April 18, 2007: Letters
Letter Box Online
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As a father, an engineer, an entrepreneur, and an American, I read “Learning to Compete” (Perspective, March 7) with great interest. I have seen the ramifications of “the death of distance” that Norman Augustine ’57 *59 describes. The Indians I have worked with have been, as a rule, brilliant and dirt-cheap. My co-workers have gone to Shanghai to train their replacements to do their work, and mine.
Yet it is not our math and science education that is at fault. I might not disagree that it is lacking, but improving it will not allow us to compete, simply because we are not competing on skills. We are competing on cost. If Bill Gates gets more engineers trained, the supply will simply drive engineering down to a commodity skill, with jobs awarded to the lowest bidder, whether domestic or offshore.
I believe that the American education system has given Americans a huge competitive advantage in my lifetime. However, I fear that this advantage is being eroded by a misunderstanding of our strengths. Our strength is in the broad and open thinking of our society, not in our ability to train technologists. It is this open thinking that drives our technological advances. It would be a tragedy to lose this in the pursuit of parity in technical education. The methods we have undertaken — “No Child Left Behind,” for example — to gain this parity are already cutting deep into the freedom of our teachers to teach, and thus into the open thinking of our children.
Engineers are $100,000 per year for a half dozen (in India), Mr. Augustine writes, but engineers who create and invent are formidable. Teach broadly. Teach without boundaries. Cultivate creativity. Thus will we compete successfully.
ANDREW J. HUANG ’77
I want to compliment Norman Augustine for his article on American education and productivity. I agree with all his points. So why are we having these problems? This article echoes many of the points made in the famous 1983 report titled “A Nation at Risk.” No progress in almost 25 years? Can that be by accident?
Antonio Gramsci, a Communist theoretician, said that if you wish to help poor children, make sure they get a good basic education. Unfortunately, our education establishment became enamored with an ideology that emphasizes social engineering over learning and literacy.
There are dozens of policies and promises I could point to. But the emblematic program for the 20th century will always, I believe, be Whole Word (sight-reading). Said to be the best way to teach reading, it is in fact unworkable. Let’s do the numbers. The goal is that children will memorize 800 words each year, which evidently guarantees semi-literacy through high school. Furthermore, only people with exceptional memories can memorize 10,000 of anything — faces, phone numbers, antiques, houses, cars, or sight-words. But you really need to memorize 25,000 or even 50,000 sight-words to be literate in English (which has a huge vocabulary).
The more you study Whole Word, the more you’ll probably conclude with me that it was never anything but a sophistry. I find it especially troubling that our media and academia appear to have stood aside and let educators have their way.
I say it’s time for an education revolution (I have a blog by that name). The first step might be to suggest politely that our top educators are not likely to fix problems they have created. We need lots of new ideas and new blood — people from the arts, business, the military, and the professions. Put Norman Augustine and Bill Gates in charge of the schools. Ah, there would be a fine start.
BRUCE DEITRICK PRICE ’63
I want to thank you for your “Dream Jobs” (cover story, March 7) article — what a wonderful and inspirational collection of profiles. I very much enjoyed reading about Princetonians who truly have pursued their passions and achieved success!
This article, as well as other career-oriented pieces that have run in PAW over the past couple of years — “The Road Back to School” (feature, Oct. 11) and your annual commentary on the graduating class’s next steps, for example — have particularly resonated with me on a professional level. Along with Kate Gwon ’99, I run a business whose mission is to empower young adults to think carefully and strategically about their early career decisions. We guide our clients, including recent graduates and undergraduates, to pursue opportunities based on their passions and skills and to think in terms of launching a career, rather than simply securing a job.
The individuals profiled in “Dream Jobs” are fantastic role models for all of us. You provide a very powerful set of data points that prove that it is possible to achieve professional success doing something you love. As you know from the Princeton graduating class statistics over the past few years, a record proportion of college grads are seeking jobs right after graduation. Working with these young college grads, we’ve found that many are unaware of the breadth of career opportunities available to them. Many of them fall into the trap of thinking that financial services, management consulting, and the few other sectors that recruit aggressively on campus are their only options. Thanks for helping to debunk that myth!
EMILY COLBY MCLELLAN ’98
As a white woman, perhaps, but mostly as a thoughtful person, I take exception to Associate Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s analysis of the 2008 presidential campaign (Notebook, March 21). She says that “if the Democrats actually manage to nominate the white-boy Southern populist [John Edwards] with the wife who had breast cancer and who had fertility treatments, and therefore is chubby and has gorgeous little blond children, and is married to a good-looking man, every white woman in America will vote for her. ...” I, for one, base my vote for the presidency neither on little blond children nor on the potential First Lady’s fertility history.
I also feel that in an era of cynicism during which millions of people cast votes on American Idol but parrot the message that “my vote doesn’t count anyway” in electoral politics, we need to resist the urge to reduce our most important vote to the kind of analysis Professor Harris-Lacewell is presenting. Rather, let’s regard both the candidates and — please — the voters as the complex, multidimensional, thoughtful people who will serve our country best.
