The Prep-School PC Plague
Instead of forging a colorblind elite, these privileged schools stress everything that divides their newly diverse student bodies.
Heather Mac Donald | City Journal | Spring 2002
The diversity industry—the profession paid to harangue Americans about racism and sexism—has burrowed deep into the nation’s elite prep schools. Where private secondary schools once inculcated American citizenship and patriotism, today they employ diversity professionals to show students their complicity in an unjust society. Schools that strove to mold a homogeneous national elite now have enshrined “difference” as their organizing principle. Aping the fractured curriculum of the university, many prep schools offer courses in “gay voices,” the “construction of gender,” and “racial identity.”
This rush to import all that is divisive from the universities is a grievous missed opportunity to create an integrated, color-indifferent society. By all accounts, many students enter high school blissfully free of divisive race-consciousness. But rather than encouraging their students’ instinctive colorblindness, the private-school leadership is determined to snuff it out. Although few environments are less in need of anti-racism chest-beating than elite prep schools, directed as they are by well-meaning baby boomers deeply committed to their minority students’ success, many schools have established diversity bureaucracies for multicultural consciousness-raising. Sadly, that often means creating race-consciousness where none exists.
Bobby Edwards, the amiable dean for Community and Multicultural Development at Phillips Academy (also known as Andover) in Massachusetts, the country’s oldest boarding school and among its most prestigious, is a case in point. “I do more work than I anticipated around the race issue,” he says ruefully. Edwards teaches a tenth-grade required course called “Life Issues,” which immerses students in the holy trinity of university multiculturalism: race, class, and gender. Many pupils tell Edwards that race is simply not a salient feature in their lives. It will be once Edwards gets through with them, though. He informs his class: “Unless we work to help you have an understanding of the history around this issue, you won’t have a clear understanding of how you really do have a race issue.”
Most troubling to a diversity professional: even some “students of color” are skeptical of racism talk. “They say: ‘I don’t think there’s an issue when I go into a store,’ ” notes Edwards, incredulously. Rather than accepting the students’ reported experience, Edwards chides them: “Are you looking at the people following you around in the store?”
Other prep-school diversity bureaucrats report the same resistance to their message of “all racism, all the time.” Hugo Mahabir, head of multicultural concerns at the Fieldston Academy in the North Bronx, admits: “Students today think, ‘Adults don’t get it: we’re post–civil rights; we’re moving on to something else.’ ” They see explicit discussions of race, gender, and class as “divisive,” confesses Mahabir. Russell Willis, dean of multicultural affairs at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Andover’s younger sibling and archrival, finds it “ironic” that some black students oppose affirmative action, since they benefit from it, he bitterly points out.
In a saner world, these little shoots of colorblindness would be encouraged to spread. A privileged independent school, especially a boarding school, is an ideal hothouse for nurturing them. With their arcadian campuses, rich endowments, and freedom to reject the pedagogical garbage peddled by government, ed schools, and teachers’ unions, private schools can create whatever sort of educational utopia they choose. So why not try something really radical: stop yakking about race and gender all the time, and see what happens when gifted young people of all races are encouraged to bond together. It’s not as if, when the graduates get to college, they’ll be starved for identity politics.
Prep-school difference-mongers set about their task by questioning the mental competence of students who say race is no big deal: such students must be ignorant or duped. The other possible explanation—that the students just don’t see much racism anymore—is not within the universe of diversity-think. According to consultant Glen Singleton, when black students claim that they have not experienced racism, that shows the “bias in the education they’re getting.” “They don’t know white privilege when they see it,” he huffs. Andover’s Bobby Edwards speculates that black color-indifference results from “indoctrination or the defense of assimilating.” Students of all races possess a “combination of optimism and naiveté” that leads them—mistakenly—to “attribute the race issue to an older generation,” he says.
Diversity monitors employ more hands-on tools as well for teaching guilt and resentment. A favorite is shopping exercises. Lisa Ameisen, a social-science teacher at the Baldwin School, once the finishing school for mainline Philadelphians, sends her students to Rite Aid to see what products are available for minorities. “If whites can buy 1,200 different kinds of foundation, how does that make you feel, if you can’t find any foundation?” she asks them. Ameisen presses her students to think of other consumer experiences that reflect societal inequity. When asked, however, she acknowledges that a store’s product line might reflect local demographics, not racism.
