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  What’s “Relevant” for School?

I read with interest and some concern Kevin Hartnett’s article on the work of Angela Duckworth [Character’s Content,” May|June]. My concerns are with the list of traits having “particular relevance for school.” The list is strongly skewed towards extroverted qualities—not surprising since earlier in the article Duckworth is reported as being “the most extroverted person” some of her colleagues had ever met. Certainly introverted students can and do possess these traits, but they are likely to experience and express the traits in ways less readily observable by teachers.

The list itself is further troubling in that all of the traits identified (except gratitude) are probably found to a high degree in citizens such as the architects of the financial disasters our country has experienced in recent years. Is this really what we want to cultivate? Don’t we already have enough highly skilled and accomplished people lacking precisely those qualities of “modesty, spirituality, and fairness” that might temper their skills with some ethical concerns and a sense of social responsibility?

Duckworth’s studies are impressive, but we could certainly use a bit more modesty, spirituality, and fairness in our public and private lives—the very qualities she’s dropped from the list of essential traits.

Jill Becker CW’64 Lambertville, NJ




Love: Not All You Need, but Needed

I enjoyed “Character’s Content,” and I admire Angela Duckworth’s desire to focus on the development of personality traits that lead to academic achievement as a way out of poverty or negative family backgrounds.

However, she and her colleague, David Levin, removed from the list four traits that I feel are sorely needed in our culture: modesty, spirituality, fairness, and love. Duckworth excuses the omission of love by saying, “Dave didn’t want to have to tell a parent, ‘Your kid is low on love,’” so she and Levin swap it for curiosity.

High achievers who have no sense of love (or fairness or modesty or spirituality) are the source of much cruelty and injustice in American culture. Do we really want “A” students who have not been taught to care about their fellow human beings?

Janet Muller Benway G’72 Brevard, NC




Who’d Be “Gritty” Then?

Psychologists like Professor Duckworth have long been looking for intellectual and personality buttons to select bright and ambitious poor kids for the colleges of the rich. However, they forget that these kids may have had to use different buttons, as well as cognitive and other social skills, to survive in poor neighborhoods. Maybe a study of whether and how rich kids can survive in such neighborhoods would be illuminating.

Herbert J. Gans Gr’57 New York




No Answers from KIPP

I salute Angela Duckworth for her efforts to better understand the failure of too many students to master basic skills. But I think she is wasting her time by looking at KIPP for answers. Self-selection largely explains KIPP’s success, particularly when it is followed up by rules that public schools cannot employ. For example, if all parents had to sign a contract requiring them to check their children’s homework every night and to read with them every night as well, I wonder if there would be much difference in outcomes between KIPP and public schools. Moreover, if public schools were legally permitted to counsel out students who were not adequately performing, I doubt that significant disparities would exist.

Walt Gardner C’57 Los Angeles



The writer taught for 28 years in the LA Unified School District and writes the “Reality Check” blog for Education Week.



On Flag Design, Betsy Ross Has Better Claim

With respect to the article on Francis Hopkinson [“The Artful Rebel,” May|June], I would like to suggest that there are a few points concerning giving him the credit for the design of the flag that historians have failed to consider from the time his invoices were found in the archives around 1915.

The National Geographic, in October 1917, reports Hopkinson’s claim for payment and how it was denied, but gives him no credit for the design of what they call “Our First Stars and Stripes.” It is only subsequent authors, who in my judgment are seeking to discredit the Betsy Ross story, that interpret Hopkinson’s invoices as proof that he designed the flag.

First, consider the times. When this was all happening, in the late 1890s and early 1900s, Betsy Ross was being idolized. Charles H. Weisgerber’s painting, “Birth of our Nation’s Flag,” was used to raise money across the nation for the purchase and preservation of the Betsy Ross House at 239 Arch Street. J.L.G. Ferris produced his version of the painting as #18 in his series of some 70 paintings, The Pageant of America. Women were demanding their political rights. Against this background, historians in our male-dominated society accepted Hopkinson’s flag-design claim without question because it allowed them to negate the story told by William Canby, Betsy Ross’s grandson, in a paper he delivered to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870 (www.ushistory.org/betsy/more/canby.htm).

