The petition signed by "over 500" alumni of Joel Barlow H.S. has a prominent place as the genesis of the current controversy. Was it a genuine grassroots initiative, or something else? Five hundred signers from JBHS graduating classes, some going as far back as 20 years -- have these issues persisted over that period, and if so, why is it recognized only now? Though the petition's origin and sponsorship are not entirely clear, it was accompanied by a detailed, professional-grade document (hereinafter, the "Manifesto") outlining issues and demands. It plainly had significant organized support, including by an "ER9 Social Justice Group," and its authenticity has not been publicly established. These facts should have been "red flags" for our Boards of Education (BoEs), raising skepticism and leading to responsible questioning of its validity. Nevertheless, the petition led to ER9 taking action including hiring a biased, activist superintendent of schools, establishing a "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force," and creating a "survey" to "dig more deeply" into issues in our schools.
The controversial "survey" was arguably not a survey at all. Inasmuch as its first iteration pejoratively imputed "systemic racism" to our towns, it was an open effort to force "social justice" language and concepts broadly in front of our students and families, and afterward to create a pretext for further action which, despite the survey's uselessness for assessment purposes, will undoubtedly discover some justification in the result.
Even stipulating that the petition that started it all is entirely authentic, an important question is whether the BoEs had to take those actions. One alternative response could have been simply to re-examine the schools' anti-bullying disciplines. Or, because the petition itself expressly invokes the specific cultural issues of Critical Race Theory (more on that later), it invites an analogous response - "It's not the role of the schools to address the cultural issues you assert." But the BoEs elected a path of indoctrination.
Deny it, or call it by some other name, but if you use the schools to impose cultural norms, you are necessarily undertaking indoctrination. Necessarily. What form this indoctrination should take is a choice that inescapably and necessarily privileges one sense of righteousness, one set of values, over all others. The BoEs knew there was committed, authentic, sincere opposition, and chose to ignore it -- an explicit rejection of "diversity" and "inclusion" in favor of a blanket imposition of their specific, selective system of values called "social justice." By what ethical or moral standard do the BoEs legitimately possess this decision prerogative over disagreeing parents, families, students and taxpayers?
With the Boards' actions, it is obvious that the Manifesto had its intended effect, and in a big way -- but not because it has any intrinsic worth or value. Rather, the Manifesto, consistent with its predominantly youthful petitioners, is filled with adolescent petulance and irrational imperatives. It is so thoroughly "over the top" with exasperated accusations and demands that it is impossible to discern any authentic issues. It provides no useful guidance for undertaking responsible action. Unfortunately the BoEs fell for this arrogant, agenda-driven nonsense.
The Manifesto document, "Action Steps and Curriculum Guide: Addressing Systemic Racism at Joel Barlow High School" uses three emotional subterfuges to command compliance:
Sanctimony. The Manifesto's preface states: "A note about this proposal: privilege, racism, and oppression exist. That is an undeniable fact. If you do not believe this, please complete this reading before engaging with this proposal." There is another way to understand that statement: "You are a fool if you don't agree with us. We have identified a resource you must read to 'raise your consciousness' and help you overcome your obvious ignorance." The condescension here is almost palpable -- your cooperation is not optional.
Guilt. Accusations of misfeasance against the BoEs and our schools and faculty, ranging from benign omission to egregious action, implicitly permeate the Manifesto's demands. There is no other way to understand its thoroughly negative judgements and grievances, such as the suggestion that our teachers are condemning "people of color" to prison.
Sympathy and Compassion. The Manifesto's list of aggrieved parties and appalling harms is endless. What educator, confronting the public guilt inflicted by the foregoing, is willing to suffer public opprobrium by his failure to exhibit the obligatory sympathy for those "afflicted?"
The weaponization of guilt, empathy and other emotions is a standard ploy of "social justice warriors" -- or "Woke Supremacists" -- to force submission, end debate, and command action. In her post, Whaley devotes paragraph after paragraph to the offended, the hurt, and the perpetrators. An accusation of heartlessness can be as powerful as one of racism. It also has the advantage of avoiding any thorough, rational consideration of the purported issues, instead moving directly to "solutions" -- or in this case, ultimatums.
But for thinking people, compassion must be tempered by rational thought (and if you need your consciousness raised on this, see Paul Bloom, "Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion"). This should be an obvious point, but one that comes only with growth and maturity, and plausibly is lacking in, at least, the half of the petition signers who are under 25 years old. Life rarely favors us with tidy good-vs-bad choices. We daily must make the hard decisions between good-vs-good or bad-vs-bad, meaning that some hurt, for someone, is inevitable. This is a routine fact of life. Is it fair -- is it moral -- to shield our children from this reality? Unfortunately, today's "woke" culture is full-on, out-of-control, runaway compassion.
It is further disturbing that some BoE members feel that they have a duty to undertake major action when, as our Superintendent said, "even one student" is in some way aggrieved or offended -- an astonishingly disproportionate perspective. This way of thinking inevitably compels the accommodation of literally each and every student's whims and wishes. Whaley points out that one mother objected to an "other" checkbox for her child's unique "gender." Seriously?
