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Classroom discussion, rejected invitation,
cutting remark, letters on letters.

 

TEACHERS CAN’T FOCUS ON TEACHING

The trouble with the character-education movement [“The Moral Classroom,” May/ June] is that it saddles teachers with yet another responsibility that should be taught by parents in the home. Teachers in public schools are already playing the roles of psychologist and police for far too many students. Asking them also to be parent is one of the reasons that students perform so poorly on achievement tests. Teachers can’t focus on teaching the subject matter they were hired to do.
   
I saw this firsthand during the 28 years that I taught in the same high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. At the beginning of my career, I devoted the overwhelming portion of my time to teaching English. As the city and the nation underwent far-reaching changes, the needs of my students also changed. I found myself devoting increasing amounts of time and energy to non-academic matters. I don’t think my experience was unusual.

Walt Gardner C’57
Los Angeles

 

A GOOSEBUMP-RAISINGLY GOOD ISSUE

While I have always been proud of my alma mater, the May/June issue of the Gazette gave me some genuine goose bumps. As a school psychologist, I frequently am asked to assist school administrators to sort out how to handle certain transgressions by students. Recently, for example, a trio of kindergarten boys were caught in an impromptu comparative-anatomy lesson. While I was quite clear as to how I felt the situation should be handled, it is reassuring to know that Penn’s professors Goodman and Lesnick have been busy creating a “meaningful approach to moral education.”
   
Heaven knows there are hundreds of indoctrination programs being hawked to the public and to their educational institutions. In an era when the “best and the brightest” have abandoned public service, and particularly the public schools, it is absolutely essential that the great universities get re-involved. Perhaps Lesnick and Goodman’s method together with the ground-breaking of the new school in University City will signal a renaissance in which Penn will take a more serious role in educating educators than it has in recent decades.
   
On another note, the article about Dr. Andrew Newberg’s work fascinates me almost as much as the wonderful illustration by Phung Huynh [“Looking for God,” May/June]. Since the demise of the Department of Religious Thought (a vestigial appendage, anyway) and the pedagogical approach to religion (let’s learn about religion, not experience it) common at Penn, I believed Penn was unlikely to make any meaningful contribution in this area. I am blown away by the potential research areas suggested by Newberg’s discovery. The role of architecture in religious experience, for instance. The role of ecstatic dance, Sufi dancing, whirling dervishes, in bringing on and enhancing the religious experience.
   
Finally, the wonderful illustration by Phung Huynh punctuates both the article and the fact that Penn has finally made a meaningful move toward nurturing the fine arts. With the new Fine Arts building [“Gazetteer,” May/June], I hope Penn will recognize how narrowly they have defined both curriculum and admissions. It is time to stop pushing the SAT scores uphill and admit that there are brilliant people (artists and musicians, for instance) who are overlooked and, to a large extent, excluded from the Penn community. Their absence makes the Penn community much less than it could be.

Joe Konn C’69
Berkeley, Calif.

 

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS, ON WOMEN’S CELEBRATION

As much as I appreciate the invitation, I will not be attending the celebration of 125 Years of Women at Penn next November [“Gazetteer,” May/June].
   
I am proud of my diploma and affiliation with Penn, and I understand that I could not have attended had it not been for those bold women before me. But I’m proud to be a graduate of a distinguished institution, not part of a special group whose only bond is being female.
   
Furthermore, the upcoming “celebration” seems to be geared toward those alumnae who feel that “notable Penn women” are only those in high-profile positions and with published books, and that a private performance of the crass Vagina Monologues is a suitable way to commemorate how far women have come.
   
If the University’s first alumnae knew their achievements were being “honored” in this way, I’m sure they would be as appalled as I am. I can’t believe I am alone in these sentiments, but if I am … consider this my contribution of a “Penn Female First.”

Catherine Gray Reynolds C’95
Bryn Mawr, Pa.

 

EDITOR NEEDS ONE

Are you testing my geriatric memory? The last sentence in paragraph seven and the first sentence in paragraph eight about Dr. Andrew Newberg were doozies! [“From the Editor,” May/June]. They contain 33 and 47 words respectively. About halfway through each, I lost my way. I restarted several times. I think I finally got it … but I’m not real sure. Are you studying law?

