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Final clubs, the doubly disadvantaged, veterans’ memories

November-December 2016

Charter Schools

Paul Peterson’s call for school reform (September-October, page 37) is an exemplary display of the weaknesses of the charter-led education “reform” movement. Brimming with needless hostility to teacher’s unions (which have issues, to be sure, but need to be engaged rather than ridiculed), nowhere does he offer a single suggestion about how schools—charter or otherwise—should attract and retain top-level talent to our nation’s classrooms. The world’s best school systems (Finland, South Korea, etc.) give teachers excellent pay, terrific respect, up-to-date facilities, union representation, and top-quality public management; why none of this bears any mention is troubling.

The biggest problems with American schools can’t be solved by changes in management: many urban schools are trapped in a cycle of poverty, making them unable to attract and retain good teachers (or principals, with the occasional exception that proves the rule), and residential segregation has left them without the resources to provide the wrap-around services (or even decent building maintenance) needed to right the situation. This is a problem competition and choice won’t solve; it was in fact created by the choice known as white flight (or, as Peterson puts it, “the affluent already have the options they need”). The urge to competition relegates the poorest tier of students to the losing schools, using charter management to distract the public from the need for more resources and racial integration.

Raphael Sperry ’95
San Francisco

 

Our schools are a critical part of the future of the United States. Many schools are failing. Peterson’s article explains what has been done, the results, and what must be done, vouchers and charter schools, more persuasively than any of the other pieces I have read on the subject.

Robert C. Armour, M.B.A. ’67
Virginia Beach, Va.

 

Paul E. Peterson’s fantasizing “Post-Regulatory School Reform” is both disappointing and disturbing. Clearly he has spent too long in the ivory tower of the Kennedy School and too long in the heady environment of educational elitism of suburban Boston, God bless it.

What is disappointing about this outdated evolution of the article is a combination of his cavalier commentary embedded in the article, his apparently libertarian view of education policy, his bias against federal support and oversight of American education, and his dismissal of public education at the local level, e.g., “…today’s public schools show little capacity to improve on their own.” Perhaps the most revealing and ironic aspect of his arguments and data is that neither whites, blacks, nor Hispanics significantly improve in reading and math over extended periods of time. One might suspect that suggested charter school improvements occur simply because of experimental effect, that curious phenomenon seen repeatedly in education reform, medicine, and other research where improvement occurs briefly because people believe it will.

What is disturbing is that Peterson argues for a fantasy. He admits vouchers affect “less than 1 per cent of the school-age population.” Worse, he admits “…school choice already exists for those who have the resources…to live in the suburbs that offer better schools. The affluent already have the options they need.” Still worse, he accentuates the fantasy by idealizing schools “…financed by local donors and major foundations….” We should all be so lucky! Last, but not least, he anticipates a day when local schools will neither be subject to federal guidelines (apparently because they are “private”) nor assisted by public finance and therefore not answerable to local, state, or federal requirements.

Having been a secondary-school teacher for over 30 years in an array of locally funded schools, and having taught students from the most unskilled to the best Advanced Placement, I would suggest Peterson shift his focus to three areas of concern regarding American education policy. First, how to provide education facilities and resources equally to all students across America regardless of local property taxes so the drinking water, the bathrooms, the books, the pencils and paper, and the staff are the same across the board, not dependent upon Bill Gates or the Koch brothers or Larry Ellison. Second, how to provide teachers, to all students across the country, with the breadth and depth of skills and knowledge in their disciplines who will be esteemed and rewarded for those assets. We pay lip service to teachers but prefer to denigrate their worth and pay them accordingly, unlike some European countries. The result is there is simply no reason to become a public-school teacher today if you hope to raise and send a child to college someday. And third, how to address the long-standing concept of local control in American education while providing “equal education for all.”

Perhaps Peterson and Harvard will sponsor another forum on education, include a few realists, and address some of the realities rather the fantasies.

Casper A. Crouse III, M.A.T. ’72
Wolfeboro, N.H.

 

As alumni, we felt compelled to dispel some of the entrenched myths about public education that Paul E. Peterson treats as fact. His claims that students are “at risk” and that “choice and competition remain the country’s best hope” are not based in evidence.

The myth of students being “at risk” dates back to the Reagan-era report “A Nation at Risk” that Peterson cites as evidence of a long-standing problem. Reports like this are tools for drumming up political support and are often used today to justify closing “failing schools,” which further destabilize low-income communities of color.

According to a 2013 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the United States’s average performance on international comparisons is more reflective of income distribution than poor performance. And performance breaks down along racial and socioeconomic lines. The achievement gap is directly tied to broader income inequality and racial inequality in our country. We cannot address one issue without addressing the others.

As Peterson states, “School choice already exists for those who have the resources…The affluent already have the options they need.” So again when we talk about school “choice” we are talking about income inequality.

We all want a good education for our children. But we do not all have access to resources. That is why public education is a cornerstone of our democracy; it is about increasing access to opportunity. But creating charter schools at the cost of defunding public schools does not simply increase options, because it simultaneously destabilizes public educational options.

“Competition” in this context is not the healthy competition that can happen between friends or classmates. It is treating schools as though they were free-market enterprises, gambling with children’s education as an acceptable risk.

Jessica Tang ’04, Ed.M. ’06; Erik Berg ’89; Natalia Cuadra-Saez, Ed.M. ’14; Paul R. Tritter, Ed.M. ’12; Suzie McGlone, Ed.M. ’04
Boston
Caitlin Gianniny, Ed.M. ’13
Somerville, Mass.
Chris Buttimer, Ed.M. ’10, Ed ’17
Decatur, Ga.

 

Paul Peterson attributes the demise of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to the “regulatory regime” of the Bush and Obama administrations. That regime, he writes, is “in ruins.” That leaves market-based school reforms “as the country’s best hope.” Nonsense.

