Baby Talk

The March cover story reported on research resulting from the global open-source database of children’s first words developed by Stanford psychologist Mike Frank, ’03.

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Cover image of STANFORD magazine, March 2020 issue

Look who’s on the cover of @stanfordmag! A nice write-up of @mcxfrank’s work on babies’ language acquisition!
Luke Stein, PhD ’13 

The article on language acquisition by children overlooked one of my most memorable Stanford professors, Ruth Hirsch Weir, whose 1962 book, Language in the Crib, was a notable contribution in this field. We arrived at Stanford simultaneously, I as a freshman, she as an assistant professor—in fact, my very first class there was probably hers as well. A brilliant, humane person, gone far too soon.

Michael Doudoroff, ’61, MA ’65, PhD ’69 
Lawrence, Kansas

Bugs in Your Ears

We received an unusually large number of comments about the March issue’s back-page essay by Elizabeth Wallace, ’18, on whether Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper is a commentary on the virtues of hard work or of interdependence.

I was quite taken by Elizabeth Wallace’s essay.

I had a very similar experience teaching middle school math to kids from East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park who attended St. Elizabeth Seton School. At that time, all my students were students of color.

It was impossible to use the word problems about fractions from the math textbook. Solving the problems always relied on equal divisions of pies, cakes, pencils, school supplies or pizzas (lots of pizza!). None of my students could understand the problems. They wanted to know who had or had not eaten that day, who might be coming home late from work, who already had a backpack, who had pencils saved from last year and so on. So we rewrote the problems together. They solved the problems, and I had a cross-cultural lesson in compassion and true fairness. It is critical to examine our cultural biases in teaching lest we leave students behind. 

Diane Guinta
Los Altos, California

I suspect you published “Grace for the Grasshopper” as insight into cross-culturalism. But as a former conservative who has morphed into a progressive liberal, I find it a powerful political message for our chaotic times. I wish it could be read by everyone who believes a progressive candidate would be a disaster in the coming election. I wish we could apply Blackstone’s Ratio (“better to let 10 guilty men go free to preserve the innocence of one”) to social issues: better to support 10 lazy rapscallions to help the one who truly needs it.
I believe strongly that there still is an American dream, that we still can be a commonwealth where we help others who are not as fortunate. I don’t understand how we became so selfish as to be surpassed in compassion by smaller countries like Indonesia.

Howard Baldwin, ’77
Lake Oswego, Oregon

The essay provides an interesting perspective on cultural differences. But it seems to miss the point. There’s a practical reason why many (most?) societies tend to value work over slacking: If everyone were like the grasshopper, all would starve together.

Wallace tells of diligent students who cheerfully share test answers with those who haven’t bothered to study. She concludes that this can be interpreted as an act of “lifting up the entire class.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who were given answers have learned nothing and their competence has not been increased. One hopes that this sort of thing doesn’t happen at, say, medical schools.

True community implies mutual effort, not a situation in which some people ride on the backs of others or follow their impulses. Perhaps the prevalence of casual, irresponsible attitudes toward work, study and obligations to other people described by Wallace is one of the reasons why so many Indonesians have to leave their homeland to find work (about 7 percent of the entire Indonesian labor force is employed overseas), and why Wallace was there teaching English, instead of being in an American classroom full of Americans learning Indonesian.

David Rearwin, PhD ’73
San Diego, California

Many, many thanks for your lovely story about the ant and the grasshopper. You undoubtedly wrote this before the coronavirus arrived, but it could not have been published at a more timely moment. As we think about how to respond to this global crisis, the importance of taking care of family, friends and neighbors looms large and we definitely need those grasshoppers along with the ants. 

Amy Davenport, ’69
Montpelier, Vermont

It Sparked Joy

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Cover image of STANFORD magazine, January 2008 issue

Why is my husband on the ground, hunched over, laughing uncontrollably with tears rolling down his face, one might wonder? Oh, because we are cleaning out the garage and he found THIS gem of a cover shot. Sexy look post–stealing second was all the rage in 2008. 
Jessica Mendoza, ’02, MA ’03 

Making Friends the Nerd Nation Way

In March, Mei-Lan Steimle, ’21, recounted the trials and tribulations of her scientific approach to befriending everyone she meets.

Loved the article “Buddy System.”

If she’d like an explanation, I know exactly what happened.

Nick Frost, ’88
Henderson, Nevada

Steimle’s essay shows her to be wise beyond her years. I especially admire her poetic wisdom concerning the potential value of reaching out to strangers:

“We are asteroids in a void, glancing off each other and spinning out into oblivion. . . . But a new friend is a new mind, a universe of perspectives. So why wouldn’t I make strides to get to know a stranger who’s been cast into my orbit? The risk is embarrassment, but the reward is an entire world.”

In these trying times, wouldn’t it be great if we could all gleefully reach out like that?

Eugene Tatum, ’78
Bowling Green, Kentucky

Tree Huggers

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Silhouette of Summer Batte dressed in a tree mascot costume.

So cool! I always wanted to be the Tree too, but lacked the building skills to do it! 
Lauri Godbold Halderman, ’88 


Ummm, what about the beer and donuts? 
Daniel Druker, ’88 


Daniel Druker, shhhhh. Top secret. And those were back in our day. Not allowed anymore.
Carole Sams Hoemeke, ’89, MA ’90


I think @dastanfordtree could definitely start a fitness-regimen business! Especially if it’s rounded out with donuts . . . 
Hilary Smith, ’90


I’m loving this new kind of reporting!
DeRonnie Pitts, ’00, MBA ’07


This was amazing! Please do more pieces like this.
Purvi Mody-Jain, MA ’99, MBA ’04

Photo: Erin Attkisson

Mind the Calendar

How to Quit Your Job” (March) provided advice from Stanford product design instructors Bill Burnett, ’79, MS ’82, and Dave Evans, ’75, MS ’76, co-authors of Designing Your Life and Designing Your Work Life.

Although I’m in that stage of life in which advice on how to quit my job is, thankfully, no longer needed, I thought the tips provided by Evans and Burnett were spot-on. With regard to their final point, “Exit Well,” I feel compelled to add a specific recommendation gleaned from personal experience: Don’t submit a letter of resignation on April 1!

Scott McCarty, ’76
Ventura, California