Letters

Summer 2004
Unveiled Hostility

To the editor:
"When Islam Breaks Down" [Spring 2004] by outspoken Islamophobe Theodore Dalrymple is inflammatory, hate-filled, and blatantly false propaganda. His aim is to demonize Islam and encourage further attacks, hate speech, and discrimination toward us.

His descriptions of Muslims are laughable in their inaccuracy and presumption. We are not slaves or concubines to Muslim men; they are our husbands, fathers, and brothers, and we demand—as does Islam—their protection and love. He assumes that, if “social pressure” is lifted, Muslim women would abandon the veil. I wear a hijab by choice, as do most of my fellow professional Muslim female acquaintances; we have encountered no pressure, and happily adhere to a religious obligation. This is what Dr. Dalrymple fears: our pride and joy in our faith and its practice.

If we Muslims are such a problem and Islam is so undesirable, why is it the fastest-growing faith in Britain and the world? Why do we boast so many converts? If Islam impedes us so, why are we becoming more and more politically aware and socially active? The death rattle that Dalrymple hears is only his warped and evil imagination. Will he next advocate the mass extermination of Muslims from Britain and Europe? Even then, there would still be more than a billion of us.

Rebecca Q.
Via e-mail

To the editor:
Theodore Dalrymple has said it all, and no doubt he will be reviled by many a holy warrior, as well as by the multiculturalists and the sanctimonious race-relations brigade. No matter. It needed saying, and it needs repeating over and over again if we are to triumph over obscurantism and find our way back to reason and civilization.

As an Iranian, as a non-believing Muslim, and as a human being, I thank you.

Mehran Sharmini
London, England

To the editor:
Theodore Dalrymple’s excellent article connects directly with my own experiences as an atheist from a Muslim background. The rigid mindset and hatred of dissent that he describes in Islam are all too evident to people like me—and there are many of us, so-called murtadds (apostates)—who find ourselves the targets of hatred in our own communities and even our own families. Thank you, Dr. Dalrymple, for writing such an important, insightful piece. Only by more people like you speaking out will life become easier for people like me.

Natassia Khan
Via e-mail

Theodore Dalrymple responds:
Rebecca Q.’s letter rather bears out what I wrote. She regards rational criticism as being a prelude to genocide and vituperation as an argument.

I am extremely flattered by the other two letters. They reassure me that my imagination is not “warped and evil.”

So Predictable

To the editor:
I can only assume that Kay S. Hymowitz is psychic. Her forecast of Fahrenheit 9/11 was dead-on [“Michael Moore, Humbug,” Summer 2003]. Or is it that Moore is so predictable?

“Moore will insinuate that the United States created Usama—‘or USA-ma, which is more appropriate considering we trained him to be a terrorist.’ He will tell us that in the late nineties the oil firm Unocal held a meeting with Taliban representatives in Houston, ‘when Bush was governor,’ to talk about building a pipeline through Afghanistan. He will imply that this project was the reason the U.S. gave humanitarian aid to the Taliban, until ‘the deal went south,’ and ‘suddenly the Taliban were evil.’ And thus, Michael Moore will finally reveal the awful truth that only he is courageous enough to admit about why the United States really went to war with the Taliban.

“And you can be sure that the trendy sophisticates in Cannes and Hollywood will once again rise to their feet to honor their mendacious auteur.”

Honestly, I wish I could take this latest polemic in stride. But I found myself near tears as I thought about the hatefulness that people like Moore, Ted Rall, and Ramsey Clark generate—consistently assuming the worst motives from our leaders. It hurts to know that Moore is deceiving so many. The challenge to un-brainwash these lost souls is Herculean.

Brian Couch
Via e-mail

Rebell with a Cause

To the editor:
Sol Stern’s “New York’s Fiscal Equity Follies” [Spring 2004] crosses the line of responsible journalism.

The article demeans Justice DeGrasse, the trial court judge in CFE v. State, with insults about a “lack of evenhandedness” and “contorted logic,” and outrageously suggests that DeGrasse received his job simply to “maintain existing ‘racial balance’ on the court.” If Justice DeGrasse’s ruling was part of some racial or partisan charade, as Stern implies, why was his decision affirmed by the Court of Appeals, the majority of whom are white appointees of the state’s Republican governor? And why is CFE’s dedicated co-founder Robert Jackson painted as “a black . . . radical,” when his ideas about providing educational opportunity for all have been supported by thousands of New Yorkers? In fact, why is Robert Jackson’s race mentioned at all?

