Energy options, David Ferry, home schooling, and more
Scarcity and Poverty
“The Science of Scarcity” (May-June) presents important insights into the psychology of poverty. But—unless I missed something—it seems to make a jump from the discovery that poverty leads to bad choices, to encouraging better choices through a number of approaches in social programs, job-training programs, and participation in retirement-savings programs. All of these approaches can help individuals make better choices.
But the article seems to skip too quickly over the brutal fact that many people trying to survive on minimum wage have options only for bad choices—or worse choices. They can go hungry or they can survive by taking out a pay-day loan. Only when they have at least enough income to meet basic needs can they afford to make wiser choices.
As a society we need to ensure that everyone has the possibility of a living wage. Then the article’s insights can be applied to enable lower-income people to maximize the rewards of their work.
Christopher B. Sanford ’57
Yet another excuse for “impulsive behavior, poor performance in school, poor financial decisions—may…be the…pervasive feeling of scarcity” due to poverty and the lack of proper innate biochemicals that is a result of that poverty? And we have scarcity? I doubt it. Rather, we have an abundance, a surplus of everything: labor, capital, commodities, choices, rules, regulations, taxes...
By and large, in America, poverty is a choice, usually the result of frequent and repeated bad choices. True, there are those who may have no control over events that placed them into poverty. For them, I am truly empathetic.
However, we now have an overwhelmingly broad safety net: free or heavily subsidized education, healthcare, transportation, food, utilities, rent, mortgages, entertainment (cable), communications (“ObamaPhones”), childcare, eldercare, (un)earned income tax credits, cash and non-cash transfer payments, and so much more.
In fact it is so much more that we now have four or five generations living on the dole, just waiting for a check from the taxpayers. Perhaps there is little incentive to change the poverty behaviors. And our “poverty” must always exist—by definition, some percentage will be at the bottom of the income scale, at least temporarily.
So temporary, that when evaluating economic class structure, it is our social, upward mobility that is striking. The turnover of the Forbes 400 Richest is astoundingly high. The number of those with inherited wealth in that stratosphere is much lower than most would believe. There are 100 million people escaping poverty around the globe annually, as we export property rights and rule of law.
And Professor Sendhil Mullainathan does not seem to explain how so many were able to escape poverty. Moreover, when looking at the successful in Western civilization, the success is derived from multiple and consistent good choices. One must be cautious to apply causality to a relationship. Success breeds success. Poor choices breeds failure.
Behaviors affect attitude much more than attitudes affect behaviors. It would serve us all better if the good professor and other behavioral economists helped the poverty-stricken to change their behaviors, instead of effectively saying “It’s not your fault” all the time. That would “build their psychological resources” and reduce their poverty.
Mitchell Levin, G ’77, M.D.
As a social worker, I have seen the toll of scarcity first-hand among families, and it makes great sense to me to investigate the “rationality” of irrational decisions by impoverished families.
I have maintained a decades-long bond with a teenage girl from my community-organizing days; she is now 56 and I am 70. I have seen in-depth how poverty works and doesn’t work.
One of the factors that has impressed me the most is how the unexpected—car trouble or an illness—can up-end the best-laid plans for getting through the week or month. The lack of good alternatives can deepen a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that paralyzes even the sturdiest.
Another problem is the difficulty in dealing with multiple agencies with the capacity to withhold or withdraw help when it is most needed.
The cost of mistakes is also high. This past year my friend’s adult daughter was imprisoned for her small part in a larger identity-theft crime. While her daughter served time, my friend took care of the two children—ages one and five—left behind, forcing her to quit her part-time job because the anxiety and childcare left her depleted (she has lupus). The costs for lawyers, prison phone calls, and court fees were high.
In order to get financial help in caring for the grandchildren for five months, my friend was told she would have to move to terminate her daughter’s parental rights—which she refused to do.
When I try to put myself in my friend’s position, I cannot see how I could do any better than she has. It puts those who so easily “blame the victim” to shame.
