In the July|August issue of the Gazette, the writers of the letters critical of Professor Thomas Sugrue and his recent book, Sweet Land of Liberty [“The Vital Thread of Tom Sugrue,” May|June], appear not have read the book or, indeed, any of Sugrue’s other writings. Had they done so, they would have discovered that the book, like his multi-prize winning first book, Origins of the Urban Crisis, rests on massive research into an array of primary sources and is written with remarkable clarity and in a judicious, non-tendentious manner. His writings have established Sugrue as one of the premier American historians of his generation. A critic’s elementary responsibility is to carefully read the work of his/her subject and to represent it accurately. It is sad that individuals can pass through the University of Pennsylvania without learning this lesson.
Michael B. Katz, faculty Philadelphia
No, Give Me a Break!
Roger Fulton’s “critique” of the Gazette’s story on Tom Sugrue [“Letters,” July|Aug] reads like a guide to the late Richard Nixon’s resentments and techniques. There are classist attacks (“limo-liberal,” “Mt. Airy Eagle’s Nest,” “po’ folks”), a passing shot at a dead policy (busing), a dismissal of racism (as shown by Fulton’s trivialization of an incident involving a “White Association”), some freelance theorizing about a major social problem mixed with a touch of blame-the-victim psychology (“The students have to want to learn.”), and the very race-baiting Fulton claims to oppose (as shown when he writes that his former students on the Mexican border were so unruly that they were nothing more than four-legged animals who couldn’t take orders), all of which left me with some questions for the writer:
1) How are Sugrue’s politics and (perceived) economic status relevant to his analysis?
2) You criticize busing, which is fair enough, but would you have rejected the opportunity to send your children to a distant, albeit prestigious, private school?
3) Imagine being forced from your home by an organization targeting you based on race. Were the shoe on the other foot, would you breezily accuse the offenders of “bungling the whole affair”?
4) As a former college writing tutor and current adult literacy instructor, I trust you share my view that there are few things more thrilling than the sense that a student wants to learn. Still, having recently completed my graduate education at Penn, I’ve concluded from experience that work ethic and intellectual curiosity are not qualities with which I was born, but that I was taught. Comes the question: How do you know, Mr. Fulton, that the students of America’s inner cities do not want to learn?
I was one of the lucky ones, blessed with the resources and role models that took me to Penn and beyond. To suggest that certain students are inherently unwilling to further their education is to advance an argument so ugly that it makes the comparison of children to animals appear positively quaint.
Finally, a question for the Gazette’s editor: Why publish Fulton’s tirade? To celebrate the release of the latest “Nixon Tapes,” perhaps?
Jared Tester LPS’08 Portland, CT
Pop Science at its Worst
I feel compelled to respond to Ms. Cassin’s claim of a vaccine/autism connection [“Letters,” July|Aug]. This one line struck me:
“Every mother I know who has a child with autism, including me, has witnessed firsthand the vaccine-autism connection.”
That line bespeaks a fundamental misunderstanding of science. The very idea that anecdotal observation alone connotes scientific evidence is nonsense. The fact is that several scientific peer-reviewed studies have been done. None of them has found any connection. Indeed, the original non-peer-reviewed study authored primarily by Andrew Wakefield was found to have contained manipulated evidence, and was repudiated by several of the original authors. Frankly, I think Wakefield could reasonably be prosecuted in the UK for manslaughter for any deaths that resulted from the infection of a child whose parents refused to vaccinate their child on the basis of his claims.
As the parent of an autistic boy, I find the drumbeat of the anti-vacciners in the face of overwhelming evidence to be tiresome and counterproductive. I read with excitement of the research on autism, in which Penn is playing a strong role, and I commend Dr. Offit for taking on the seemingly Sisyphean task of standing up to pop science at its worst.
Lorin Ripley C’83 Philadelphia
Don’t Ban Boxing
Not only did the Gazette miss an opportunity [in “Ultimate Fundraising Championship,” May|June] to write what would have then been an even more groundbreaking story about the town and gown relationship that was fostered by the Penn Boxing Club back in the 1970s, ’80s, and (as an official University entity) ’90s, it has now also missed the opportunity to present a balanced commentary on this story.