Second, a critical look at the entire portfolio of Hopkinson’s work reveals complexity and six pointed stars. We have his proposed design for the Great Seal, and when he was asked to put a monetary value on his works, this design (with a reverse) was priced at $10. His design for the flag of the United States (which we do not have) was priced at $9, while other artistic works were priced significantly less. A reasonable conclusion is that it must have been an involved and detailed piece of work, impractical as a functioning flag.

While the argument will never be resolved, Hopkinson has been given credit without careful analysis. And each succeeding generation of graduates has accepted what they are told, uncritically. (As evidence of Hopkinson’s claim, the article cites the flag stamp produced by the US Postal Service in 2000, which was attributed to Hopkinson and included a conjectural circle of 13 six-pointed stars, but that image was included at the recommendation of a consultant to the USPS and was the only one on the sheet of 20 stamps for which there was no historical basis.)

I confess that I favor the Betsy Ross legend because of my heritage, but I am troubled that it cannot be given the credit it deserves. Canby’s speech in 1870 does not do it justice. Other supporting facts are in my book, Betsy Ross’s Five Pointed Star.

John Balderston Harker G’49 Falmouth, MA


The writer is a fifth generation descendant of Betsy Ross.



Another Claimant for Treasurer

The Artful Rebel” implied that Francis Hopkinson was the de facto secretary of the treasury in the first years of our nation. Actually, Michael Hillegas was the first Treasurer of the United States from 1775 until 1789. He was a heavy contributor to the war effort via fundraising and his iron business inherited from his father. Many of our newer school textbooks are vague about this patriot due to the burning of Washington during the War of 1812 when many important records were destroyed.

Hillegas is buried in the cemetery of Philadelphia’s Christ Church where he was a vestryman. His grave is near Benjamin Franklin’s and there is a marker outside the fence mentioning his service to our young country.

Joan Grant Repetto CW’54 Silver Spring, MD




But Hopkinson Has Another, Unmentioned Achievement

Kudos on the comprehensive article regarding our first graduate, Francis Hopkinson. The article concludes by intimating that Hopkinson did other things in his life. One of those was serving as first treasurer of The Widows Corporation.

Founded in 1769 as The Corporation for the Relief of the Widows and Children of Clergyman in the Communion of the Church of England and America, this charitable organization remains active and committed to its original purpose some 243 years later.

If it is true that “an institution is the lengthened shadow of a person,” I doubt that Francis Hopkinson realized that his shadow would extend so far or to such good and lasting effect.

Rudolph A. Moore ChE’58 WG’81 Philadelphia


The writer is the 14th treasurer of The Widows Corporation.



And He Had a Talent for Asking Good Questions

Even more can be said about Francis Hopkinson’s scientific work. In the stacks at Van Pelt Library, I found an article in which, on the first page, Hopkinson describes careful observations of a phenomenon we now call diffraction, and challenges his friend David Rittenhouse to explain them (“An optical problem, proposed by Mr. Hopkinson and solved by Mr. Rittenhouse. Trans. Amer. Philos. Soc. (1786) vol. 2 pp. 202-206).

On the subsequent pages Rittenhouse describes ingenious and systematic investigations into this phenomenon. Rittenhouse is aware that Isaac Newton had seen similar things, but nevertheless today scientists generally credit him with constructing the first diffraction grating, starting from Hopkinson’s original question. Sadly, “want of leisure” obliged Rittenhouse to “quit the subject” before getting to the bottom of it. Others would have to do that later.

Philip Nelson, faculty Philadelphia


The writer is a professor of physics at Penn.



Helmet on Head, Please, and in Picture

On the last page of the May|June issue, there is a picture of a Penn undergrad riding a shared bicycle and not wearing a helmet [“Window”]. This seems like a bad idea, especially since that girl’s head got her into the University of Pennsylvania! When I was an undergrad we did have a student die in a bike accident. Helmets are very easy to use and could potentially save people from permanent brain injury after falls. You mention that the bike-share program does include helmets—would be nice to include them in the picture.