Janis Richter ’67
Professor Sendhil Mullainatan uses “bandwith tax” as a metaphor for cognitive deficit in explaining how scarcity informs bad decision making (“The Science of Scarcity,” May-June, page 38). “To put it crudely,” he says, “poverty—no matter who you are—can make you dumber.” I submit that abundance can make one a poor decision-maker as well. Consider the recurrent oil spills we Americans have seen during the last decade. Management of the oil companies was so distracted by abundance (or the quest for same) that it failed/s to anticipate catastrophe. Ironically, such distraction complements that revealed by the professor’s shopping-mall experiment. When his researchers raised the initial auto repair price ten-fold, the “poor people’s” test scores dropped by the equivalent of 14 IQ points: those subjects were too distracted by monetary concerns about rent, food, and child care to prioritize repair of a potentially unsafe vehicle.
Bad decisionmaking reflects not economic status alone but its interaction with one’s value system. So rather than calling economics the “science of scarcity,” we might think of renaming it (nodding to Robert Schiller) the “science of irrational exuberance and desperation.”
Ira Braus, Ph.D. ’88
West Hartford, Conn.
Nuclear (and Other) Options
In “Why the United States may be on the cusp of an energy revolution” (the subtitle to “Altering Course,” May-June), Professor Mara Prentiss takes us on a wild ride of science and fantasy that is breathtaking in its scope. The major failing in her approach, however, is that she presents fanciful, futuristic technical solutions for energy problems that can be solved almost immediately with today’s existing technology and at much lower overall cost. Our energy problems are not technical; they are political!
Clean, renewable nuclear energy has been reliably producing approximately 20 percent of U.S. electrical energy for years at highly competitive rates—that is, once past the friction and monumental extra costs of getting a nuclear plant through the bureaucratic and environmental hurdles. France has the lowest electrical rates in Europe, with 80 percent of its electricity being generated in nuclear plants.
Looking backward before fossil fuels ushered in the modern world, Prentiss advocates wind-generated power, which—by her admission—is massively land inefficient. Those large mechanical airfoils scattered across the formerly fruited American plains will require a massive expensive infrastructure for maintenance, replacement, and power storage and distribution. She failed to acknowledge these costs or the aesthetic damage to our shores and countryside.
Prentiss seems to like hydroelectric power options over solar, but her hydroelectric arguments fail to state where the massive additional storage would come from for it to become a factor.
Wide use of electric cars using electricity at night when wind and solar generation are at their lowest does not enhance her arguments for wind and solar.
We have proven fossil reserves and nuclear fuel for power generation to last the United States well over the next 100 years. If wind and solar can be used to supplement these traditional sources of power at competitive, nonsubsidized rates, then let the power companies integrate them into their power mix.
What must be stopped, however, are energy policies which slow American growth, raise energy prices, and make our industry even less competitive in this global economy.
John W. Jenkins, M.B.A. ’63
President, GSM International Inc.
Editor’s note: Prentiss was explicitly laying out a scientific, theoretical case about energy potential and options, not recommending a policy or course of action. She did note that hydroelectric storage capacity is limited. Cars would be charged during the day, while garaged or parked at commuter stations, when solar and wind power are readily available.
Professor Mara Prentiss and the magazine are to be congratulated for laying out the physics underlying the feasibility of the transition to renewable energy, and pointing out the opportunities for much greater efficiency in our energy use. However, we on the Left Coast want to emphasize current progress that addresses some of the challenges Prentiss mentions.
She is concerned about intermittency of renewable sources such as wind and solar and suggests that fossil-fuel plants will be needed to balance that. But in addition to the pumped hydropower storage that she mentions, battery storage has been paired with wind energy in a utility-scale plant in West Virginia that has been providing energy to the wholesale grid since 2011; Southern California Edison in 2014 committed to purchasing 235 megawatts of utility scale storage; and commercial battery storage is rapidly falling in price, expected to retail in 2016 for $250 per kilowatt hour; improved battery technology is approaching. Successful demand-response projects also demonstrate the potential for shifting peak demand, to help balance the grid more rapidly than bringing on a gas peaker plant.
The concern about grid reliability with increasing penetration of renewables is being addressed in numerous pilot projects; a company in Napa, California, was recently able to adjust the inverters for rooftop installations in Hawaii (where 12 percent of energy is provided by solar) over the Internet. Smart inverters will rapidly become more widely available, as part of the smart grid described by Prentiss.
Prentiss provides a service by pointing out that a renewable energy transition does not imply a lower quality of life. But those of us who believe the science on climate change understand the urgency of implementing decarbonization of our energy supply. The country needs accurate perceptions on the speed with which technology is addressing the challenges, and rapid investment in making the transition happen.