The problem was not regulation. The problem was inane regulation. NCLB assumed that schools would improve if students were tested more rigorously and if schools then were graded on year-to-year changes in test scores. Those assumptions and their supporting regulations ignored what we know about how to encourage good teaching and successful learning.

Well conceived, regulation works. Millions of special-needs students receive services under the regulatory regime spawned by the Education of All Handicapped Children Act. Title IX regulations expanded women’s opportunities in sports.

Peterson’s faith in market-based reforms ignores other options, possibly better ones. High-performing nations work harder than we do to recruit and retain good teachers. Many nations do more to forestall school-readiness deficits. We divert money to testing companies and publishing houses and sports complexes and then we expect teachers to buy their own supplies. Are our priorities right?

Vouchers and charters have not proven to be any more successful than regular schools. Maybe they will. Meanwhile, we should try smarter regulation, less ideology, willingness to learn from other nations, and more learning from the experiences of successful schools, whatever their type. That, after all, was the core justification for market-based school reform. Appropriate regulations could help.

David L. Colton ’59
Albuquerque

 

Unfortunately, Paul Peterson gives only slight mention to what I believe are the two fundamental difficulties of urban education: a lack of excellent professional staff, and a mismatch between the lives of many of the students and the expectations of the institution.

The characteristics required of an excellent teacher are generally in high demand: being well educated, intelligent, articulate, perceptive, hard-working, internally motivated, persistent, and able to work under less than ideal conditions with little supervision.

Against the allures offered by the business world, schools have little to attract and hold people with these characteristics. Salaries do not match those offered by business and status remains low. In addition, in many schools training is very weak, there is little or no time for consultation, classes are large, and facilities are substandard. One result is that many teachers quit the profession, leaving the urban schools with inexperienced staff.

Urban kids often come from living conditions not conducive to acquiring the characteristics necessary to be successful in school: persistence, the ability to delay gratification, language proficiency, and a respect for school. Unfortunately, our society makes little effort to provide the living conditions necessary for these characteristics to flourish.

Peterson proposes that charter schools and school choice are solutions to what ails the schools. They do not, however, address the two underlying problems. This is hardly a surprise: they lie outside the control of schools. Indeed, until the society as a whole changes its attitude toward formal education and securing adequate living conditions for all, I fear they are not problems to be solved but conditions to be endured.

John H. Gillespie, Ed.D. ’73
Old Lyme, Conn.

 

As the parent of a public-school student now in her twelfth year in our diverse urban district, and as a long-time public-education activist and advocate, I commenced reading “Post-Regulatory School Reform” by Paul E. Peterson with great interest. Unfortunately, that interest very rapidly devolved into disappointment and dismay as I read the article.

While purporting to be a scholarly and impartial article, the text was rife with omissions, assumptions, and bias, most of it readily apparent by the third paragraph. Here is the sentence which first tipped me off: “School districts and teachers’ unions are rubbing their hands at the prospect of reasserting local control.” Followed immediately by “With districts beset by collective bargaining agreements, organized special interests, and state requirements, choice and competition remain the main levers of reform.”

 The author then goes on to tout vouchers, tax credits, and charter schools: “Introducing such competition is the best hope for American schools, because today’s public schools show little capacity to improve on their own.”

 Well, I must give the author credit for being straightforward about where he stands on the subject of public education.

“Organized special interests”—I assume that this tired trope refers once again to the teachers’ union? As frustratingly difficult as it can be to improve or dismiss the small number of mediocre or poor tenured teachers out there, this article illustrates the routine demonization to which these over-worked, underpaid, and underappreciated people are subjected. In my experience, most folks join unions because they don’t feel they are being treated fairly. When folks with master’s degrees work 12-hour days, plus weekends, with no overtime pay, have to pay for materials out of pocket due to chronic funding shortfalls, are paid $40,000 to $50,000 a year, and then are openly and repeatedly vilified for their supposed greed and self-interest, I think it’s understandable that they might want to join a union.

Given the expectations and climate, most people become teachers for no other reason than wanting to make a difference in children’s lives. It is no wonder that we have a shortage of teachers, with more shortages to come; according to a 2016 national survey of college freshmen conducted by UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the number of students who say they will major in education is 4.2 percent—the lowest number in 45 years.

Mr. Peterson states that charter schools and vouchers are our “best hope.” In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark public schools, and that sum was matched through fundraising by Cory Booker, Newark’s then mayor. A large portion of that $200 million went to charter schools. The Newark experiment is widely regarded as a failure. According to Joe Noce­ra (“Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson,” New York Times, September 8, 2015):

The original idea behind the charter school movement was that this competition would spur traditional public schools to improve, to better compete for students. Instead, just as white flight drained urban school districts of white middle-class students when their families fled to the suburbs, now is there a new brain drain, with the black and Latino children of ambitious parents fleeing urban public schools now that they see an alternative. There is another way to approach reform, a way that includes collaboration with the teachers, instead of bullying them or insulting them.

Charter schools drain not only much-needed funding from public schools, but many of the highest performing, most engaged students as well. And that doesn’t even take into account some of the well-documented situations which have arisen at certain charter-school chains, where struggling students have been placed on lists entitled “Got to Go” and then systematically driven out of the school.

 Mr. Peterson goes on to discuss at great length his dearly held belief that public schools should receive a healthy dose of competition: that they should compete for tax money with private schools and charter schools. He clearly states again and again that the teachers and their unions are the greatest block to these highly desirable “reforms.” Mr. Peterson seems to view public education through a free-market enterprise lens. Unfortunately, that is not a model which applies to education; when you take away resources from schools, they do not simply come up with better, more effective ways to operate; they fail. 

