Letters to the editor

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Competing for Believers

Eliza Griswold provides a telling glimpse of how societies manipulate religious faith to suit their own worldly preferences (“God’s Country,” March Atlantic). No one should be shocked at how Nigerian religious leaders justify violence against each other; any honest reading of the Bible or Koran will reveal innumerable calls for violence against nonbelievers. Similarly, we in the West have, for centuries, lengthened the list of explicit biblical injunctions we choose to ignore to suit our modern worldviews.

Unfortunately, history teaches us that gods do not save people—people do. The grim conflict in Nigeria is really fueled by poverty, disease, and its people’s abandonment by a failed and corrupt oil-rich government; these ailments will be solved first and foremost by political revolution, not through prayer.

J. Blair Reeves Jr.
Chapel Hill, N.C.

On anti-semitism

Christopher Hitchens is quibbling to no good effect in asserting (“The 2,000-Year-Old Panic,” March Atlantic) that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion should be called a “fabrication” (“based on medieval Christian fantasies about Judaism”) rather than a “forgery” because a forgery is a “counterfeit of a true bill.” The Oxford English Dictionary gives several meanings of forgery, one of which is “invention … fictitious invention, fiction,” and defines fabrication as “an invention … a forgery,” so the words can be used interchangeably. But to suppose that the Protocols were invented based on medieval fantasies is to give the Okhrana undeserved credit for both originality and historical research. Passages in the Protocols were plagiarized word for word from a political satire published in Geneva in 1864 imagining a dialogue in hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, with probable additional borrowings from a novel published a few years later describing a meeting of a rabbinical cabal plotting to conquer the world by trickery. When Czar Nicholas II, a notorious anti-Semite, was informed that the pamphlet was a tendentious concoction, he is reported to have ordered copies confiscated because “a good cause cannot be defended by dirty means.”

Sanford Lakoff
San Diego, Calif.

The reproduction of a front page of Der Stürmer accompanying Christopher Hitchens’s review was identified as having been published in 1933. The first sentence of the front-page article in Der Stürmer, however, states that “in March of this year the Führer, in a matter of hours, created the Greater German Reich” when he annexed Austria. That event took place in March 1938.

Harry Piotrowski
Crofton, Md.

Choosing Public Schools

Sandra Tsing Loh, in her review of Jonathan Kozol’s Letters to a Young Teacher (“Tales Out of School,” March Atlantic), asks how many children of Harper’s Magazine staffers attend elite private schools.

The only editor at Harper’s Magazine with school-age children is the chief editor, Roger D. Hodge. Hodge, who edits Mr. Kozol’s work at the magazine, has two sons who attend public school in Brooklyn.

Giulia Melucci
Vice President, Public Relations
Harper’s Magazine
New York, N.Y.

Sandra Tsing Loh replies:

I think that’s wonderful! What a great example for all journalists.

In Defense of School Boards

Matt Miller’s article (“First, Kill All the School Boards,” January/February Atlantic) is a one-sided account of the state of American education. Education reform is alive and well, led by dedicated school boards whose main focus is increasing student achievement.

Public opinion suggests that Americans are not only satisfied with, but connected to, their local schools. When they want change in their schools, do they go to Washington? No. They take their concerns to their local school-board meeting—to the representatives elected by the community, in the community.

The “powerful school-board associations” that Miller cites do not exist to be a burr under the saddle of public officials. For the most part, school-board members are determined and enthusiastic about improving their skills. In fact, the National School Boards Association offers training and professional-develop­ment opportunities to attract and empower school-board members to do their jobs better and to ensure their work remains relevant and meaningful.

Miller also asserts that No Child Left Behind is responsible for the creation of state standards. It is not. State standards were created long before NCLB, and the great majority of those standards clearly outline what students need to know in the major K–12 subject areas. Teaching to those standards, rather than focusing solely on reading and math (the focus of and cause for school sanctions under NCLB) is what drives real reform.

Norm Wooten
President, NSBA
Kodiak, Alaska

Regarding Matt Miller’s article: in 1843, Prussia had a king but no kaiser; a German empire came to be only in 1871.

Dainis Bisenieks
Philadelphia, Pa.

Matt Miller replies:

I appreciate Norm Wooten’s perspective and respect the understandable instinct of school boards to defend their role. I would note, however, that in the 25 years since the publication of A Nation at Risk, local school boards have basically been in charge, yet today, America outspends nearly every advanced nation on schooling while scoring in the middle to the bottom of relevant international comparisons. Also, Wooten is silent on the two main substantive issues that I argued needed a greater federal role: remedying America’s drastic inequities in school finance and ensuring that all students are educated to a common American standard, not to standards that vary wildly according to where a child happens to have been born. Finally, I did not assert that No Child Left Behind was responsible for creating state standards, only that it imposed new requirements on states in this regard.

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