There is a useful word in the English language that has become less and less acceptable. The word is "normal." In any of life's endeavors it is necessary, for economy of time and resources and for responsible decision-making, to distinguish between the normal -- the 95% -- and the exceptions -- the 5%. Doing this allows us to take action to address the exceptions, knowing that the vast majority needs no attention. Today, political correctness prevents us from making this distinction. This pursuit of "social justice" is making us lose all sense of proportion -- forcing us to respond immediately and massively to every slight inequity. The Manifesto expressly demands this, directly and repeatedly insisting on the comprehensive transformation of our schools. This is lunacy.
We used to understand the wisdom of "don't let the exception become the rule." When faced with obvious absurdity, sometimes the right thing to do is: Nothing. Nothing at all.
ER9 chose instead to question and take steps to reform an entire system to accommodate the 5%. Even Whaley acknowledges the difficulty of indoctrination, and in the ER9 case it is wholesale forced indoctrination. But we are dealing with an open agenda of comprehensive transformation -- the Manifesto -- and have surrendered any capacity for subtlety and nuance, becoming willfully blind to the obvious.
For final insight, we need a brief look at Critical Race Theory, which has had some prominence in the ER9 discussions.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) posits that "the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities." Critical Theory in short says that the institutions and the history of Western culture are permeated by bigotries that benefit whites (or males, or straights) and victimizes all others. Its advocates insist that those institutions must be "transformed" (Obama's word) or, in the extreme, abolished.
It is a mistake to say that Critical Race Theory, as a theory, is being taught in our schools. However, the perspectives of Critical Race Theory are being forced on our schools, through such initiatives as the DEI Task Force -- one common avenue for achieving the desired "transformation." To be clear, it is the imposition of CRT's corrosive prescriptions in our schools -- its tenets, principles and consequences known now as "woke culture" or so-called "social justice" -- that many of our families and citizens oppose.
Whaley in her post claims not to have heard of CRT. Fair enough. One need not be versed in the theory to embrace and advance its "social justice" goals, although her post is fully concordant with it. CRT is referenced specifically, however, in the Manifesto (p.18): "Critical race theory must be incorporated into the JBHS literature curriculum." She also does know enough to accuse certain "activists" of "redefining" CRT. This is the latest trope now popular among CRT advocates, a defense by way of distraction. But sorry, no. Critical Race Theory is not being redefined, it is being unmasked. It is being exposed.
The practical consequences of Critical Race Theory are widespread. It is manifest in new language such as "microaggression," "identity," "privilege," "lived experience" and "social justice." Of particular significance is the rejection of the colorblind principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in favor of race-aware activism, something we used to call "racism." Two such examples, Ibram Kendi's "anti-racism" and Robin DiAngelo's "white fragility" are outgrowths of and clear examples of CRT in practice.
Kendi says that if you are not "anti-racist," you are racist: "There is no in between." In other words, if you have lived your life having no racial animus, no racist intent, and certainly no racist actions, but have not embraced his "anti-racist" demands, Kendi has news for you: You are racist. Moreover, your denial of your racism is proof of your racism. Kendi further states that it is impossible for minorities to exhibit racism, because privilege is a necessary precondition for racism. In his own words:
Another CRT writer is Robin DiAngelo with her notion of "white fragility." Observe that the label itself is bigoted on its face, but in case you missed it, DiAngelo unsubtly asserts that "All white people are invested in and collude with racism" and "any white person who does not admit to their own racism is blinded by their 'white fragility.'" These "scholars" have knowingly constructed pernicious intellectual traps, constituting (after Kafka) slanderous accusations of unspecified crimes. Guilt by being White.
The roots of racism are far more complex than their preposterous explanations. But this is typical of the sloppy "scholarship" that permeates CRT -- that has over decades replaced rigorous, objective investigation with "lived experience," narrative and anecdote, and has prevented analysis or even discussion of the actual root causes of racial disparities. This is reason enough to dismiss the "research" that appears throughout the Manifesto. Disciplines like Critical Race Theory that foreclose dissent are irredeemably flawed. Most of us would prefer honest scientific study such as has led to the creation of (for example) the iPhone, which now apparently is one corrupt outcome of our loathsome Western culture.
CRT as a discipline is not an example of authentic learning or scholarship. It is orthodoxy. It is a religion. It is bigotry disguised as knowledge. Along with "political correctness" and "social justice," its teachings have no place in our schools, or in our society.
Parents alone have responsibility for the mental and emotional health of our children. So what is the proper role of our Boards of Education? Whaley says she is embarrassed, and she should be -- not for our towns, but for our schools. Redding's per-pupil spending is the highest in Fairfield County and 40% above the state median, with results no better than others in the county. It is folly for our educators to take us down these divisive and fruitless paths in pursuit of some elusive ideological perfection. We rather desperately need a restoration of economical, traditional liberal education in our schools. And leave any "indoctrinating" to our families and homes.
Heather Whaley's Post
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