I was especially taken with Mr. Peterson’s descriptions of the “No Child Left Behind” act, a regulatory approach to improving educational outcomes by means of carrots and sticks. NCLB was enacted in 2002, with a goal of having all children proficient in math and English by 2014. This was to be achieved simply by offering rewards to schools who made their goals, and punishments to those who did not. Each year, every school was expected to hit ever-rising marks, and would be penalized for not reaching them. While Mr. Peterson admits NCLB was deeply flawed, he does not begin to describe the ways in which it was wrong-headed from the start. Firstly, the standards applied to ALL children; children with profound learning disabilities or health issues, children who didn’t speak English, children with traumatic home-lives, poor children; all were expected to match high-achieving wealthy students in well-to-do school districts, and perform above average on standardized tests. In addition, new children enter the school every year; elementary schools have complete turnover every six years. With a new set of children, the test-taker changes every year; and yet, the achievement standards applied to children who were brand new to the system; the scores were simply expected to rise every year. The underlying assumption to this wrong-headed approach was that the only thing separating high-performing schools from low-performing schools was the quality of the teaching; if students didn’t make the prescribed goals, the teachers were at fault. The standards were impossible, even cynical. Wealthy schools were rewarded for having proficient children, poor schools were penalized for having children score below the target level. It is no wonder that some school districts were tempted to simply lower their standards, or some teachers and principals tempted to cheat on the tests in order to make their goals. Despite all this, I assure you that all the teachers, administrators, and parents I know took the goals very seriously; we all worried that our schools would wind up penalized or disbanded over the testing results. And yet, Mr. Peterson asserts that the “utopian 2014 objective was never meant to be taken seriously.”

It is hard to know what is more distressing about this article: that the author shows such clear prejudice against teachers, or that Harvard Magazine gives him the “bully pulpit” to which he so often refers, without benefit of any opposing viewpoints, implying that his views are based on irreproachably correct research.

What a deeply distressing, disappointing article.

Christine Staples
Berkeley, Calif.

 

As an alum and high-school teacher, I was disappointed to read “Post-Regulatory School Reform,” a pro-charter-school article that tries to convince readers that public education in this country should be placed in the hands of corporations and thrown to the wolves of capitalism. This is an example of the misguided theories that come about when our education policymakers are disturbingly far removed from the classroom.

One graph in the article shows that as the number of charter schools has increased over the past 15 years, the number of students enrolled in charter schools has also increased (page 42). Not only does this graph engage in tautology, it seems to falsely project an infinite number of students in the country. We can’t support an unregulated number of charter schools.

Schools are not businesses. When a charter school opens in a town, opposite the existing district school, the assumption is that the public school will be forced to improve due to the competition. This reflects a deep misconception about what a school is. Firstly, unlike a private business, a public school can’t spend more money on improvements. In fact, the exact opposite happens, as town funds must be diverted to the charter school. When schools shutter their windows, lives of real people are affected. Schools should be pillars of the community, not companies that open and close.

The article presents school districts that spend a large portion of their budget on employee salaries and benefits as a “problem” brought about by “expensive collective bargaining agreements” (page 43). This is troubling. The real problem is that teaching is an under-respected and undervalued profession in this country, and there is consequently a shortage of qualified teachers. Charter schools are not required to hire licensed teachers, and often fill their slots with cheaper employees. Many charter schools do not compensate their educators fairly and, because they are run like businesses, don’t have to. To see this as a positive direction for education is to insult the profession of teaching.

Additionally, charter schools are not held accountable to their local communities and have a track record of underserving special-needs students and English-language learners. Charter schools prioritize test scores over enriching the lives of our children. The list of ineffective, corrupt, and failed charters is long. Our public schools should not be “led by strong entrepreneurs” and financed by investors (page 42). Our educational system should be a public good, not something left to the free market. Establishing private and independent schools is another thing, but charter schools exploit taxpayer money and lure families in with ad campaigns, all at the expense of existing public school districts.

Choice and competition are not the best hope for education. In Massachusetts, approving the proposed dissolution of the cap on charter schools would be a huge loss for public education. We need to focus our resources on the schools that exist and that are already serving our communities. We need to treat our teachers with respect and support them as they work with students. We need to view our students as individuals—not commodities—whose well-being and futures are at stake.

Danielle Raad, M.A. ’12
Arlington, Mass.

 

I wish to take issue with Paul Peterson’s lengthy and blatant sales job of charter schools that appeared the September-October issue of your publication. Professor Peterson naively looks at the public schools in the light of test-score analysis. He forgets to mention such uncomfortable facts as that Bill Gates and others have poured millions of dollars into charter schools such as the Harlem Children’s Zone in order to provide small class sizes, new technology, and rather average outcomes. As pointed out in Diane Ravitch’s eye-opening book, “The Reign of Error,” Professor Peterson forgot to mention this and the fact that many reports have surfaced regarding the difficulty of struggling and special-education students to gain entry into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools and other high-visibility charter schools.

In addition to omitting these uncomfortable facts, Professor Peterson forgets to mention that many charter school teachers are untrained and uncertified teachers who leave after teaching a very small number of years. Does he choose to go to an untrained and uncertified doctor or lawyer?! The American public and its leaders must fund the schools at a level necessary for our teachers to enable pupils to achieve at a high level and be self-motivated learners throughout their lives. This means raising taxes to fund our schools, including such minor teacher benefits as health protection, pensions, and childcare provisions. This is being done in Finland and other more enlightened European countries. It is not rocket science. Teachers must be treated as our most respected professionals and universal public education must be our nation’s first and highest priority.

I will remind Professor Peterson that the wealthy people have made this choice to make education the highest priority by moving to the Scarsdales, Grosse Points, and Lake Forests of this nation, or by sending their children to prestigious private schools that charge as much for tuition as Yale and Bowdoin and Harvard. I hate to say it, but the great titans of industry have launched a very insidious campaign to systematically bash the public schools and secretly support the charter schools with a very significant amount of money to influence national and state legislators and the private schools that we call charter schools. 

