Report From the Fifth Grade

Providence, R.I.

We are fifth graders from Reservoir Elementary School in Providence, Rhode Island. Reservoir is a poor school community, but we have accomplished many academic goals. We are as good or better than ninety-three schools in our state. Our school of 312 students is 75 percent Latino, 16 percent Asian, 8 percent African-American and 1 percent “other.”

We would like to share with you our experience reading your editorial. During our reading class we were discussing the word “raid,” which moved our discussion to war. We posed a question to our principal: Why are we still at war even after Osama bin Laden has been killed? She told us about you and how you asked a similar question in your magazine. The next day we were introduced to your editorial from May 23, 2011, titled “After bin Laden.” Eleven of us met in the principal’s office to read and discuss it.

Reading your editorial was challenging, but it made us feel powerful. Some of us felt like low-level readers because many of the words were new to us. To understand it, we used our reading strategies like chunking, cause and effect, words in context, and monitoring and clarifying. After reading and discussing your editorial, we felt motivated enough to send you this letter.

We discovered that the Bush administration started a “war on terror” that is infinite. This could potentially cause devastation in many countries. We agreed with your suggestion to President Obama on how to take a step to close the “dark chapter” that this war created. We think we should reduce US forces in Afghanistan and increase communication between everyone.

While we were working on this letter, we found that the president followed many of the suggestions in your editorial. Soon after it appeared, he went to Afghanistan and addressed our troops. It seems the president took advantage of the opportunity to close the “dark chapter in American history.” He will reduce US forces and begin peace talks.

In conclusion, we would like to thank you for writing this editorial and challenging us to discover more about current events. We hope people take your advice and increase communication globally to stop conflicts.




Gaze of a Woman

Dulles, Va.

Thank you for publishing “Self-Portrait in a Sheet Mirror,” Joanna Scott’s review of the new titles about Vivian Maier [June 11]. I wish Scott had addressed more the issues of Maier as a foreigner and her gaze as a woman living on her own in American cities. She does take issue with comments about Maier’s clothing (which I did not find strange at all), but I think she could have reflected more deeply on what it might have been like to walk around a very segregated city. Chicago’s beaches were segregated until the 1950s, meaning Maier took a bus to areas of the city where she may not have been welcomed. I would like to posit that Maier, as a woman, could venture into areas where men would have been more obvious; perhaps she could become more invisible. I also suggest that her dress, if indeed it was odd, helped with that invisibility.

Much has been made of the fact that most of the startlingly fresh and brilliant images were not developed. I suggest that for Maier, taking photos was as much about the process as about the product. As a woman and a foreigner, she may have considered herself an outsider. She strove to understand America. What better way to do this than to wander the streets with a camera, focusing on them through the narrow perspective of the viewfinder? Perhaps she did not need to see the product because she had viewed what was important; she had experienced parts of these cities that few took the time to explore or understand. I disagree with the idea that Maier studied others’ photographs, because hers were about the gaze; she came to those images with her own special gaze, which relied on curiosity and a sense of adventure. If she did study photographs, she may have looked at those of her contemporary Helen Levitt.

She was not the first foreigner to bring a foreign eye to America. Robert Frank, born in Zurich, seems to have worked during the same period. Perhaps our country’s sudden postwar growth fascinated all but its own citizens. But Maier was brave: she wandered into burlesques, the South Loop (and further), down alleys, and into the heart of postwar America.




Books Banned? Do This!

Canton, Ohio

Patricia J. Williams should be complimented and thanked for her June 4 column, “Rosa Clark: The Unsung Legacy.” I saw Al Madrigal’s piece on The Daily Show in which he exposed the racism of the Tucson School Board and one of its members, Michael Hicks; but it was Williams who made me do something about it.

The first woman superintendent of the Canton city schools died last year of cancer. She was a product of the district and brought it a long way toward excellence and honoring the diversity of all students and employees. The board, of which I was a member at the time, decided to name a library after her. For the dedication of the Dianne Talarico Library at Lehman Middle School, the family asked that books be donated in her honor.

After reading Williams’s column, I had no doubt that my donation must be from the list of books banned in Tucson. In our district, we don’t ban books. In fact, our students regularly read a number of the titles Tucson banned.

Our libraries were missing The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, a look at America through the eyes of a black (and gay) man in the form of two essays. It is an important work, as fresh today as it was fifty years ago when it was written. New York Times book critic Sheldon Binn said in 1963, “What [Baldwin] has drawn will not sit well with even some whites who count themselves as friends of the Negro. But he has not written this book…to please.”

No doubt Michael Hicks was displeased, though he proudly stated that he hadn’t read any of the books he voted to ban, so he probably couldn’t tell you what exactly he doesn’t like.

This is the book where Baldwin tells us that “a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked, but only that they be spineless.”

I read the book, every word, and the connections, which included works by luminaries like Julian Bond, Langston Hughes, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lyndon Johnson. I purchased not one but three copies, one for each of our middle school libraries.

Thank you, Ms. Williams, for bringing that to life for us. And shame on Hicks and the rest of the Tucson Board of Education.