beinart reminds us in the New Republic (May 12). “In fact, over and over in recent years–in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan–the United States has bled to win the war, and its democratic allies have paid to win the peace. It’s a formula that needs to be vastly expanded if Iraq is to become a stable, liberal country. But, by doling out postwar snubs and restricting postwar contracts to U.S. firms, the Bush administration is doing its best to ensure that countries such as France, Germany, and Canada don’t fork over the money Iraq desperately needs.”