I offer my thoughts as someone who has a doctorate in education and who has spent over 40 years in public- and private-school education.

Robert N. Morrison, M.Ed. ’57
Brunswick, Me.

 

To what extent do charter schools have an unfair statistical advantage over public schools? [Peterson’s article] does not tell us. Since there are parents who don’t seek to enroll their children in charter schools, assuming charter schools are all they are cracked to be, these parents either are ignorant of charter schools’ advantages, don’t care, or some extra costs charter-school education entails decides them against it. Does anyone deny that the children of such unknowing, uncaring, or impoverished parents are statistically less likely to succeed in school than children generally? Furthermore, the article does not tell us if charter school can refuse enrollment to children with intellectual (or any other) disabilities. New York City public schools cannot.

The article mentions, without rebutting, the claim of an attempt to nationalize the content taught in every public school across America. While controlling education is usually a power of states, global warming is a danger throughout the United State and the world. Surely our children should be made aware of the evidence that global warming exists and man-made factors increase the danger. Also, children should be made aware that college entrance tests may include awareness of the scientific evidence of evolution.

If there are substantial differences in the costs of the government subsidies and the actual costs of charter schools and private schools, such differences could discourage even caring, middle-class parents, while being a boon to those parents who wouldn’t send their children to public schools anyway.

Meanwhile, New York City provides space in public school buildings at public expense.

The best way to improve education is to spend more government money on education. However, each state and locality must fear that raising taxes would drive their taxpayers elsewhere. There is a solution for the state dilemma that can come from the federal government. Enact a substantial federal income-tax credit for state and local taxes earmarked for public education, similar to the old federal estate-tax credit for state estate and inheritance taxes (Internal Revenue Code Section 2011.) A credit for state taxes would allow states to enact taxes at no cost to their citizens. If the credit is high enough, even high tax states will be affected.

We can also have several tiers of credit for different taxes, one for education-earmarked taxes, another with taxes with no limitation as to use (which would be popular with many legislators), and one for public-works projects. The latter would help economic recovery. It is vital to do this, since fear of the slow economy prevents many individuals from doing the spending that could help the economy. It’s a vicious cycle and any fortuitous hiccup could increase this fear, leading to a fast downhill spiral. Drastic actions are now justified. Similar to this would be a credit for taxes earmarked for increased benefits for workers who retired early. Early retirement opens up jobs for the young.

Donald Marcus, LL.B. ’58
Pittsfield, Mass.

 

After several readings I am still trying to determine Paul Peterson’s purpose in writing “Post-Regulatory School Reform.”

He gets in a few licks on teachers’ unions, a standard whipping boy in recent years. But I wonder what Mr. Peterson knows about teachers’ unions. Does he think they are run by the likes of Jimmy Hoffa? He says teachers’ unions “are rubbing their hands at the prospect of local control.” What local control? I and members of my family have belonged to either the NEA or the AFL. Neither my wife nor I can remember when we or members of our union asserted local control over certification requirements, curriculum, school calendars, or teacher selection. Certainly we were never allowed to evaluate school administrators. Mr. Peterson calls teacher pensions and healthcare benefits a problem. My wife and I, both retired school people*, live in a two-bedroom Cape, a retired elementary-school principal lives next door, the school football coach and his teacher wife live on the corner, a retired trooper and his wife, another retired teacher, live down the next block. Is this too much to ask in return for two working lives spent in school work? Only a Simon Le­gree would feel that pensions and healthcare benefits are a problem. They are a responsibility. Teachers’ unions and governments should take great pride in securing these benefits for teachers.

Mr. Peterson seems to like charter schools, quasi-private academies of education. Not many people see the dark side of private education, but I have seen it. Would he have a teacher fired because he takes a conservative view on history or, in another case, because he’s a devout reformed Jew asking to be free on the Jewish holidays? Would he have a school where a lifetime employee retires on seven dollars a month? Would he have me living on welfare—which is where I would be had I continued in the private school where I began teaching. That school incidentally lies in one of the wealthiest towns in America. 

I ask myself, “How can a serious article about public education speak only in passing about the heart of education—the recruitment, development, and nurture of good teachers?”

And finally, there’s the elephant in the room: the continuing loss of center in America. This widening loss fostered by political divisiveness continues to undermine our government at all levels as well as local communities and schools. Supportive societies create good schools, not societies at war with themselves.

“The Bush-Obama era of reform via federal regulation has come to an end,” Mr. Peterson concludes. Is that his thesis? Shouldn’t he have recognized that indirectly but specifically the Constitution delegates the field of education to the states and not to the federal government? If that is his thesis, do we need a lengthy, top-down survey of programs doomed from the start? I don’t think so.

J. William Downs ’51
Suffern, N.Y. 

*I spent 19 years in private schools as a teacher, administrator, and headmaster, and 16 years in public-school education. I hold a master’s degree in English from NYU. In all, I worked in two private schools and three public schools, two in the same district. My wife spent 32 years as a public-school elementary-school teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education. (My wife prefers my first draft. It said she holds a monster’s degree in education.)

 

Charter schools are not always the answer... they can also pose a real threat to functioning public schools, siphoning off needed funding. The biggest problem with charter schools is that they are not held accountable to the taxpayers.

Susan Barbash ’76
Bay Shore, N.Y.

 

Paul Peterson misses important information. First, the United States is trying to do something never before attempted: all students deserve access to an academic education. People who are emotionally, cognitively, socially, economically, or physically challenged have the same educational opportunities as everyone else. Nearly all first-world countries screen students at ages 14 to 16 and track out those who may not make it in college. In China, according to The Economist (July 13, 2013), only three universities admit blind students. I can’t imagine any U.S. college or university refusing to admit a qualified blind student. Further, we offer advanced education to “non-traditional” (older) students.