Claire Broome ’70, M.D. ’75
“Covering one third of the nation in wind turbines” not only “sounds draconian,” it really would be a major assault on our open spaces and wildlife. Wind power imposes huge environmental costs for the paltry amounts of useful energy it produces.
Your article cites Professor Prentiss for the proposition that “land that hosts wind turbines can still be used for other purposes….” Human habitation is not one of them. People who live near wind turbines get sick from shadow flicker and low-frequency noise. The same light and sound effects destroy the land’s value as habitat for wildlife.
To say that wind-power development “could have a harmful impact on predatory birds” is an understatement. The Altamont Pass wind power installation in California kills 2,000 raptors, including 67 golden eagles, per year, all by itself. For most private citizens and companies, killing even one eagle would be an expensive, criminal offense. Less conspicuously, wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of bats every year—very likely an unsustainable toll for these slow-reproducing creatures.
To cover “the middle, windiest third of the nation” with ugly, destructive wind turbines would be a monstrous act of environmental vandalism, even if the impact would fall on “flyover country,” out of sight and out of mind of the residents of coastal cities.
Gregory A. Inskip, J.D. ’77
“Altering Course: Why the United States May be on the Cusp of an Energy Revolution” (May-June, page 46), does not mention an important solar alternative, ocean thermal energy conversion, also known as OTEC. Unlike wind and the direct rays of the sun, OTEC harnesses the vast resource of solar heat stored in the surface of the tropical and semi-tropical oceans.
Electricity generating OTEC power plants operate 24/7, rain or shine. Instead of availability factors of 30-40 %, the average for almost all wind and solar plants, OTEC¹s availability factor is virtually 100%.
Wide-spread utilization of OTEC would reduce the world¹s dependence on coal burning and other fossil-burning power plants and make low-cost battery power or other means of electricity storage less crucial. It appears that 100-MW OTEC floating plants, if the most efficient equipment were used, could generate electricity at roughly the cost of electricity from new coal plants. Transmission would have to be addressed because the OTEC resource is not available off our northeast coast or California. It is widely available, however, off Hawaii and Puerto Rico, near south Florida and 70-100 miles south in the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean-floor transmission of electricity is a well-established technology. Unlike the US, Southeast Asia and West Africa have OTEC resources widely available near many of their large population centers.
OTEC was on a tear until President Reagan took office in 1981. Pilot plants had been built and operated and many companies and universities had participated in useful research and development. The next step was to build commercial-sized floating plants. The new president, however, not only took the solar collectors off the White House roof, he cancelled as many alternative energy programs as he could, including a successful OTEC program which had benefitted from some $250 million in federal funds starting in the late 1960¹s.
This was a terrible tragedy. Under the Carter administration, it had been predicted that 10,000 MW of OTEC power plants would be operating by the year 2000.
The tragedy has persisted despite two Democratic administrations since and our deepening concern for the health of the planet. What seems to be the problem is a federal bureaucracy‹our Department of Energy‹changed its technological stripes permanently and, despite a previous commitment, became arbitrarily skeptical about this most promising energy source. Has DOE no institutional memory? If it were a truly responsible bureaucracy with the best interests of American and world citizens in mind, it would overcome its bureaucratic inertia and spell out the powerful case for OTEC, in part by carefully reviewing the information developed in the 1980¹s. It would then be in a position to persuade American lawmakers (and investors!) that OTEC could make a very significant, cost-effective contribution.
OTEC has other arrows in its quiver besides 24-hour clean electricity: it can make low-cost fresh water, cool the surface of our tropical oceans, and increase marine life by releasing nutrient-rich deep water where sunlight can utilize it to feed phytoplankton, the start of the ocean¹s food chain.
Mark Swann ’62
Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
I find it odd that Dr. Prentiss didn’t consider a role for nuclear power, even to reject it should the facts warrant.
Jim Caprio ’59
Assuming that managing editor Jonathan Shaw has not done Harvard’s physicist, Mara Prentiss, an injustice in his summary of the message of her new book touting an “energy revolution,” I must say that I am appalled by what has happened to Harvard physics. Her aim was purportedly to provide the public with a “factual basis” for choice among future energy sources. This allows people (led by her) to “decide things for themselves.” Sorry, but I think not. Shaw’s account of her thinking omits mention of the nuclear alternative, beyond the triumphant announcement that government-subsidized “renewables” have surpassed nuclear in total (intermittent, trouble-making) power generation, although not in reliability.