Lauri Kurki Ar’54
Southampton, Pa.

 

SYMPOSIUM SPEAKER RESPONDS TO LETTERS ON JERUSALEM PANEL

It is not surprising that the analyses presented at the Merriam Symposium regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Jerusalem [“Blood Feuds,” March/April] drew so much more attention, and caused so much more distress among readers of the Gazette than the presentations made about other equally sensitive and complex problems in Kosovo, Kashmir, and Rwanda [“Letters,” May/June]. Nor is it surprising that the passions animating many of these responses are associated with illusions that make scholarly presentations seem outrageous instead of informative or stimulating.
   
Sam Hughes, the reporter who described my analysis of reigning misconceptions regarding the Jerusalem problem, did an admirable but necessarily incomplete job. Readers who would like to hold me to exactly what I have to say on this issue should consult my various publications on the Jerusalem question—references available at the Penn Political Science Department Web site (www.ssc.upenn.edu/polysci/). I will, however, try briefly to respond to those who took issue with my remarks as reported in the Gazette.
   
Sheldon Waxman challenges my statement that many of the most prominent leaders of Zionism in the mandate period (between 1920 and 1948) did not particularly want Jerusalem to be the capital of the Jewish state they were building. “Sources, please!” he says. Mr. Waxman’s demand for sources is just what I like to hear. It reinforces the principle that evidence and not emotion must be the currency of consideration of complex questions and implies that once the sources are shown, that one is prepared to learn. First, of course, it should be recalled how the Zionist leadership, and most Jews in Palestine at the time, celebrated the United Nations Partition Plan which divided Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. The joyousness of that celebration was not substantially affected by the fact that the Jewish state demarcated by that plan excluded all of Jerusalem from its borders. While the leaders of the Jewish town of Herzliyah petitioned that their municipality be made the capital of the new state, the actual seat of government was Tel-Aviv—a city that for climatic, cultural, and convenience reasons was much preferred over Jerusalem by Zionist stalwarts such as Yosef Sprinzak, Moshe Shapira, Pinchas Lavon, and Eliezer Kaplan (Motti Golani, “Zionism without Zion,” The Journal of Israeli History, 1995; Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis, 1986). Indeed, although Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and Moshe Sharett would have all preferred to include all of Jerusalem within the Jewish state and to have the city serve as Israel’s capital, my point in my lecture was that this was not a fundamentally important issue for them. That is why the official plans for partition presented by the Zionist movement to the British in 1938, and in subsequent proposals to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946, and to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in 1947, excluded from Israeli sovereignty not only the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter but the entire Old City and the Mount of Olives (Yossi Katz, Partner to Partition, 1998).
   
In his letter, Hillel Zaremba accepts that Zionist leaders were willing to forgo Jerusalem, but stresses that Jerusalem was nevertheless the focus of yearning for countless Jews and explains the necessity of Israeli rule over expanded Jerusalem by this yearning. The yearning was and is real, but it is primarily spiritual. This was as true among the masses of Russian and Eastern European Jews prior to the world wars as it is of American Jews today.
   
For every Jew in the “Pale of Settlement” in Eastern Europe who followed his or her yearnings to Palestine between 1885 and 1914 (50,000) there were 30 who left for the United States and Britain (1.5 million). If one subtracts the almost 50 percent of Jewish immigrants into Palestine who then abandoned the country, we can understand that those who stayed and built the foundation of the State of Israel were an extraordinarily dedicated, politicized, and ideologically committed, but tiny, minority of world Jewry.
   
Jewish yearning for Zion was and is entirely insufficient to understand Israel’s relationship to Jerusalem or the large chunk of the West Bank that Israel has been calling Jerusalem. Simply consider how tiny is the trickle of American Jews who, over the 52 years of Israel’s existence, have responded to this yearning by moving there, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews who have left that country for America.
   