When I tutored reading in an eighth-grade “life skills” class, students cried because they couldn’t figure out where their names went on the MCAS test. Their scores count in the U.S. statistics. “China” is not listed on NAEP or PISA, only “Singapore” and “Hong Kong.” Where would the U.S. stand if all Chinese 13- and 14-year-olds were tested?

Second, charter schools can be selective, refusing to accept (or pushing out) challenging students. Public schools must take everyone. Moreover, finding, applying to, and keeping a child in a charter school takes knowledge and commitment. Marina Bolotnikova’s “Aiding the ‘Doubly Disadvantaged’” (also September issue) gives one (debated) marker of “middle class” as parents who graduated from college. Educated parents understand the system and can read and fill out the forms—if they have time. A single parent working two jobs can’t take time to visit the charter school if her child misbehaves. She will lose her job. Thus, charter-school barriers may exacerbate the income divide and help perpetuate the cycle of poverty. 

Finally, Peterson notes that charter schools have “escaped the problem” of costly healthcare and pension benefits. So who covers the cost of employees’ medical care? Our taxes, via Medicaid and ER visits for those who cannot afford a primary-care physician?

Our public schools are struggling, but most work. Yes, they could improve, and charter schools may have a place in developing a more effective public-school system. But charter schools are not a cure-all. Diverting already scant resources into competition drains energy and money, and the losers continue to be our least-advantaged students. 

Jane Arnold, A.L.B. ’85, M.T.S. ’92
Professor of English/Reading Specialist
SUNY-Adirondack Community College
Queensbury, N.Y.

 

Regulating Final Clubs

The article about retired professor Nancy Rosenblum was fascinating (“The Democracy of Everyday Life,” September-October, page 50). How ironic and perhaps quaint is her view of freedom. “I am always guided by a love of liberty, and particularly freedom of association. I would say that’s our most important constitutional freedom.” Freedom of association for undergraduates is, of course, about to be virtually eliminated by President Drew Faust and her acolyte, Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana—all, naturally, in the name of political correctness. The pretext of addressing sexual assault is a transparent hoax that probably could be perpetrated only on a college campus. Harvard and apparently much of higher education, with a few shining exceptions such as the University of Chicago, has sunk into the quagmire of intellectual bullying and dictated conformity that is common to totalitarian states. How depressing.

Richard P. Chapman Jr. ’57
Brookline, Mass.

 

Aiding the Doubly Disadvantaged

I heartily second the ideas reported in Marina Bolotnikova’s “Aiding the Doubly Disadvantaged” (September-October, page 11). It would be important to help “doubly disadvantaged” students learn to approach professors, question accepted ideas, speak up in class. But I would add: remember that these students do not come from money! In the summer class you envision, I think it would be crucial to teach these kids about money: how to prepare themselves to obtain it, invest it, use it, share it, and how not to feel guilty about having it. It won’t necessarily help them get a deeper academic education, but will help them survive in the world when they graduate—still disadvantaged.

Joyce Schmid ’63
Palo Alto

 

Climate Change

I am a 1976 HBS graduate, and I am embarrassed by your editorial policy regarding climate change. You are supposed to represent one of the greatest intellectual institutions on the planet, and you continue to promote the obvious partisan big lie that Earth’s climate isn’t stable enough and that it is determined by trace gases rather than by the sun. Shame! A tremendous discredit to yourselves and Harvard.

Eric Holtze, M.B.A. ’76
Kansas City, Mo.

Editor’s note: The magazine does not have a policy on climate change, or other issues. It does cover the research of faculty members active in this, and other, fields.

 

It is reassuring to know, in this time of politicized opinions, that our University is providing the basis for understanding what is truly in play with climate change. Good work, Jerry Mitrovica, and nice reporting by Jonathan Shaw. A wonderful look at terra firma!

Randy Johnson ’74, M.Arch. ’81
Natick, Mass.

 

Your article on solid-earth geology states that "the earth's rotation period has slowed about four hours in two and a half millennia." At that rate, the earth would stop spinning in about 15,000 years. The steady slowing would cause massive earthquakes. I think your writer, Jonathan Shaw, misunderstood Professor Mitrovica. The actual rate of slowing is about 1.7 milliseconds per century, which would be less than 50 milliseconds in 2,500 years. A scientifically alert editor should have caught this gross error.

                                    Myron Kayton, S.M.’56, MIT Ph.D. ’60                                    Santa Monica, Calif.

Jonathan Shaw replies: A number of readers took the sentence in question to be about the earth’s rotation period (i.e., the length of a day), although the word “period” does not, in fact, appear there or anywhere else in the article. The sentence could have been much more clear, however. What ancient eclipse records indicated is that the earth’s rotation has slowed a cumulative four hours in 2,500 years relative to a fixed point of reference (i.e., the timing of an eclipse). In other words, an observer on Earth running a clock would have experienced a four-hour shift in the timing of an eclipse that should have recurred at a precisely fixed interval had the earth not been slowing. This four-hour shift is referred to as “clock time.”

But Dr. Kayton is correct in estimating that the earth has slowed 50 milliseconds in the past 2,500 years. Ancient astronomers did not have access to the modern instruments that allow precise measurement of changes in the Earth’s rotation. The actual slowing during the past 2,500 years is probably between 40 and 55 milliseconds, depending on which model one uses (references to clock time and these models can be found in Professor Mitrovica’s paper on Munk’s enigma). Why then has the timing of eclipses changed so much? The reason is that these cumulative changes in the earth’s rotation are magnified during an eclipse by “the long optical ‘lever arm’ of the shadow intersecting a curved surface” (my thanks to science writer Monte Davis for this economical phrasing). Regrettably, space did not allow a fuller explanation of this phenomenon.