Variable, low-density sources such as wind and solar cannot compete in reliability with high-density nuclear power that requires no hand-waving about smart grids, etc. As for sustainability, admittedly there is a limit to uranium resources. But there is another nuclear cycle, based on thorium (relatively common in the earth’s crust), that offers practically unlimited possibilities. If fear of nuclear accidents is what is dominating this physicist’s judgment, she should be made aware that there are “fail safe” thorium designs on which human ingenuity might better be spent than on seeking a magic battery. The payoff for safe reactor design is reliable power without penalty to the country’s “environment,” and without one molecule of carbon dioxide generation, if that matters. The present nuclear reactors are indeed dangerous. They represent the first, most primitive, designs, perpetuated by Admiral Rickover-style engineers, who bent over backwards not to innovate, once they had a working thing going.
A simple educational resource, available to anyone within reach of Professor Prentiss’s book, is Wikipedia, a smart grid already in place. Try “thorium reactor” to begin learning what physicists know.
Thomas E. Phipps, Jr., ’46; Ph.D., Nuclear Physics, ’51
Both Jonathan Shaw and Mara Prentiss might be interested in some models that cannot only reduce consumption of energy in buildings and public transit, but also collect it.
On the side of a single-story industrial building I have build a solar adaptive exterior that not only can accept photovoltaic or thermal-collector elements, but also provides seamless exterior insulation of its concrete-block wall and thermal-storage capacity. Moreover, its polycarbonate glacing cam be made from the cardon dioxide emitted by coal- or gas-buring electric power plants.
Inside the building, a communications-technology museum, is my scale model of a public-transit system I call Omega Rail. Suspended from it, personal rapid transit, zero-emissions electric cabs would carry two adulsts with bikes, wheelchair, shopping cart, or small chldren. A par of photovoltaic topsides might collect up to half a megawatt of solar electricty every 10 miles at full scale. Omega Rail would eliminate crossings and dereailment fatalities.
Interested readers are invited to visit the museum when I am a docent or call me at 860-286-9688 weekdays, 7:00-10:00 p.m.
Ed Sax ’50
I am a Harvard dropout, originally class of ’62. I have a BSEE ’70 from Cleveland State University, if that makes any difference.
I am writing about Jonathan Shaw’s article about a book by Mara Prentiss (which I have not read). Regardless of what deniers claim, I know that global warming is a serious problem. You can get off the Internet the global consumption for the various commercial fossil fuels and the range of carbon content in each. have done enough of the calculations to know that they more than account for the measured increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the last 200 years. The excess is primarily absorbed by the oceans, which ultimately will reduce the available seafood for human consumption. And also, in the eighteenth century Joseph Priestly discovered that carbon dioxide absorbs radiant heat, as is well known by physicists today. (Global warming is a misnomer. It’s actually a reduction in global cooling.)
I do not believe that it feasible to cover one-third of the country with wind turbines or solar panels, and of course there are times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. There is another solution that the article does not mention. All current nuclear power generation in the U.S. is based on technology that was developed to power nuclear submarines. These reactors use light water as the primary coolant. The water also slows down the neutrons, which results in a lot of radioactive waste. Evidently this is not a problem for the military, but is obviously a big problem for commercial power generation.
There is another nuclear technology called a fast neutron reactor that requires liquid sodium or helium as the primary coolant. (You do not want to put molten sodium in a submarine, and replacement helium is not as readily available under the oceans as is water.) The slow neutron reactor requires enriched uranium for fuel, and leaves a lot of radioactive waste, as I mentioned above. The fast neutron reactor can use natural uranium for fuel, depleted uranium left over from the enrichment process, thorium (more abundant in nature than uranium), and even radioactive waste left over by slow neutron reactors, while itself producing minimal low-grade radioactive waste. This should provide safe energy for at least 1,000 years, by which time the fusion program might be successful.
The main stated objection to the a fast neutron reactor is that it produces plutonium as an intermediate product which is ultimately “burned” in the reaction process, if not removed by terrorists to make bombs. This danger can be prevented by a modular reactor design, where the fuel modules have to be returned to the factory to remove depleted fuel, and by better security at the power stations.
