Moving tribute, extra credits on film story, educational debate, arguing religious freedom, and more.
An Outstanding Credit to Penn
I am lucky to have been an occasional contributor to the Gazette. The second time I did so was because Samuel Hughes, now former senior editor and author of “A Death in South Sudan” [Sep|Oct 2018], encouraged me to submit a piece for consideration. We met at an arts event at Penn that Sam was hosting on behalf of the Gazette. I learned a lot from working with Sam on the pieces published here.
I wrote the following to him after reading his feature piece and share it with you:
“Sam, I just read your Gazette piece ‘A Death in South Sudan,’ and I write this through my tears. You wrote a tribute to a young man who was a fearless, dedicated journalist,and a brilliant questioning (ever since he was a child whom you knew firsthand) person with so much to offer in the future. A future cut short.
“Despite his parents’ and brother’s loss and grief, in my mind he was amazing and very heroic, and proud they should be. It is so easy to say ‘what if’ he took a different path during his last hours, but my guess is Chris would have continued to face dangerous challenges in his future had he survived in South Sudan. He was unique and special and a true journalist.
“I can just imagine how difficult it was for you to write. I am glad his family asked you to do so. Without that request, I probably would never have known about Chris Allen, but now I do.”
As an aside, the subject of the piece, the late Christopher Allen LPS’13, is an outstanding credit to Penn.
Barbra Shotel CW’64, Haverford, PA
Elucidation and Correction on “Film for Social Change”
I would very much like to thank Dave Zeitlin for his article “Film for Social Change” [Sep|Oct 2018]. From my admittedly less than fully objective point of view, I think he captured what we are attempting to do and why. Dean John Jackson and I collaborate all the time, but I was very appreciative of the chance to read about Professor Decherney’s work, particularly with virtual reality (VR).
I would, however, like to offer both an elucidation and correction.
Community-based filmmaking courses are complicated and impossible to accomplish without support. To that end, I would like to mention the important role of PennGSE’s dean, Pamela Grossman, and of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
Without Dean Grossman’s support, this exploration at Penn’s Graduate School of Education simply would not have happened. It takes vision that is broad enough to allow for the interdisciplinary merging and mixing of things like community service, project-based learning, ethnographic research methods, art and filmmaking, one that considers multi-form creativity necessary for learning in our time.
Our filmmaking courses are Netter Center Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) courses. That means our students receive important support from the Netter Center and its staff. Over and above paying for Penn student clearances, the Netter Center facilitates our relationships with West Philadelphia high schools where they have had a presence and trust for many years. Our students greatly benefit from their groundwork and from their mediation. They support high school students who work with our Penn film students and help our dialogue with high school administrations in West Philadelphia. They have also supported us with course development grants. You can imagine how important this is given the equipment, transportation, logistical, administrative, and communications complexities of courses such as ours. The Netter Center team, led by Ira Harkavy C’70 Gr’79 and Cory Bowman C’91 GEd’01, have been real partners in this work despite managing so many other programs in the community. It would be a pity if this were not better known.
School of Social Policy and Practice dean John Jackson actually co-taught the Urban Ethnography class at West Philadelphia High School with Arjun Shankar Gr’15 Gr’20. I did, however, provide some instructional support to the class. The course that John and I co-taught, with GSE’s Stanton Wortham, was called Documentary, Ethnography and Research. It was a two-semester course in 2011–12 that delved into John’s ideas on multimodal scholarship. Students from the course went on to establish the student-run multimodal group CAMRA and the Screening Scholarship Media festival, which annually invites scholars engaged in this work to share, engage, and interact. The exploration continues to evolve into exciting new forms, including successful multimodal doctoral dissertations and the newly launched Center for Experimental Ethnography led by Professor Deborah Thomas. We all support each other and work together so much that sometimes it’s a bit hard to keep track of who worked on what, when and with whom. There’s a reason why film credits run long. I am grateful to Dave and the Pennsylvania Gazette for bringing attention to the work.
Amitanshu (Amit) Das, faculty, Philadelphia
The Problem Comes from Uniformity and Conformity
Julia Klein’s article about Eva Moskowitz and the Success Academy (a broad network of now 47 Charter Schools in NYC) [“The Rigors of Success,” Sep|Oct 2018] reminds one of an unseen current in modern American education—the overarching desire for uniformity and conformity.
