A Region Long Defined by Its History

'The End of the South': Readers reacted strongly to Christopher Dickey's claim that Confederate influences in Southern politics are coming to an end. One said, "Dickey has insightfully led us through the modern journey of the South." Others found the report to be "at best naive," and countered with "racism is still rampant in America." However, a large number bristled and insisted that the South is no more racist than any other region in the United States. "What 'old Confederacy'?" one asked. "This is 2008, not 1860."

On 'Jerusalem Up Against the Wall': "The Israelis deserve to be accorded the same human-interest coverage as Palestinians; they, too, are mothers, fathers and children, and have suffered through decades of Arab aggression."
Heshy Riesel
North Miami Beach, Fla.

Deconstructing Dixie
I grew up in the '60s and '70s in rural Georgia and found myself both cringing and cheering as I read Christopher Dickey's "Southern Discomfort" (Aug. 11). The South is no doubt confounding and alluring. I have spent a great deal of my 50 years trying to make sense of a childhood riddled with images of poverty and degradation, heroism and faith, great irony and a painful sentimentality. Dickey did a masterful job capturing my home and its peculiar brand of American politics.
Julie Murphy
McLean, Va.

Maybe as a lifelong northerner I just don't get it, but why in 2008 are we even talking about "the old Confederacy"? It is astounding that a lost cause, defeated and discredited more than a century ago, can hold any currency at all in today's South. As a cause doomed from the start by its moral, political and economic bankruptcy, I would think that Southerners would rather forget that it ever existed. Christopher Dickey states that "There is a sense that a world is ending, maybe not this year but inevitably." It should have ended 100 years ago.
Peter Stern
Oak Park, Ill.

I am a conservative, white male from the Bible belt who is supremely proud of my numerous Confederate ancestors. "Southern Discomfort" accurately indicates that classifying Southerners as either Obama or McCain supporters is difficult. I have no doubt that the vast majority of white Southerners are willing to vote for a black candidate if that candidate accurately reflects their values. I refuse to vote for Obama because of his ultraliberal politics, not because of the pigment of his skin. And while I don't believe he is a Muslim, I do question his choice of a Christian church that reeks of anti-white bigotry. I will support a candidate who shares my values, loves the United States, disdains intrusive big government, desires to protect our borders and will help us become energy self-sufficient even if it requires drilling and nuclear energy.
Ernest Wade
Loganville, Ga.

What Christopher Dickey witnessed was not the end of the South but perhaps the end of the Confederacy. The South was formed by the institution of slavery. Africans taught Southerners of British descent how to talk, how to walk, how to eat, and how to sing and dance. It doesn't matter how many Yankees, Mexicans or Hindus move into the region. As long as there is a substantial African-American presence, there will be a South, and we will define it. The Confederacy, on the other hand, was the institutionalization of the political and economic power of the planter class and their supporters. The Confederates lost the war but won the peace. Race and racism, Jim Crow and the Republican "Southern strategy" were merely means toward the end of continued planter hegemony. In recent times, after blacks regained the franchise, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond abandoned the Confederate cause. The late senator Jesse Helms was the last great Confederate politician. Even if he loses, Barack Hussein Obama has set the stage for the Confederacy's demise.
Robert Hinton
The Africana Studies Program
New York University
New York, N.Y.

Musing on Growing Old
Kirk Douglas's "What Old Age Taught Me" (My Turn, Aug. 11) was enjoyable and instructive. Having grown up watching his movies, I find it most satisfying to see him write with so much soul, spirit and insight into life and what makes it meaningful. Who says a stroke is the end of clear thinking and writing? God bless 91-year-old Kirk Douglas at this stage in his life.
Bruce Kermane
Huntington Beach, Calif.

At age 87, I am in Kirk Douglas's class, yet I hardly regard him as a typical aging citizen. Despite humble beginnings, he rose to heights and prosperity most people only dream about. I salute his wonderful generosity toward the needy that makes him feel good. But let's remember the seniors who are barely able to meet the copays on drugs and medical care. "Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be" is great poetry, but it hardly meets the realities of old age.
Frances Nunnally
Richmond, Va.

Israel ' s Separation Barrier
"Jerusalem Up Against the Wall" implies that for a young Palestinian who can't afford to buy a house and is angry at having to work for an Israeli-owned company, murdering innocent Israelis may be not only understandable, but even justifiable. You decry the "separation barrier" as well as the Israeli crackdown on "the Islamists in the name of security" while barely alluding to the hundreds of terrorist acts that have been attempted and/or perpetrated against Israeli civilians since 1992. Your article blames the Israelis for the tragic plight of the Palestinian people, while ignoring the fact that billions of dollars in international aid have disappeared into Palestinian coffers. Furthermore, the Palestinian leadership has rejected proposals that would return 95 to 98 percent of the land they demand, in return for peace. So the questions to ponder are: If terrorists stopped lobbing bombs into Israel—and Palestinian leaders opted for peace over terror—do you seriously believe that the Israelis would continue to launch military actions against refugee camps and build security barriers? But if Israel halted all military action and dismantled the fence, do you think that terrorists would stop trying to murder innocent Israelis? To bring this home: many Americans favor building a fence to keep Mexicans from entering this country in search of work. Can you imagine how we would react if they started lobbing bombs over the border into Texas schoolyards?
Jane E. Hughes
Centerville, Mass.

Embedded in Teach For America
Can you make Donna Foote's story on Teach For America required reading for the presidential candidates ("Lessons From Locke," Aug. 11)? Obama and McCain talk primarily about the Iraq War and the economy, but our high-school graduation rate is 19th among developing countries. Now that is a problem.
Bracey Campbell
Columbia, Tenn.

As a former teacher and the mother of two teachers, I was shocked to read Donna Foote's statement that "the single most important factor in student achievement is the quality of the teacher." Parental involvement and support are crucial to student achievement and are sadly lacking in most underachieving situations. Teachers are worn out by poor conditions and no support. In previous generations many more parents were involved and were supportive of teachers' expectations of students in both behavior and academics.
Ann Hanton
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Extolling the virtues of Teach For America is definitely in vogue. And as Donna Foote reported, this praise has translated into record donations. However, it is not clear how much positive change, if any, TFA recruits realize in the schools where they work. In fact, according to a 2004 study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, TFA recruits did not do much better than other teachers. Where TFA recruits did do better than other teachers the difference was found to be minimal. The reason TFA is so popular, especially among the elite, is that it feeds into the simplest critique of public education: it is all the teacher's fault. This is true only if you do not take into account factors such as access to resources, class size and home environment. Beating up on teachers is easy. What is hard is devising a solution to improve the education of the most vulnerable population of this country.
Pablo Portillo
San Francisco, Calif.