(Public Domain)

Readers sound off

Alumni and friends write on what’s missing from education at Chicago (and from the Magazine’s coverage), David Axelrod’s (AB’76) new campus role, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s campus address.

Bragging Rights

I suppose that a compliment withheld is as good as an insult—which is why I’m giving you a much-overdue ovation for the new art direction I’ve noticed from the Magazine.

I just read the recent letter from John Rossheim, AB’80, saying that the imagery is too “high concept” for him (Jan–Feb/12). Whuh? Isn’t this the University of Chicago we’re talking about? When has “high concept” ever been considered a negative?

I am currently living with grads of Yale and UCLA, and all three of us have magazines coming from our alma maters. Lately I’ve been stacking my U of C Magazine conspicuously on top of the coffee-table assortment, silently bragging about the cool new look of the mag’s graphic design and photo choices. My roommates have been stealing glances too—and have actually been reading it (secretly, of course).

So I apologize for holding back my praise till now. You guys are blowing the other schools away. You are the most intriguing, most readable, “high concept” superstar on my coffee table. Keep it up.

Simon Miller, AB’01
Los Angeles


Stories found

So happy to see the glimpse of Vivian Gussin Paley, PhB’47, in your Jan–Feb/12 issue (Glimpses). When I was doing a graduate degree in the Education Department in the mid ’70s, I was so fortunate to spend a semester in her kindergarten room doing what was then called an “ecological study” of the children at play in the housekeeping corner. My master’s thesis was on the value of play: the development of language and empathy through role-playing. After nearly 40 years teaching in public education in early childhood–pre-K, K, and first grade, I can tell you that the value of play has sadly been diminished to nearly zero time in the school day. I agree with her statement about “a year of lost stories” and so much more that has been deemed irrelevant by the factory mentality of today’s public-education curriculum. But the vibrant and highly verbal environment she created in that room has stayed with me in all the subsequent years in which I worked with young children. Thank you, Vivian Paley!

Eslee Kessler, AM’77
Santa Fe, New Mexico


Check the math

There is a factual error on page 36 of the Jan–Feb/12 issue (“Debating Society”). Under the year 1988, it is asserted that the Everyday Mathematics curriculum was developed by Izaak Wirszup, PhD’55. Izaak was a cofounder of the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, but he did not plan or manage the development of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum at any time.

The one person most responsible for Everyday Mathematics is Max Bell, AM’58, MAT’59, a professor emeritus of education who still has a hand in Everyday Mathematics. Max’s thinking, and also the name he gave to the curriculum, can be traced back to a paper in the March 1974 Mathematics Teacher, “What Does ‘Everyman’ Really Need from School Mathematics?”

A detailed history can be found in an article by Max and Andrew Isaacs in Perspectives on the Design and Development of School Mathematics Curricula (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2007).

There also is a misleading statement on the same page with an error on the date. It is asserted that the Graduate School of Education (GSE) closed in 1978 because of a national glut of teachers.  This is not true, though there was a national glut of teachers in some subjects (but not in science and mathematics) at the time.

From the inception of the GSE, the Department of Education and the school shared administrations (the dean of the GSE was chair of the department; applications to either unit went to the same office; there were a couple of joint committees), and the University’s central administration felt (quite accurately) that the duplication was unnecessary and expensive. It asked the faculties of the two units to merge and gave the choice to the faculties to merge either in the department or in the graduate school. The Department of Education faculty was larger and had many of the most well-known figures in the world in education, and its faculty did not want to leave the Division of Social Sciences, so the merger was into the department.

The merger occurred during the 1975–76 school year, not in 1978.

There has always been a need for well-qualified teachers like those trained in the GSE (and currently in the Urban Teacher Education Program). After the merger, teacher-training programs that had been in the GSE continued in the Department of Education until the dismantling of the department in 2001.

