This newsletter generated a lot of conversation over the past week. Paul Rossi’s essay seems to have inspired an entire beat at the Daily Mail. Andrew Gutmann’s letter to Brearley spread like wildfire: It will crack 1.2 million page views by the time I click publish here.
These posts — to say nothing of this column about how to get away with murder in France — struck a chord. For most of my readers, they resonated deeply. For some others they felt a little bit off-key.
One reader, Kevin Margolis, wrote to me after I published the leaked Brearley letter to say: “I subscribe for your thoughts. Pasting a letter like this, with so much in it, without your thoughtful comment is puzzling. Do you agree with everything Mr. Gutmann wrote?”
It’s a fair question.
So I thought this would be a good moment to explain what I’m thinking, to clarify what you can expect from this newsletter, and to share some of the most thoughtful responses to this week’s posts.
To put it as plainly as possible: My goal is not to make a living publishing only my views — or ones that conform exactly to my worldview — on this Substack. (Trust me, it’d get boring.) My ultimate goal is far more ambitious. I want to run the most interesting opinion page in America, filled with fresh reporting and commentary.
In a sane world, you would have read Paul Rossi’s essay or Andrew Gutmann’s letter — remember, in 2012, when the Times ran this incredible resignation letter from the Goldman Sachs executive? — in the paper of record.
But such pieces will not appear in the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post because those papers have mostly ignored the story of the ideological takeover of schools. In part, that is because they are implicated in the story: The same ideological force transforming schools like Grace Church and Brearley has also transformed the establishment press.
The forced political homogenization of schools and newsrooms isn’t the only story being overlooked, underplayed or disregarded by the legacy media. There are many untold stories including: The strange and still emergent political realignment between the Glenn Greenwald left and the J.D. Vance right. The alliance between woke ideologues and corporate America. Anti-Asian discrimination. Rising crime in American cities. The death — and possible revival — of local life and of organized religion. And so so much more.
This leaves a huge opening for writers and editors like me.
Some of those stories I am perfectly situated to report. Others are better suited for other voices, and I want to go out and find the best people to tell them. I’ve started to do that already, and I think it’s working well.
Don’t worry: I’ll keep up my pace of writing at least once a week. Sometimes I’ll write meaty introductions to guest posts. Other times, as in the case of the news-making Andrew Gutmann letter, I’ll prioritize getting the information to you as soon as possible.
The tagline I put up when I set this up three months ago was: honest news for sane people. I still like that tagline, and I hope I’ve been delivering on that promise.
This newsletter is for people who want to understand the world as it is, not the world as some wish it to be. It’s for people who seek the truth rather than the comfort of a team or a tribe. It’s for people who prefer to think for themselves.
I will not agree with every argument and neither will you. But I trust that not only can you handle hearing things that you disagree with, but you might even appreciate them. (Unlike the Jane Foley Fried, Brearley’s head of school, who said that Andrew Gutmann’s letter was not only “deeply offensive and harmful,” but that it left Brearley students “frightened and intimidated.”)
But — and! — I also recognize the problem with form. I realize that the intimacy of an email that comes directly from me to your inbox feels different than picking up a newspaper. This is something I just don’t have the full answer to yet, so I’d ask that you join me as I iterate and ask for your feedback.
The difference between this newsletter and old-fashioned newspapering brings up a question raised in the comments section by Claire Potter about the Paul Rossi essay:
Bari, if you still worked for the New York Times, they never would have printed such a thing without fact-checking it. It's very hard to believe that Grace--where New Yorkers send their children to get them away from PC culture--has turned into a Maoist Cultural Revolution. Also, this is a person who is completely unknown and has zero credibility. What's the deal?
For starters, the problem is that The New York Times would never have printed this at all. It’d be like the Catholic Church embracing John Calvin. The inability to tell such stories is one of the reasons I left.
I think what Claire is really raising here is a foundational problem of the new media landscape: When a person used to pick up The Times, for example, they assumed what they read in its pages was true. It had authority and trust that it had accumulated over many decades. That trust has collapsed for a majority of Americans. So now I’m asking you to trust . . . me. That’s what every independent journalist is asking her readers.
The trust I build with you is based on getting things right. Not a fancy brand name. Not on a special font. But getting it right. It’s what keeps me up at night. So you better believe that I have a rigorous fact-checking process (columns that I post are fact-checked and edited by an experienced editor) to make sure that the errors are few and that, when I make a mistake, as I inevitably will, I own it.
I wasn’t prepared for how fast this newsletter would grow. At the start of this week, I’ll have hit more than 50,000 emails. I am incredibly gratified. I also ask for your forgiveness if I’ve been less-than-active in the highly active comments section so far. I’m working on hiring an editor to help support my reporting, plan events, and field your pitches. More on that soon.
Let’s get to your comments and criticism.
So many people shared their thoughts on the essay by Grace Church teacher Paul Rossi. Among them was a comment from C Bell:
I'm a former parent. My son had Paul Rossi. Sadly, Mr. Rossi's account is not hyperbole. One week out of the month is now fully devoted to CRT (not academics). Grace was in the news earlier this year as well for it's language guide, which suggested (among other things) that students and teachers say folks or parents or family and not specifically mom and dad because not all kids have mom and dads and such a person might be offended if you ask about their mom and dad. The goal of education cannot be to eliminate all possibility of offense.
I also got a long email from NYU Professor Mark Crispin Miller:
Those of us who see the danger in the “woke” indoctrination that Paul Rossi and countless other teachers face in their respective schools, at every level, should stand with him, and stand together, to defend and exercise their academic freedom to oppose the racist ideology that — in the name of “anti-racism” — has actually turned back the clock, creating segregated classes, in all of which that ideology is crammed down students' throats.