 

Veterans’ Memories

Like Robert M. Pennoyer and his friends in the class of ’46 (The College Pump, September-October, page 72), my Significant O, Edward P.H. Kern ’46, joined NROTC and zipped through Harvard in two and a half years, graduating into the arms of the U.S. Navy in 1944. Commissioned as a lieutenant j.g., he was sent through Pearl Harbor to the Pacific, where at age 20 he served as the navigator on a cargo ship carrying fuel to battleships. He relied on a compass, sextant, math skills, and astronomy—no GPS back then!

Edward considered himself lucky, first to be at sea, then to come back alive. (Had he been drafted into the army, he might have been sent behind enemy lines, as he spoke fluent German—and he might very well have been killed.) After hostilities ended, he went back to Harvard for a year, then became a writer-editor for LIFE magazine. Edward died in November 2004. The College Pump brought up poignant memories of the stories he had told me over the years...and tears to my eyes for the classmates who didn’t make it back.

Jacqueline Lapidus, M.T.S. ’92
Brighton, Mass.

 

Congratulations for including an excerpt of Bob Pennoyer’s comments about his WWII experience. For the full story, your readers should treat themselves to his wonderful memoir, As It Was, published by Prospecta Press and available on Amazon.

Paul Hicks, LL.B. ’61
Rye, N.Y.

 

Your article in The College Pump (“Soldiers, When Young,” September-October, page 72) struck a responsive chord. My late father, William K. Curtis, also was a U.S. Navy ensign in 1944 training with the Supply Corps on the grounds of the Harvard Business School. Like Mr. Pennoyer, he was deployed to the Pacific during the late stages of the war while I was born. Two decades later, I returned to Harvard for my J.D. and M.B.A. degrees (only this Curtis stay was not at the expense of the U.S. government!). While attending the Law School in 1970, I too was proudly commissioned an officer in the armed services, the last ROTC class in almost 40 years. 

Like father, like son.

Philip K. Curtis, J.D. ’71, M.B.A. ’74
Olmstead, Lynch & Kreutz
Atlanta

 

I was at the class of 1946’s reunion lunch at the Faculty Club and heard Bob Pennoyer’s talk, which was most interesting. He has published a memoir, As It Was, available on Amazon, which is excellent. His life after World War II was varied and included serving as assistant counsel to the Defense Department, where he jousted verbally with Bobby Kennedy. They later became friends.

Henry H. Moulton ’46
Cambridge

 

Sexual Assault Lexicon

Re: The Harvard Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response’s [online] vocabulary page (see Brevia, September-October, page 25).

This vocabulary page (indeed the entire website) seems to be a truly frightening example of Orwell’s Newspeak. The whole aim of Newspeak in 1984 was to narrow the range of thought. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and the Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of the new world order and its elites—should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.

 Most disturbing, is the illogic in the treatment of “innocent until proven guilty.” 1) It is stated this is used to sometimes silence survivors. The word “survivor” assumes the accusations are true. Moreover, the innocent until proven guilty concept in no way prevents accusations or causes silence. It is a principle to be adhered to by authorities in response to accusations. 2) It is stated when the “survivor’s” experience is “validated,” it is assumed there has been an infringement of liberties of the person who has caused the harm, and a presumption of their guilt. But the key to this statement is the unduly vague word “validated,” which is never defined. One would hope it means a finding according to due process—meaning the accused has been presumed innocent yet found guilty via due process. Therefore there has been no infringement of liberties or presumption of guilt—a complete contradiction to the website’s premise in its exposition of this key foundation of our jurisprudence.

 This is a truly Orwellian website the aim of which appears to be largely propaganda and indoctrination into radical feminism—oppression, male hegemony, etc., thereby undermining more rational forms of feminism; and undermining an effective focus on better aid and prevention in cases of rape.

Robert Carr, M.B.A. ’72
Lexington, Mass.

 

General Education

The discussion of updated General Education under Brevia (September-October, page 25) reminded me of my undergraduate years at Harvard, 1950-54, which coincided with the early years of General Education. To assure that liberal-arts students at that time did not unduly load our schedules of four subjects per semester with those in our field of concentration, we were required to include during our four years a full “General Education” course in each of the following three areas: social science, natural science, and humanities. Although the initial course choices were only a few in each of these areas, they had been chosen carefully, and I found that my selections added immeasurably to my college education. Later on, looking back at my undergraduate years, I found that although I greatly appreciated almost every course taken, within my chosen field or not, my all-time favorite course was Humanities 4, a General Education offering. It dealt with the problem of good and evil in Western thought and literature, was taught by two professors, Hugo and Rhinelander as I recall, both excellent lecturers, and featured the most spectacular reading list in size and scope that I could imagine. Without that General Education requirement I might never have exposed myself to those lectures and the reading in this subject, and my Harvard education would have been severely diminished.

Cecil Thayer Browne ’54, M.B.A. ’58
Bloomfield, Conn.

 

Graduate-Student Unions

Sorry to see that President Faust was on the wrong side of this one. I warned her...

Francis A. Boyle, J.D. ’76, Ph.D. ’83
Champaign, Ill.

 

No to ROTC

Re: “Speaking Frankly at West Point” by editor John S. Rosenberg (see 7 Ware, July-August, page 4), concerning Harvard president Drew Faust’s address to which he refers and her apropos commentary, “The View from Mass Hall,” preceding that on page 3: 

In praising President Faust’s “signal speech” personally and poignantly lauding the critical importance of the humanities to the cadets at West Point, editor Rosenberg notes in summary that she marks for those future leaders three points in particular where the humanities provide essential educational guidance.

Those concern perspective, flexibility, and the power of language. 

I heartily agree.

However, I find it shocking that neither Rosenberg, nor more crucially, and shamefully, Faust, recognizes that the military has notoriously throughout history, and especially these days, skewed perspective to promote purposes apart from protection, rigidly adhered to narrow strategies despite evidence and reason to the contrary, and deceitfully debased language to serve such ends.

