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Ideal audience, history and human nature, facts and lies, sharing a difficult diagnosis, losing seasons.


Congratulations on the Mar|Apr issue. I don’t remember a more interesting one—including the one my junior year in which a Daily Pennsylvanian piece of mine was reprinted.

I’m sure it helped that I have been friends with Budd Mishkin C’81 (whose essay “My Losing Seasons” appears in “Alumni Voices”) since our days together at UTV, that I was friends in high school with Jonathan Zimmerman’s older brother Jeff and that I majored in history (“The History Wars”), that I’ve been a political junkie since the late 1960s (“Calling It”), that I’m a humanist who lost his dad to Alzheimer’s (“The Humanist Is In”), and that my mom and younger daughter were/are educators (“Black Education Before Brown), but kudos on a job well done.

David Elfin C’81, Bethesda, MD

Keep Them Coming

Just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the great work in the Mar|Apr edition. The articles on education (“The History Wars,” by Trey Popp) and Alzheimer’s (“The Humanist Is In,” by Julia M. Klein) were particularly insightful, well written, and enlightening. The Gazette at its best—keep them coming!

Xiomara Corral C’84, Jersey City, NJ

Well-Written Profile

I thoroughly enjoyed “The History Wars,” Trey Popp’s well-written profile of Jonathan Zimmerman, especially because I majored in history at Penn and consider myself a history buff.

Zimmerman’s comments were fact-based, informative, insightful, nuanced, reasonable, and not tendentious in the least. I wish that more academics, public intellectuals, and political pundits emulated him!

Vincent T. Lombardo C’78, Cleveland

We Are Not Taught to Disagree with Respect

I have just read “The History Wars,” and I applaud Jonathan Zimmerman’s direct approach and the fearlessness of his convictions. Having been a practicing social worker for 32-plus years, I agree that human behavior, communication, and education should become a stronger focus. Students are not taught how to think critically, without fear, even if their perspectives do not “conform” to some preordained thought process of the decade.

Sadly, the teachers who would read these essays are not supported in appreciating a student’s ability to formulate thoughts and present them. It is human nature to be biased in some way by our own individual histories, but we are not taught to disagree with respect, to focus on the idea, not the person/group delivering it.

Rewriting history, the “white-washing” of the past, or now “multi-coloring” it, is also not the answer. It is our children who will be making the change in American society, but only if critical thinking, respecting varying perspectives is encouraged and nurtured.

This process should start in elementary school, and by high school should be the norm. By college, it should be expected. I agree with Zimmerman’s quote, “We have radically different understandings of America right now. But that’s not the problem. The problem is we don’t actually have venues and institutions to deliberate those differences.”

Sandra Clark Jones SW’88, Mill Creek, WA

Bias on Full Display

The Mar|Apr issue illustrates the chasm that divides America and Americans. This is clearly demonstrated by “The History Wars,” written by senior editor Trey Popp and introduced by editor John Prendergast [“From the Editor”]. The bias of the editors is on full display and matches the orthodox view of most media.

The demonization of Donald Trump W’68 and his supporters has been a priority of a significant segment of American society. When anyone questions the unequal burdens created by the Paris Climate Accords, they are immediately labeled as ignorant “climate change denialists.” Questions about policies to control the pandemic become “disinformation.” Anyone pointing to the devastating crisis at our southern border must be “xenophobic” and “racist.” Any questions about some of the obviously odd happenings in the 2020 election must be contributing to the “campaign of lies about election fraud” and probably caused the “insurrection” of January 6. Anyone wondering about the suppression of reports about the activities of Hunter Biden must be unduly influenced by “disinformation” or a “Russian effort to influence the election.”

When burning and looting last summer were called “mostly peaceful protests” and the events of January 6 were called “armed insurrection,” we should just accept that as reality. Now, there are a significant number of calls for generating lists of Trump supporters to make it difficult to find new jobs.

All of this is a continuation of the hatred of Donald Trump. Continual false claims that Trump was a Russian agent are acceptable. Concerns about the 2020 election process are conspiracy theories. We are in a time of very likely fundamental change in America. Banning books and censoring speech has never led to a good outcome for a country. Are reeducation camps next? Have I just placed myself on a watch list?

Eugene E. Nalence GEd’66, Drexel Hill, PA

“Silent Generation” Speaks

The Silent Generation is generally, well, silent. But with the passage of time a previously dormant voice struggles to the surface, like a seed seeking the sun, to make a public comment. So here’s one from my Class of ’62 in the Wharton School. WTH do you mean when you write, “The deadly attack on the US Capitol on January 6 … [was] abetted by a campaign of lies about election fraud, resulting in a violent attempt to ‘Stop the Steal.’”?

You don’t have to be a graduate from an Ivy League school to see that there was fraud in the most recent election. While you and I are approximately a generation apart, our common heritage of higher education should enable both of us to understand the biggest lie is that which denies election fraud.

Did you not read and absorb last issue’s letter from Aaron Yunis, representing a third generation of Penn graduates, who said that you “have no real interest in promoting common bonds amongst Penn alumni”? As politics in the pulpit have no place, likewise I opine louder than normal for one who was taught to be seen and not heard, that political parties and preferences distort facts and reason. Please. Think about it. Or maybe I should say, please think. 

Michele C. Greene W’62, Williamsport, PA

We respect the opinions of alumni and strive to present a diversity of views in this space. However, no evidence of significant fraud in the 2020 election has been presented in any forum, and there is ample evidence—in the form of judges’ rulings, multiple recounts, and statements by state election officials and leaders of law enforcement and national security agencies—that the results were fair and accurate.—Ed.

Words Matter

The subject article on Jonathan Zimmerman’s research and writings fascinated me, in part because we share elements of personal history—I majored in history at Penn, served in the Peace Corps, and have lived abroad in several countries. It was also fascinating as an example of subtle advocacy writing, for the piece’s author, Trey Popp, injected his own reading of American history and politics into the report on the views of Professor Zimmerman. Such subtle insertion of the author’s points of view into the article serves as a model of the challenges presented by what Zimmerman calls the second failure of education writ large—teaching people “to engage across their differences.” For example, Popp names the events of January 6 at the US Capitol building an insurrection, using the same term a few paragraphs later for the rebellion of Southern states against the USA. Words matter, as does the way they are presented. One must wonder if Zimmerman would see the irony in applying the same term to a riot which resulted in an hours-long disruption of an election’s certification process and a years-long war that changed the nature of the Republic’s governance.

Ed Stafford C’79, Philadelphia

No Objection to Content, Just Length!

I don’t in any way object to what Jonathan Zimmerman has to say. I object to so much of the Gazette being devoted to it. This is a common weakness in your otherwise excellent magazine. Often the most space is given to an article that many may not wish to take all that time to read. If one wishes to learn more of Zimmerman’s views he can buy the book. Otherwise, short articles of various Penn subjects is a better use of your space.

George Fern C’51, Oceanside, CA

Seek Help with Diagnostic Disclosure

I very much related to Jason Karlawish’s comments, in “The Humanist Is In” [Mar|Apr 2021], about the dilemma of how and when to “come out” to others, whether about sexual orientation or Alzheimer’s disease. The challenge extends to any serious medical diagnosis. I was diagnosed with ALS in August 2017, and shortly after that my (openly gay) primary care physician told me that disclosing my diagnosis would be like “coming out.” He advised meeting with a psychologist who could help me talk through how to have thoughtful and caring conversations with family and friends. His advice was invaluable. Two years later, after selling the company that my wife and I had co-owned for more than 25 years (the sale being a direct result of the diagnosis), I again consulted a psychologist about how to disclose my diagnosis to our employees, customers, and broader professional community.

Despite a diagnosis that “sucks,” I have been fortunate to continue full-time work for the new owners of our company (admittedly from a motorized wheelchair and with heavy dependence on voice recognition software). I’m also lucky to be in my second clinical trial at MGH in Boston where I work with a remarkable research team—especially neurologist Katharine Nicholson C’04. Somehow, research spinal taps that I have undergone with her have been made a little more tolerable by swapping stories of Penn undergrad experiences.

Bruce D. Rosenblum C’81, Somerville, MA

Medical Advances Missing

I enjoyed the Alzheimer’s article, “The Humanist Is In,” by Julia Klein [Mar|Apr 2021].

What was missing was the scientific and medical advances of the Perelman School of Medicine. Penn has become the leading immunotherapy center in the world.

Raymond G. Perelman W’40 Hon’14’s gift (I would call it a giant gift) to the School of Medicine has placed Penn at the forefront of research in the Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s disease field. More on that would have added considerably to the article.

Thomas Warren WG’67, Dublin, NH

“Unique Partnership” Neglected

Thank you for your wonderful article about the Rosenwald schools [“Black Education Before Brown,” Mar|Apr 2021]. As a Philadelphian, I had heard of Julius Rosenwald and Sears & Roebuck. And Booker T. Washington is famous for so many accomplishments.

While the thrust of the article was on the buildings (the occasion for the article was a book of photographs) and the schools’ many famous graduates, there is only a single sentence stating that the schools were the product of a “unique partnership” between these two men. I would have been interested in learning more about this “unique partnership,” how they found each other, what they shared in their thinking, etc.

Ronald S. Banner M’67, Penn Valley, PA

Overabundance of Caution?

I note with dismay the decision by the Ivy League presidents to cancel all sports for the 2021 spring season. While I can understand the decision to cancel the indoor winter sports out of an abundance of caution (even though the rest of Division 1 basketball schools seemed to play their seasons safely), it’s hard for me to understand the rationale to cancel the 2021 season of outdoor spring sports. Given that these sports are played outdoors and the players are not usually in close contact, the risk to their health, based on what we’ve observed and learned over the past year, would seem to be negligible. And many college and professional teams have shown how to implement testing protocols that work.

The loss of two seasons by the spring teams will not only adversely affect the student-athletes who came to school expecting to play and train for them, but I doubt that I am alone among alumni who played intercollegiate sports at Penn who will show our displeasure with this decision by withholding contributions to our teams until they are permitted to practice and play. If fall sports are cancelled again, it would lead me to wonder what the Ivy presidents are really up to.

Edward Sproat EE’73 G’88, Frederick, MD

About a month after the Ivy League canceled its 2021 spring sports season, Penn decided to permit its spring-season teams to play games against only local competition, beginning March 27. For more on the Quakers’ modified—but still long-awaited—return to the field, see “Sports,” this issue.

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