Johns Hopkins Magazine -- February 2001
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Former enemies reunite in Vietnam
The "minstrel show" promulgated
An expanded presence in China

Former enemies reunite in Vietnam

More than three decades after Pete Petersen spent 210 days mired in constant fighting in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, the Hopkins management professor made a return visit--and sat down for dinner and a friendly beer with the commander of the enemy battalion he faced in the '60s.

"I had absolutely no animosity toward him and he had no animosity for me. We shook hands and hugged, which was kind of awkward for a guy like me--who's 6 feet, 4 inches--and a short fellow," says Petersen, who spent 26 years in the military before retiring as a colonel in 1979 and joining the Hopkins faculty. He now teaches in the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education. With the help of an interpreter, the two men revisited the harrowing months of fighting that took place during 1968-69 in the province of Kien Hoa, now known as Ben Tre. Petersen had commanded the 814-man U.S. 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, while his counterpart, Major General Nguyen Huu Vi, had commanded the 516th Viet Cong Battalion.

Petersen (l) and Nguyen HuuVi meet again.
Photo by John Petersen '81
"We talked of engagements and situations when he had great success and when we had great success," Petersen recalls. "We saturated those areas and they had tremendous casualties that we never knew about. I probed him about his tactics.

"On a number of occasions, he'd say, 'I don't know if you're aware of the damage you did to us at various times.' I'd ask, 'How did you slip through?' In many cases they didn't. They stayed. They just kept quiet. They wouldn't fire back. We thought no one was there. But they were. And then when we'd get in helicopters to be extracted, they'd open fire on us.

"It was tremendous carnage--awful on both sides," says Petersen. "During those 210 days, I had 16 company commanders for four rifle companies, not because any were relieved, but because they either were killed or seriously wounded."

The morning after their dinner meeting, General Vi took Petersen to see a local military museum that featured equipment that had been captured from American troops: rifles, pistols, holsters, radios, belts, cantines, ammo pouches. "It was from us! From our unit," says Petersen.

Given the anti-war sentiment that persisted for so many years in the U.S., Petersen has only recently felt comfortable talking about his extraordinarily distinguished military career: two tours of duty in Vietnam, 80 parachute jumps (15 in Vietnam as a captain in a Green Beret unit), and awards and decorations that include two Silver Stars, four Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Bronze Star for Valor. --Neil A. Grauer '69

The "minstrel show" promulgated

My, how far we haven't come. Though the days of actors in blackface may be long gone, the minstrel show lives on in American entertainment, according to Spike Lee. The acclaimed film director (Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Summer of Sam), who is unrelenting in his treatment of race issues, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in Homewood's Shriver Hall in November as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium: "Unfinished Business: Addressing Race, Class, and Gender at the Turn of the Millennium."

Lee said that both blacks and whites promulgate the "minstrel show" in which blacks are degraded. Lee took as a current example The Legend of Bagger Vance, a movie in which Will Smith (whom Lee admits he does like as a person) plays a mysterious black visitor to 1930s Georgia, a racially tense time and place, to say the very least. Lee said, "You come from a higher place, you come down to Earth with all this injustice and you try to teach Matt Damon a golf swing? It's the same happy slave." -- By Barbara J. Kiviat '01

An expanded presence in China

With interest in China's role in world affairs ever growing, Hopkins has launched an Institute for International Research in Nanjing to draw researchers from across the university and the nation to study political, social, and economic changes in China.

The institute, part of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, provides a research base for faculty within China, a rare commodity in the state-controlled higher education system. "Initially, the focus will be on social sciences," says Paula Burger, Hopkins vice provost for academic affairs and international programs. "But we will also have research opportunities to look at questions of environmental policy and other issues."

Photo by Brian Simpson
The Hopkins-Nanjing Center, which is run by Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in cooperation with Nanjing University, was founded more than a decade ago to foster relations and educational exchange between Chinese and Western students.

To celebrate the opening of the research institute at Hopkins's graduate certificate program in Nanjing, President William Brody in late October paid a visit to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. He was joined by SAIS Dean Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher, and other guests, including leaders of corporations that donate to the center and The New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, who led a discussion on globalization.

Also on their travel itinerary: a rural educational tour of the Guizhou Province, including a village elementary school; the Huangguoshu waterfalls (the largest in China); the Guiyang Tourism School, a public-private vocational school that trains young people for tourism jobs; a mountain golf course and the Maotai distillery; and various Long March sites, including the home where Mao Zedong slept as Nationalist war planes dropped bombs. --Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson


Hopkins sociology professors Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle have conducted one of the longest-running sociological surveys in the country--the Beginning School Study. Starting in 1982, they interviewed 800 Baltimore area first-graders about their academic experiences at school and at home. Nearly 18 years later, they were able to get back in touch with 80 percent of those students. Now in the midst of analyzing data, they expect to release research results in the next year or so. They hope to do a final interview cycle when the group turns 30. Over the years, they have reported various findings. Among the most prominent: disadvantaged students are more likely to lose academic ground, especially in reading, over the summer months when compared to upper-income students. We spoke with Alexander one morning about the issue of social promotion and summer school as possible solutions to the summer achievement gap and high school dropout rates.

Is there any merit to holding a child back to repeat a grade?

Alexander: The social science literature has created a dismal picture of grade retention: repeating a year has been seen as strongly stigmatizing, and students have identified with failure. But we saw very little evidence of this when we looked at first grade through middle school. In general, our kids were doing better academically after they were held back than they were before. They got a boost in performance and in terms of attitude toward self and school.

But students who repeated a grade in our study still seem to be at a higher risk of dropping out of school. They seem to be so far behind that the bounce they get that year doesn't fix the problem. But neither does social promotion--if they are not performing up to grade level one year, there is little cause to think they will move on to the next grade and perform up to grade. We need to look at another way to deal with the issue. Neither social promotion nor repeating a grade is a very effective intervention to help struggling children.

What alternatives would you suggest?

One of the obvious things to do is to keep them from falling behind. Serious problems begin as early as the first grade. Clearly for these kids the preparation for school is not serving them well. Students in low-income households in high-poverty areas are not getting the kind of stimulation and richness of education in their lives outside of school. Pre-school programs can prepare readiness. And full-day kindergarten programs help.Those kinds of supplemental experiences need to be required on an ongoing basis.

What about summer school as an alternative?

It's better to do summer school ahead of time. A lot of large city school systems institute mandatory summer school for children who fall behind; Chicago has done that, but it's done by the third grade and by the third grade their fate is sealed, practically. [We need] to find ways of making summer school not punitive, so that students see the value of what they are doing and want to participate. It needs to be a rigorous academic program that emphasizes reading, and has students go to the library, to museums, and do organized sports that have entertainment value. We think the best way is to try to make summer school fun. --Interview by Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson