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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

March-April 2012

Touchpoints…

Like other critical scholars, pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton and his colleagues work to ensure that children and families of diverse backgrounds benefit directly from their research (see "Early Learning," January-February 2012). The training that service providers receive helps them create genuine relationships with families, which is crucial. I was delighted to read about these meaningful partnerships.

Annette Beauchamp, Ed.M. '07
Wisconsin Early Childhood Association
Madison, Wisc. 

 

Kudos to the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, part of Children's Hospital Boston, for their terrific work translating research on childhood development into practical advice for parents of young children.

But as a physician and father of a toddler, I was appalled by the suggestion, in the article's opening vignette, that Susana Saldivar should give her son a bottle of pills to use as a rattle. Accidental ingestion of any medication by a child can be life-threatening. Furthermore, small, round, smooth objects such as pills are easily aspirated into the trachea or lungs by a child, and can cause choking and asphyxiation.

Perhaps next time, if a rattle is so urgently needed for a child's cognitive development, one should suggest putting Cheerios in a sippy cup. Drugs/medications should never, under any circumstances, be left in the reach of children.

Tyken C. Hsieh '02, M.D. '06
San Francisco

…and Wealth and Educating Children

Although she does not pose it herself, one important question raised by Elizabeth Gudrais's report on Michael Norton's research article ("What We Know About Wealth," November-December 2011,) is whether we should reduce the wealth gap by "pulling down" or by "building up."

Economic growth is not the natural state of affairs. It depends on a large cohort of capable and economically ambitious people working extraordinarily hard and taking risks with their human and economic capital. Europeans think Americans are nuts to "hustle" as we do. Let them.

Can we have our cake (the hustle) and eat it (the redistribution), too? Alas, for most people there is a close correlation between the disposition toward hard work and the economic reward from it. This means that raising taxes on the rich costs jobs in the long run by hurting economic growth. Too many of the very productive people whom we especially wish to work harder will find other outlets for their energies and talents.

Is it "fair" to let high earners keep most of their money? John Rawls would say no, and he'd have plenty of company. But if economic growth is what you want, leveling is not the answer.

There is another way to close the wealth gap, and that is to "push up" by closing the achievement gap. We can do this by getting a much better return on our current education spending. We dedicate today—after inflation—an astounding two-and-one-half times the amount per pupil that we did in 1970! But we get less today for our $2.50 than we got for yesterday's dollar because the teachers' unions have kidnapped the system.

What should we do differently with this incremental 150 percent of our 1970 educational dollar? Let's specially focus, very early in their lives and through the educational system, on the needs of the very poor kids. Under the present system, they are simply not learning. Their early-life needs are more social than cognitive, and while it would be better for their families rather than for their schools to supply these needs, these children very often don't have families. And all the money that has been invested on their behalf over the years through other channels has fallen far short of achieving the behavioral change that alone will open them up to the learning process. So let's shift resources away from the middle class to the very disadvantaged.

John Thorndike '64, J.D. '68
Palm Beach, Fla.

Tea Party "Spin"

"Tea Party Passions" (January-February), on Theda Skocpol [and Vanessa Williamson's] book about the Tea Party, did not disappoint me. I expected to see the typical liberal spin (or should I say smear). By God, it was better than I expected. Skocpol is quoted as saying of Tea Party distaste for Barack Obama: "We don't think it's the color of his skin so much as the fact that he's a black liberal professor with a foreign father." Wow. They don't hate him because he's black…but because he's a black professor. This level of brilliance makes me proud to be a double Harvard grad. Thank you, Professor Skocpol, for giving me my morning chuckle and for confirming my assumption that you would play the race card in smearing the Tea Party. I just didn't think it would be done so crudely and incoherently. 

Sam Levin '80, J.D. '84
New York City

Recalling Edward Rowe Snow

I was so happy you had an article on Edward Rowe Snow (Vita, January-February), but then disappointed that so much about him was missing. I remember sitting around the radio with my parents and siblings, listening to his radio shows. One of my brothers was in some of those shows. Because he could talk with many voices, he took the part of different characters. And the boat rides around the islands that were narrated by Snow were something special. I can see him now. I would love to see something written about his radio show and his many wonderful books.

Vera Gropper
Somerville, Mass.

Theater's Midwestern Oasis

To write on "The Future of Theater," as Craig Lambert did (January-February), with no reference to Chicago is like writing on Greek theater and ignoring Epidaurus. Most critics in the English-speaking world have at one time or another acknowledged, in the words of the Guardian, that "The beating heart of U.S. Theatre is in Chicago." Harvard playwrights including Arthur Kopit, Charles Mee, and Wallace Shawn [see "Famous Comedian, 'Dangerous' Playwright," March-April 2011] have all seen their plays produced in Chicago—often premiered there—by some of the best regional theaters in the country, including Steppenwolf, Goodman, Victory Gardens, Lookingglass, Writers' Theater, and Court Theater. Especially if you include Chicago's Second City cabaret theater, a great many important actors, directors, playwrights, and other theater artists launched their careers in Chicago. The percentage of Actors' Equity members who actually work in their craft is higher in the bureau covering Chicago than any other.

