Letters to the editor

Stopping Littletons … interpersonally

There have been numerous suggestions of things to do to avoid disasters [similar to Littleton’s]. Missing among them all is a proposal I made in my 1973 book Humanistic Education (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall):

People live in groups. Interpersonal relations, thus, are an important aspect of living. One of the functions of school, particularly from the point of view of humanistic education, is to prepare people to live together.

Although principles of human relations can be taught didactically, the evidence is that such teaching is not very effective. There is no substitute for learning by experience. The basic encounter group is probably the most effective vehicle for the teaching and learning of interpersonal relations.

[In my book,] the objectives of such groups are considered, the group process is described, the functioning of the facilitator or leader is investigated, and some questions and problems considered.

Every student in our schools should be a participant in small encounter groups, throughout his entire school career. Such a continuing experience holds the greatest promise for changing our society from one that is characterized by lack of understanding and conflict, to one that is characterized by understanding and cooperation.

I listed the learnings that can take place in encounter groups. Actual experience in groups seems so clearly superior to any other method of learning that it is amazing that it hasn’t been widely used long before this. There is no substitute for learning human relations through interacting with others. Sitting in a classroom while actually being alone, not really knowing the other students, while listening to the teacher talk about “mental hygiene” or “human relations,” is not sufficient. Nor is being in a classroom and going through a series of games and exercises which, while involving some realistic interpersonal reactions, are not actually “for real.”

In the encounter group, students can learn, through experience, to:

• listen to others,

• accept and respect others

• understand others

• identify and become aware of feelings

• express one’s own feelings

• become aware of the feelings of others

• experience being listened to by others

• experience being accepted and respected by others

• experience being understood by others

• recognize the basic commonalities of human experience

• explore oneself

• develop greater awareness of onesel,

• be oneself, and

• change oneself in the direction of being more the self one wants to be.

There is an additional one: Students who are disturbed can be identified and provided with counseling or psychotherapy or other help.

— Dr. C.H. Patterson
Asheville

We’ve stopped raising our children

What is sad is that we are trying to blame what happened in Littleton, Colo., and the shooting here in Asheville on gun laws, the media, cliques in high school, the disenfranchised poor, and a myriad of other issues.

It is a fact that guns, the media, cliques in high school, and poor people with children have all been around since the beginning of this country. However, shootings in schools and on our streets by juveniles is a relatively recent phenomenon. Why is this happening?

Simply put, American families, regardless of race, are not raising their children anymore. The responsibility for raising decent, responsible, morally and ethically sound individuals belongs to the parents. It is not the school systems, the media, childcare workers or some other third party that we can try to pawn off this responsibility upon.

Parents, regardless of their situation, should consider raising their children as their number-one priority in life, but many don’t. Many parents are more concerned with their careers, making money, lifestyles, friends, houses, cars and, possibly, recovering from or continuing to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Today, there is a scarlet letter attached to a spouse (male or female) whose primary purpose in life is to raise their children. They are looked upon as being second-class citizens.

In my opinion, the only one who should be looking to the government for answers are the poor, single parents who, unfortunately, have children and need assistance so they can make raising their children their number-one priority. However, this [support], too, used to be a family function.

— Michael J. Antoniolli
Asheville

Leave the Internet alone

The North Carolina legislature has no business playing “Do-Gooder” with the Internet.

Jessie Ventura got elected governor of Minnesota with the help of the Internet.

The article in the Raleigh News & Observer [in early May] by Rob Christensen left a lot to be desired. I use the Internet frequently, and I have not encountered the problems he states he has [of receiving unsolicited pornographic e-mail]. Does he not have a delete key? …

It is the parents’ job to watch their kids when they get on-line … Adults do not need politicians to think for them and tell them how to use their computers.

If you regulate the Internet, I also expect you to keep “junk mail” out of my newspaper, magazines and mail. This is also unsolicited. The United States was founded upon the First Amendment. [And yet] the Post Office created a monopoly with their mail services and continues to spend millions of dollars advertising their monopoly.

You get the same junk-advertising on TV. Is Eric Reeves going to work on this? … What would Al Gore say about this — after all, he states he “founded the Internet”?

— Vernon Hill
Atlantic Beach

This naturalist voted no

Mr. [Brownie] Newman’s plea for the passage of the parks-and-greenways bond referendum [Letters, May 5] convinced me to vote a resounding NO.

As an amateur naturalist, member of the Audubon Society, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and a third-year feeder-watch participant, one would think that I would like nothing better than to see my high North Asheville property taxes go to improved outdoor spaces for all citizens to enjoy.

However, if one thinks at all, one would realize that parks and greenways are only contemporary forms of development and construction, cloaked in the illusion of environmental responsibility. What, if anything, is ecologically sound about the “creation” of more space for humans to monopolize?

“Vacant lots will be converted into soccer and baseball fields and playgrounds for our kids,” [Newman writes]. What about the native vegetation that might already thrive there? What about birds, toads and frogs?

