MY COLUMN last week about Oprah Winfrey's new school in South Africa and the uproar over comments she made regarding the values of inner-city kids sparked reader responses. Here's a sampling:
Oprah herself is partly responsible for the materialistic nature of our country. After all, doesn't she have her "favorites"? The $50 brownies, the car giveaways, the five or six mansions? . . . She contradicts herself on a daily basis. On one show, she is berating her viewing audience for their spending habits and soon after, she is advocating the spending of hundreds or thousands of dollars on her favorite things. I think Oprah is guilty of adding to the problem.
Kathy Reidy, Newtown
How about the millions in scholarships she gives to children here? She starts with children in grade school. The children are of all races and ethnicities. It is a special program through the Angel Network that works with another organization to take children out of bad areas and places them in boarding schools and other private schools. Additionally, she frequently gives to a worthy student or aspiring student here when she hears about a deserving one. How about Katrina when Oprah took supplies in, built new homes on Angel Lane and got others to do so when the government totally failed? Oprah has tons of money. She works hard. She should do whatever she wants with HER money. The schools in Africa are a great thing and just one other way she is using HER hard earned money for good.
Janis M. Rothermel, Longport, N.J.
I have heard so many negative comments about why Oprah chose to build a school in Africa vs. the United States. Most people feel that charity should begin at home. People need to realize that these young girls in Africa have not had the same opportunities that the kids in the U.S. have had. I applaud Oprah for her efforts and dedication to helping these young women secure a better future through education. I am a product of both the parochial and public school systems in Philadelphia and I went on to be a college graduate. I strongly believe that the root of what is going on with our youth today starts at home. While her statements may have been ill-placed, I agree with them. I am a social worker and most of the kids I work with are not concerned about education but they know all the words to every song on the radio. If the same enthusiasm given to purchasing materialistic things in our culture was given to education we might get somewhere.
Inner-city kids are no less or more materialistic than anyone else in this country. If when I was in grade school (from 1967 until 1974) anyone had asked me what my priorities were, I'm certain my answer wouldn't have been education! Fortunately, education was a priority for my parents - but I couldn't care less at that time of life, and I assure you that attitude didn't hurt me one bit in the overall context of my life. I tutor kids and they certainly like their "stuff," but you know, so do I! I love my iPod and numerous other gadgets and I talk about them all the time with the kids and we compare notes. But when it's time to read and write, the iPods are put away. It's just me, them and their books. The kids with all the "stuff" try just as hard as the kids without it. They all deserve a better conversation about their education than the one we're having.
One final thought. Oprah does so much good in the world that she really should get a free pass on this one. But off the record, she shouldn't be criticizing inner- city kids. We have to stop making them scapegoats. If attending a good school was the right of only non-materialistic children, no child in America would be in school. All children deserve the kind of school Oprah built in South Africa. Education is the birthright of every American child. *
Carol L. Vassallo, Center City
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