Ex-New York Times journalist Bari Weiss has written a fascinating piece for City Journal about the trials and tribulations of white, upper-middle-class parents at the country’s most exclusive private schools. Hard to work up much sympathy for them, you might think, but the reason for their current difficulties is interesting: the wholesale capture of these elite educational institutions by the woke cult. Weiss says:
‘Brentwood, a school that costs $45,630 a year, made headlines a few weeks back when it held racially segregated “dialogue and community-building sessions”. But when I speak with a parent of a middle-school student there, they want to talk about their child’s English curriculum. “They replaced all the books with no input or even informing the parents.” The curriculum no longer features classics such as The Scarlet Letter, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies. New books include: Stamped, Dear Martin, Dear Justyce and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.
‘”The dean said to me, basically, it’s important to change with the times,” said the Brentwood parent. In a statement, Brentwood’s director of communications said: “Diversity, equity and inclusion are critical components of our education and our community at Brentwood School. The events of last summer created a call to action for all of us, in our school community and beyond.” Brentwood has announced a late-starting school day on March 10 for the lower school “due to our faculty book study of White Fragility“.’
Bari’s piece throws up some interesting questions which I puzzled over in a recent Spectator column: why has this neo-Marxist, post-modernist ideology cut such an impressive swathe through the rich and powerful? Why do the titans of the bi-coastal elite who sit on the boards of $40,000-a-year schools like Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles — such as Charlie Munger, the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and Sarah Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter-in-law — want their children to be taught that capitalism is evil? It’s as if the current generation of gazillionaires sat down one day, read Radical Chic by Tom Wolfe, and said, ‘hold my beer.’
Bari comes up with the same explanation I did: it’s all about status signaling. Being fluent in the lingua franca of the social justice left has become a badge of your membership of the ruling class — it serves the same purpose as conspicuous consumption did in the Gilded Age. That’s why the majority of parents in these eye-wateringly expensive socialist madrassas are happy for their children to be taught Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist instead of The Catcher in the Rye — it’s the 21st century equivalent of being taught how to behave at a debutantes ball. ‘I call it woke-weaning,’ a teacher at one of New York’s most prestigious prep schools told Bari. ‘And that’s the product schools like mine are offering.’
My column was about Unconscious Bias Training and why it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, in spite of the fact that all the evidence suggests it’s basically snake oil. It does nothing to reduce discriminatory behavior and may, in fact, increase it. The answer I came up with is it provides a crash course for employees of large companies in the woke version of ‘U and non-U.’
That was the terminology used by a British linguistics professor in the 1950s to differentiate upper-class from non-upper-class dialect. In 1954, for instance, the word ‘lavatory’ was U and ‘toilet’ was non-U, and in 2021 describing yourself as an ‘anti-racist’ is U and a ‘non-racist’ is non-U. By the same token, the phrase ‘people of color’ is U and ‘colored people’ is non-U, ‘African-Caribbean’ is U and ‘Afro-Caribbean’ is non-U, and so on. The more minuscule the difference, the better it serves to distinguish the posh from hoi polloi.
It’s called ‘diversity training’ but it might as well be called ‘how to speak woke-ish.’
I’m sure this gets to the heart of why this quasi-religious movement has swept up the social and financial elite. For them, it’s like wearing the latest designer brand or eating at a fashionable new restaurant — it’s a way of differentiating themselves from the merely wealthy. As Bari says, the votaries of this cult imagine they’re speaking truth to power, but the truth is that speaking like them is a way of letting the world know that you’re a member of the power elite.