Eva Moskowitz is quoted in the article as saying that Success Academy provides a “replicable model. Everybody is executing against one school design. So the dot rug is in every classroom, the curriculum is the same, the assessments are the same, the teacher training is the same, the school calendar is the same, the books in the school library are the same.” School discipline, which is considered strict, is the same. Kids are required to wear pretty much the same clothing. Since when is sameness the hallmark of American education?
Perhaps sameness is at least, in part, why Success Academy does so well in standardized testing as compared to certain named “upscale” school districts. Does Success’ rigid system of discipline and obeisance to sameness help it to cull out those kids who are not expected to do well on such tests? The comparative public school systems do not have this luxury. Each student is unique and often does not conform to the standard. Uniqueness and difference should be lauded.
The problem comes from uniformity and conformity. This is not what charter schools should be about, but rather evolving and different educational opportunities. So much can be lost by what can be described as a “cookie cutter” approach to education.
Jay L. Goldberg W’60 L’63, Bala Cynwyd, PA
Moskowitz’s “Hands-On” Involvement Is Key
Thanks for a terrific article. Eva Moskowitz and her passion are needed throughout the public education system. My sense is her “hands-on” involvement is the key to “Success”—especially feedback and suggestions for teachers to improve their “practice.” Their “practice” reorients them from just “teachers” to professionals.
Ms. Klein surfaces active administrator involvement to ensure that teachers are responsive to the children in front of them, really knowing them as mathematicians, as readers, as scientists.
Equally key is teacher education on how to stimulate learning, especially with students in pairs or groups working on problems then reporting on their results.
In Needham, Massachusetts, schools, I have experienced too many teachers lecture as if that is the only tool in their armamentarium of teaching.
I hope this well researched and balanced article achieves wide distribution throughout educational circles.
Toby Decker WG’69, Walpole, MA
Puzzled by High Rate of Attrition
I read avidly the article on Success Academy charter schools. As a 25-year veteran teacher of the Philadelphia public school system, I am always interested in articles that portend to improve public education. I applaud the 16 high school graduates highlighted in this article but am puzzled by the high rate of attrition: of 73 students in first grade only 16 graduated?
What happened to the students who didn’t make it? Did they have special needs, discipline problems, get pregnant, use drugs, have parents that couldn’t or wouldn’t meet the goals for parental involvement? Could they not afford the uniforms?
A study of these failures and how to deal with them would tell us more about improving public education today than the small percentage of achievers that seem to make it, against the odds, everywhere. And by the way, why such a large turnover of teachers?
Sylvia Abrams Salvat Ed’58, Bala Cynwyd, PA
Moskowitz Is Not Really a Champion of Education
I am a graduate of Penn and of GSE at Penn, an experienced urban educator and teacher, and the former director of a teacher education program (at GSE). I’m sorry that the article about Eva Moskowitz and the Success Academy did not fully discuss Moskowitz’ disgusting support for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Her embrace of DeVos—in spite of the fact that she was totally ignorant and unprepared, unwilling to learn about education, and publicly supportive of destroying public education and embedding religion into our public schools—is sufficient evidence that, in fact, Moskowitz is not really a champion of education. Later, she raised some “concerns” about DeVos, saying that she wasn’t “ready for prime time.” That’s not a sufficient critique for someone who represents the potential to ruin one of the backbones of our democracy.
And, further, DeVos was picked by a president whose assault on our democratic institutions, along with his war against poor people, people of color, and immigrants, was evident from the beginning. One can only assume that Moskowitz was willing to ignore this because DeVos is a vocal supporter of charters.
Dina Portnoy CW’69 GrEd’98, Philadelphia
Moskowitz Is a Distraction
Success Academy is the best argument for parental choice. For some children, Success Academy is a disaster; for others, it is a godsend. Only parents should be able to make that determination. Focusing on Eva Moscowitz is a distraction.
Walt Gardner C’57, Los Angeles (via website comments)
Beautiful and Inspiring
I just read President Gutmann’s commencement address to the class of 2018 [“From College Hall,” Sep|Oct]. Dr. Gutmann, your words were beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for being who you are.
Sol Koenigsberg SW’52, Overland Park, KS
Please, More Like This!