In running Benson Krieger’s response to the article [“Letters,” July|Aug]—in which he called the Wharton and Law School students who boxed for charity “alleged scholars” who teach “the crime of boxing”—and by headlining his letter “Ban Boxing,” the Gazette has done itself and its school a disservice. While it is true that boxing does cause injuries, statistically it causes fewer than playing football (a widely chronicled event at Penn) and, at least in the Penn Boxing Club, the number of injuries was a very round 0. In its 30-year history, Penn Boxing (the undergraduate version started by local educator and government official Ron Aurit) had a perfect safety record and was one of the most popular student organizations even before the University officially recognized it!
[Mr. Aurit taught boxing informally to Penn students beginning in 1976. The University recognized the Boxing Club in 1995 and withdrew recognition in 2002.—Ed.]
What makes the boxing club’s story all the more remarkable, however, is how it was able to raise thousands of dollars for worthy student athletes in Philadelphia and far beyond through its affiliation with the Boxing Scholarship Foundation, Inc., and how one of these fundraising events was aired live on The Tonight Show.
So while I can appreciate (as I hope all your readers did) the efforts of the new boxing club that pits Wharton and Law school students (who are far from “alleged scholars,” as I am sure the Fortune 500 will emphatically attest) against each other in the name of community charity, they are neither the first nor the most successful such organization on campus to do this. Furthermore, to reply to Mr. Krieger, it is surely safer and more noble than he or your publication allows.
I urge you to publish this letter in order to set the record straight on boxing in general and on the Penn community’s efforts to make it safer and more productive for all involved in particular.
Thank you for your consideration and inclusion in this important discussion.
Matt Robinson C’96 Boston
The writer is a former president of the Penn Boxing Club and led the effort to gain University recognition in the 1990s.
Essay Brought Back a Watershed Year
Donna Wolf-Palacio’s essay, “Introduction to the Symphony” [“Alumni Voices,” July|Aug], brought back three unrelated memories of life during my senior year in 1967-68.
First, I, too, took that same History of Symphony course with that same professor. I also cannot remember her name, but the course still lingers in my thoughts. I remember very clearly her talking about a Brahms symphony, and how she noted Brahms was stirring the pot as the music became more intense. I still can identify many symphonies and composers today by the criteria she gave us in that class. In spite of the fact that my major was economics and that I then went on to graduate work in education, American studies, and theater, the subject matter of that elective still remains with me now more than 40 years later. Surely, this is a mark of a great liberal arts education.
Second, I also remember very clearly going to a demonstration after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King out on the green between College Hall and the library. I have acknowledged very few personal heroes in my life. Dr. King was one of them. It was such a time of turmoil in the country. For me, as a senior in 1968, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and how I would handle the draft, and the more typical concerns of our very uncertain futures after graduation were causes of great anxiety.
I went to the Dr. King gathering with the hope of finding some solace and some solidarity with what I believed were the ideals that I shared with him. However, the cultural divide on campus and beyond was too great. One of the speakers said something to the effect that we were going to have a few moments of silence and that it better not be broken by a white person.
I am white. I was devastated by and furious at this comment. He was my King, too, a man of peace, who would act on his principles non-violently. This was certainly not what he would have wanted. I immediately turned and walked away. The experience did not change my path. Among other things, I would go on to teach in urban schools and write American history curriculum centered on the African-American experience. It was just a reality check on the world I lived in.
And finally, there is the author of the piece herself, Donna Wolf, as I knew her then. We had gone to high school and college together. Donna was on her way to becoming a poet. One day I brought some of my writings to her for her comments. She said my words were not poetry, but lyrics. I never quite knew what to make of that. But as it turned out, soon thereafter, I began to write music with lyrics so maybe she was right.
That year was such a watershed in my life and in the course of the country as well. In my apartment on Walnut Street I heard President Johnson say he would not seek a second term; I watched my draft number (97) be announced in Houston Hall; and I got accepted to the Graduate School of Education at Penn.
And now 40 years later, a course on the history of the symphony, the death of Dr. King, and a friend named Donna are vivid memories of that incredible year of the incredible decade.
