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A father has sued his daughter’s posh L.A. Brentwood School, alleging “bait and switch” and civil rights violations. The school had responded to George Floyd’s murder by ditching its values – its traditional curriculum – in favor of an anti-racist perspective. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was out. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped was in. Brentwood responded to Jerome Eisenberg’s concerns by throwing his daughter out of the school, presumably to advance the school’s goal of being “more inclusive.”
At first blush, this case appears to challenge well-intended if heavy-handed educational practices at an enlightened, progressive institution. In fact, it is not what it seems. Not because the administration denies the claims, as one would expect, but because the reforms are not as they seem.
It hardly need be said that Brentwood, like its peers, is all about exclusivity, not inclusivity. The irony, in the current climate, is that such institutions preserve the former by preaching the latter. That is to say, they protect their place in the cultural elite by maintaining appearances. The school’s curricular overhaul communicates the school’s faddish resolve to stay current with fashionable progressive orthodoxies.
Brentwood’s new curriculum was birthed out of shame, not hope. Last June, eight days after George Floyd’s killing, the school posted a black square on Instagram. This was part of the #BlackoutTuesday social media campaign. Many institutions were engaging in anodyne virtue-signaling. Brentwood’s posting, however, provoked a different response than most.
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“Brentwood is a toxic racist cesspool for students of color, but an ivory tower for the wealthy, white elite,” read one comment, reflecting the widespread denigration Brentwood received for a history of behavior that many considered racist.
The black square highlighted racial tensions at Brentwood. Former baseball slugger Barry Bonds had responded angrily to a 2016 video of several white Brentwood students using a racial slur while rapping to a popular song. “I am sad that i had to see this at my daughters school…,” he tweeted. His ex-wife asked, “Is this what $40k worth of private education gets you?”
On Juneteenth 2020, Brentwood’s Black Family Association wrote to the school’s administration and trustees, saying that “Juneteenth, 2020 should commemorate the date that Brentwood School committed to leading, instead of catching up.” Brentwood’s Black Family Association demanded that the school educate their children in “an environment that honors their full humanity.” Instead, the school did the opposite.
Beyond racially segregating its students, Brentwood indoctrinated its students on “becoming anti-racist.” This is very different than urging them to become “not racist.” As Kendi teaches, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” In teaching anti-racism, Brentwood traded its previous, unfashionable racism for a more socially acceptable version.
Brentwood could hardly have more to dishonor the “full humanity” of its students than to reduce them, in the fashion of anti-racism, to mere representatives of their race. In fairness, other tony private schools have done similar. As a lawsuit filed last month against the Los Angeles School District’s Liberated Ethnic Studies curriculum underscores, some public school districts are just as bad.
In this coal mine, the role of canary is played, as is often the case, by the Jew. Sickness within the culture of a school, as in that of a society, can be seen in the spread of anti-Semitism. Eisenberg alleges that Brentwood held racially segregated meetings and encouraged students to treat Jewish people as “oppressors” and barred Jewish parents from participating in policy-making decisions. The complaint against Los Angeles’s public schools similarly alleged that system’s progressive efforts to address ethnic conflict had also degenerated into anti-Semitism.
Elsewhere, anti-racist educators have whitewashed Jewish identity, ignoring anti-Semitism and treating Jews as powerful, conspiratorial supporters of white supremacy. This is why the Jewish community fought so hard against California’s earliest ethnic studies proposals. While the finalized California ethnic studies statute resolved numerous problems, Liberated Ethnic Studies continues to contain many of them.
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The answer is not to stop talking. Parents like Jerome Eisenberg should not be muzzled even when they raise discomforting concerns. But the answer is not to ignore an institution’s own history of bias either. One can speak frankly about race without resorting to the fashionable nonsense of contemporary anti-racism.
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Now Juneteenth is here again. And again educators have a choice. If their goal is “leading, instead of catching up,” they can best honor their students’ humanity by returning to their own values, recommitting to traditional education and Western Civilization. This need not mean ignoring their own biases. It means correcting them – as they would know if they hadn’t stopped reading Harper Lee.