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Our readersNovember 01, 2004

Society Owes Them

In Adults Left Behind (10/11), William J. Byron, S.J., observes that adults now unable to read were perhaps failed by their schools when they were children, and points out that society owes them something now. Many of those who could not read in school then dropped out of school, went to the streets, drifted into drugs and crime and found themselves in prison. Some of them also had learning disabilities (like dyslexia) and had little support from dysfunctional families. It has been estimated that 40 percent of inmates in state prisons cannot read adequately, and an abnormal percentage of them have learning difficulties.

This is another case of finding the root cause of symptoms and trying to do something about it. Society owes these people a better effort to overcome their disabilities, educate them and enable them to survive productively in society.

Rudy Cypser
Katonah, N.Y.

Dose of Reality

Cheers for John Langan, S.J., for his lucid and thoughtful Observations on Abortion and Politics (10/25). For the first time in my experience, a Catholic author has injected a large dose of reality into the abortion debates. Not only Catholic politicians but also bishops should take note.

Robert M. Rowden, M.D.
San Rafael, Calif.

Mission of Charity

In his reflection on Central Park (Of Many Things, 10/11) George M. Anderson, S.J., writes of the shanty town dwellers and black settlers who lived there before the park’s creation by wealthy New Yorkers who sought a woodland haven. Pre-park settlers also included the Sisters of Charity, who separated from their Emmitsburg, Md., roots in 1846 and formed an independent diocesan congregation to serve the needs of New York City’s mostly poor immigrant Catholics.

In 1847 the new community bought six acres of property at McGown’s Pass, near Fifth Avenue and what is now 107th Street. They transformed a dilapidated frame house (the former Black Horse Tavern) into Mount St. Vincent, with a motherhouse, novitiate and girls’ academy to help support their work for the poor. A plaque marks the site today.

The crown jewel was a chapel, the first in the archdiocese to be dedicated in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Shortly before the chapel was blessed on March 19, 1855, the City of New York informed the community that the plans of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for a new Central Park included the property of the Sisters of Charity. After less than 10 years in the place they had labored mightily to make their home, the sisters had to pick up, move on and begin again.

They refounded Mount St. Vincent about 10 miles north in Riverdale, a scenic but sparsely settled section bordering the Hudson River just south of Yonkers. Today, on the same site, the Sisters of Charity Center and the College of Mount St.Vincent (successor of the academy) continue the mission of charity begun before Central Park came to be.

Regina Bechtle, S.C.
Bronx, N.Y.

Seeds of Healing

I felt a strange excitement upon reading Priestless Liturgies, by Peter Kountz, (10/11)a confusing reaction to have about the crisis in vocations in the American Catholic Church. The dropoff in vocations is evidence of the church’s failure to communicate itself in a contemporary American community. Lack of dialogue and misunderstanding between church hierarchy and laypeople (particularly regarding sexual abuse, sexual life in general and the role of women) has left many American Catholics feeling alienated from their church, leading, I believe, directly to the shortage of priests we currently experience. But miraculously, the disease contains the seeds of its own healing. The resulting shortage, as Mr. Kountz so faithfully explains, offers room at last for the laity to claim their rightful place as stewards of their church. I would like to see further articles exploring the possibilities for women to offer their unique gifts in the new space opened by this crisis. It strengthens my faith to see God’s healing grace move through the church even in the midst what looks like crisis. I am grateful to America for its prophetic voice in recognizing the new life and grace of the church that is even now growing through the cracks of the trauma, fear and woundedness of our past.

Rebecca Shaeffer
Washington, D.C.

Oil Hangover

Thanks for Terry Golway’s column on our immoral gasoline binge (10/18). The punch will soon be taken away by sharp increases in crude oil prices. The petroleum geologists have been telling us for six or seven years that world supplies will peak in the first decade of the 21st century, but few Americans are listening. The binge is going to prove too expensive to continue after Hubbert’s peak comes in world oil production. Who knows what the United States will suffer during our hangover?

Robert W. Dundon, S.J.
Omaha, Neb.

Extra Mile

Terry Golway’s recent article Immoral Bingeing (10/18) is judgmental and no doubt offensive to many hardworking Americans. He extols Japanese manufacturers, Toyota and Honda, for producing fuel-efficient hybrids and impugns their domestic competitors for a proliferation of S.U.V.’s. Larger vehicles are safer. Is it immoral to purchase a safer and more comfortable vehicle for your family? My wife is a physician who uses a Chevy Trail Blazer to go to hospitals in inclement weather when vehicles like the Toyota Prism, which Mr. Golway extols, would be stranded.