I understand Paul Rossi’s plight, as I too have been going through something similar at NYU, where I’ve been under fire since last September, for encouraging the students in my propaganda class to read all the scientific literature on the effectiveness of face masks against respiratory viruses, and to make up their own minds about the issue. This enraged one student, who took to Twitter to demand that NYU fire me for endangering students’ lives. NYU immediately took her side.
I posted a petition, urging NYU to respect my academic freedom — and that enraged a large group of my department colleagues, who wrote the dean, accusing me of “hate speech,” “attacks on students,” “advocating for an unsafe learning environment,” and “micro-aggressions and aggressions”: sins that I never have committed anywhere, but that are now being used to get me fired, my colleagues arguing that my “conduct” has been so heinous that it should nullify my academic freedom.
I sent them all a point-by-point rebuttal, asking for a retraction and apology. They ignored it. I sent it a second time, and they ignored that, too. So I am suing them for libel. Not just because they've done me serious harm, but, more importantly, because this kind of thing has actually been going on for decades, and has lately reached pandemic levels (so to speak) throughout the world — and it must stop.
And so I see Paul Rossi as an ally in the most important struggle going on today: to protect the all-important right to speak — and think, and, above all, teach — against the dictates of authority, and the ‘woke’ mobocracy that's only helping to enforce them.
Paul Rossi’s story isn’t close to being done. Grace Church has “relieved him of his teaching duties” and claims he now threatens the “well-being” of students. He fired back this morning. Let’s see what happens next.
I logged off for Shabbat, just after I posted Andrew Gutmann’s letter, but I see it caused a stir on Twitter throughout Saturday.
My inbox reflected that energy.
Brian Sack summed up the position of many of my subscribers in the comments section: “I want to buy this man a drink.” Another reader emailed me: “As someone who works (in part) at an elite school, that letter was like reading the Declaration of Independence for the first time.”
But there was also some strong criticism. It mostly focused on this paragraph in Gutmann’s missive:
I object to the charge of systemic racism in this country, and at our school. Systemic racism, properly understood, is segregated schools and separate lunch counters. It is the interning of Japanese and the exterminating of Jews. Systemic racism is unequivocally not a small number of isolated incidences over a period of decades. Ask any girl, of any race, if they have ever experienced insults from friends, have ever felt slighted by teachers or have ever suffered the occasional injustice from a school at which they have spent up to 13 years of their life, and you are bound to hear grievances, some petty, some not. We have not had systemic racism against Blacks in this country since the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, a period of more than 50 years. To state otherwise is a flat-out misrepresentation of our country’s history and adds no understanding to any of today’s societal issues.
Alan Galishoff wrote to say:
As a NYC parent who has been fighting this (and anti-Zionism) for years, I can tell you that denying the existence or legacy of systemic racism is not a good strategy for winning the battle.
In my opinion, it is better to focus on the harmful ideology behind CRT and how it is failing in its mission to heal — something we are currently witnessing. Liberalism is the answer. Critical Theory and today’s anti-racists are the opposite.
Another reader, Rabbi Lewis John Eron of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, wrote a long note which included this bit:
The concept “systemic racism” refers to racist ideas and practices inherent in cultural systems and not, as Mr. Guttman seems to believe, to the narrow manifestation of racism in the legal sense. We need to celebrate the civil rights reforms of the 1960s. However, as we can see today in the attempts to restrict voting rights by certain factions in our political system, the advances of the 1960s are not fully accepted. “Systemic racism” refers to deeper ideas about the place of people of darker skin in American culture.
All of this turns on how one defines “systemic racism,” and what Guttman and his critics mean when they use the phrase. What Guttman means, as he wrote, is that the period of legally entrenched racism in America — the despicable laws and policies that enslaved, segregated, and targeted black Americans until the 1960s.
In this, he seems to find common ground with the intellectual Shelby Steele. As Steele wrote last November in the WSJ:
“Systemic racism” is a term that tries to recover authenticity for a less and less convincing black identity. This racism is really more compensatory than systemic. It was invented to make up for the increasing absence of the real thing.
But to answer Sunny Hostin’s question posed on Twitter and perhaps yours — do I believe that “systemic racism” exists?
I certainly recognize the legacy of racist laws and practices carried out by the state — the legacy of slavery, the legacy of Jim Crow, the legacy of redlining, the legacy of the war on drugs, the legacy of unjust lending practices that prevented black Americans from building generational wealth.
That legacy is entirely real. That legacy transmutes our present. And the legacy is being fought by many good people.
It’s a problem, I think, that the term itself, much like the term white supremacy, now means 100,000,000 different things to different people. To some, the SAT is systemically racist. As is math itself. So it’s not entirely clear what’s specifically being conveyed by critics when they use the term.
I followed up with Andrew Gutmann, and he wrote me this:
By no means do I deny that racism exists in this country. But I do make the distinction between “racism” and “systemic” or “institutional” racism. I think that distinction has not been fully appreciated. I believe that the far more important message is that whether you agree or disagree with me, that we can have a mature, rational and intellectual discussion about race in this country. That is exactly what schools like Brearley are not allowing and what today's toxic culture is not allowing.
So what exactly do we mean when we say “systemic racism”? Does what I’ve described above meet critics’ definition? If not, why? It’s a rich question worthy of further discussion in these digital pages.
Tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 8 pm EST I am looking forward to hosting a subscriber-only Zoom conversation with Paul Rossi and Andrew Gutmann.
If you have not yet become a paying subscriber for this newsletter and you don’t want to miss out, you can do so right here:
All subscribers will receive an email tomorrow morning with a link for the Zoom. Have a great week.