For brazen linguistic manipulation, military forces are second only to corrupt politicians serving Wall Street and smarmy ad men serving Madison Avenue.

Alarmingly, the United States has become a dominantly militarized state furthering a rampant imperialist empire.

Arms sales during Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama’s presidential reign have vastly exceeded all previous administrations.

U.S. “special ops” have been deployed last year in 70 percent of the countries on Earth, while America has been bombing at least seven of them.

Our military “presence” around the globe is strangling all in the enforcement of oligarchic corporate rule for exploitative private profit.

Domestically, the militarization of the police, with the pervasive surveillance of everybody and everything, increases constantly, but for whose interest and security?

 So, Harvard’s Drew Faust addresses the “leaders” of this status quo being trained at West Point and yet neglects to proclaim the fundamental value of veritas in the humanities.

Now that’s hardly surprising, considering her championing of ROTC in her commentary on the page preceding Rosenberg’s piece.

Tellingly entitled “Invincible Spirit,” she posits that Harvard and the United States Armed Forces work essentially hand in glove (like a fist) for the same mission.

I fervently disagree and find President Faust’s adoration of the military utterly appalling.

To my schoolmates who now seem comfortable with that, I echo J.K. Rowling: “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

Just as I did as an undergraduate, I assert and insist that ROTC should not operate on Harvard’s campus.

Erik Roth ’70
Minneapolis

 

Yes to Enrolling Veterans

In 1952, as a 16-year old freshman, I was fortunate to run into a number of Crimson editors who were Korean veterans attending the College on the GI Bill. These “elders” helped me grow into an adult with balanced social and academic skills. I was an air force brat (World War II and Korean War) and learned, first hand, the intellectual and leadership skills required of our soldiers, sailors, marines, and aviators that can be translated into civilian leadership roles. 

Today, I am embarrassed about Harvard’s puny efforts to attract qualified veterans. 

In Frank Bruni’s column, “Elites Neglect Veterans,” in The New York Times (September 7, 2016), he points out that in November 2015, Harvard failed to respond to an inquiry as to the number of U.S. veterans attending Harvard College and then offered to give the combined number attending the College and the Harvard Extension School, “a much different entity.” In the same survey, Yale had admitted four veterans (later corrected to six) and Princeton one! Pathetic! In contrast, Vassar, Wesleyan, and Dartmouth have committed to accepting 10 veterans a year, “identified by the Posse Foundation as people of exemplary character and sufficient academic promise….” Posse’s website lists 57 college and 13 graduate school “partners.” Posse’s sole Ivy League “partner” is Yale’s graduate School of Forestry and Environmental Studies! Bruni also mentions Service to School, another 501(c)(3) organization that says it has “assisted applicants in winning admission to schools that include Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, Penn, Columbia, Notre Dame, and many other highly selective U.S. institutions.”

 I hope Harvard is not going to wring its hands and say, “We’d love to have more but they just don’t apply.” There are many options open to the College.

Rod Powers, considered one of the premiere experts about U.S. military career information on the planet, in a Balance blog, “11 Inspiring Programs Helping Veterans Get Back to School” (updated January 25, 2016), states bluntly: “America’s track record with tending to the needs of veterans upon returning from active duty remains spotty at best and deplorable at worst. But public and private initiatives alike seek to reward their heroism with educational benefits smoothing the road from battlefield to career. Thanks to their prodigious efforts, returning service members enjoy heightened access to the resources essential to forging the rest of their lives.” 

Harvard could learn how to best tailor its offerings to meet this demographic’s unique needs and circumstances by obtaining the report of the April 14-16, 2016, Veteran Success Jam, Service Member and Veteran Academic Advising Summit, a joint effort of the American Council on Education and The Kresge Foundation, and even by partnering this bi-yearly educational summit. Surely Harvard is capable of meeting the academic and physical or mental needs of wounded veterans through cooperating with ACE’s program, Severely Injured Military Veterans: Fulfilling Their Dreams. By the same token, Harvard could reach out to the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, which helps National Guard members and reservists receive proper school and job training funding for themselves and their families. Troops to Teachers, a joint Department of Education and Department of Defense initiative could recruit possible Harvard School of Education students.

Bottom line: Has Harvard established an office specifically devoted to recruiting veterans of exemplary character and academic promise for the College and graduate schools? If not, why not?

As an additional effort, each Harvard Club could contact a local chapter of Student Veterans of America, a 501(c)(3) coalition of student-veteran groups on college campuses across the globe, for leads on veterans of exemplary character and academic promise and then work with them about applying to Harvard. SVA’s mission statement is: “To provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation.”

Stephen L. Seftenberg ’56, LL.B. ’59
West Palm Beach

Editor’s note: There does not appear to be concerted recruiting for veteran applicants; indications are that many in the veteran cohort may lack the academic credentials needed to gain admission to the College.

 

The Gene Drive Gamble

Magical tools have appeared in our lives,
That seem capable of fulfilling the dreams we prize.
Their potential possibilities truly mesmerize,
For with this new technology, our world we can revise.

These magic wands are called gene drives,
And they can be incorporated into DNA supplies,
So changes in entire species are catalyzed,
To the desired qualities we alone visualize.

Thanks to CRISPR, a gene-editing tool on the rise,
Gene drives are much easier to create and devise.
With RNA to guide Cas9 enzymes to places precise,
Adding or modifying genes has become simple and concise.

Homing endonuclease genes accurately create
Enzymatic molecular scissors that snip DNA without wait.
Copies of genes and DNA can be inserted for a desired trait,
So all progeny will receive the engineered state.

Genes can be sliced and diced as necessitated,
Genomes fortuitously arranged and manipulated.
Desired gene drives can be inserted and perpetuated,
So our lives are improved and more comfortably situated.

