Editorial: Authoritarians at the gate: How one high school is ripping its community apart
Not since the Vietnam War have I seen as much strife and personal hostility within an otherwise friendly community.
Thank the administration of New Trier High School in north suburban Chicago. This story is about the madness on college campuses now being crammed down into a public high school. More importantly, it’s about an angry brawl now growing rapidly.
Oblivious to how identity politics have divided the country, the school is holding an attendance-mandatory All-School Seminar Day with the stated goal of “understanding today’s struggle for racial civil rights.”
That sounds fine, but the problem is that it serves no such goal. The agenda is brazenly and unquestionably one-sided, divisive, political and radically left. Understanding civil rights, as New Trier sees it, doesn’t mean challenging students to sort through competing ideas. It means force-fed dogma.
Results were entirely predictable. Conservative and moderate parents, including me, erupted over what we see as propaganda masquerading as education cloaked in the language of togetherness. We’ve publicly made a simple request: Add balance to the program by including topics and speakers to expose students to a fair range of ideas.
Balance, that’s it. If the school is unwilling to add that balance, then the seminar should be canceled or, at a minimum, attendance should be made optional. Those feeling that way put up a website (http://www.parentsofnewtrier.org/) and have launched a petition drive (http://www.parentsofnewtrier.org/).
Reaction to the request for balance was also predictable. Program supporters took to social media saying critics want to censor out discussion about race, don’t care about civil rights, are bad parents for trying to shield their children and, of course, that we’re racist.
Sure we’re racist — as program supporters see things. Systemic, invisible racism is the core theme of the program. As one workshop description puts it, “Most systemic racism is invisible … often to both ‘sides’ … until you know it’s there. Once you know it’s there, you can’t stop seeing it.” Our racism is so clear, in other words, that it should be taught as fact and not one of many viewpoints.
Hostility is growing much more intense and personal. Before we get to that, some background:
The school district
New Trier High School is often ranked among the best in the country. It covers very prosperous suburbs north of Chicago and is overwhelmingly white. The township was traditionally conservative and Republican but is now solidly liberal and Democratic, based on the last election cycle and polls I’ve seen.
Let’s look at some samples of the workshops.
– One of the invited speakers is a rapper named John the Author. Here’s a segment from his work:
Divide and conquer, white supremacy the silent monster
I see you sneaking in the corner trying to have some karma
We ain’t looking to know your honor, No your honor we (?) problem
The resolution is an economic revolution, All in the name of retribution, you ready? Let’s do it,They integrated then infiltrated through immigration
The richest folk in our neighborhood ain’t even our neighbors
They take the dollar back across town, don’t you dare tell me to calm down
(?) mister doghouse,We want it all now, it’s time to push ‘em all out — I’m ready to start now
– “A People’s History of Chicago” will look at race “in the tradition of Howard Zinn.” Zinn wrote "A People’s History of the United States," about which black, conservative economist Thomas Sowell wrote:
It speaks volumes about our schools and colleges that far-left radical Howard Zinn’s pretentiously titled book, “A People’s History of the United States,” is widely used across the country. It is one indictment, complaint and distortion after another. Anyone who relies on this twisted version of American history would have no idea why millions of people from around the world are trying, sometimes desperately, to move to this country. The one virtue of Zinn’s book is that it helps you identify unmistakably which teachers are using their classrooms as propaganda centers.
– Another segment is “Spent: A simulation to see how long you can survive on minimum wage.” Any bets they won’t be simulating how long you can survive on no wage, which countless economists argue is the result for some from minimum wage laws?
New Trier didn’t let the topic for the seminar, racial civil rights, stop them from throwing in a couple other progressive favorites:
– In one segment, “SOARS’ creator, Scheherazade, discusses the role arts can play in creating a national movement to end sexual violence.”
– Another segment on the Equal Rights Amendment will ask, “Why hasn’t it been ratified? Do we even need it anymore? Let’s talk about it!”
It doesn’t help that some presentations are just plain silly:
– There’s “Disney and Racial Stereotypes: Watch classic Disney animated films and discuss how these films influence childhood development of racial identities.”
– Another says, “Come to the Northfield Library and read picture books to a group of children (ages 3-5). The picture books will focus on themes of embracing diversity, accepting others and oneself, and social justice.”
– Then there’s “Racist Memorabilia Through the Ages.”
– My personal favorite is “Microaggressions: Not So Small.” Maybe it should be subtitled “Tolerance for oxymorons!”
