Bari Weiss on the toxicity of American private schools (and her readers’ pushback)

March 17, 2021 • 11:00 am

It’s gotten to the point that I can’t bear to keep describing the wokeness metastasizing through the body of American’s public and private schools, and I’m not even referring to colleges. Since I’ve described this in extenso, I’ll just point you to this free article by Bari Weiss, who interviewed over two dozen parents, students, and teachers at private prep schools—schools that charge up to $50,000 a year in tuition, which is Ivy League money. Click on the screenshot to read her piece, which was first published in the City Journal:

Why worry about this? Because these affluent and well-educated students, once dosed up with propaganda, will of course go on to become America’s leaders.

I’ll give just two quotes relevant to STEM.

“I am in a cult. Well, that’s not exactly right. It’s that the cult is all around me and I am trying to save kids from becoming members.” He sounds like a Scientology defector, but he is a math teacher at one of the most elite high schools in New York City. He is not politically conservative. “I studied critical theory; I saw Derrida speak when I was in college,” he says, “so when this ideology arrived at our school over the past few years, I recognized the language and I knew what it was. But it was in a mutated form.”

This teacher is talking with me because he is alarmed by the toll this ideology is taking on his students. “I started seeing what was happening to the kids. And that’s what I couldn’t take. They are being educated in resentment and fear. It’s extremely dangerous.”

. . . and this:

The science program at Fieldston would make any parent swoon. The electives for 11th- and 12th-graders, according to the school’s website, include immunology, astronomy, neuroscience, and pharmacology.

But physics looks different these days. “We don’t call them Newton’s laws anymore,” an upperclassman at the school informs me. “We call them the three fundamental laws of physics. They say we need to ‘decenter whiteness,’ and we need to acknowledge that there’s more than just Newton in physics.”

One of her classmates says that he tries to take “the fact classes, not the identity classes.” But it’s gotten harder to distinguish between the two. “I took U.S. history and I figured when you learn about U.S. history maybe you structure it by time period or what happened under each presidency. We traced different marginalized groups. That was how it was structured. I only heard a handful of the presidents’ names in class.”

It goes on, and it’s pretty depressing.

Now, like Andrew Sullivan, Weiss is publishing her readers’ reactions to her column. This one, which just came out, has both positive and negative views of the situation. Click on the screenshot:

One objection, as you can gather from the title, is this:  why should we bother with how these fancy private schools operate? I gave one response above. Weiss gives another: public schools (Los Angeles is a good example) are going the exact same route.

Another query was why these rich and powerful parents don’t put their foot down about their children’s education. There’s no clear answer, but I suspect that it’s easier to get along if you go along, and these schools are often gateways for admission to America’s best colleges.  Some readers thought Weiss exaggerated the problem, others worried about how biracial children would fare in such schools, and one raised the issue that it’s hard to judge a school’s wokeness before you enroll you child.

If you want an example of how one ritzy school has melted down, check out my post on The Dalton School in Manhattan (tuition: $54,000 per year).

18 thoughts on “Bari Weiss on the toxicity of American private schools (and her readers’ pushback)

  1. Are these private schools reported by Bari Weiss consistent enough to stop talking about Raman spectroscopy or the Raman effect? After all, they need have to acknowledge that there is more than C.V. Raman (who won the Nobel prize in 1930) in physics.

  2. I guess my problem with this article from Weiss, what is the solution? Is living in fear as a parent, a teacher, a student the way forward? And the fear for these parents is what – getting black listed for speaking out about the education they are paying for? Is all this fear not as much fear as sending the kids to public school. I give up. Who should I be feeling sorry for here?

  3. In the second column shown above, Weiss quotes Tim Urban, who suggests skipping college altogether. Urban’s suggestions remind me of something Alan Watts wrote: “No literate, inquisitive, and imaginative person needs to go to college unless in need of a union card, or degree, as a certified physician, lawyer, or teacher, or unless he requires access to certain heavy and expensive equipment for scientific research which he himself cannot afford, such as a cyclotron.” This is a quotation from his autobiography that I’ve had posted on my bulletin board for decades. Full disclosure: Though, inspired by Watts, I did enjoy my gap years between high school and college, during which period I read many books in addition to traveling, I eventually did finish both undergraduate and graduate programs in order to get my professional “union cards” as a musician and a librarian.
    Now that my wife and I are contemplating college for our children, I’ve begun seriously entertaining the option of sending them out of the USA to attend college. Fellow readers in Canada, Europe, and Australia, how are things on the higher ed fronts in your areas?