MEREDITH GAVRIN ’91
The elimination of books from the Princeton University Store (Notebook, Jan. 24) is alarming. This appears to be part of a national trend in universities to de-emphasize books. University libraries are putting large sections of their books and journals (particularly those published before 1960) into “storage” to make room for socialization areas and offices. Straussian neocons and Benjamite deconstructionists are joining hands to remove books from universities. It is 1984 lite, moving forward with stealth and an air of hearty good fellowship.
JAMES R. THOMPSON *65
While the architecture on Prospect Street may not be pleasing to a modernist, the clubs do present a gracious, unified appearance that’s entirely consonant with a university that measures its lifetime in centuries. Why, then, did Princeton choose to accommodate the Carl A. Fields Center by proposing to tack a wart on the side of the old Elm Club (Notebook, March 7) that insults the neighborhood?
I’m sure that many of us had hoped that such excursions would end with the planned demolition of Lourie-Love. Certainly there must be many residential architects around town who could have found a pleasing and harmonious solution to the center’s needs.
GEORGE E. MILLER ’54
I was saddened to read the very thoughtful Perspective article (Feb. 14), “In God’s antechamber” by Charles McPhee ’85, about his struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). I grew up in Maryland knowing the McPhee family and my heart goes out to all of them now, especially Charles McPhee’s wife and daughter. It seems like yesterday that I was reading the fascinating profile in PAW (Oct. 19, 2005) about his syndicated radio show about dreams. Again, it seemed shortly after that that I was reading the tragic story by Stuart Breisch ’74 (Perspective, Dec. 13, 2006) about his son’s foreboding dreams prior to the drowning of the boy’s sister in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. And now, here was this article about Charles McPhee’s own dreams following his nightmare diagnosis. “There will not always be more time, even for those that are healthy,” he writes.
Charles McPhee brings to mind Victor Hugo, who noted soberly that “we are all under sentence of death, but with a sort of indefinite reprieve.”
ROCKY SEMMES ’79
I am another lucky alumnus whose life was touched by Larry DuPraz (letters, Feb. 14). The lessons I learned from him at The Daily Princetonian were simple:
• No prizes for showing up. Until freshmen bothered to master a few basic skills and routines at the newspaper, Larry was ostentatious in his lack of respect. His gruffness was a valuable winnowing device; we quickly understood that there were no free rides at the Prince.
• Look beyond your circle. As students we thought we knew Princeton, but most of us had a very narrow view. Larry was tuned into a much broader community — often literally, on his police scanner. Each time he tipped us to a story unfolding under our noses (which happened a lot), he demonstrated our constricted vision anew.
• Honor talent above rank. Larry had lots of rules: who could use the machines, who could change a headline, and so on. Mostly he valued seniority, but sometimes he broke his own rules to bring along precocious underclassmen. Virtually to a person, these students grew into motivated leaders at the Prince — and, more importantly, in life.
• Quality is personal. Larry’s standards were exacting, but he seldom told students to fix anything that seemed broken. Instead, he asked us to take a closer look — and to take responsibility for what we found. Some alumni may remember Larry’s barking, but my strongest memory is his quiet aside: “Are you happy with that?”
• Never stop learning. Larry had an extraordinarily flexible and curious mind. Seeing him peck away at an early Macintosh in the 1980s, already well into his 60s — and knowing that he had mastered several previous generations of technology — was a lesson in humility.
Larry has been called Princeton’s “professor of journalism,” but I think that’s a misnomer. The skills he passed along were life skills, which made him more valuable than any professor I knew.
LAURENCE HOOPER ’87
Editor’s note: Hooper was a managing editor of The Daily Princetonian.
In a Feb. 14 letter, the deans of religious life expressed support for the position of Muslim chaplain on campus. I applaud their breadth of vision and urge its extension to inclusion of a humanist chaplain. Counseling by someone with a compatible metaphysical position ought to be available to all students. Further, there is value in the exchange of views among chaplains and deans, a clarifying of both differing faiths and common values. (The American Humanist Association articulates beautifully the devotion to truth, justice, and compassionate service that religions like to think of as representative of their highest morality.)
The deans’ desire to welcome all religious faiths seems very appropriate to the diversity of Princeton. That welcome should not, however, extend to fundamentalists of any religion, since fundamentalism is incompatible with a great university, intellectually and ethically. The fundamentalist rejects rational and scholarly examination of both religion and history; and, by dehumanizing the vast array of unbelievers (or other-believers), he declines to value the welfare and happiness of others. Intolerance of religious positions that generate wars, destruction, and human suffering should be the hallmark of a great university.
CLARK M. SIMMS ’53
Re “Did any PAW readers ever buy one of these refrigerators?” (From the Archives, March 7): Darn right! When we arrived in the fall of 1956, the only furniture in our dorm rooms was a light bulb. We had to furnish our rooms completely in those days. At the end of my freshman year, and for the next several years, I became a used-refrigerator tycoon. I would buy them for small sums from departing seniors, store them during the summer in empty dorm rooms all over campus, and sell them for 300 percent markups to incoming freshmen in the fall. This paid for many of my down-time pursuits, and exposed me to the joys of capitalism.
CHUCK LONG ’60
A letter in the March 7 issue incorrectly described the Olympic events in which Lynn Jennings ’83 competed. She won a bronze medal in the 10,000-meter event in 1992, finished sixth in the 10,000 in 1988, and finished ninth in the 5,000 in 1996. Jennings also won the world cross-country championships three consecutive times, in 1990–92.