Randall Feldman C’68 GEd’69 New Orleans
A Musical Education, in Classes and Clubs
“Introduction to the Symphony” brought to mind fond memories of similar courses I took at Penn. As an Industrial Management major I was required to take a number of credits outside of Wharton. The History of the Symphony and The History of the Opera looked like two easy As, so I signed up. These courses opened up wonderful new avenues of music and culture for me. The courses were taught by Guy Marriner, a very talented and enthusiastic musician. Campus lore had it that he had been a concert pianist who lost his hearing while flying for the RAF in World War II. Whatever the truth, his teaching changed my cultural life, for which I have been ever grateful. My music education at Penn was rounded out by several senior fraternity brothers who invited me to join them on late-night drives into New York to Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, and the other jazz clubs clustered around 52nd Street. That music genre has also stayed with me throughout my life. My Penn music education has served me in life every bit as well as my Wharton School classes.
Jerold A. Glick W’56 Lafayette Hill, PA
Organized Sports Can be Fun, Too
The essay, “Not Just for Kids,” by Mark Hyman [“Expert Opinion,” July|Aug] makes some excellent points about adults abusing children’s organized sports. But any organized activity is subject to abuse, and Little League baseball and Pop Warner football aren’t intrinsically evil or inevitably devastating to the children who sign up to play.
My experiences in 50 years as a player and as a coach in youth sports have taught me that the key in allowing the participants to have positive experiences is in having program administrators who understand what’s important and who clearly communicate that to coaches and parents.
I first coached an organized team 45 years ago, when I was a 12-year-old Little League player (we won the championship that year, and the baseball signed by my teammates after that game still sits on display in my office), and I was asked to coach 10-year-olds in a lower division when the league couldn’t find a coach for their team (we won that championship, too, so I had a rare double at an early age). But my peers and I also played pick-up baseball or whiffle ball every day during the summer when I didn’t have a game scheduled, and the experiences were vastly different.
There is simply no comparison between the emotional involvement in a pick up game in a neighbor’s backyard and pitching in a ballpark for a team in uniform with a championship on the line. The pressures that existed came not from our parents, but from ourselves, and the characters that were forged—or, in some cases, revealed—in the crucible of competition could not have been replicated if my only athletic experiences growing up had been unorganized.
Of course there are abuses in organized youth sports, but even while unorganized casual pick-up games have declined in every sport except basketball, there are now far more opportunities to participate in organized sports than existed when I was growing up in Western Pennsylvania. Soccer leagues didn’t exist anywhere I knew of in the ’60s, high school girls basketball was still shackled by the old Iowa rules (six girls, only two of whom could roam full court), girls softball didn’t exist, and outside of a few church leagues for high schoolers, organized basketball didn’t exist outside of interscholastic competition.
I agree that taking competition outside the local level—all-star teams, Little League World Series on ESPN, travel teams—is a bad idea for children, and the focus instead should be on participation, acquisition of skills, and fun. And I’ll never forget the words of wisdom I imparted to my 11- and 12-year-olds during a time-out with the game tied and one minute to play in a YMCA playoff game a few years ago: “Are you having fun yet?” Then I sent them back on the court to enjoy the moment.
James Finkelstein C’73 Albany, GA
Another Underdog Victory
I currently work in the West Chester University athletic department, where they filmed some of Our Lady of Victory, so the development of the film has been of particular interest to me. Your article, “Our Lady of Underdogs” [“Alumni Profiles,” May|June] called the 1971-1972 Immaculata team the “first-ever women’s national champions.” But three years before the Mighty Macs’ championship, women’s basketball pioneer Carol Eckman organized a national invitational tournament for women’s basketball. Although it was six-on-six, it was still the direct predecessor of the AIAW (which first sponsored the event in 1973) and eventually what we see today through the NCAA.
West Chester went on to win that game, and we were fortunate to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the historic team this season. West Chester went on to lose the next three championships, including the first five-on-five championship and Immaculata’s infamous win. Although Immaculata’s story needs to be told as the ultimate underdog story and another brick in the foundation of women’s sports, I did want to shed light on the contributions of West Chester University and Carol Eckman.
Jared Browsh C’07 Bryn Mawr, PA
Our Favorite Letter …
Recent issue of our magazine was: EXCELLENT. Thank you.
Thomas P.J. McGraw C’56 York, PA
Except Maybe for This One
I have been reading the July|Aug issue, and I think it is excellent! Great job—interesting articles and photos of the Commencement/Reunion events. And I even like the ads.
Marilyn Tanaka CW’74 Crestwood, MO
The “Scoreboard” for the July|Aug issue contained several mistakes. Our thanks to the readers who let us know about them, and our apologies for the errors. A corrected version has been posted on the Gazette website, www.upenn.edu/gazette.
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