    1. Gap years also have the advantage of maturing the students a bit more, which may lead to less willingness to jump on a social bandwagon or succumb to peer pressure. The most pragmatic students I interacted with in both undergrad and grad school were those who were a bit older, and were now putting themselves through school.

  4. That is very strange! But wouldn’t it be easy to just go to a public school, and also hire a private tutor to round out the education? Its like they can’t imagine educating their kids amongst the commoners.

    1. Again, the problem is not the commoners per se, probably, but the status of these private academies as the places that issue your kid a passport to get through Ivy League/Stanford/MIT Immigration. My guess is that that consideration was 99 times out of 100 the reason the child’s parents were anxious to fork over $50-60K a year for his or her schooling.

      1. Ivy League schools don’t just admit rich kids. There are grades, evidence for social justice (I expect), and of course there are donations from $ saved from not paying for those prep schools. And even if they don’t get into their first, second, or whatever choice, there are plenty of very good private and public colleges.
        I am not really feeling sorry for their problems which comes from a lack of imagination that Muffy might *gasp* have to live in a Sorority with middle class people.

    1. Thanks for the link. That was a good read. Twenty years ago I had a roommate who taught at an elite school near DC. Senators spent $20k a semester to send their kids there, and his salary was ridiculously low.

  5. My theory – which is mine – is that people fixate on their “identity” when they don’t have a well-developed character or a core set of knowledge that they can rely on. In that sense, white fragility is right for a set of folks that buckle so easily to anti-racist ideology. Also why it is so effective indoctrinating school kids and college students, who haven’t yet tested their beliefs against the real world. For them, it feels righteous and good. And as you say, now they get to avoid the real world by staying in academe or joining a journalism room filled with like minds.

  6. “Another query was why these rich and powerful parents don’t put their foot down about their children’s education.”

    Isn’t it largely because they’d be called racist? It would be suggested that they take an appropriate training class.

  7. The two examples you quote from her article don’t seem that crazy or “woke” to me. Newton wasn’t Anne Elk (or an elk for that matter, lol), and “the fundamental laws of physics” sounds more accurate and descriptive, and it isn’t any different than what’s been happening in medicine when it comes to naming diseases and the like. And Weiss didn’t say Newton was being removed from the curriculum entirely (which would be a better reason to be concerned, but not much more of one unless it’s a History of Science class, which I suspect it isn’t). And as far as US History goes, there’s only so much that can be crammed into a semester, and this move away from the Great Men approach has been happening for decades. Zinn’s A People’s History, for example, was first published in 1980 and started appearing in high schools at least 30 years ago. If that student is interested in learning about past Presidents, I’m sure his teacher could recommend some additional readings.

    1. Calling them the “fundamental laws of physics” is not just confusing but inaccurate and unnecessary. After all they are an approximation compared to General Relativity, which is closer to the mark of “fundamental”. The term is confusing because it has been used for a while to refer to the full spectrum of basic physical laws (Maxwell’s equations, Kirchoff’s law, Bernoulli’s…). And it is unnecessary frivolity because there is already an alternative, widely used name, “Classical mechanics”. This is just another first world problem of privileged spawn.

  8. We first saw this at Evergreen and elsewhere. Some “skeptics” and ‘RationalMen’, such as Thomas “Serious Pod” Smith and Peter “Humanisticus” insisted it was all a hoax.

    Yet, here we are years later, and the pattern has repeated itself over and over.

  9. “We don’t call them Newton’s laws anymore,” an upperclassman at the school informs me. “We call them the three fundamental laws of physics. They say we need to ‘decenter whiteness,’ and we need to acknowledge that there’s more than just Newton in physics.

    If they think “Newtonian physics” is bad, wait ’til they get to chemistry. Please, dear God, nobody tell the wokies that ~13 Periodic Table elements are named after ~12 old white dudes and ~2 white women (Curium was named after both Pierre and Marie).

Leave a Reply