In his letter, Farley Weiss placed great importance on Palestinian Authority letterhead that shows a map of Palestine that does not show Israel. He might consider that this is likely to be the norm until there is a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. After all, official Israeli maps show Israel ruling all of Palestine, with no border separating Israel from the West Bank and Gaza. His second comment, that “Questions about Israel dividing Jerusalem are history and were never acceptable,” clearly illustrates the theme of my talk—the misconceptions that help to prevent peace.
   
One of them is that Israelis have always been and are absolutely committed to maintaining their rule over West Jerusalem, the Old City (one square kilometer), and the 75 square kilometers of Arab el-Quds (“The Holy,” the Arabic name for the city), and the surrounding non-Jerusalem villages and refugee camps that Israel unilaterally incorporated into its municipality of Jerusalem in 1967. Ben-Gurion, Sharett, and most Zionist leaders were perfectly prepared to divide the city to attain peace, recognition, and sovereignty over part of it. In recent years (Segal, Levy, Said, and Katz Negotiating Jerusalem, 2000), polls have regularly shown anywhere from 35 percent to 60 percent of Israeli Jews are willing to trade Arab neighborhoods of enlarged East Jerusalem for peace. Not only was this the actual position of the last Israeli government, but the Israeli parliament itself recently (November 2000) passed an amendment to the “Jerusalem Law” requiring a special majority of the parliament in order to change Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. This move was sponsored by right-wing parliamentarians out of fear of just how likely it is that an Israeli government will return portions of Arab el-Quds and its hinterland to the Palestinians—vivid proof that “questions about dividing Jerusalem” are not “history.” Indeed, changing the boundary of the city so that Israel rules “Yerushalayim” and the Palestinians “el-Quds” is not only a live and widely discussed option in Israel, it is by far the most likely scenario for any peaceful future we may wish for that tortured city.

Ian S. Lustick
Professor of Political Science

 

PANEL TRIED TO “STRIP AWAY” MYTHS AND “GET TO THE TRUTH”

The shrillness and rabidity, not to mention myopia, of the letters criticizing the story on the Merriam Symposium Panel on Jerusalem were to be expected from those who cherish the myths about the creation of Israel and its relationship to the Palestinians. The panelists attempted to strip away some of these myths and get to the truth of the matter. This would not do!
   
One can see in the critical letters a desperate wish that the Palestinians have no right to live in freedom in their own country, indeed that they be a figment of the imagination. The writers of such letters have no logical explanation for the “Palestinian problem,” and therefore no solution. They tend to regard it as merely concocted by wicked leaders or based on blind gratuitous hatred of Jews.
   
In fact, Israel is a colonial settler state established by force in the region of Palestine against the will of the overwhelming majority of the native population. This majority, the Palestinians, were traumatized by the resulting destruction of their society and the loss of their country. This is why there is a “Palestinian problem.” Once this is acknowledged by Israel and its supporters the road to a compromise and a solution will be open.
   
The Palestinians have already recognized Israel’s right to exist. Meanwhile, the traumatization of the Palestinians continues, symbolized above all by the Israeli “settlement policy,” a polite euphemism for ethnic cleansing.

Gary Leiser Gr’76
Vacaville, Calif.

 

WHERE WAS THE TOLERANCE
THE “POLITICALLY CORRECT” DEMAND OF OTHERS?

I was disappointed to read the various letters to the editor regarding Ms. Accurso’s letter [“Letters,” May/June]. While I do not agree with her sentiments, I support her right to make them known, and I applaud the Gazette for printing a letter they may not agree with or which is not politically correct. It is one thing for the various letter-writers to state disagreement with her opinions, but it is another to attack her character and intelligence. (Note the many references to an “ignorant” person and someone the University failed to educate.)
   
Where is the tolerance for different opinions that the politically correct community demands of everyone else? Why is Ms. Accurso vilified for an opinion that they disagree with? It seems that they are only tolerant of opinions that match their own. They would have more credibility if they would attack the message, not the messenger, and avoid the politics of personal destruction.

