Comments: Week of February 15, 2010

1. In last week’s cover story (“The Junior Meritocracy,” February 8), Jennifer Senior turned a critical eye on the rigorous standardized testing (and sometimes test prep) New York City preschoolers endure to get into selective kindergartens—and whether those tests accurately reflect “giftedness.” Many readers applauded the article’s thorough interrogation of the questionable utility of testing children so young. “Everyone in early-childhood education knows the tests are wrong,” wrote Patti Hartigan in the True/Slant blog. “If we’re starting kids on the rat race, this race to nowhere, this young, what will they be like when they reach the inherently angst-ridden years of adolescence?” “I think parents need to stop worrying about getting their kids into schools for the ‘gifted,’ ” opined an commenter. “The truly ‘gifted’ kids will shine no matter where they are.” Others offered a dose of reality. “Schools have a limited number of slots, and some way has to be devised to send students where they will receive the education best suited for them,” argued one reader. “The truth is that not all teachers are equal and not all schools are equal.” Rena Subotnik, director of the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education at the American Psychological Association, wrote to take issue with the cover line (“The Myth of the Gifted Child”): “I found the article well researched and informative. The cover, however, feeds into the notion that gifted children don’t exist or are a myth.” Jan Drucker, professor of psychology at Sarah Lawrence, wished the piece had discussed whether gifted children should be sorted at all. “Fine discussion of the pitfalls of using one high-stakes test to make educational decisions. [Senior] tapped into some of the important research on the lack of predictability of early IQ testing and drew appropriate conclusions. However, the even larger and thornier question is separating out the more intelligent children, whether in elite independent schools or public-school gifted programs. There is much evidence to suggest that diversity of all kinds, including varieties of strengths, talents, and interests, enriches all members of a classroom. With very few exceptions, excellent classrooms meet everyone’s needs.”

2. Our examination of the city’s butch and bearded (“The Urban Woodsman,” February 8) prompted some high-spirited conversation between local lumberjacks and legitimate backcountry men. “I grew up in Maine with these kind of clothes forced on me. The thought of something I was always embarrassed about becoming trendy is hilarious,” crowed one commenter. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with men who live in NYC who wear good-quality warm clothes that fit well. The fact that these clothes originated with blue-collar backcountry woodsmen is irrelevant. Maybe a little insulting from a socioeconomic perspective, since it romanticizes the working class, but honestly, even that is pretty harmless,” said one defender of the look. Another woodsman took the long view: “I’ve been wearing this for years. I hunt in the fall, and I fish in the spring and summer. I buy my clothes for function, then fashion. Does this make me fashion-forward, since I’ve been wearing the ‘Americana Heritage’ thing for over 30 years? In six months, they’ll be wearing something else with some other ridiculous claim.” Our taxonomy of facial hair also sparked comments. “As a long-bearded fellow, I resent your subtle insinuation that bearded men are weak-chinned. Many of us have valiant (though hidden) lower faces,” wrote a reader. And on the Daily Dish blog, our piece prompted Andrew Sullivan to admit to touching up his chin whiskers: “I’m having a bit of a midlife crisis with [my beard]. I’m growing it some more, but there’s a big white patch right down the front and some white sideburns at the side. But I’m just not ready for the Santa look quite yet.

3. Werewolves or vampires? Commenters, prompted by last week’s “Intelligencer: Topic” (“Werewolves vs. Vampires!,” by Jeff VanDam, February 8) on the return of werewolves in popular culture, weighed in to discuss their favorite nightmare creatures. “Werewolves are so much more badass! Unless we’re talking Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), then it’s an even draw,” wrote one commenter. Several mentioned Catherine Deneuve’s bloodsucker in The Hunger: “No one epitomizes the statuesque elegance and indifference associated with vampires quite so well,” wrote one. “Edward from Twilight is a parking valet next to her. She’s so sophisticated and world-weary, so French,” sighed another.

4. Commenters praised Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite’s beef-jerky picks (“Tough Crowd,” February 8) and volunteered their favorite purveyors of dehydrated meat: “Elk Trails at the Union Square Greenmarket” … “Slant Shack jerky. I go through a party platter every week or so” … “Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s housemade beef jerky: spicy with a hint of nuttiness from the sesame seeds” … “New Beef King. Robert Yee has been making beef and pork jerky in his shop for over twenty years.”

5. Last Monday, just in time for the frenzy of awards season, our arts-and- entertainment microsite Vulture debuted a redesign and expanded its coverage of culture news and commentary. Vulture’s signature brand of interviews, analysis, and slideshows are now complemented by new features, videos, and industry reporting.

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Comments: Week of February 15, 2010