Two weeks ago a math professor at a private school in Manhattan wrote an open letter of sorts about the influx of anti-racism training at his school. Paul Rossi described mandatory zoom meetings that were segregated by race. He described being publicly humiliated for daring to raise objections to the training. He described faculty members who suggested that students who seemed resistant to such training needed to be flagged. And when he asked how they would be identified, one colleague at this high performing school suggesting “a belief in meritocracy” was enough to mark them as problematic.
Last Friday the NY Times published its own coverage of all of this and generally brushed it off. Here’s the article’s description of Rossi:
…a math teacher named Paul Rossi, who had composed a letter of his own, seemingly to the nation at large, laying out his objections to the way that his employer, the Grace Church School in Lower Manhattan, was going about the business of changing its culture around race. Mr. Rossi’s note lacked the hysterical tone of Mr. Gutmann’s. It raised valid concerns about the squelching of free thought. But he also took the dubious step of publicizing part of a secretly taped conversation he had with the school’s headmaster, George Davison, in which he goaded his boss, as if he were a prosecutor grilling a witness, into acknowledging that the new programming demonized white students.
Curious that author Ginia Bellafante doesn’t quote George Davison or offer the context in which Rossi released audio of the conversation. Rossi claimed in print that Davison had admitted the anti-racist dogma was “demonizing white people for being born.” Davison then denied saying any such thing. But the recording of the conversation proved Rossi was telling the truth.
— Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) (@fairforall_org) April 20, 2021
Not only does she not quote Davison, she doesn’t ask him about his denial that he made those statements in the first place. Instead we get the suggestion that maybe it was Rossi who unfairly grilled tricked Davison into admitting something.
Isn’t the content more significant than the fact it was recorded? Bellafante gives the same treatment to a group of Dalton parents who were critical of their school for the same reason. Notice how their complains are summarily dismissed:
In December, a group of Dalton parents and alumni wrote an anonymous letter to the school community titled “Loving Concern @ Dalton.” They worried about “an obsessive focus on race and identity,” filling their children’s days at school. With remote learning giving parents an opportunity to spy on what their children were getting taught all day, these parents did not like what they were hearing — “a pessimistic and age-inappropriate litany of grievances in EVERY class.”
The new programming seemed designed to divide and provoke guilt, they maintained, forcing white children to feel bad about being white. While guilt might seem like a fraught path to reform, it was also the case that these parents weren’t the best representatives of a viewpoint challenging the emerging orthodoxies. Their letter was seven pages long, and the sentence “To be clear, we abhor racism” did not present itself until paragraph 13.
At least this time the letter itself is linked and we get a couple quotes from it. But Bellafante’s take is that the entire thing is suspect because the line “we abhor racism” didn’t appear until page 3 of 7. We’re supposed to gather from this factoid that the people behind the letter aren’t people who really value diversity in the first place. But in fact, the letter praises the “unbelievable diversity of the student body” as one of three “great lights” of the school in paragraph one. I wonder why Bellafante didn’t mention that?
As is often the case these days, commenters at the Times seem far more reasonable than the reporters. Here’s the most upvoted response to the article:
Ms. Belafonte brushes off objections to these Diversity Equity and Inclusion as an artifact of racism and Fox News.
Our family, reliably liberal by US standards, are aghast at the purposeful divisiveness of these programs. The heaping of blame on little children because they are the wrong skin color does not make a better citizen.
As a parent, I don’t want my child feeling guilty for things done by others in the distant past. Until this oppressor / victim narrative is excised from these programs, parents who care will object.
The second most upvoted response comes from the author of another letter critical of anti-racism training which is also mentioned in the story:
I wrote the Brearley letter (and for what it’s worth, have been a daily reader of the Times for 25 years). We need debate and discussion of these issues, not snark. What is going on in these schools should scare anyone who truly cares even a little bit about education, children, and the future of our country. This is not a right-wing issue. Nor is it an issue about race. This is an issue about critical thinking, freedom of thought and indoctrination. I hope my fellow NY Times readers will think about this a bit harder.
The third most upvoted response says Bellafante is missing the point:
Ms. Belafonte is skilled in employing a snide, condescending and implicitly judgmental tone. It can be a more challenging task for a journalist to objectively understand, and write about with respect, the sincerely held views of individuals who otherwise fall within one’s target zone.
The fifth most upvoted may be my favorite (still more than 1,100 recommendations for this one):
Another NYT article that purports to be an objective look at a contentious issue (aka journalism) but within the first few paragraphs it becomes clear that there is a very specific narrative being pushed by the author (not journalism), complete with not so subtle condescension and derision directed at anyone who dares to challenge said narrative.
As a lifelong liberal and proud graduate of one of these Manhattan private schools, I am very worried that CRT / extremely identity politics is bulldozing free expression and open discussion, which are the foundation of a free, open, and tolerant society. We should strive to uplift and include everyone, but not by demonizing, dividing, and endlessly labeling / judging.
It just keeps going:
I do long for the days when a Times reporter would put the salient language of the Gutmann letter, the Rossi letter into her article and let her readers judge for themselves what they meant. Journalism’s constant efforts to mansplain things to us – even journalists who do not identify as men do this – is more in the character of a totalitarian country’s press than ours.
Did I mention already that the comments are better than the story?
Honestly, that was probably my thought, too, before I experienced being in the twice weekly presence of one of these diversity consultants. Here’s how it began: we all have a lot to learn, so let’s examine our biases individually and together, and open our minds and hearts through reading and listening. Good. Totally on board. Now here’s what it morphed into: You as a white person need to sit down and shut up. You’ve been running and ruining the world for a long time, and you’ve been oppressing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and especially Black people all your life. So we need to get rid of almost all the curriculum that focuses on white people, because it’s all racist. No more classics; there’s no room for them. And oh, when you teach a recommended book, the BIPOC kids need to have a separate extra class with a teacher from the same background, in which to process said book. You as a white person need to be chastised to wake up and examine your privilege daily. This is just a beginning.
I’m certain that in spite of my very best efforts -and I have made a huge effort over many years – I have a lot more to learn. But the re-education we’re getting now is absurd and ultimately destructive.
Okay, I promise only one more:
I am a parent of 3 kids at Manhattan private schools, am a lifelong democrat and the first thing I do every morning is check my phone to see if Trump died overnight.
But the Chinese Cultural Revolution had nothing on the indoctrination that goes on at some of the most prestigious (and expensive) private schools in the country.
It is nothing less than white-shaming and teaching children to despise America for its injustices without teaching them to admire America for its accomplishments. There is no perspective, no context, no balance and no historical appreciation. Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt (either one) and essentially every white man who ever lived is contemptible. This is not hyperbole, sadly, it is understatement.
Gutmann’s letter was over the top, but there is a line he wrote that dozens of private school parents, from many different schools, have quoted to me: Schools should teach students how to think. Not what to think.
In short, the NY Times piece feels like it was written out of some sort of obligation to belatedly cover a legitimate news story. Bellafante did her best to spin this for readers she clearly assumed would be happy for a reason to tune it out, but that’s not how things worked out. Hopefully the Times will get the message and assign more even-handed writers to cover these stories.