Zalman Usiskin
Professor Emeritus of Education
Director, University of Chicago School Mathematics Project


Buried the lede

The education topics in the Jan–Feb/12 issue miss two critical stories. The most significant education event in the period I was at U of C (1992–2001) [as an astronomy and astrophysics faculty member] was the closing of the School of Education. The place where John Dewey laid the foundations for modern US teaching is no more. It is admirable that faculty members such as [astronomy and astrophysics professor] Don York, PhD’71, have done so much to improve teaching in Chicago schools, but he does this entirely on his own, using the prerogatives of tenure, an individual effort apart from his official role in astrophysics. In university teaching, U of C has completely missed the substantial advances in science teaching taking place at schools such as the University of Colorado, where Nobel Prize winner Carl Wieman saw such potential that he switched his personal research from atomic physics to physics education research. Then his university put $5 million into improving its own science teaching. That’s where the leading edge of university science teaching is today (see phet.colorado.edu for an example).

When MIT was told that it was systematically shortchanging the resources given to women faculty, it conducted a major study, found the claims were true, and acted aggressively to fix things. Its number of good women faculty and students has risen. MIT also called a meeting of Ivy League schools and U of C to discuss these issues of women in science. U of C missed the meeting. My department, astronomy and astrophysics, has had one tenured woman professor in the 130 years since U of C was founded.

That is not the leading edge.

Douglas Duncan
Boulder, Colorado


According to Peter Vandervoort, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60, professor emer­itus in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and in the College, the department has had four women faculty members since 1949. Two are currently tenured members of the faculty.—Ed.


Tuition, sweat, and grants

I am not sure what was more sickening about “The Future of PhDs” (Marketplace of Ideas, Jan–Feb/12)—the arrogant and self-serving tone of sociologist Andrew Abbott’s (AM’75, PhD’82) comments or the tepid debate he received. At the risk of asking the obvious, why should Dr. Abbott or any of the others worry whether they are accurately portraying the value of the product they are selling to the incoming academic candidates as long as they have an unending supply of grist for their mill. If it didn’t occur to Dr. Abbott, it did occur to me that it is quite easy for him to insist that it should be business as usual from the comfort of his cozy tenured life supported by the steady stream of tuition, sweat, and grant dollars provided by his students and their parents.

Those of us who live in the real world, however, are facing more daunting challenges than merely the pursuit of an “elite academic life trajectory.”  As the mother of a PhD historian from Brown University who is unemployed and friend of many others who are stuck in an endless chain of cobbled together low paying adjunct positions, I would challenge your four interviewees to have a soul searching discussion of the ethics and morals of a group of people who promote something of great cost and dubious value without so much as a caveat emptor.

Stephanie Lazzeroni
Racine, Wisconsin


Chosen profession

Perhaps education is, indeed, greatly valued in editor Amy Puma’s family (Editor’s Notes, “So Much To Learn,” Jan–Feb/12). I must say, however, that starting her notes with the claim that teaching as a profession was held out to her as “something to fall back on” (granted her mother’s words, which she chose to include), gives no such impression. I am a second-grade teacher in a Chicago public school. The work that I do is complex and personally demanding. To teach well one needs more than a store of information and tools of analysis, but the ability to empathize with learners and convert wisdom in the teacher into understanding in the student. Forget managing budding personalities, English-language learners, and the barrage of standardized testing now present in the primary grades.

Teaching, when done well, is no easy task, and yet, for many reasons, some of which are valid, others mere urban myth, the work of teachers is continually denigrated in American society. Puma’s opening line does the profession no favors but just suggests that teaching is a job anyone could do if Plan A were to not pan out. I will not try to convince those who hold this position otherwise; such arguments tend to fall on deaf ears, but I will express my disappointment that in the issue meant to give education and teaching their due, the editor’s note opens by reinforcing the false notion that teaching is merely a fall-back profession. I would, however, agree with the author’s mother in that the Everyday Math curriculum has wonderful games but could stand to have more skills practice built into it.

Genie Albina, AM’09


The editor apologizes to readers—and to her mother—for implying she meant teaching in general was a fallback career. In fact she meant the editor specifically should have some kind of Plan B ready, and that her own career choice offered a rewarding and stable (at the time, anyway) alternative. She had Plan B advice for the editor’s sister too, even when she planned to become a teacher.


Skills and schools

On page 16 of the Jan–Feb/12 issue is a graph that seems to me an example of sterling gobbledygook (UChicago Journal, Fig. 1, “Stop Gap”). Despite the abysmal failure of 46 years of Head Start, economist James Heckman has divined a saving metric—skills—that he says emerge before children begin school.

