Enlightenment Fanboys

Re Katha Pollitt’s “Atheists Show Their Sexist Side” [Oct. 13]: the key to this important and insightful essay is found in her notation that “Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris talk as if their obnoxious fanboys were all that stood between the values of the Enlightenment and the barbarous darkness of feminist fascism.” Yes, precisely. Enlightenment values lifted only elite and upper-middle-class young males into the lofty realm of education that previously had been reserved for boys going into Christian priestly and clerical orders. Thus began a more secular education of elite males. But peasant and slave males and all females were not included in Enlightenment values, which kept the principle of hierarchy (divine order). Secular law as well as religious law and dogma declared that neither slaves nor females were fully human. One hopes feminism will destroy the ladder and/or pyramid of hierarchy, whether divinely or secularly ordered.
Patricia Lingenfelter Highby
Professor of religious studies, retired
edmond, okla.

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I am not surprised that Katha Pollitt has found Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to harbor sexist opinions. Tolerance is not these men’s long suit. I think you would find much more empathic feminism from progressive religious spokesmen like Rabbi Michael Lerner, Episcopal priest and ex-Dominican Matthew Fox, evangelical Jim Wallis and Franciscan Richard Rohr. These men’s compassionate view of God goes with the more nuanced faith they hold than that of Dawkins’s and Harris’s fundamentalist straw men.
Stephen Berk
astoria, ore.

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Cut Richard Dawkins some slack, Katha. Remember, God created man in His own image. If Dawkins is narrow-minded, misogynist and condescending, it’s only because he was “born that way,” as the great contemporary philosopher Lady Gaga might say. Though there is some crossover, most men were Created, and most women have evolved. The subtleties, insights and profundities conferred upon you through eons of gradual refinement (i.e., evolution) simply are not in Dawkins’s tool bag.
Margot Sims
kansas city, mo.


We Are Funding Football

The title of Dave Zirin’s “The NFL Fumbles” [Oct. 13] should be expanded to “Congress and the NFL Fumble.” The granting of 501(c)(6) tax-exempt status to the National Football League by Congress may be a motivating factor resulting in the NFL’s failure to adequately deal with domestic violence issues. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association apparently do not have tax-exempt status, but the NFL does. Taxpayers should not have to fund player, owner and NFL misconduct.
Edward L. Koven
highland park, ill.


“And Gladly Teche…”

Saving Public Schools,” The Nation’s October 13 special issue on the attack on public education, was excellent. Unmentioned, however, was the decades-long Republican/conservative push to divert public funds to faith-based and other special-interest private schools through vouchers and other gimmicks. In twenty-seven state referendums from Florida to Alaska and Massachusetts to California, millions of voters have rejected this push by an average 2-to-1 margin. And the annual Gallup/PDK education polls have reflected this strong voter support for public schools. The pseudo-reformers and “Rhee-formers” must be stopped or public education and democracy will die.
Edd Doerr
silver spring, md.

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School systems, like all community infrastructure, are a good illustration of getting what you pay for. Education on the cheap is no bargain.
John Ballard

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The use of the term “failing schools” has always been a giveaway to me. It implies that teachers and students aren’t trying. Therefore, we will bring elitism into the mix by way of charter schools. It’s just a way of cutting overall school funding: cynical, callous and underhanded. It’s the Reagan model.
Walter Pewen

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Venture capitalists and for-profit companies have their sights on the $800 billion annual expenditure on public education. Their goal is being aided by politicians of both political parties.

Encroachment on public education should concern private school advocates and those charter school advocates who are seriously committed to improving public schooling. Traditional quality private schools, even those that accept public tax vouchers, cannot compete with the Wall Street gang and other for-profit enterprises; neither can the few independently operated, nonprofit, high-performing charter schools.

Thomas M. Stephens
dublin, ohio

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I have taught in a large city and in a rural community. Common Core is simply awful. Think about the money wasted on test-making companies, and taxpayer dollars going to create state standards, only to have the standards thrown away in favor of Common Core.
Jg

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Your special issue aptly describes the erosion of public education, and Michelle Fine and Michael Fabricant’s article “Solidarity at Last” illuminates the role of Democrats in the process. I expect ALEC, the Koch brothers and Republican governors like Michigan’s Rick Snyder to advance a pro-business, anti-democratic agenda, but I’m disheartened when Democrats do the same.

The essence of Race to the Top (RTTT) was blatant anti-unionism and unfettered profitability for charters. For a state to receive federal funds, it had to enact legislation ensuring that poorly performing schools, as narrowly defined by standardized testing results, could discharge half of their staff and/or convert to a charter. The premise that the arbitrary dismissal of 50 percent of teachers would enhance a student’s education is so ludicrous that one can only view it as a frontal assault on the ability of unions to protect teachers.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan lauding the firing of the entire faculty of a high school in Rhode Island and praising California’s Vergara decision affirm the anti-unionism of the Democrats. RTTT also required yearly evaluation of teachers based on student test scores—another anti-union component of the legislation.

Public education has been crippled and will remain so until Democrats realize what Republicans know: you cannot have a public school system that serves democracy without strong unions.

Sidney Kardon
huntington woods, mich.