The article depicts the CFE decision as only calling for “more money” for public schools “without changing where the money goes.” In fact, the court required the state not only to determine the costs of providing all students a sound basic education, but also to guarantee a system of accountability to ensure effective use of the money. CFE has always insisted that money alone won’t solve New York’s broken school-funding system. So we worked for six months with an accountability task force composed of representatives of major statewide organizations and national experts from across the political spectrum to produce a comprehensive accountability proposal.

We are fast approaching the court-ordered July 30 deadline. We need substantive discussion of how to reform our damaged school system, not inflammatory attacks on the courts and the representatives of thousands of poor New York schoolchildren.

Michael A. Rebell
Executive Director and Counsel
Campaign for Fiscal Equity

To the editor: “New York’s Fiscal Equity Follies” is mistaken about the evidence on class size on several counts.

First, no evidence exists that a magic threshold of students per class must be reached before class-size reduction effectively raises achievement. Princeton’s Alan Krueger found that with class sizes of 22–25 (in Tennessee’s STAR program), students did better the smaller the class. Both Krueger and Charles Achilles—another leading class-size researcher—maintain that the relationship between lower class size and higher achievement is linear.

Second, no evidence exists that the benefits of California’s class-size reduction were negated by lower teacher quality. Every single one of the eight controlled studies of California’s program has found that reducing class size to 20 led to significant gains in student achievement—with the largest gains in urban districts. Though initially the percentage of uncertified teachers grew, the program also led to lower rates of teacher turnover; in poor districts particularly, fewer teachers left to teach elsewhere.

Finally, plentiful evidence now exists that smaller classes are important in the middle and upper grades as well. The U.S. Department of Education recently examined student performance on the NAEP exams in 2,561 schools across the nation. Data came from at least 50 schools in each state—large and small, urban and rural, affluent and poor. Controlling for student background, the only factor found to correlate with higher student success was class size—not school size; not teacher qualifications; no other variable the researchers could identify. And achievement gains were more strongly linked to smaller classes in the upper grades.

Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters

Sol Stern responds:
My article on the CFE case criticized Michael Rebell on several counts for undermining the prospects for reform of Gotham’s dysfunctional school system. Mr. Rebell offers no defense of his actions in this case or in his previous role as plaintiffs’ lawyer in the notoriously destructive Jose P. suit; instead he plays the race card. To employ this despicable tactic, Rebell must deliberately distort what I wrote. Rebell says that I “outrageously suggest that [Judge] DeGrasse received his job simply to ‘maintain existing “racial balance” on the court.’ ” This supposedly “outrageous” charge is a direct quote from New York County Democratic Party leader Herman “Denny” Farrell, who proudly announced that “maintaining racial balance” on the court was his aim in ramming the nominations of Judge DeGrasse and DeGrasse’s wife through the county nominating convention. If Rebell is offended by the notion of racial quotas on the New York bench, he ought to take it up with Mr. Farrell, not with me.

Mr. Rebell then uses ellipses creatively to accuse me of “painting” CFE’s co-founder, Robert Jackson, as “a black . . . radical.” Nice try, Mr. Rebell. I described Jackson as a “black trade-union official” and only in a subsequent phrase as one of the City Council’s “most radical members.” Not even in the most fevered precincts of the diversity police would anyone consider that referring to someone as a “black trade-union official” was racially insensitive. Nor could anyone familiar with the City Council deny that Bob Jackson is on the far left of that body. And Mr. Rebell has the chutzpah to say that I “cross the line of responsible journalism”?

Leonie Haimson is correct that studies by Krueger and Achilles (and others as well) have found correlations between class-size reduction and improved student achievement. Problem is, Eric Hanushek—one of the country’s top education economists—has found through a meta-analysis of 277 existing class-size studies that those finding a positive correlation between smaller class size and improved achievement are far outnumbered by those finding no positive correlation, or a negative one.

Ms. Haimson is dead wrong on California’s class-size experiment. A study carried out by a research consortium at the behest of that state’s education department found that the effects of the class-size initiative in various districts were either minimal or nonexistent, but the need for hiring many more teachers lowered overall teacher quality.