I posit that these skills of conscientiousness, perseverance, and sociability do begin early—at conception.

I’d like to ask: What indicates that these traits are not inborn? How are these skills measured on scholastic ability scores? What indicates that these skills are amenable to training? Is there any indication that any school program has this ability?

J. Curtis Kovacs, AB’63, MD’67
Sun City, Arizona


Impolitic decision

I am very disappointed and disturbed that the University would hire or even associate itself with David Axelrod, AB’76 [director of the University’s new Institute of Politics; see the January 31, 2012, UChicago News for Alumni and Friends e-newsletter or “Left, Right, Left, Right—Ed]. Mr. Axelrod’s support of the policies of Clinton and the current administration and their forced march of our country into a bankrupt, European-style social-welfare state, in my opinion, disqualify him for advising students concerning careers in government and social service.

Decisions have consequences. I feel the University has chosen unwisely.

Paul Gierosky, MBA’75
Pepper Pike, Ohio


What an unfortunate choice! David Axelrod, AB’76, is not a David Gergen. Axelrod is too much a “politics as usual” figure in our time and all others (see the 1947 Loretta Young, Ethel Barrymore, and Joseph Cotton movie The Farmer’s Daughter). Both in the 2008 campaign and in the Obama administration, he showed himself to be a negative, vicious, no-holds-barred politician. I certainly wouldn’t want my child learning about “idealism” in politics from such a person.

In sum: the U of C has marred a very good idea by this very bad start. We should have found a Gergen, and should be on the lookout for one to take over ASAP.

Stephen Miller, PhD’76
College Station, Texas


Speaking of Telugu ...

I read with interest Michael Fitzgerald’s (AB’86) article “Ends and Means” (Nov–Dec/11), concerning microfinance in India. The subject undoubtedly has even wider implications, whence various microfinance organizations operate in many parts of the word, as the author points out. It is regrettable that corruption threatens to undermine an otherwise promising source of relief for the very poor. At the risk of being overly pedantic, however, I would like to point out a major error in Fitzgerald’s text. On page 36, in speaking about Andhra Pradesh, he states that “many of the state’s 82 million residents, who speak a minority Indian dialect, Tegulu (sic), are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Not only is Telugu misspelled, but it is hardly a “minority dialect.” It is a major Indian language spoken by at least 70 million people, and by far the majority language in Andhra Pradesh.

Edward J. Jay, AM’57, PhD’63
Oakland, California


We apologize for the spelling error: the writer is correct that it is Telugu. According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, the language is spoken by 7.2 percent of India’s population. The article noted that it is spoken in Andhra Pradesh.—Ed.


Freud lives

It appears that Mark Borinsky’s (PhD’72) study of psychoanalysis ended with the “pre-Jurassic period” research he cites (Letters, Jan–Feb/12). Obviously he is unaware of the ubiquitous incorporation of psychodynamic elements in art, music, literature, even marketing and sales. He rests his case on an article in the Wall Street Journal. I prefer the scientific inquiry he seems to demand to the hackneyed, out of date rhetoric he uses. Recent research has demonstrated the effectiveness of long term psychodynamic psychotherapy. It has been shown to have powerful long term effects on both symptoms and personality change, and that the changes are long term and enduring. In both outcomes, psychodynamic psychotherapy equals or surpasses the holy grail of the Evidence Based Practice cultists, CBT.

I suggest Dr. Borinksy catch up with the field and read: de Maat et al., Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 2009, 171: 1-23; Shedler, American Psychologist, 2010, 65(2) 98-109; and Cortina, Psychiatry, 2010, 73(1) 43-56. Letters to the editor are, I suppose, opinion pieces. But it would be nice to see those making scientific proclamations have extant scientific support for their exhortations.

