Letters to the editor

Mr. Good Enough

I encourage readers tempted to “settle” and “marry him” after reading Lori Gottlieb’s article (“Marry Him,” March Atlantic) to consider that your children will grow up, need you less as they get older and become more independent, and leave your house one day. As this process occurs, you and your spouse will be left with each other. Before you “settle,” ask yourself, Do I want to spend adult, one-on-one time with this person as the nest empties? Your answer should be a resounding Yes! In fact, not only should you want to spend more time with your spouse as the kids mature, you should look forward to that time.

McAlister Dowd
Lexington, Va.

Given a world where women have many choices about how to live their lives, why does Lori Gottlieb assume every woman shares her obsession with traditional marriage and family? I am single, very far past 30, and have no children. And while I’m old enough to have plenty of regrets, my lack of spouse and kids is not among them. I’m very happy about my single state.

I’d advise women in their 30s to think long and hard about whether they really want to raise children or are considering it only because of hoopla about biological clocks and articles like Gottlieb’s telling them that “all” women want marriage and family.

Nancy Jane Moore
Austin, Texas

I think the word settle is sticking in people’s craw. But Lori Gottlieb is absolutely right. I was 50 when I finally wised up. And the man I married had a lot of problems. But he was like the house we bought two and a half years ago—there was nothing wrong with him that couldn’t be fixed. And fix himself he did, mostly. Nine years down the road, he has turned out to be my dream man.

Name withheld
Los Angeles, Calif.

Even though I married a man I fell madly in love with, there is a degree to which I am settling for him now on a daily basis. That’s not to say I don’t love him dearly, but my love is not accompanied by the electricity and intoxicating rushes of lust I felt for him when we were first together.

Marriage is, as Lori Gottlieb says, a partnership for a mundane, not-for-profit business. Isn’t compromise what being faithful is about, anyway? And don’t husbands who are faithful essentially settle every day for their wives? We women like to imagine ourselves as goddesses who are worthy of a man’s total worship and devotion, and we are incensed when he fails to give us that. Unfortunately, we get bed hair, body odor, wrinkles, thickness in the middle, and bad attitudes. We would not easily excuse such things in men, yet we expect men to overlook them in us.

Laura Parkhurst
Franklin, Ind.

Lori Gottlieb replies:

The writer from Los Angeles is correct that the word settle might be tripping up some people. When I advised “settling,” I was suggesting that many young women have unrealistic expectations of what they “should be feeling” when they meet “The One” (butterflies in the belly! dazzling excitement!). Having been one of those women, I learned the hard way that the Achilles’ heels of romantic attraction (looks, charm, success, Hepburn-Tracy banter) aren’t what make for a good long-term marriage; more-mundane qualities like friendship and values, on the other hand, are. So I agree with Mc­Alister Dowd that we should marry someone with whom we look forward to sharing the empty nest, but we may not anticipate it with the same kind of romantic excitement we read about in novels or see at the movies. Personally, I’d happily “settle” for that.

Nancy Jane Moore is right in pointing out that not every woman wants a traditional family, and I should have qualified that in my piece. Given, however, that the vast majority of women do want this, I don’t believe the media is responsible for the pervasiveness of this very visceral desire. The biological clock isn’t “hoopla”; it’s medical fact. And the media is selling neither that biological urge nor the wish for marriage and family; it’s selling the idea that you need to feel some kind of divine spark in order to seek marriage and family. Which, paradoxically, results in fewer marriages and more single women.

Perhaps if the views of readers like Laura Parkhurst and the writer from Los Angeles were what young women heard more often, the word settle would have a more positive connotation (as in “settle down” in a contented way) than the one that has engendered such a heated response, in the blogosphere and elsewhere.

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.