I have worked for General Motors for more than 30 years and can attest to my colleagues’ deep concern for the environment. Our corporation is a leader in fuel cell technology, a very promising antidote to our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and to the environmental issues associated with the internal combustion engine. G.M. will also soon have hybrids available for sale. Mr. Golway, before leveling his criticism at Detroit, should take account of the uneven playing field on which we, the American manufacturers, compete. Japanese producers enjoy a protected home market, and the vehicles they produce in the United States are not saddled with substantial legacy costs (health insurance and pensions) that the domestic producers incur. G.M., for example, spends an average of $1,400 on health care benefits for every vehicle it produces in the United States, whereas its Japanese competitors spend about $200 per vehicle.

While I respect Mr. Golway’s right to purchase any vehicle he pleases, I resent his insinuation that those of us who opt for the safety and comfort of an S.U.V. are less moral. G.M. and its Detroit counterparts can succeed only by offering the products that consumers prefer. Speaking on behalf of my 350,000 fellow workers, G.M.’s 450,000 retirees and the 1.1 million individuals who depend on our continuing success for their health care benefits, I can assert that we will go the extra mile to achieve continuing success in the marketplace.

Edgar Sullivan
Scotch Plains N.J.

Worthy Goals

Could we for a moment slow down on the constant bashing of S.U.V. drivers (10/18)? No doubt some S.U.V. drivers seek status or some other unworthy goal, but consider other reasons why people drive S.U.V.’s despite their miserable gas mileage.

Our chief family recreation involves a boat, 26 feet long. Our options for our favorite use, scuba diving, involve getting the boat out a few miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Though we live on a river, the route to the gulf is many miles long (through all the east-west diameter of Tampa Bay), and the mileage of the boat is many times poorer than that of our S.U.V. So we generally tow the boat to a ramp closer to open water. The vehicle we use to do this has to have a certain towing and braking capacity to be safe. It has to be large enough to do the job well. A minivan or small pickup or sedan cannot safely tow such a vessel.

Now five years ago, we had a minivan and a small pickup for the parents to drive, a Honda for the teen and an aging full-size van that mostly sat in the yard, awaiting service in towing the boat. When the lease on the mini came almost due, we agonized over whether to keep the van for towing and get a practical car, or whether to get a new towing vehicle that would be driven every day, realizing the fuel implications of the latter choice. The van made up our minds for us; it burned up totally on what became its last towing mission.

So now one of us drives the S.U.V. to work every day, as purchasing two new vehicles made no sense. So, yes, you see me driving alone to work in my behemoth, and you fuss about the gas I am guzzling. But remember the positive attributes of this vehicle. Almost every boat trip that includes towing with our S.U.V. involves two or more families, multiple folks spreading out the cost of that gas. In addition, we have to get to work and school and the grocery store, etc. That one vehicle makes the most trips, as it fits mom, dad, grandma, kids, scuba gear, groceries and so forth, and it makes our recreational trips possible.

So please stop making blanket statements about us greedy S.U.V. drivers. There are purposes for such vehicles beyond status and power and bigness. We try to plan our trips to minimize excess back-and-forth random driving. Surely we are not the only people to have a need for an S.U.V., nor the only ones to try to use it in ways that guzzle the least.

As an aside, may I say that receiving America is one of the highlights of my week, and I enjoy Mr. Golway’s column, even when I disagree!

Pat Jeansonne, M.D.
Riverview, Fla.

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15 years 4 months ago
In response to “Adults Left Behind” (10/11), in which William J. Byron, S.J., observed that society owes our illiterate adults something in compensation for failing them when they were children, a reader, Rudy Cypser, wrote (11/1) that “this is another case of finding the root cause of symptoms and trying to do something about it.”

But if the root cause of illiteracy is something that happened—or did not happen—to these unfortunate citizens in their early years when they were receptive to learning, can they really go back? The evidence would indicate otherwise; for hundreds of adults, it is too late now to make a substantial difference through adult remedial instruction. It is also prohibitively expensive.

This is why programs like the Harlem-based Casa de los Niños for 3- to 5-year-olds, under the direction of the Montessori Development and Training Corporation, are sorely needed if we want to interrupt the cycle of illiteracy.

The alternative to remedial programs is to catch children when they are sensitive to language development and learning in general. If you have a small child in your life, you know his constant “Why?”; and if you care about that child, you will not become impatient and turn off his natural curiosity by sitting him in front of the television set to “be quiet”; instead you will, as psychologist J. McVicker Hunt has said, match his level of “readiness to know” with appropriate learning activities or find an affordable institution that provides them. All the research points to this wisdom, but all too few academic programs for young children apply it effectively. Why do we wait until failure sets in and then wring our hands? Why do we waste time and throw away so many lives?

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