Does not every city and county school have sports fields? Why do we need to mow, fertilize and denaturalize even more land, when we already have plenty of it appropriated for specific human uses? Perhaps if so much soccer and baseball needs to be played, then some golf courses could share some space and time to fill the need.

Maybe a good hike in any one of the beautiful areas around this town would make any parent or child think twice about a soccer game, when they can simply stroll through the woods and play “What’s that flower?” or “What’s that tree?” or “What’s that bird?” They are there in every variety, and they pay us back in awareness.

— Chris Holroyd
Asheville

Branyon is short on Kosovo facts

Bill Branyon should run for Congress. His recent letter [“If Kosovo Blows,” May 5] teemed with the sort of self-serving diatribe emanating from Capitol Hill of late and, likewise, was based in both general misinformation and an intransigent hatred of Bill Clinton. I write to illustrate Branyon’s shortcomings in the case of the former. In the case of the latter, there is not much I can say — except, that is, that I appreciate Bob Dole as an activist working out of the private sector.

Branyon’s opening remark as to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo possibly leading to much wider ramifications — albeit not a particularly novel or insightful statement — was the only substance to the entire letter. In only the letter’s second line, the author demonstrates his ignorance on Yugoslav and Balkan affairs and, later, does the same in regard to Russian affairs.

For one, Kosovo, while certainly being a part of the former Yugoslavia, has never been an independent country, as he seems to insinuate, and still is part of Serbia. In fact, the province did not even have constituent republic status throughout the history of Yugoslavia — and this includes the period after the liberalized 1974 constitution, which gave Kosovo its now infamous “autonomous republic” status.

Secondly, Yugoslavia was not a close ally of the Soviets. Josip Tito, the charismatic communist leader of Yugoslavia until 1980, broke with the Soviets soon after World War II, precisely because he refused their hegemonic intents on his country, as well as their version of “socialism.” Tito went on to play the Cold War cards he was dealt, perhaps better than any other world leader of his era. He skillfully played East against West for Yugoslavia’s best interests, consistently receiving substantial military, economic and social assistance from both spheres of influence. His crowning achievement — and, for the purposes of this correspondence, Branyon’s folly — was the establishment of the “NonAligned Movement,” i.e., the former Yugoslavia was not allied with either of the bipolar hegemons.

In terms of Russian involvement [in the NATO/Serbia conflict], certainly Russia is in decline since its Cold War hegemonic status. But how Branyon weaves [in the idea of] Russian “patriots” launching nuclear weapons belies his lack of familiarity with the Russian electoral system, not to mention a certain level of paranoia. Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky is able to gain representation as a result of a dual electoral process in Russia, part of which is based on proportional representation. The fact is, not very many people voted for Zhirinovsky. The Russian system allows a plethora of micro-parties, professing a variety of [beliefs], to gain Duma representation.

So, after having, hopefully, straightened out a few facts about the situation now before us in the Balkans, where does this leave us? Well, let us look at it from a different angle. The Albanians have inhabited Kosovo from a time predating Serb arrival during the Slavic migrations, and they persevered, despite Ottoman dominance, for 500 years. They clearly have certain rights to inhabit the province. How, then, would we react, after the fact if, Milosevic were to eject the entire Albanian population from Kosovo?

And finally, let us put the “Wag the Dog” theory to rest. When referenced against the facts, Clinton’s Kosovo policy is nothing but consistent. For all the president’s shortcomings, he is still a man passionately devoted to human rights for all. To argue against such an assertion is much like arguing that Yugoslavia was a staunch ally of the Soviets.

— Tim Hardin
Asheville

An intercession on Siegel’s behalf

I am writing in response to the letter from John Buckley [May 5]. As the author of two books (and someone who is tuned-in to writing styles), I felt the need to object to Mr. Buckley’s comments about Ashely Siegel’s movie reviews.

Film critics are, more often than not, a dry breed, so when I read his letter berating Ms. Siegel for digressing into a “dear diary” style of film review, I felt the need to intercede.

I find Ashely’s column to be delightful and informative. She somehow manages to approach each film from a fresh new angle, capturing the essence of each film as it strikes her. With her gift of clever penmanship, she writes both from a personal point of view and from a background in the film industry.

I honestly can’t collude with Mr. Buckley’s inability to find the review within her reviews. I find that her charismatic approach to film criticism brings innovation to a business that is, after all, about just that.

— Jan Kahn
Asheville

Parks referendum was about the future

I was shocked, angered and deeply saddened after reading about the defeat of the parks-and-recreation bond issue. This defeat speaks directly to the heart of our community and made me wonder what is happening to this wonderful town.

How could this community not see the importance of parks and green space for our city? How could so many citizens not bother to vote on an issue of such importance for the future of this city, and how could so many of us be this selfish and short-sighted by voting no?

This defeat was a slap to the face of our children. The bond referendum was not an issue just about today. Trees and parks and greenways are a continuing legacy that is passed on to all the future generations of this community.