Jordan M. Wetstone C’82
Atlanta

HER STATISTICS MAY BE FAULTY, BUT WRITER’S POINT WAS VALID

I applaud the Gazette for publishing Ms. Accurso’s letter and thereby upholding the constitutional freedoms of speech and press which all Americans should hold dear, regardless of their sexual orientation. While some of her statistical assertions may have been faulty, the suggestion by both faculty and graduates that the Gazette should censor a letter with a particular point of view is quite disturbing. Their many commentaries describe those of us who believe that marriage is a sacrament reserved solely for male-female couples, and that children should be raised in two-parent families with their mother and father, as engaging in hatred, intolerance, and prejudice and subscribing to “a very antiquated view of the family.” If we are demonized as inhumane and accused of being old-fashioned, the authors seem to believe that their opinion will be regarded as the normalized societal view. However, while the construction of Carriage House may demonstrate an imprimatur on these alternative lifestyles by your alma mater, you should not assume that your fellow alumni must be forced to agree with that edict. Nor should you regard this artificial haven as more than what it will be: a place where you can avoid reality.

Mary Ryder Brett, Parent
Reston, Va.

 

ODDS FOR STAYING MARRIED BETTER THAN THEY APPEAR

I propose that Kathleen Accurso and Debbie Greenstein meet at Penn, bury the hatchet, and mutually attend “a good statistics class” [“Letters,” May/June]. Debbie’s quote, “the 50 percent divorce rate among straight couples,” is the oft-repeated errant conclusion made by the media (et tu Pennsylvania Gazette?) from annual marriage and divorce statistics. Indeed, every year there usually are twice as many marriages as divorces. But these raw facts don’t consider the vast pool of already married people eligible for divorce. Statistics researched for the Fox News division show that for first marriages, couples have an 87 percent chance of dissolving their nuptial bonds by the hands of death as opposed to our legal system. Pardon me, but I’ll spare my wife that statistic when we celebrate our 29th anniversary next month.

Robert E. Robison C’66
Pittsburgh

DEPARTMENT TREATS MUSIC “AS A COMPLEX LIBERAL ART
RATHER THAN A MERE SKILL”

Tara Yaney is sadly misinformed with regard to the Penn music department’s attitude toward performing [“Letters” May/ June]. The department not only requires its undergraduate students to perform but subsidizes private study with Philadelphia’s finest instrumentalists, for University credit. Highly regarded Penn faculty and instructors lead outstanding performing ensembles such as Ancient Voices, the University Orchestra, and the Baroque and Recorder Ensemble, and attract performance-focused events such as the annual Amherst Early Music Festival. And a partnership with the Curtis Institute allows our own graduate composers to have their music performed by world-class conservatory students.
   
This is to say nothing of the performing abilities of several of our own faculty
members. I’ve personally heard our professors perform—and perform well—everything from jazz to baroque to contemporary American art music. Perhaps Ms. Yaney missed composition-professor Dr. James Primosch’s performance of George Crumb’s Makrokosmos last year, a supremely intense and difficult work for piano which he executed superbly.

   
As a current music major, as well as a jazz and classical pianist, pipe organist, harpsichordist, vocalist, folk guitarist, and rock drummer, I find the department’s theoretical, compositional, and historical instruction absolutely invaluable to my overall ability to conceptualize and understand music and its place in our culture. It only follows that my performance prowess, as well as my ability to choose music to perform, has grown tremendously by listening to brilliant men and women talk about what they’ve spent their lifetimes studying, and what they and their students love most, music.
   
I strongly encourage the Gazette to run a feature on Penn’s music department in the coming months. Even without a conservatory, Penn Music is giving its students the tools to be first-rate musicians, treating music as a complex liberal art rather than a mere skill in which to be trained.

Daniel Paul C’02
Philadelphia

 

ANOTHER STASSEN ACHIEVEMENT

Mark Bernstein’s fine tribute to the late Harold E. Stassen [“Obituaries,” May/ June] failed to mention one significant accomplishment of the former University president. Stassen caused the removal from applications for admission to the University the odious requirement that applicants state their religion.

Robert A. Berliner W’52
Beverly Hills, Calif.


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