The problem with class size–reduction advocates—even when they appear to have in hand studies indicating academic improvement, such as the Tennessee STAR experiment—is that they never compare the financial costs of using this remedy across the board with other potential reforms, such as vouchers, longer school days, and extra tutoring. Imagine yourself as the principal of a school in need of improvement. Would you really want to be ordered by the state to reduce the number of students in every class, be forced to hire more teachers of uncertain quality, and scramble for more classroom space? Or would you prefer the flexibility to use the money to suit the particular needs of your school?

National Self-Interest

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald’s “What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us” [Spring 2004] was excellent. I’m a libertarian at heart (and in print), but I just don’t know how other libertarians can deny the obvious trajectory of entrepreneurial terrorism and the rapidly evolving (and accessible) technologies of mass terror. I suggest that we look ten years into the future and visualize the mushroom cloud rising over Washington (or Manhattan or San Francisco or London)—and start imagining what we could have done now to prevent it.

Britton Manasco
Austin, TX

Memory Avenue

To the editor:
Stefan Kanfer’s wonderful “The Yiddish Theater’s Triumph” [Spring 2004] evokes so many memories. I lived on the Lower East Side for most of my young life, and at 92 Second Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth Streets, for many years. As we know from historical documents, that was once a famous house of prostitution, where the kurves, or prostitutes, lived (which is why the Jewish mothers wouldn’t let their sons go driving out in the country, because there were signs that said “curves ahead”).

Second Avenue was a street lined with theaters and restaurants. There was the famous Moskowitz and Lupowitz—and its competitors, the Original Moskowitz and Lupowitz, the True Moskowitz and Lupowitz, and the Real Moskowitz and Lupowitz—as well as the famous Café Royale, opposite Maurice Schwartz’s art theater on 12th Street and Second Avenue, all of which led to Second Avenue’s designation as “The Great Bite Way.”

My widowed mother would take me to the theater once or twice a week; after all, you could not leave a child alone at night. Her favorite (whom Kanfer does not name) was tragedienne Jennie Goldstein, who would sing such lachrymose songs as “Ich bin a momma, ah vie ist mein kind?” prompting my mother, and the entire audience, to cry. (Es gisst wasser, we would say.) But there were also the great quality dramas, such as Sholem Asch’s Die Gut von Nkumeh (The God of Vengeance) about a brothel keeper whose daughter, in the end, becomes a nefke (a prostitute) in the brothel; and Maurice Schwartz’s Yoshe Kalb, by Israel Joshua Singer, the elder and then-more-famous brother of Isaac Bashevis Singer.

But the great triumph was this marquee sign: THE YIDDISH KING LEAR, UBERGEZETZ UND VARBESSERVIT VON BORIS THOMA-SHEFSKY [The Yiddish King Lear, translated and improved by Boris Thomashefsky] (the grandfather, it may be noted, of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas).

Daniel Bell
Cambridge, MA

Dawn of the Dad

To the editor: Thanks to Kay S. Hymowitz for a fact-filled and encouraging article [“It’s Morning After in America,” Spring 2004].

Even a guy born on the tail end of the boomer generation can relate to this ache for “real family.” I’m the eldest of five kids. Our folks are divorced, and four out of five of us have divorced in-laws. (Try to explain to a kid why their grandparents won’t speak to each other.) We talk often about re-establishing our family in our generation, and we are committed to supporting one another and our kids to get through tough times. Church is more important to us than for our folks. All my siblings are making a difference in other people’s lives, not sitting around myopically probing their own belly buttons, pondering where their self-esteem has gone.

Perhaps Manhattan and Hollywood will catch up with us, but it’s not likely—and, really, who cares?

Donald Bosch
San Diego, CA

To the editor: Kay S. Hymowitz offers an extremely interesting analysis of current cultural trends among families and children. It’s hard not to be captured by the optimism that it suggests we should have for the future.

But I must note that whatever it was that happened to parents in the last few generations, children have never forgotten that parental involvement in their lives is important (probably because they’re hardwired to know); and so when we hear adolescents saying that they love their parents’ engagement in their lives, it is often a plea for attention rather than appreciation for attention given. We’ve raised children in the past few decades as “a tribe apart” from the rest of society, and this tribe yearns for reinclusion. We may be moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.

Doriane Lambelet Coleman
Duke Law School