Letters from Our Readers

Letters: Cultural Clash

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Cultural clashes

As a member of the Indigenous Affairs Subcommittee of Pacific Yearly Meeting (of Quakers) and a former member of the Indian Affairs Committee of New York Yearly Meeting, I very much appreciated Matt Reynolds’ article on Indian boarding schools, “America’s Lost Children,” June-July, page 42.

Most of these schools were operated by religious denominations—including Quakers—and we Quakers are now learning about our part in this tragedy and seeking to determine how we can help repair the damage that was done in stripping children from their families and stripping them of their language, heritage and culture through these acts that echo down to our own generation.

As the article states, there was often physical abuse as well, and there were many deaths among the children in these schools. These policies of the Indian boarding schools over the course of a century and more have been forces destructive of the culture and community of many Indigenous tribes and nations across North America. Making people aware of this part of our history is an important step in building the awareness and understanding that is a first step toward creating right relationships between the Indigenous tribes and nations and those of us who are part of the larger non-Indigenous community. Thank you for helping broaden that knowledge and understanding.

Tom Rothschild
El Cerrito, California

Laptop thoughts

Do digital distractions justify law professors’ prohibitions on laptops?” ABAJournal.com, April 19, as suggested by Stephanie Francis Ward’s web article? Noted Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Patrick H. Winston was one of the prominent human cognition and artificial intelligence researchers in the U.S. He likewise banned the use of laptops in his lectures about optimum written and oral presentation. Winston noted that brain research indicated the human brain has a single language processing center, and that processing on laptops and other electronics directly interfered with absorbing the lecture content. It may be the law school faculty is a bit more up to date on education research than the grievant. A specific accommodation might be in order, though.

Joseph Kashi
Soldotna, Alaska

Elephant freedoms

Regarding the web story “Happy the Elephant isn’t a person entitled to freedom from detention, top state court rules,” ABAJournal.com, June 15, it’s puzzling that the New York Court of Appeals failed to recognize Happy the Elephant for the person she is since in a separate case, New York’s Fourth Judicial Department wrote that “it is common knowledge that personhood can and sometimes does attach to nonhuman entities like corporations or animals.”

There is growing agreement among lawyers and laymen that our legal system must recognize appropriate rights for animals based on the self-evident truth that they are thinking, sentient beings deserving of respect, consideration and legal protections for their own sake—not in relation to how they can be exploited by humans. We now understand that animals aren’t “things” to dominate but rather breathing, feeling beings with families, dialects, interests, intellects and emotions. They love, share joys and sorrows and want to live their lives unimpeded, just as humans do.

Society’s fundamental understanding of identity is evolving at a rapid pace. Some states now offer gender-neutral driver’s licenses. A captive orangutan named Sandra was given legal personhood by an Argentine court. A Loyola Marymount University ethicist said that dolphins “qualify for moral understanding as individuals.” Even rivers in Canada, India and elsewhere have been recognized as “legal persons.” It’s only our entrenched ignorance and hubris that has led us to deny other-than-human-animals their innate right to equal standing.

Jeffrey S. Kerr
Chief Legal Officer
PETA Foundation