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The Value of Commitment

What a remarkable publication the Gazette is: it tackles any subject its faculty and graduates encounter, no matter how emotionally, intellectually, or politically challenging [“Doomsday in the District,” Mar|Apr].

I now live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I exercise next to Mayor Bill de Blasio at the YMCA. The Mayor has taken a sharp hit to his popularity by taking on, in the most preliminary way, the charter-school movement here. Yet the article treats the case against charters full on, as lived in the flesh by local educational activist Helen Gym.

I attended Philly public schools K-12, and received a Mayor’s Scholarship to attend Penn, where my son Dana also graduated. The Philadelphia public-school story is not now a pleasant or optimistic one. But the cast of educators, parents, and researchers you present who are taking on this monolith with every bit of their energy is truly inspiring. It reminds us all of the value of commitment to good and honorable causes.

With great respect, bordering on awe, for these efforts and for the Gazette’s mission.

Stanton Peele C’67 Brooklyn

Another Generation Lost?

Wendell Pritchett wonders “how much public support there is for public education.” The evident answer: so far, not much. The calamity in urban education mocks America’s fundamental ideals. Worse, the nation cannot afford to lose the intellect of another generation of inner city children.

John E. Clark Jr. WG’66 Hawthorne, NJ

Thanks for Report

Thank you for reporting at length on the Philadelphia school system. It helped me better understand options and obstacles in public education. The article stressed that the school system is underfunded. What is the per-pupil school budget of the Philadelphia public-school system?

Dan Fox WG’82 Chagrin Falls, OH

Philadelphia spends about $12,000 per child (of which $1,500 actually goes to service debt), compared to $25,000 in Lower Merion, the state’s highest-spending district.—Ed.

Charters’ Unfair Advantage

I question how charter schools serve the young people that are left attending the neighborhood schools when the charter schools can ask children with problem behaviors, in school or out, to leave. Then it is that we are talking about dollars that need to cover less and more services.

Esther Gilbert (Littrell) SW’81 Philadelphia

Who Deserves a Good Education?

With regard to the crisis in the Philly school system covered in the Mar|Apr issue, I want to tell this story.

In the late sixties and early seventies, when there was still money for education in Massachusetts, some black politicians and community leaders with sufficient clout convinced the state legislature to fund the Massachusetts Experimental School System. It contained a small elementary school, a small middle school, and a small high school set in the center of a large, primarily black neighborhood in Boston. It was very deliberately integrated at a time when the Boston public schools were still segregated by neighborhood very deliberately. It had 50 percent black students and staff, 25 percent white, and 25 percent Latino, Asian, and Native American combined. My daughter attended the elementary school, and my wife and I volunteered there when needed.

Now anyone who has worked with toddlers and preschoolers, as I have, knows that except for cases of serious injury, neglect, or malnutrition, all kids at that age are bright, curious, and eager to learn without regard to ethnic or economic background. But something turns them off when they get to school. Well, at this school they stayed turned on. This was because of sufficient funds and a dedicated staff. The school had 10 students per teacher, teachers who wanted to be there, and a principal who supported them. The kids did great. They were all given free breakfast and lunch with no questions about family income. At every grade level they exceeded the performance of the kids in the most elite, white public schools.

The people running the Boston school system couldn’t stand being outclassed by kids in a black-run, primarily black-attended school system, so after a few years they put sufficient pressure on the state to have the Experimental School System shut down in 1975.

I repeat, as expensive as this experiment was, it wasn’t money that caused its demise, it was its success. Now we all know that all kids deserve a good education, and we all know that money is a big issue. We also know that—as long as decision-makers at every level of government and corporate power for the most part want to see kids who look like themselves succeed, but not “those others”—decisions about who gets funding and who gets creative teaching rather than deadly testing will continue to be what we see now.

Eliot Kenin C’61 Emeryville, CA

Another Fighter

Three cheers for the Penn alumni fighting for Philly’s schools!

I am here in rural northwestern Pennsylvania fighting for the children in my county. I don’t work in schools except as a sub, but I started a program that is touching children’s lives across our county.

My program is called Free Books for Kids Town and in just a little over two years we have given away over 10,000 free children’s books.

I suspect there are a bunch of Penn alumni across the country working to make a difference in education.

Ruby Wiles C’78 Warren, PA

Best Wishes, Dr. Jackson!

I was excited to learn about John Jackson’s recent appointment as dean of Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice [“Gazetteer,” this issue]. It was even more gratifying to then read the description of his work in anthropology and film-making in the Gazette [“John Jackson, Ethnography, and the Hebrew Israelites,” Mar|Apr 2014] and to imagine how that influence might shape social-work students.

In my time at Penn, I hoped to leave the School of Social Work (as the school was then called) equipped for a career as a psychotherapist. I was challenged in the best possible way by one of my professors, the late Max Silverstein, who simply asked, “Do you really want to be a junior psychiatrist? People are more interesting than psychiatry will ever know.”

Some 37 years later, I have a better grasp of that comment, and have found my way to a career in mental health that draws deeply from anthropology and ethnography. Using narrative-therapy approaches, I am able to meet the challenge from Max, and open space for clients to tell their own stories and define their own lives in much the same way that John Jackson seems to admire among the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem communities he studied.

When we take ourselves out of the spotlight as experts, move behind the camera to learn and record the narratives of the clients we serve, people really do become more interesting than psychiatry will ever know.

Best wishes in promoting respectful human services, Dr. Jackson!

Kevin Geraghty MSW’77 Boise, ID



“Return to Kirchberg” by Sally Wendkos Olds [“Alumni Voices,” Mar|Apr] is a memorably evocative article, and typifies the reason that I, and many other Penn alums, love receiving and reading The Pennsylvania Gazette.

Jim Rowbotham WG’69 New York

Mysterious Images

I would like to know, as the editor/publisher of two hobby-related journals, is there some reason you choose to not identify the illustrations in your publication?

OK, some articles become obvious—for example, when the article is about a particular person who is pictured. But, how about something like “Lea’s Legacy” [Mar|Apr]? I sometimes scan an article to see if I want to come back to read it. It would help (at least, me) to know what I’m looking at, and why.

William V. Kriebel Ar’58 Philadelphia

Generally we do provide information on images when the significance isn’t obvious—as in the example of a photo of the subject of an article. As for “Lea’s Legacy,” the photos were mostly for decorative purposes, but we could easily have identified them, saving readers from similar frustration.—Ed.


As several readers wrote to point out, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house featured in the Mar|Apr “Expert Opinion” essay is known as Fallingwater, not Falling Water. We regret the error.

In the Mar|Apr “Gazetteer” piece about the increasing difficulty Chinese have remembering how to write the language’s many characters, when quoting Professor of Chinese Languages and History Victor Mair, we wrote Acadian when he meant Akkadian in referring to ancient scripts comparable to Chinese. (Sometimes the alphabet is hard, too.)

In the “Gazetteer” on the Woodlands, we mentioned his eponymous architectural firm, but failed to note Mark B. Thompson’s alumni status (Ar’65 GFA’68 GAr’69). Our apologies, and thanks to his wife, Connie CW’67, who alerted us to the fact.

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