I know that at one U.S. corporation working on this technology, according to their web site, but considering the current popular prejudice against nuclear power, I think it is very important to make more people aware of this possible solution to climate change, without having a drastic reduction population.
In a related issue, as a result of the troposphere retaining heat and getting warmer, less radiant heat gets to the stratosphere, which is getting cooler, according to NASA. This situation will increase future atmospheric turbulence, i.e. storms.
Donald E. Dozer
Jonathan Shaw, in my view, begins his article most strangely, most disturbingly. In at least two ways he ignores what many (I among them) regard as the over-arching and most urgent imperative of our era: slowing (so far as possible) human progress into massive climate change.
Many people alive today do not feel the reality of great calamities, whether past or future. They must imagine them (especially future calamities) to be fictions, fairy tales, plots for horror movies. They are too young, and too badly educated, to know of the real calamities which mankind has visited on (parts of) itself, too innocent to believe that humankind could do it again.
I am of a generation just old enough to have lived through the Nazi holocaust and the American devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to say nothing of Cambodia and Vietnam and Iraq. I greatly desire to avoid any other holocaust, but especially one with the entire world as victim brought to them by human failure to act prudently, and brought to them largely by American failure to act prudently—failure to avoid (as we might have done years ago) and failure today merely to mitigate the rush toward serious climate change.
I understand that this is an extreme point of view and that, at the other extreme, there are people who say, in effect, “What, me worry?” and deny that climate change is bringing anything to fear or dread.
But there is no serious person alive today who does not take some strong position on climate change and know of its relationship with energy production.
It seems more than odd, therefore, to read an article about changes to the American energy system without the author (and interviewee) taking a position on climate change at the outset.
And it seems foolishness, if one fears climate change as a frightful and onrushing reality, to say, as Shaw does, that we cannot burn fossil fuels forever because as-yet-unburnt fossil fuels are finite! What has finiteness got to do with the matter?
We already have available to us many, many times the fossil fuels “in the ground” that we can burn without bringing on something like the end of the world or the end of civilization. How then can it matter that they are finite? We cannot or should not use them.
And again, why be concerned with low efficiency of burning fossil fuels if we cannot avoid such inefficiency (Carnot theory) and must in any case stop burning fossil fuels whether the efficiency be high or low?
(Why wouldn’t an imaginary higher efficiency help? Because, if by some magic, electric generation and internal combustion could be made twice as efficient, we’d still have to stop burning fossil fuels soon—assuming we made the huge investments necessary to effect such a doubling of efficiency—albeit with a bit less urgency. GHGs are GHGs after all. And slow or fast, they accumulate. And, accumulating, they warm the earth and its oceans and change the climate.)
The unwillingness to mitigate climate change is not scientific or engineering in nature, it is social/political. It is the unwillingness of American politicians and the wealthy people and institutions which select them and which control them to be willing to act. America is, in effect, “fiddling while Rome burns” because, like Nero, we (our politicians that is) cannot be bothered. “Apres moi le deluge” seems particularly appropriate here.
The problem of mitigating climate change is not technical or scientific, because even if there were no better ideas than today’s about what to do instead of burning fossil fuels, we must still use whatever ideas there are (today’s wind turbines, today’s photovoltaics) and hope that, encouraged by the vast expenditures of money that would be involved in starting the process of mitigation, our engineers and scientists will contrive to make it all better and cheaper.
What we cannot afford is to wait, year after year, to begin— waiting for better inventions, waiting for “ordinary economics” to wean us from coal-oil-gas. We cannot afford to wait that long. We cannot afford to wait as long as we’ve waited.
How I wish the scientific community would say all this loudly and clearly—instead of, as at present and in this article, silently allowing complacency to prevail over urgency.
And how I wish the scientific community would tell Harvard’s President Faust (and America’s President Obama) these hard home truths. Both seem willing to accept the “Faustian Bargains” of remaining comfortably in power by bowing to the political powers that be, which favor status quo, while ignoring the problems of all mankind.
