The Conversation

Responses and reverberations


Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. For April’s cover story, Hanna Rosin explored the potential benefits and downsides of 21st-century playtime.

My concern isn’t the amount of screen time kids have, but the fact that this screen time takes away from creative play (that is, building with boxes and paper-towel rolls), during which the options are limitless and determined by the kid. Apps, by their nature, will have confined outcomes based on their design.

I would like to see research that compares what happens in kids’ brains when they are engaged in creative/tactile play versus screen play. My son’s first-grade teacher says kids have become much less creative in her 11 years of teaching. Fostering creativity in kids is necessary so they can become scientists and engineers in the future.

jemappel comment

I was expecting a scathing, haughty inventory of the touch-screen-technology wave, and I am thrilled that this was not the case.

For the past 10 years, I have worked as a co-teacher in an integrated preschool for children with autism, and I knew when I saw the first iPad commercial that the world had just changed for my students. Our preschool received a technology grant about 18 months ago, and we bought eight iPads to share. Our kids have limited access, but in their 10 to 20 minutes a day, I seen nonverbal children use their voice to get Talking Tom to respond to them, and I seen other children abandon behaviors like hand flapping so they can “interact” with a device. I’ve also realized that many of the children are thinking at much higher levels than I had previously suspected: I watch them “play” with apps that are almost cognitive, and they are answering questions correctly! They are sorting, counting, even reading, when my other approaches to these types of activities have fallen flat.

We need to help teachers know how to use this amazing tool and how to generalize the knowledge away from the iPad, and we must find a way to get more kids access to the technology. The hardest part about teaching can be finding something engaging, and if we have that format, let’s not exclude it as “bad” because it was not how we learned. Yes, I too throw my own kids outside and say things like “Go play in the creek.” But if kids are thinking while they stare down and touch their iPads, that’s a good thing.

Amy Keren
Mogadore, Ohio


For the April issue, William D. Cohan asked “What’s the Deal With Donald Trump?” and Ken Stern wondered “Why the Rich Don’t Give.”

Interesting article on Donald Trump, especially regarding his relationship with the truth. A reflection of this is his comment concerning his Citation X jet, which he claims is the “fastest private plane ever made,” as it does “Mach 9.3.” Computation of Mach is a complicated matter with a number of variables, but in simple terms, this would mean the plane could travel somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 miles an hour. Perhaps Trump could sell the secret of this achievement to the Department of Defense; it would love to have any plane with such speed.

Or maybe he’s using the same method that he calculates his fortune with.

Ken Gary
San Diego, Calif.

I am a professor of economics at Texas A&M University whose research often focuses on issues of charitable giving. While I am sympathetic to Ken Stern’s concerns about the causes to which wealthier individuals direct their voluntary contributions, his piece contains a number of inaccurate and misleading statements that are unfortunately common in this type of work. The crux of his argument relies on data showing that lower-income individuals give a larger proportion of their income than higher-income individuals. This statement may be true, but it does not follow from the data that Mr. Stern cites. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s data analysis is an excellent example of the dangers of statistical illiteracy.

First, these data drop tax-filing units with adjusted gross incomes of less than $50,000, a whopping 65 percent of tax returns. Thus, the study is limited to the top third of income earners, so referring to giving by the “poor” is highly misleading. Second, and more important, the IRS has giving data only for people who itemize their deductions. At the lower levels of the income range used by The Chronicle, only half of tax returns are itemized, whereas at higher levels, nearly all are. Almost by definition, itemizers at the lower levels will have higher levels of charitable giving—otherwise, they wouldn’t itemize. It is incorrect to conclude that individuals in these income brackets are more generous when one is using a select sample.

This problem extends to the conclusion that those who live in more economically diverse areas tend to give more. If housing prices are higher in areas with more concentrated wealth, as one would expect, then a larger proportion of individuals will itemize, leading to the same data-selection issue. Additionally, this contradicts recent research by Jim Andreoni, one of the leading researchers on altruism, who finds that giving is lower in more-diverse areas.

Mr. Stern has written a thought-provoking article. However, it seems that his desire to sell his central thesis has blinded him to the errors in the data on which he relies.

Jonathan Meer
College Station, Texas

The expression “out of sight, out of mind” is right-on when considering why the rich don’t give, but here’s another factor: the general lack of observable, measurable, and effective results produced or demonstrated by many nonprofit charitable organizations that provide services to the poor and dispossessed. If programs were more effective, money would stream in.

Richard L. Baron
Seattle, Wash.

Ken Stern replies:

With respect to Jonathan Meer’s letter, it is worth noting that he does not disagree with the central tenets of the article: that the rich give less and differently. The question of why that is the case is still a source of fair debate. Whatever the limitations of The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s methodology, the research that I am aware of suggests that geography and exposure to need do affect giving patterns. Meer cites James Andreoni on this point, but Andreoni also writes that giving begins “with a stimulus that elevates sympathy or empathy in the mind of the potential giver, much like the smell of freshly baked bread can pique appetite”—which supports the concept that interaction with need generates giving.

Richard Baron’s point ties in closely with the core argument of my recent book, With Charity for All, so all I can say is: amen, brother.

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