Robert B. Bloom, SB’58
Highland Park, Illinois


Heat wave

Robert Reynolds’s (AB’39) assertion that we “need” to warm the earth up “to avoid the return of the ice” is not very comforting (Letters, Jan–Feb/12). His overconfidence in his own conclusions is based in part on the education he received at Chicago in the 1930s, in the field of geology no less, when the macroecological processes which maintain our atmosphere and the livability of the earth were poorly understood. Chicago was not educating its students very well with regard to these subjects as late as the 1980s, so who knows what a student—even a biology student—learned in the 1930s. Certainly all students read many musty old texts by philosophers who had little or no grasp of the ways nature functions, and who could not foresee the ravages of future human overpopulation and overconsumption on the biosphere. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, this may not have been the best type of education for people who lived and voted in the 20th century, when we had the opportunity to check and prevent problems but chose not to do so.

I doubt Mr. Reynolds’s subsequent reading of books by “climate scientists” who agree with him has furthered his knowledge much. I am sure he will change his tune if he lives long enough, however, as Tucson is sure to experience more frequent killer heat waves in the very near future. Enjoy!

Jennifer Thurber Willis, AB’84


And which thermometer to use?

Planet Earth has lots of water, lots of ice, and while not well mixed, they are in significant contact, both direct and via water flow and air circulation. Thus the planet is a weakly mixed and therefore partially buffered biphasic (ice/water) environment. It is very hard to take the temperature of a planet. One reading every quarter hour for ten years gets you 365,000 readings. One reading per degree of longitude multiplies by 360, and once per 0.1 degree of latitude by 1,800, taking us to over 2.3 x 10^11. For height I would do at least 100 readings from surface to 100 feet over surface, giving us a grand total of 2.3 x 10^13; my oh my. And we have yet to consider where might be the anal pore, the oral pore, and an armpit. The temperature information is contaminated by the buffering, so why bother.

When the ice goes down, planet Earth is gaining net energy, and when the ice goes up, planet Earth is losing net energy. Main energy source is the sun; main energy sink is space. The message is we are gaining energy. The why is somewhat irrelevant because the 7 billion living humans are heavily invested in waterside property, and most of us don’t do the New Orleans dog paddle very proficiently.

Robert Reynolds may well be right that we are in the fifth interglacial of the Pleistocene, but many crop and disease problems come with warming up, and really big problems come with the being under water part. Also, it is much easier to bump the temperature of the planet up than to bring it down.

Reynolds is also right about this being contrary to historical record. The historical record shows periods of increase in solar output followed by Earth ocean out gassing of gases such as CO2 (increased atmospheric CO2, reduced oceanic CO2), which intensified the warming by trapping more outgoing radiation. The current record shows no change in solar (see NASA sun data), increases in atmospheric CO2, and also increases in oceanic CO2, all consistent with burning 50 percent of planet Earth’s oil supply in only 50 years, and thus raising the atmospheric CO2. Of course, in historical times there were not 7 billion of us, along with our cows and pigs, and we had not learned how much fun it was to burn oil. The historical reading is correct. The current reading is correct. The lesson is: things can happen in more than one way.

Richard A Karlin, AB’55, SB’57


M*A*S*H note

Re: Harry (Bratsburg) Morgan, X’37, who died last year (Deaths, Jan–Feb/12). Mr. Morgan was once asked if being on M*A*S*H made him a better actor. His reply: “I don’t know about that, but it’s made me a better human being.”

Victor Sloan, AB’80
Flemington, New Jersey


MLK memories

In January the Magazine asked online readers to post memories of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in 1956 and 1959, and at Mandel Hall in 1966. Here are a few selections:

I was a transfer student to the College during the 1965–66 academic year, living in Pierce Tower. Before his talk in Mandel Hall, Dr. King was having dinner with select students in the private dining room off the main Pierce dining hall. Not being one of the elect, I stood in awe outside the private dining room door when, in a rush, a student exited.  Noticing me, he asked if I’d like to go in and take his place, which turned out to be the chair immediately to Dr. King’s right. I recall that Dr. King ate only a salad: he told me he never ate much before an address, and that he would have a regular meal later. He didn’t talk about himself but drew me out about work I had done the previous summer with the children of African American migrant workers on the eastern end of Long Island.

When we left the private dining room, a few members of an African American family, representing at least three generations, I think, were waiting for him with a request. They had a family heirloom, a tablecloth with signatures of notable blacks in American history, and each signature had then been embroidered. They asked if he would sign the cloth. He examined it with delight, and of course he signed. I’ve often wondered about that family, and where the tablecloth is today.