Peter Belmont, A.M. ’61
Shaw’s summary of Prentiss’s book is interesting and inspiring, but seems to me to have two crucial omissions. Three “challenges” to a renewable-energy economy are described, and they are indeed fundamental. But if those challenges were overcome, two lesser issues could still prevent the attainment of such an economy. One of these is the public objections to wind power based on rotor-noise and bird-deaths. There have been enough credible reports of both (with headaches from the noise, and deaths of not just raptors—and with bird numbers and species in decline, another killer of birds cannot be ignored) that these objections should have been mentioned, if only to say why they are not serious. (And if Prentiss discusses them, then Shaw should have mentioned them.)
My second “lesser issue” is network security. A national smart-grid would yield enormous benefits, but would also magnify the risks of terrorists’ physical or cyber-attacks on it. This too should have been mentioned as a potential show-stopper, since high connectivity might be prohibitively expensive.
And as for those “challenges,” one-sixth of the Lower 48 would be half a million square miles of wind-farms: a daunting vision, even with dual use.
Eric Wolman ’53, Ph.D. ’57
“Altering Course” says nothing about Lockheed Martin’s claim (reported in Time, December 2014) that they have made a breakthrough in nuclear fusion using “magnetic mirror confinement” enabling them “to make compact fusion reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck within a decade.”
We need to stay on this story like a hound on a rabbit. Otherwise, fossil-fuel corporations will kill the most important advance in energy production in a long time.
James E. Hart
Ann Arbor, Mich.
After Joel Studebaker’s letter (Momentous Image, May-June, page 6) noting that the police bust of demonstrators at University Hall took place in the morning and not at night, there is an editor’s note saying that the raid took place “just before sunrise—at 4:55 A.M.” and suggesting that the “use of “predawn” might have avoided causing confusion. To the contrary, calling the minutes before sunrise predawn adds to the confusion. Dawn breaks in Cambridge about 100 minutes before sunrise, so the raid took place well after dawn, when the sky and the landscape both were well lit. Studebaker is correct, and, to speak precisely, the raid took place in the post-dawn morning twilight.
I. Dean Ahmad ’70
Speak Up, Please
Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by e-mail to email@example.com.
Poet David Ferry
“Line by Line” (May-June) celebrates poet and translator David Ferry. I feel lucky to have taken a few courses from him while majoring in English at Wellesley College. For almost 10 years after graduating, I would occasionally hear his voice (in my head) reading poems with ardor. It was delightful every time. Ferry is quoted in the article, “I mainly wanted to turn people on about lines of poems.” Please let him know that he succeeded in spades. Thanks!
Joan Gregory Chase
Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
(Please) Do Not Call List
Sitting at work, I get an impersonal call from a call center hitting me up for a donation to Harvard. Where do I start?
Really, the University now outsources even asking for money? A third party in a room in Connecticut reads a script asking me for dough while I hear other script readers babbling in the background?
I am all for efficiency—and heck, I am sure the technocrats can prove it works—but please count me out. Where I come from, if you ask someone for money, then you ask them for money. You don’t send a third party. Unless you’re the Mob.
But I digress.
I am not so old (46) that I cannot remember the traditional donation call that came from an existing student: “Good evening, Mr. Choslovsky, I am Carol, a sophomore at the College, and I am calling to see if you would be kind enough to make another donation this year….”
That seemed right. Almost authentic. But regardless, it was good form, and in my case effective.
Then again, with a large part of tuition literally given away—remember loans, anyone?—perhaps the University can’t even find students willing to work for a measly $12 per hour. Or $15. The inhumanity. I presume that’s now beneath most Harvard students.
If this is “progress,” I want no part of it, as it all confirms that what passes as “education” today—as opposed to networking, résumé padding, and extracurriculars—is also likely being outsourced.
All that said, I trust the endowment remains safe.
William Choslovsky, J.D. ’94
The Case for Home Schooling
I cringed reading Professor Harry Lewis’s critical reference to home schooling in “Grow Up!” (May-June). As a home-schooling parent, advocate, and leader, I can assure Lewis that home-schooled children are doing just fine socially and academically. It is our schools that need to worry about socialization. Just consider the rise of bullying, school violence, and childhood anxiety, as well as the need for school programs to teach social/emotional learning (and recess skills!). For home-schoolers, socialization occurs in a more natural environment—everyday life with mixed ages. My daughter is very comfortable conversing with adults, a trait I observe in the many home-schooled children I encounter. Lewis perpetuates the myth that home-schooled students are isolated. The reality is that home-schoolers today are taking part in co-ops, clubs, home-school groups, mentorships, classes, community service, field trips, and sports.
