Forum: September-October 2002


Class Work


Compliments on your May-June education issue. "A Charter for Achievement" by Jonas Blank '01 is especially compelling. MATCH [Media and Technology Charter High School] is an example of what can happen when we lift barriers to entry for people with unusual talents and experience--like Michael Goldstein and Ann Sagan.

I am a twenty-eight-year-veteran public-school teacher, now retired. For twenty-five years, I have pressed for expanding choices for parents, whether charter schools or nonpublic school options (targeted vouchers, tax credits for donations to scholarship funds, etc.).

Now there is burgeoning interest in school choice. One charter school a decade ago, 2,400 today. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers are constitutional. We're in for a lively decade in education. Goldstein and Sagan are pioneers. It will be a little easier for others with unusual abilities or experience, but without traditional education coursework, to follow in their footsteps.

As Jonas Blank notes, however, not everyone is pleased. The stakes are high. Charter schools and school choice threaten the status quo. Sustaining--much less expanding--such limited programs and options as now exist will involve terrific struggles. MATCH's success with "students whom almost everybody else has given up on" puts it in the midst of the fray.

I wish the school well.

Tom Shuford B.S.M.E. '68
Ventura, California

Ban Smoking


The student comments in "Quad Quotes" in your May-June issue regarding a potential residential smoking ban were worrisome to me and showed an ignorance of the facts not usually associated with Duke students. Tell me that prior to the balloting there was substantive illumination of the true issues!

I hope that Duke will present the known scientific facts and take assertive action to ban ETS (environmental tobacco smoke, or second-hand smoke) from all Duke activities, from dorm living to those parties on West to every alumni meeting across the country. And I hope the campus referendum, where a strong majority of voters favored the ban, was binding. The ETS battle is paramount and winnable through education about the science and about the rights of the breathing public.

Mere spatial segregation of smokers does not eliminate the risk. ETS is not simply a pesky olfactory nuisance but a now-recognized serious inhalation health hazard, with increased risk of a multitude of bodily derangements including death and cancer. Where there is smell, even if smoke is not readily visible, it is being inhaled--with all the particulate and gaseous toxins, mutagens, and carcinogens we now know are in ETS. At last count, about sixty known human carcinogens and something like 4,000 other chemicals had been identified in ETS.

There is no safe level of ETS for anyone. Breathing in a smoky watering hole for several hours watching Duke basketball is the equivalent of smoking up to half a pack of cigarettes. Every time you see or smell ETS, you are taking into your body the same chemicals that were in the Bhopal disaster (benzene), the Nazi gas chambers (cyanide), embalming fluid (formaldehyde), rat poison, insecticides, and toilet-bowl disinfectants.

Making light of ETS is offensive. You wouldn't publish articles making light of people trying to decrease their risk of breast cancer, AIDS, cervical cancer, or heart disease. To those sensitized to the facts of ETS, publishing comments highlighting ignorance of those facts is disheartening.

Please continue to follow the "tobacco wars" on campus, and please join in urging all Duke activities nationwide to invoke a smoking ban. Duke's leadership here, especially brave in light of its family tree, would certainly be yet another example of clarity of vision for others to emulate.


Nancy Coates '71, M.D. (via e-mail)


Soul Search


I have always been proud of my Duke as my alma mater. But then I read an excerpt in The New York Times of the remarks given by the commencement speaker at Duke's 2002 graduation ceremonies.

Instead of pride, then, I felt intense disappointment that the university that presented me with a Bible at my graduation was now choosing to launch its graduates with Tom Wolfe's cynical vision of humanity. Falsely wrapped in the cloak of "cognitive neuroscience," Wolfe's ideologically-tainted vision is scientism, not science--a crucial distinction, and one that I can only hope that the 2002 graduates were well-prepared by their Duke education to make, as Wolfe's nihilistic siren-song wafted through the neurological channels of their brains, beckoning, with Duke's apparent blessing, to their putatively non-existent souls.

Wolfe uses his Duke-proffered platform to advise her graduates that "...your idea that you have a soul or even a self, much less free will, is just an illusion" (New York Times, June 2). What disappoints me is the intellectually light-weight pseudo-science of Wolfe's message, and the unworthily lowbrow tenor of his remarks, on what should be an exalting and, yes, even sacred occasion.

My professors at Duke were inspired and inspiring men and women who taught me to carefully sift and separate the wheat from the chaff. Granting my beloved alma mater the benefit of the doubt, I trust that the Duke graduates of today are similarly well-prepared to do the same, as well as to pay the tares little mind while cultivating their wheat for harvest.

Does the university still honor its graduates with the presentation Bible? I hope so, partly because my Duke Bible contains an inscription of Article I of the bylaws of the university. These words, on the "Aims of Duke University," put Wolfe's words in a countervailing perspective that is not to be missed.

Samuel G. Miller Jr. '76 (via e-mail)

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