Dr. King’s talk, as I recall, was on the African American family, and, as an address to an academic community, it was not in the rousing style of a sermon, which I would have preferred. A little over two years later, when I was living as an assistant resident head across the midway in Salisbury House, I recall looking out a Burton Judson dining hall window at the military vehicles on patrol after Dr. King’s assassination.

Jack Barbera, AB’68, AM’69, PhD’76
University, Mississippi


January 1966 was not the last time Dr. King spoke on campus. In 1967 I spent the summer in Hyde Park as a high-school volunteer in something called the Mitzvah Corps, run by the National Federation of Temple Youth. On July 10, 1967, the 20 or so volunteers were invited to attend an event at the Oriental Institute where both Dr. King and Rev. Jesse Jackson, X’67, were speaking at an event held by Operation Breadbasket. At the end of the evening we were introduced to Dr. King as young Jewish civil-rights activists, and he was most gracious.

I’m sure that evening was one of the main reasons I applied to the U of C.  Hyde Park was full of energy and excitement that summer, and I wanted to be part of it.

Joy F. Robinson-Lynch, AB’72
Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts


Canon fever

The Doc Film Group that I know dates from 1947 and continues into the mid ’50s, beginning from the time that Martin Picker, PhB’47, AM’51 [deceased], Guy Lester Cooper III, AB’50, and I met at Linn House as roommates and began a discussion on the art of the film evolving into a shared passion and crusade to further scholarly study, and appreciation of film as the most recently structured fine art. Film could come into its right only with a knowledgeable and discerning audience that had the opportunity to see the canon and to contribute to it.

To that end, we appropriated the then idle resources of the Documentary Film Society, a social-issues advocacy group that used documentary films to gain an audience for its opinions. The dean’s office assigned us to a vault office in the basement of Classics. The desk still had supplies from the old group. We got no funding and hoped to survive on an admission fee from each series. We were assigned SocSci 122, because it had a rudimentary projection room. The projector and film had to be carried between Classics and SocSci, so we got a coaster wagon. Martin, a musicologist at that time studying bibliographic techniques, became the secretary and business manager. Guy was a humanist and kept us all on a course of unwavering high standards. I was interested in social psychology and the question of perception and cognition and undertook the organization of film series, film selection, and series poster writing and design. We chose every film because it would educate the viewer’s eye and help in our goal to maintain film through the pull of an educated audience.

I was glad to see the letter from Fred C. Smith, AB’54, AB’55 (“Reel Stories,” Alumni News, Nov–Dec/11). He was the group’s ace projectionist and he also pulled the wagon.

The consistency and quality of our series gave us a loyal following that paid the group’s way, and we virtually became part of the academic year. A great reward was to be invited to a banquet given for Vittorio De Sica by the Italian Counsel General of Chicago. Somehow De Sica had become aware that we had espoused his work. In our table conversation, he queried me about Doc Film and was pleased that we were all students, not functionaries, not subsidized by the University, but made it on audience box office. He was amused when I told him besides film rental and printing, our cost was the hire of a projectionist, who also had to pull a coaster wagon.

That photo of Doc Film people is a sensation. I was a lifelong friend of Ed Shafer, the center figure. Ed was never in Doc Film, but he always gave a helping hand. The Doc Film badges are an odd thing, perhaps marking a special occasion or perhaps a spoof mocking Doc Film’s chronic lack of a formal organization. The statements about Ernest Callenbach, PhB’49, AM’53, need correction. He was not a core member or contributor to the group’s mission or activities. He appeared to have been to film showings, but other than that, went into film in California.

I still get a thrill from the canon and honor Eisenstein, De Sica, and all the others. Just the other day, I saw where “Rosebud” was the answer to a low-level question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. After all of this time, who would have thought that everybody would know the canon?

Frank G. Ternenyi, PhB’51


Department of corrections

In the Jan–Feb/12 Citations, we referred to Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris professor of psychology and psychiatry, as a psychologist rather than as a neurobiologist. We regret the error.


The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space, clarity, and civility. To provide a range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, The University of Chicago Magazine, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.