Alexandra Schopf C’02 Seattle




Protect Those Brains!

I was upset to see the photo of the student on a bike without a helmet. There is much brain power at Penn, and those brains should always be protected while bike riding anywhere, but especially a city campus with much traffic.  I have personally seen cars hit bicycle riders twice within the past year on campus and heard of several others.

Karen McLaughlin, staff Philadelphia


Several readers wrote in on this subject. Both our photographer and PennCycle’s Jenny Xia were primarily focused on showing off the snazzy bikes made available by PennCycle for sharing. From the photo, it’s clear that Ms. Xia’s bike is barely moving, and she is personally in no potential danger—but the image also fails to send the (true) message that PennCycle does make helmets available to its riders and strongly encourages their use (app.penncycle.org/about/safety).—Ed.



Repeat After Me, “30 Days Hath …”


I enjoyed reading the interesting article, “The New College Try” [“Notes from the Undergrad,” May|June], and never cease to be delighted at the impressive accomplishments of the current group of undergrads at Penn. But writer Anna Strong seems to have missed one of the first things we learned in grade school: “30 days hath September, April, June, and November.” Her article opens, “The night of April 31, 2010 began with a procession.”

Shame on the editors, too, for not catching this.

Barbara Cooper CW’52 White Plains, NY


This got multiple letters, too. Really no excuses to offer here. I will say that the editorial staff all do know the correct number of days in April; that knowledge simply wasn’t activated on any of the half dozen or more times the piece was proofread from its arrival to publication.—Ed.



Barnes Deserved More Than “Puff Piece”

As someone intimately involved in the Barnes debacle from the beginning, I have a few comments to offer regarding the article, “Fresh Outlook, New Building, (Amazing) Old Museum” [“Arts,” May|June].

Dr. Albert Barnes was a graduate of the Penn Medical School. He, at one time, wished to affiliate with Penn, but our president at the time (1948-1953), Harold Stassen, so misunderstood Barnes’ intentions that Barnes made “arrangements” with Lincoln University instead, and the rest is history.

Never in my long association with Penn have I ever seen any significant mention of Albert Barnes as one of the most illustrious alumni in our history. His foundation was intended as an educational institution, the art to be used as tools for instruction. It was based on principles that would have been familiar to our Founding Fathers. The democratic principles he espoused were revolutionary, and supported philosophically by John Dewey, one of America’s fundamental philosophers and educators.

I note a line in the article, “but these days [museum curator Judith Dolkart GFA’97 is] wrapped up in her work and wrapped under a tight Barnes publicity machine that’s wary of renewing any hint of the controversy that once roiled over its move.” I emphasize that sentence for the obvious reason that it shows how tenuous were the reasons stated for the move [from the foundation’s former home in suburban Merion to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia]; its necessity morally, financially, or educationally do not bear examination.

Our University should be ashamed it has not honored Albert Barnes publicly, and not defended his legacy. Puff pieces just don’t do it!!

Walter M. Herman C’55 M’59 Merion Station, PA




Big Themes, Different Perspectives

The article by President Amy Gutmann, “A Global Approach to Scholarship,” [“From College Hall,” May|June] is quite informative on the presence at Penn of multidisciplinary programs that build curricula by combining the teaching of liberal arts and sciences with a deeper study of the professions. The connection between theory and practice develops thought that is grounded in combining ideas from varied fields of knowledge. Affordable health care, increasing coverage coupled with controlling costs, is a most important “big theme” to consider from different perspectives. It is interesting to see the success of Penn’s philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE) major. Such a palette of knowledge put to work for humanity both strives for Plato’s principle of “acting nobly” via a good education and the self-fulfillment from lifelong learning from creativity about oneself, society, and the world.