Just a quick note to say how much I learned from and appreciated Trey Popp’s article “Religious Freedom at the Brink” [“Gazetteer,” Sep|Oct 2018]. It did such an excellent job of telling how scholars and others are analyzing and discussing a topic that gets crazily superficial treatment in much public discourse. So many interesting and important conversations happen at universities, and too few of them get out. In the space of three pages, this piece gave me tons to think about. I have brought it and ideas it occasioned up in multiple conversations—please, more like this!
Jennifer Uleman G’90 Gr’95, Jackson Heights, NY
Intolerance by Religious Is the Problem
Your article “Religious Freedom at the Brink” is informative, exposing the ongoing debate on what constitutes the real and acceptable religious expression.
However, you failed to suggest that the cause of all those problems, at its core, is intolerance by followers of any religious belief.
Sevi Avigdor, parent, Rumson, NJ
Cancel My Subscription
Your Sep|Oct 2018 issue finally pushed me over the edge. I realize it’s marked “Expert Opinion,” but the piece by Joshua Matz, “Free Exercise in Peril,” struck me as an attempt to increase, rather than decrease, the deep divisions in our society. While ostensibly about Trump’s hateful policies, what I saw revealed was mostly Matz’s hate for Trump. The fact that you saw this as fit to publish shows me you are in the “anything, anything is justified to fight Trump” camp. But hate never conquers hate, as the saying goes.
I want to cancel my subscription to the Gazette. I mean that literally. A sad day—I’ve been reading it since I was a little kid, because my father also went to Penn. It isn’t just this awful piece in the recent issue, though. The truth is, I’ve found the magazine to be mostly a bore for a long time. If it’s now going to make me angry, then it just isn’t worth the use of paper and ink to send me a copy.
Brian Doherty EE’84, Redwood City, CA
Disappointed by Polemical Account
As I read through the current issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, I was disappointed by the “Expert Opinion” column. Joshua Matz offers a polemical account of what he describes as religious freedom cases handled during the recently concluded session of the US Supreme Court. I’m going to skip the Hawaii case because I consider it a political matter with some religious elements. I’m more concerned with the Colorado case for two reasons.
First, Matz coauthored an amicus brief supporting the gay couple involved, but neither he nor the Gazette mentioned this. I only found out because it was mentioned in the “Religious Freedom at the Brink” article later in the magazine. Given Mr. Matz’ rather one-sided report, isn’t that something the reader should know?
Second, he accuses Masterpiece Cakeshop of refusing to serve the same-sex couple. That’s not exactly true. Masterpiece refused to make a wedding cake for the couple. It would have made a birthday cake, a retirement cake, or any of the other items it makes—except a wedding cake. That’s why that case was a matter of religious freedom. Maybe Matz should have mentioned he was clerking for Justice Kennedy when he wrote the Obergefell decision. From what I understand of the Supreme Court, that means Matz probably contributed to the writing of the decision. If that’s the case, maybe we should know that, too. As I said, I’m disappointed. Like Mr. Matz, I have concerns about freedom of religion in the United States, but my concerns are somewhat different. I fear societal, economic, and legal restraints being placed on Americans’ freedom of religious expression and religious practice.
Douglas McCready C’72 G’72, Kutztown, PA
Follow Amy Chua’s Prescription
“The Path to Peace in a Tribe of Tribes” [“Gazetteer,” Sep|Oct 2018] is the best description of the condition of the United States that I have yet seen. Amy Chua likens the American situation to that of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, where in both cases a repressed majority takes vengeful action on all others. Chua’s prescription for defusing what could become civil war in this country needs desperately to be taken to heart. I have not seen perspectives like hers anywhere else in contemporary journalism, even of the most thoughtful sort.
Thomas Howell C’63, Rugby, TN
Stuck in the 20th—Make that 19th—Century
I was intrigued by the three positive responses to Nina Martin’s vitriolic and unsubstantiated letter [“Letters,” Jul|Aug 2018] about liberal tendencies and decencies in the classroom, and the one angry and clichéd response to Howard C. Stevenson’s “efforts to teach racial literacy” [“Letters,” Sep|Oct 2018].
I noted the ages of the letter-writers: one is 38 years beyond the College, another is 50 years out of Wharton, another is 70 years beyond graduation in 1948, and the last is 53 years, also out of Wharton.
What do their advanced ages signify for their intellectual development? Their decline in mental and political imagination, growth, and spirit? What is revealed is a rigid corps of “senior citizens” who have never left the 20th century, or for that matter, the 19th.
Manuel Schonhorn G’59 Gr’63, Milford, PA
Tell These Stories!