Unlike the New York theater scene, Chicago's more than 100 regional and neighborhood theater companies can depend on their audiences responding to new and unconventional work. Chicago audiences do not come and go merely on reading critical commentary of others. They may not like all the plays done by their preferred regional or neighborhood theaters, and they may be vocal in their opinions bad and good, but they show up for the next offering. This is not to suggest Chicago's theater companies don't face many of the same challenges as other not-for-profit and commercial theaters around the country that Lambert writes about, but ask almost anyone active in the U.S. theater scene and you are likely to hear that they look forward to working in Chicago. They most certainly would be skeptical of an attempt to assay that scene without mentioning Chicago.

Joel Henning '61
Chicago

Water Woes

Jonathan Shaw's article on John Briscoe's water-security initiative ("The Water Tamer," January-February) illustrated how academic research can help solve urgent, real-world problems. The "thinking-doing axis," across which dialogues between academic scholars and field practitioners take place, enables researchers to ask the right questions and provide the right answers. Goethe once wrote: "Thinking and doing, doing and thinking; that is the sum of all wisdom."

But while the initiative's focuses on infrastructure and institutions are critical for water security at the local level, as demonstrated in its Pakistan project, it seems to have neglected attention to some broader, fundamental questions common in water problems—on reconciling the intrinsically conflicting views on water from the perspectives of global ecology, geopolitics, and socioeconomics. How can a community's water demand be met in ecological conformity with its hydrological context, rather than at the expense of it? How can the democratic policymaking be reconciled with the absolute characteristics of the laws of nature in the geologic world? Consensus on these and similar questions is no less critical for long-term water security than dams and pricing schemes, and the debates over them may prove as challenging to tame as water itself. On these questions, Harvard would be much valued for the thinking that its water experts are uniquely able to provide.

Likwan Cheng, A.L.M. '11
Chicago

Medieval Literature

After an extensive quote from Sextus Amarcius, Adam Kirsch [in his reading of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, "Mysteries and Masterpieces," January-February] concludes, "It is comforting, in a way, to learn from the Satires that decadence is such a hardy perennial." Decadence? It's not about decadence. It's all about women. I find it neither comforting nor cute, and unfortunately not surprising, that misogyny is such a hardy perennial in a religious leader. Does Kirsch think burqas cute? They meet the requirements of Amarcius to cover up women. We have this same issue alive and well in Israel, where religious extremists have been harassing and verbally abusing women for being "indecent" in dress. American Southern Baptists find justification for male domination in the Bible, and then there's the religious practice of female circumcision. For a University still enjoying quite a rarefied status as one of the few great universities to have essentially fired its president for boneheaded sexist comments and beliefs, I find it revealing (hope that's okay with Sextus) that its alumni magazine would publish remarks reflective and subtly approving of these attitudes. How can you still not get it?

John K. Craford '68, A.M. '69
Rocky Hill, Conn.

 

Even a Columbia graduate like me knows that the title of Ernst Robert Curtius's book is European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. He practically begins the work with Virgil leading Dante through the Inferno. You can do better.

George Santiccioli
Needham, Mass.

A Life of Faith

Congratulations on the excellent alumni profile of Father Paul O'Brien ("The Father Father," by Nell Porter Brown, January-February). It is a good example of how religious faith has an impact on the life of an alumnus and how that enriches society. I hope that you can do more like it.

Jim Doherty, C.S.C., Ed.M. '78
St. Mary's Catholic Church
Taunton, Mass.

A Healthful Diet

"A Diabetes Link to Meat" (by Jonathan Shaw, January-February) has a diagram labeled "Healthy Eating Plate." One bit of advice is: "Use healthy oils…." The article counsels the consumption of "healthy proteins." The eating, the plate, the oils, and the proteins are not healthy; they're healthful (I trust)!

Dan Kelly '75
Hopkins, Minn.

Errata and Addenda

Charlotte Brontë, notes David S. Johnson, G '59, died not of tuberculosis like her siblings, but probably of septicemia, in childbirth, at the age of 39 ("Tiny Brontës," Treasure, January-February).

Harvard Innovation Lab director Gordon Jones writes of the photograph of him in the January-February issue ("Introducing the i-Lab"): "The caption could be misconstrued to mean that I invented all the products in the picture. While this is partly true (as I am listed on the patent or patent application for the Oral-B Hummingbird, ALLCLEAR Mosquito Mister, and TuffTech Scraper [not shown]), with the other items I either led the development and commercialization (on behalf of the inventing person/group, e.g., Oral-B Brush-Ups, Stages Flossers, Mini-Satin Floss) or advised/consulted the inventors on launching their businesses (e.g., Planet Fuel, Doodle Roll)."

In "Bullish on Private Colleges" (November-December 2011), Richard Chait and Zachary First stated: "Bloomberg News called Phoenix's online program 'The single greatest improvement in higher education since the condom.'" Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, responds: "The quotation was an opinion by Christopher Byron, a columnist, not a statement by Bloomberg News. Bloomberg News did an extensive year-long investigation of for-profit colleges in 2010, exposing their abuses and high cost to the taxpayer; the series was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won numerous awards."

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