The rest of agenda for the day is posted on links here (http://www.newtrier.k12.il.us/Student_Services/Adviser_Program/All-School_Seminar_Day/Winnetka_Catalog/) and here (http://www.newtrier.k12.il.us/Student_Services/Adviser_Program/All-School_Seminar_Day/Northfield_Catalog/). You’ll find only four or five out of the hundred or so that would seem to present even a moderate perspective. Read the whole agenda and you’ll see that this summary written by its critics is valid:
- The seminar claims: “Identity” is defined by race. Period. It is fixed and determinative. (The term “racial,” “racist,” “bias,” and “systemic racism” suffuse the panel descriptions, together appearing over 80 times. Meanwhile, in a Seminar Day devoted to, “Understanding Today’s Struggle for Racial Civil Rights,” a working definition of the term “civil rights” is not offered.)
- The seminar claims: People of the same race think and feel the same way about most or all things.
- The seminar claims: Disparities between races are de facto evidence of “systemic racism.” Not, for instance, government policies that confine poor children to failing inner city schools, devastate black families, and encourage crime and dependence.
- The seminar claims: “Systemic racism” should be the root of all discussions.
The “tolerant” strike back at the “haters”
Things really hit the fan when program critics put up their own site that allows incoming comments. Here are a few of the emails received. Senders included their names with their emails, unafraid to say these things to their neighbors, though I’ve deleted names here:
– “Go (expletive deleted) yourselves. Honestly, what you are trying to do is pathetic. ‘Diversity programs don’t work’? What’s your alternative, segregation?” That’s from a New Trier grad who says she didn’t understand race until she went to college at (a private, elite liberal arts school whose name I’ll withhold).
– From a New Trier parent: “The district would not need to spend money on this day if the majority of parents, like yourselves, were not racial (expletive deleted).”
– From a New Trier student: “Get your (expletive deleted) KKK looking (expletive deleted) back to your house and shut up.”
I guess comments like that are quite reasonable if you accept the central teaching of the seminar, which is that we’re all racists. Plenty more like that from hatred’s enemies can be found on this link. I certainly would not be surprised if equally nasty things are being sent by some critics of the seminar to its defenders, but that’s really the point: Is this seminar promoting understanding and rational discussion?
The school’s response
New Trier’s administration has been mostly silent, except for release recently of this FAQ and and some short comments to the press.
First, the school’s superintendent defends the program by saying, “I have had well over 300 phone calls, emails, and letters of support saying ‘Don’t change it, it looks fabulous,'” she said. “The direct communication we’ve had has been far more in support than in opposition. In fact, I’ve never seen this kind of outpouring of support on an issue in my life as an educator.”
We pay her $419,000 and God-knows-what pension to set educational content by counting popularity beans? Would she exclude the liberal voices (which are properly included) if she were in some school district in the South where those views might be overwhelmingly unpopular? She offers no reason for refusing to add other perspectives.
And her method of counting is faulty because of another horrible problem, as to which she’s seemingly blind: Critics of the program are stifled by fear of the controversy and retribution, so she’s not hearing from them. We’ve heard from any number of program critics who won’t dare say or do anything. One active member of our opposition, who has a business in the community, asked us to be extremely careful not to mention either her name or business, fearing the consequences. Some even fear retribution by very progressive teachers against their kids.
New Trier’s superintendent also didn’t mention that, for a similar program last year, about 40 percent of New Trier kids did not attend.
Those kids may be smarter than the adults on this. While some are vocally on one side or another, plenty see through it. I asked one how he thinks his fellow students view the program. He thought just under half shrug it off as “more SJW (social justice warrior) nonsense.” He added that he thought many of the liberals who like the program think it’s unbalanced.
In the FAQ, the school emphasizes that the program is not political. Oh, please. It’s straight out of the playbook used by countless Democrats in the last election cycle. It’s about as “not political” as the poster on the right, which went up in the school on Inauguration Day. You decide if that, and the seminar, are political.
Politicking in schools has legal limits. New Trier also has a written policy requiring that discussion of controversial topics “present a balanced view.” I don’t know whether New Trier crossed the legal line, but a separate group is researching that now and will file a lawsuit if they conclude it has.
Operating costs per day when school is in session is slightly over $533,000, according to responses in a FOIA request from New Trier. The school’s FAQ adds that the seminar has an additional budget of $30,000.
At a recent New Trier school board meeting, in defending the program, an assistant superintendent of student services said the preparation was a “huge effort” and “exhausting.”
It would be easy to rattle off a list of topics that would make New Trier’s seminar day more balanced and genuinely educational. Moderates and conservatives might not agree on that list, but this controversy could easily have been avoided with even a lazy attempt. I’ll suggest just one topic that would have helped, the virtue of which should now be evident to all:
How identity politics have ripped America apart and undermined the quest for racial harmony.
– Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints. Opinions expressed are his own.