Why does the Gazette waste so much space and ink each edition on “social issues” that have almost no relevance to the greater Penn alumni community? When just on pages 83 and 84 [“Obituaries,” Sep|Oct 2018] you have four American heroes? It cannot be difficult to write their stories.
Anthony Caputo W’41 was a Congressional Gold Medal winner. This is the highest civilian award in America. In addition, he fought in all three wars: World War II, Korea, Vietnam. Why was he awarded the CGM? How did he survive the hell of war but return to serve his country for two more wars?
Virginia M. Eberharter Ed’49 was a retired Navy Commander who served in the US Navy Nurse Corps from World War II through Vietnam. With the women’s empowerment era, what thoughts and emotions did she encounter in her personal fight to succeed? How did she cope with nursing continued generations of broken and blasted young men, decade after decade?
John Wallace McNabb GEd’49 is credited with dropping the last bomb of WWII. After tens of millions of bombs, how did he get credit for the last one?
Leroy E. Schober W’49 was among the first troops deployed into Japan by the US Army. How and what were his observations seeing a devastated and hostile landscape and people?
Where are the stories of these great Pennsylvanians? If Penn truly still strives to be the best, then have an article each edition illuminating Pennsylvanians who competed and succeeded on the large landscape of life for all undergraduates to strive to emulate.
Sean P. Colgan C’77, Napier, New Zealand
Critical Thinking Should Be at the Core of the Curriculum
In “Confronting Media Illiteracy” [“Gazetteer,” Jul|Aug 2018] Erin McNeill says, “Media literacy is about understanding the messages that we see and consume.” But who decides what those messages actually are?
A repeated point of contention for several decades has been disagreement about what ideas various media—from comic books, to sexually suggestive ads, to pornography, to video games, and now comics again—actually are conveying to their consumers.
In the 1950s, for instance, Fredric Wertham promoted a threat narrative about comic books that led to congressional hearings but is now largely discredited. Similarly, in the 1980s, one-sided hearings were held to promote a threat narrative about pornography that has little basis in science.
It troubles me that McNeill combines uncontroversial points like teaching young children about the decision-making structures and commercial interests behind what they see on television, with talk about identifying “bias, sexism, and racism in media,” as if the question of what sorts of media content are actually promoting these and other kinds of bias were not, in fact, hotly disputed to this day.
Instead of a special subject of “media literacy” into which educators could inject their own ideological biases, it would be better simply to make the skills of critical thinking itself a core, ongoing part of the curriculum.
Eric Hamell C’84, Philadelphia
Kwai Played the Palace, Not Capitol
In Robert Cort’s “Our Love Affair with Movies,” [Jul|Aug 2018] he writes that as a kid his “crush on movies” began with three Best Picture Oscar winners from the late 1950s: Around the World in 80 Days, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Gigi. However, he errs when he recalls seeing Kwai at NYC’s Capitol Theatre, as it never played there.
On December 18, 1957, the film had its klieg light, red carpet premiere at the famed RKO Palace, followed by a run of many months as a reserved seat roadshow attraction. In the week before the premiere, as a Columbia Pictures publicist, I was swept up in all the excitement and, then, the crisis surrounding the event when we learned that the film’s box office star, William Holden, would be unable to attend.
We had arranged for a live pickup from the theatre (a real publicity coup) to air on CBS-TV’s The Big Record, which was building a production number around the film that featured composer Mitch Miller performing his stirring soon-to-be famous “March from the River Kwai.” Fortunately, Tyrone Power agreed to fill in for his friend, CBS was mollified, and I drew the plum assignment of picking up Mr. Power and delivering him to the theater in time for the remote.
Richard Kahn W’51, Beverly Hills, CA
The writer reports that he served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 1988–89. —Ed.
In our Sep|Oct 2018 feature, “The Rigors of Success,” on Eva Moskowitz C’86 and the Success Academy charter school network, we neglected to mention the alumni status of Derrell Bradford C’98, executive vice president of the education nonprofit 50CAN and a Success board member, who is quoted in the story. We regret the omission.
In a passage describing her responsibilities as a University trustee, our story on new Penn Alumni President Ann Reese CW’74 [“Alumni Profiles,” Sep|Oct 2018] mistakenly stated that “until recently” she had been chair of the audit & compliance committee. In fact, she still chairs the committee. Our apologies for the error.