William Boyd Katz W’60 Philadelphia




Bra Essay Didn’t Fit

I am amazed that you saw fit to publish Ali Cudby’s “essay” on the hazards of bra shopping [“Expert Opinion,” May|June]. The piece is nothing more than a very thinly veiled attempt to sell a book and a consulting practice. It is interesting to note that Cudby is a member of the University’s Trustees Council of Penn Women with, I assume, senior-level connections with Gazette staff members. Without those connections, I’d bet her piece would have been rejected outright.

With all the interesting work being done by students, faculty, and alumni, the Gazette can do much, much better than this.

John Huttlin C’84 New York


I do know Ali Cudby from TCPW and her other volunteer work, but while it’s no disadvantage to be an actively engaged alumnus or alumna when approaching the Gazette, with so many alumni—not to mention students and faculty—doing so many interesting things, it’s no great help, either. Ali sent the magazine a copy of her book—as we invite and encourage all alumni authors to do—in hopes that it would get some notice. I chose it for our “Expert Opinion” column, for these reasons: we like to be as various as possible, this was a subject we hadn’t addressed before, and one of at least potential interest to much of our readership. —Ed.



No Tomorrow (or a Bad One)

Understandably, Samuel Hughes’ troubling article on Penn’s Silfen Forum, “If It’s Broke, Can We Fix It?” [“Gazetteer,” May|June] did not mention this sole point of complete agreement between the parties: there’s no tomorrow.

Both political parties in the last dozen years have spent and promised us into what would be insolvency if it were not for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Expectations have been raised beyond the power of the government to honor except by printing the money.

Worst case scenario: inflation far beyond that of the 1970s, which the government would blame on the private sector and counter with price controls. The resulting strains on the economy might be met with WWII-style production priorities and rationing. The difference would be that the end of WWII created an expectation of the end of controls, and now there would be no such dramatic trigger. Few in government actively wanted those controls then, but now there are many who would welcome a pretext for enforcing politically correct overall production and consumption, and that could be enough to stampede the many more who are buying piecemeal into the nanny-state concept.

Call it industrial policy, a managed economy, or whatever you like, it would be a serious blow to the heretofore tremendous productivity of free enterprise. Pre-WWII, government control of production behind a fig leaf of private property was called fascism and now, as then, if it’s made profitable, business would go along with it and support the politicians with generous contributions.

Royall Whitaker C’52 Gr’65 Annapolis, MD




Redistricting Prevents Compromise

Once again you have published an outstanding issue worthy of the University!

However, in the article, “If It’s Broke, Can We Fix It?,” I wonder if something wasn’t missed re: the current and worsening gridlock in DC.

The re-districting (gerrymandering) process of divvying up the voters is believed by some prominent people to have solidified resistance to compromise.

For example, Maryland is 40 percent or so Republican, yet there is only one Republican representing the state in the US House of Representatives. With the recent redistricting of my home district, which now runs from the DC line to far western Maryland, there will probably be no Republican in the state delegation. The bottom line is no compromise, since to get re-elected they must vote the majority of their district’s position.

John Majane WG’58 Bethesda, MD




Break the Stranglehold of Extremism

In reading the article, “If It’s Broke, Can We Fix It?” I was impressed by the breadth and scope of the forum reported on and by the dialogues generated there. My understanding was that the participants were all interested in exploring the problems that confront us today by describing them, giving context, and suggesting some solutions. It was all done, from what I read, with rational intent and good will. Would that the real world were such as that!

Alas, in the USA in the early 21st century, we live in a country that is polarized to the extent that I would characterize it as a civil war (though it may be relatively bloodless). In order to succeed, we must break the stranglehold that extremist ideologues have on the Congress and the courts, especially the Supreme Court.

Sadly, I think that the election rhetoric will need to focus loud and clear on the war on women in the blocking of the equal pay bill, the war on minority voters, and the war on consumers and workers.

David Herman G’71 Elkins Park, PA




Corrections

May|June’s “The Rise of the Biocrats” incorrectly stated that Ezekiel Emanuel was chair of the Department of Health Care Management, which is actually chaired by Lawton R. Burns. Emanuel is a faculty member in that department, and chairs the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. Our apologies for the error.

 

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