A child at a rally in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on December 13, 2020. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

'Spirit Murder,' Neo-Segregation and Science Denial in American Schools

Plus: a Super Bowl mitzvah

My experience over the past few weeks trying to tackle the story of the crisis in American schooling puts me in mind of a handyman enlisted to fix a janky door hinge only to find out that the house was sliding off its foundation. 

A distressed parent writes me from Harvard-Westlake (tuition: $41,300 a year; alma mater of the siblings Gyllenhaal). She tells me that, this fall, a dean lavished praise upon Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, both Louis Farrakhan fans, in a high-school wide assembly. She is shocked and so I mirror it back. But at this stage of the game, in which Mallory is appearing in the pages of Vogue, I’m not surprised in the least. 

Then another parent at the school tells me of the school’s 20-page plan outlining its “anti-racist” program. Policies include: “assessing word problems in math and rewriting them to be more representative and culturally sensitive” and “redesigning the 11th grade US History course from a critical race theory perspective.” 

I start writing it up only to see the news out of Dalton (tuition: $54,180 a year), which makes Harvard-Westlake look almost conservative by comparison. 

True, the Manhattan school managed to keep its manifesto to a mere eight pages, but its demands include: abolishing high-level academic courses by 2023 if the performance of black students is not on par with non-blacks; hiring 12 full-time diversity officers and multiple psychologists to support students “coping with race-based traumatic stress”; and compensating any student of color who appears in Dalton promotional material. You gotta respect the chutzpah.

Then Brentwood (tuition: $45,630 a year) announces some “dialogue and community-building sessions,” which actually segregate families by race. One session for whites. One for blacks.

One wonders where biracial families are slotted in? Maybe they just said screw it and went with “Latinx?” And did the Jewish lesbians go with the other Jews or with the “LGBTQIA+”?

If you are relying on the legacy media, like The Washington Post and The New York Times, for your news it’s possible these anecdotes are shocking. But there are hundreds of examples like this. As one New York City mom put it to me: “We could flee our school, but at this point where would we flee to? This is everywhere.” 

I want to say: Yeshiva! Homeschool! Now! Today!

But she is panicked. And so I listen as she explains their close relationship with the school’s college counselors . . .

And these are private school parents — parents who can afford to hire out-of-work PhDs to tutor their kids 19th-century style or move to a different state. What of the public schools? 

Subscribe now

Consider just a bit of the recent news:

San Francisco’s public schools have not been open since the start of the pandemic but the board just renamed 44 schools — including those named for George Washington (slaveowner; colonizer); Hebert Hoover (“accepting of white supremacy”); John Muir (“racist”). If you are curious about why Dianne Feinstein and Paul Revere didn’t make the cut, spend a few minutes with this google document compiled by the board.

Or if that’s too tedious, just watch this clip from in which one of the board members declares merit “racist” and “Trumpian.” You’ll get the picture real fast:

The Seattle Public Schools are saying that the education system is committing “spirit murder” against black children. The New York City Public schools are telling white teachers they are guilty of the same. Spirit murdering has even made its way into the new administration: Joe Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Education, Cindy Marten, as superintendent of the San Diego Schools, endorsed the idea, as well as the notion that white teachers should undergo “antiracist therapy.”

In the meantime, David Kirkland, the Vice Dean of Equity at NYU Steinhardt Metro Center  has upped the ante, saying that schools are “murdering the bodies of our children.” Watch:

If this is true, the Department of Education should open up an investigation this afternoon. Meantime, I wonder what Michael Steinhardt makes of Kirkland’s claim.

The state of California is about to adopt an Ethnic Studies Curriculum based in Critical Race Theory. North Carolina just did that for its K-12 history standards. I could go on.

And that’s just the ideological takeover. The harm that is being done to children — especially poor and minority children — by the refusal of teachers unions to go back into the classroom despite the guidance of the CDC and the promises of Joe Biden is a generational crime.

Read this Twitter thread from yesterday in Minnesota. It is about a single school district, but it is a microcosm of the whole sordid situation:

The entire education system in American seems like it sliding off its foundation. This is not something that can be fixed by a confrontational PTA meeting or a petition. This is a moldy walls, basement-flooded and roof-caved-in type of deal. It is the kind of circumstance in which you are forced to consider rebuilding a new home entirely.

I am extremely interested in pursuing this story — particularly the effect it is having on kids — and you can expect that from me in some upcoming newsletters.

In the meantime, I recommend you follow the work of Chris Rufo, who has been doggedly pursuing the story of the ideological takeover, and Karol Markowicz, who has been far ahead of the curve on the crisis of school closures.

Subscribe now

Here’s a bit of good news.

Near the beginning of Covid-19, I wrote a piece at the Times about the holy work done by hospital chaplains. I think about them a lot. 

One of the people I wrote about is Rocky Walker:

(Benjamin Norman for The New York Times)

Before he became a chaplain at Mt. Sinai, Walker served 25 years in the Army. Most of those years were spent as a helicopter pilot.

Rocky Walker is a mensch. So when he texted me out of the blue this past week to say: Look, I know this is crazy, but do you have any idea how I can get Super Bowl tickets? I’m a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs fan and I heard they are giving some to health-care workers. . .

I have a Terrible Towel and will root for the Steelers until I reach the grave. It’s part of the deal when you’re born in the 412. But I know embarrassingly little about football. I just happen to know a single person with a lot of clout in the league. So I thought — what the hell? — and emailed Robert Kraft. Subject line: mitzvah opportunity.

Ten minutes later I was on a call with Kraft and Rocky Walker. This Sunday, thanks to Kraft, Rocky’s flying to the game on a plane full of other front-line workers. I’m rooting for him and for Kansas.

A bit of family log-rolling:

  • My dad has a delightful piece in The Wall Street Journal about how to decide who to root for on Sunday. Yes, there are puns.

  • If you aren’t following Nellie’s newsletter about converting to Judaism (and so much else), let me recommend her essay this week. I’m biased but I think it’s magnificent.

Events this week:

  • Catch me interviewing Ayaan Hirsi Ali about her new book this Thursday evening at the Commonwealth Club. Register here.

  • On Friday, February 12 — after Shabbat services — I’ll be in conversation with Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove at Park Avenue Synagogue. Sign up here.