I am fortunate to live in an old part of Asheville that has sidewalks, a park for the kids, and wonderful, large trees. The folks in the early part of this century that developed this area could have cut many corners and saved a pile of money by skipping these details. Because they chose not to, they have, instead, left a [wonderful] trust fund, which so many generations of this community have enjoyed. Let’s make Asheville a city we can be proud to give to our children. It’s their future, and it’s our turn.

— Frank Tuuri
Asheville

Violence is systemic, but individuals are violent

K.R Gentile’s letter [May 5] tries real hard, but ultimately fails to separate the “problems” of two troubled boys in Littleton from the world in which they immersed themselves — i.e., the music they listened to, the Internet sites they surfed, the violence they saw in the local movie theater, the guns they owned, and so on.

The outward symptoms of their inner malaise are, to Gentile’s mind, merely “excuses,” and [Gentile asserts that], by focusing any attention upon them at all, we are scapegoating. I wonder, though, if this is, in itself, an excuse for an unwillingness to look at the complete picture. Where do symptoms end and the real causes begin?

The media has powerful means at its disposal to portray reality. Through graphic portrayal, violence becomes a viable commodity, especially when it is shown as a way of saving ourselves from forces that we do not agree with. Continued exposure to portrayed violence can, by virtue of the sheer power of its expression, embed itself so deeply in impressionable minds that it becomes part of an unbreakable mindset. A simple video game, while not inviting a child to partake of “real” violence, does offer a constant killing spree of the mind. If a violent mindset is not directly caused by such factors, it is certainly reinforced and fed by them.

Gentile seems to be satisfied with the idea that an event such as Littleton needn’t have to have a reason behind it, and strongly implies that we shouldn’t bother looking for reasons and that we just deal with the problem itself. But how can we deal with a problem without taking the whole into consideration? Isn’t that like a doctor with an emphysema patient, who offers an ashtray with one hand while administering treatment with the other?

I agree with Gentile that, if we fail to notice the development of serious long-term problems in our youth, then we are failing not only them but ourselves. However, I cannot come to terms with this dissection of symptom from cause. Violence is systemic: It drains the heart, agitates the spleen and poisons the mind. Getting your vicarious dose at the movie theater, or wherever, may all appear harmless enough on the surface, but all of that information is being absorbed somewhere inside. If there is nothing within a person’s life to counter the incessant driving force of destructive thought, it will inevitably turn to destructive action. And when destructive action reaches critical mass, you have suicide, you have homicide, you have Littleton. The actions of these children were not born in a vacuum.

No, I don’t think we need to censor the movies, burn the books, ban the music, or shut down the Internet — but I do believe that we have to become more responsible for what we support. As long as we feed the Beast, it will thrive: Take away its meals (your money/your mind), and it will go away.

Because of our apathy, our fear of compassion, communication and commitment, our unwillingness to act creatively in the world — in other words, because of the closure of our hearts — we are all responsible for these slayings. But that responsibility extends to many dimensions of life, from the microcosm of familial dysfunctionality to the macroscosm of the media and world communications, and they cannot be separated from each other.

Everything has a reason behind it. If we ignore it, then we are consigning ourselves to blindness. In blindness, we will be forced to face the issue again and again. If we open our eyes, however, we may very well realize that we possess the power to recreate our world in the light.

— Jon DeMarco
Asheville

Firefighters protect diversity with diversity

In your article about Asheville’s civil-service law [“Council comes clean,” May 5], I saw a reference [describing] the Asheville Fire Department as “98 percent white male” [The remark was made by City Council member O.T. Tomes. — ed.]. Since I work with women firefighters, Hispanic firefighters and black firefighters (along with white-male firefighters), that number didn’t sound right to me, so I did some checking.

Right now, the Asheville Fire Department has at least 21 firefighters and fire officers who are black, Hispanic, female or American Indian. That adds up to about 12 percent of our firefighters.

I think Asheville firefighters agree that the city can do more and do better in recruiting and promoting a work force that reflects the community it protects. I know that Fire Chief John Rukavina agrees. But as a senior fire officer who’s worked on recruitment in the past, I know that we’ve done more than what “98 percent white male” implies.

— Ron King
Asheville

Let there be a new garden

After all the hoopla over last year’s article “The Garden of Badger”, by Lexie Ross [July 29], died down, I started a new garden here in Asheville.

I began the garden while waiting for my best friend and dog, Alfred, to die (which he did, the morning after Thanksgiving). I left Asheville shortly after he was gone.

I’ve come back to work on the project, which I’ve titled “Alfred’s Garden” (the garden on Riverside was actually titled “Re-arranging the furniture”).

I’ve been back about a month.

Alfred’s Garden is an attempt to re-create Reed Creek (nothing more, really, than an open sewer). I’ve started at the “headwaters,” where the creek leaves the storm sewer for the open air, two blocks north of the Interstate-240 overpass).

This project is a special challenge. All of my materials come out of the creek itself, which is prone to flash floods, raw sewage and other pollutants. The creek is dead. If I improve the land, maybe someone will improve the water.

Maybe I’ll just be arrested.

— The artist D. Sinn, a.k.a. Badger
Asheville

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