Lewis’s remark, “In actual practice, home schooling sounds like a terrible way to develop autonomy,” shows his ignorance on the subject. My 17-year old daughter attributes her maturity, independence, and self-direction to 10 years of home-schooling. She is not alone. Her home-schooled peers take courses at Harvard Extension School. A couple of students in our group will soon receive associate degrees before graduating high school.
Home schooling encompasses a wide range of practices. Though not for every family, it is a viable alternative, whether for a year or until graduation, when traditional schooling isn’t working. For my daughter, it has been a wonderful way to grow up.
Evelyn Krieger, Ed.M. ’83
“Grow Up!” succeeds I suppose in so far as it prompts me to seek the work by George Santayana that Harry Lewis references, as well as that by Susan Neiman he criticizes.
But he offers a horrible translation of Horace, while also misquoting (or sabotaged by typo re) the original Latin (Book I, epistle xi, line 27). Instead, that should read: Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. And, I much prefer this translation: “They change their stars, not their souls, who run across the sea.”
Erik B. Roth ’70
Editor’s note: We regret the cut-and-paste typo. Lewis consulted a classics department colleague for the translation he offered.
Born to Write
Computer whizzes like Jelani Nelson (Harvard Portrait, May-June) fascinate word-slingers like me. However, I did catch a small copyediting error in the article. Every homework assignment in Nelson’s undergraduate course is born of (produced by) the conviction that solving real problems quickly cements concepts in the mind—not “borne” (carried).
Jacqueline Lapidus, M.T.S. ’92
Editor’s note: The author did not intend a metaphor, and therefore used “borne”; he would accept “carried” as an alternative.
You made a significant blunder in your underwhelming note on Harvard women’s ice hockey (May-June). Michelle Picard will be playing her inspired defense next year for Harvard, as your reporter could have divined if she/he had checked the Harvard Athletics website, where Picard is listed as a junior this year. Picard took the 2013-2014 academic year off to prepare for and play hockey for the U.S.A. in Sochi.
And why “underwhelming”—well, men’s teams seem always to get the lion’s share of the press—and the pictures—when in fact a women’s team may have a better record and a better and more inspiring season.
Richard H. Meadow ’68, Ph.D. ’86
Editor’s note: The source for that error is a Harvard Athletics report, on the gocrimson.com website, which reads: “The seven seniors Hillary Crowe, Sarah Edney, Lydnsey Fry, Marissa Gedman, Michelle Picard, Josephine Pucci and Samantha Reber- end their spectacular Crimson careers with a noteworthy 97-29-11 record as a unit.” As Meadow observes, the information is rendered correctly on the team roster, elsewhere on the website. The one photo run with the brief coverage of women’s and men’s ice hockey shows Jimmy Vesey, a Hobey Baker finalist; it was chosen to highlight his nationally prominent performance. The issue closed before that honor was conferred on another finalist, but it seemed appropriate to recognize his outstanding year.
As I had just returned from a dinner at the Murr Center honoring my former lightweight crew coach, John Higginson ’60, I read with interest the article on Charley Butt (“A Feel for the Water,” May-June, page 35). The article omits a relevant part of Yale coach Steve Gladstone’s pedigree. Before he headed west, Gladstone was Harvard’s varsity lightweight crew coach for four seasons, from 1969-1972. If I recollect correctly, during that time his crewswent undefeated.
Paul Chessin ’75
I appreciated reading Debra Bradley Ruder’s article “An Extra Layer of Care” (March-April, page 33) concerning palliative medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The partnership of palliative care teams, which “may include specially trained physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and others.” expands beneficial resources to patients and their families. However, the article overlooks the significance of integrated services for cancer and palliative care.
Reiki is a natural healing energy system for stress management and relaxation that is integrated in many Boston hospitals for cancer.
Professor Roy Baumeister of Florida State University was inadvertently placed on the University of Florida faculty in “The Science of Scarcity” (May-June, at page 40). The editors apologize to Seminoles and Gators alike.
An item in “Festive Fare, Afield” (May-June, page 16S) incorrectly listed T.W. Food as “T.W. Foods.” We regret the error.