The possibilities seem almost beyond comprehension.
We could wipe out diseases that cause apprehension.
Since gene drives pass themselves on without dissension,
We could eliminate many scourges with this magic invention.

As edited programs throughout populations spread,
Gene drives could fill disease-spreading insects with dread.
Engineered bits of DNA could cleanse their pathogenic thread,
Stopping their malfeasance wherever they tread.

Malaria, dengue, and others afflictions would cease to arise,
As mosquitoes are molecularly altered and sanitized.
These genetic magic bullets could effectively neutralize,
Disease-transmitting vectors we’ve come to despise.

Public health would improve, and crops could be stimulated,
As undesirable weeds and grasses are eliminated.
Crop-damaging bugs quietly could be exterminated,
And pests, like invasive carp, critically debilitated.

One correctly-designed drive could change a whole population.
A species potentially could be eradicated without hesitation.
It is all at our fingertips and so great a temptation,
Because gene drives offer hope for better life and habitation.

But wait…is Gregor Mendel rolling over in his grave,
As we consider altering the rules of inheritance with a wave?
Will Mother Nature disapprove of the biological control we crave?
What in our history indicates we wouldn’t err or misbehave?

What if our control is not one-hundred-percent absolute,
And our engineered DNA escapes to meander and pollute,
Other species in the wild we did not plan for or compute?
What happens to these species we may unintentionally uproot?

Will gene drives spread when species interbreed?
Could this penetrating DNA leap to other creatures we need?
And if we elect to eliminate one species with our deed,
Ecosystems surely will be altered we have to concede.

Unforeseen consequences could easily be created,
As we change inheritance laws once considered consecrated.
While the benefits of this new technology are clearly anticipated,
We must consider all possibilities before gene drives are initiated. 

Magical tools have appeared in our lives,
Capable of granting so many wishes we prize,
But ever so judiciously we must evaluate and scrutinize,
The usage of these gifts so they prove beneficial and wise. 

Billie Holladay Skelley
Joplin, Mo.

 

Critiques of Harvard

Two stories that appeared on page 2 of the print edition of the September 13, 2016, Washington Post disturbed me.

The first noted that for the sixth (!) year in a row, Princeton has surpassed Harvard in the U.S. News ranking of top universities. What is President Faust’s strategy to address this embarrassment?

The second disclosed how the sugar industry secretly paid Harvard nutritionists for favorable research in the 1960s. Will the magazine be reporting on this?

Stanley Cohen
Baltimore

 

Independent Giving

As we approach the end of the year and the giving season, I’d like to propose a somewhat novel approach (inspired by Episode 6 of Malcom Gladwell's "Revisionist History" and my father, Herb Eckhouse ’71). 

Rather than giving to Harvard, which has an endowment of approximately $35.7 billion (even after losing $2 billion last year), we can make a real difference by directing our contributions toward historically black institutions, which have struggled to get their fair share of government funding and build endowments. (See "A Perscription for more Black Doctors" from the New York Times and “Morehouse Man, Redux,” November-December 2013.)

Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black institution with an enrollment of only 3,000 students, produces more black students who apply to and then graduate from medical school than any other institution in the country. Xavier also leads the country in training black college students in other scientific disciplines. But Xavier’s extraordinary work is constrained by its endowment: $161.7 million. (This is less than just one-half of 1 percent of Harvard’s.) 

According to The New York Times, “The endowments at the nation’s black colleges reflect [the] stark reality” that it is “difficult for historically black colleges to find parents and grandparents affluent enough to write big checks for buildings, programs and scholarships.” (For more on this, see Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article in The Atlantic, “A Case for Reparations,” and his book, Between the World and Me. Also, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.) Overall, the gap between the endowments of historically black colleges and others has doubled in the last two decades, even as these institutions play a critical role in educating low-income and first-generation college students.

Our contributions to Harvard are barely a drop in the bucket/ocean, but maybe as alumni we could make a real difference to Xavier and its students. 

I invite you to join me in making a contribution to Xavier University of Louisiana. They need it and will make good use of it. Please make your gift here.

Sara Eckhouse ’06
Washington, D.C.

 

Amplifications & Illuminations

Splattered type: Judy Bass ’80 alerted us to our misspelling of Jackson Pollock’s surname in “Sesquicentennial Soirée” (September-October, page 23).

Bogey: John W. Stimpson ’58 and Wally Stimpson ’59, M.B.A. ’64, pointed out that Dick Friedman’s golf profile (“Strokes of Genius,” September-October, page 31) erred in not identifying Edward S. Stimpson II, B.S. ’27, captain of Harvard’s golf team in 1926 and 1927, as the inventor of the Stimpmeter, used to measure the speed of golf greens. Friedman offers his profuse apologies.

Mmeasurements: Gerald Newsom, Ph.D. ’68, writes, “I enjoyed ‘The Plastic Earth’ (September-October, page 46), but on page 47, the text states that, between 1993 and 2010, the average global sea level rose about 3 mm per year: about 51 mm for the 17-year span. But the map on that page shows the amount of sea-level rise over this same interval was generally less than 5 mm, less than one-tenth what the text says. Which is right?” Author Jon Shaw responds: “The text is correct. The chart should have been labeled ‘millimeters/year.’ ”

Shining light on medieval manuscripts: In “Illuminations” (September-October, page 22), Jeffrey Hamburger notes that the text should have referred to the prayer book of Julius III, not Julius II, and regrets the error. Also, the Noyon Missal is not by Villard de Honnecourt, but painted in a manner familiar from the so-called “Sketchbook” of Villard. And the exhibition catalog, distributed by the University of Chicago Press, is published by the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, one of three institutions mounting the exhibition.

Clouded Vision: How It Works and What Can Go Wrong (Off the Shelf, September-October, page 61) was written by John E. Dowling and his brother, Joseph L. Dowling Jr., who was misidentified. We apologize for our error.

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