Ameisen is a crucial link in the transmission of university-level oppression theory to the prep schools. Her specialty is “critical whiteness studies,” a thriving academic field that seeks to expose how whites are unjustly privileged. Ameisen is a board member of the Multicultural Resource Center in Philadelphia, which for the last two years has been providing whiteness studies materials to schools in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; this February, she led a seminar in critical whiteness theory at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools, the private schools’ main lobbying group. Expect prep-school whiteness classes to burgeon.
Shopping is a big deal for critical whiteness theory, and even faculty members get roped in. In 1997, an Andover administrator gave a faculty presentation on how dominant standards of beauty injure black women’s self-esteem; she had assembled several boxes of makeup, pantyhose, and greeting cards targeted to black and Hispanic consumers, from which white audience members had to make selections for their personal use. “It brought up a lot of discussion of what ‘nude’ means in pantyhose,” recalls presenter Veda Robinson, now a college counselor at the Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols school in Boston.
Andover’s students, meanwhile, discuss the dilemma that minority parents face when purchasing a doll for their children. At first, according to dean Bobby Edwards, the students dismissively say, “Oh, this is really old; of course there are Asian dolls!” Edwards challengingly shoots back: “Does it resonate with you at all that if you’re black you still have to wonder [whether you’ll find a doll of your ethnicity]? So how far have we really come?”
But the racial reeducation has just begun. At this point, diversity trainers like to pull out the separatist tract “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum. Tatum advocates black self-segregation on campus to defend against pervasive white racism, and announces the stages of black and white “identity development.” Hint: the more racially self-conscious and a) angry or b) guilty you are, the more fully realized your identity.
Nadine Nelson, dean of multicultural affairs at the Beaver Country Day School in Boston, uses Tatum’s book in her tenth-grade class “Teaching and Learning for Diversity and Social Justice.” The goal, Nelson says, is “for students to understand their role in oppression: ‘Are you an ally, or are you someone who’s oppressing and abusing your privilege?’ ” I ask if there’s any backlash against Tatum’s message. “Of course there is,” Nelson retorts. “Tatum is provocative, you know—if you’re a tenth-grader and never thought you had privilege. Ultimately, the kids always come around,” she adds, ominously.
Like shopping exercises, Tatum’s message is not just for students. The Exeter faculty studied Cafeteria last year as part of their ongoing multiculturalism discussions. Racial-identity-development theory is starting to inform school discipline decisions. André Withers, a middle-school director at the Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, argues that “astute schools” will recognize when discipline problems among their black students stem from one of the stages of black identity development, and will presumably adjust their discipline accordingly.
While many private-school curricula reinforce the difference ideology—the Latin School of Chicago, for example, teaches an English course called “Does Race Matter?” and a history course called “Gender at the Crossroads,” which asserts that gender is “socially constructed”—few schools mimic university theorese better than the twin colossi of Andover and Exeter. This matters, because where the top New England boarding schools lead, the rest of the country follows
Both Andover and Exeter highlight diversity-mongering in their mission statements, with Andover’s stressing the school’s determination to create a “community sensitive to differences of gender, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation.” In this spirit, Andover’s history department has mastered the punning preciosity that marks college difference courses, offering “Masculine/Feminine/Human: Issues in Gender Relations” and “America in the 1950s: I Like Ike but I Love Lucy,” a course that studies—what else?—gender, race, and class.
Exeter has virtually dissolved the literary canon. Its required English curriculum focuses on writing skills—appropriately enough for a high school. But instead of teaching students to write by analyzing the monuments of Western literature, Exeter focuses on students’ own personal narratives—the better for analyzing one’s individual differences. Little wonder, as an English teacher volunteered to me, that most Exeter graduates have no idea whether Chaucer preceded Yeats. When an Exeter student reaches his senior year, lacking any literary compass, he may select English elective courses that fracture literary history into identity politics: “Gay Voices and Themes in Literature and Film,” “The Voices of Women Writers,” “The Zen Mind,” “African and Caribbean Writers,” as well as such crowd-pleasers as “Novels into Film.” Without coming on top of a solid grounding in literary classics, such specialized courses are mere entertainment.
Minority-only freshmen-orientation programs, as well as school assemblies favoring spokesmen for various privileged identities—gay, female, minority—reinforce the “difference” ideology. At Brearley, a Manhattan girls’ day school, every class has a student “diversity monitor” to keep attention focused on “diversity issues.” Each year, many schools pack off a delegation of minority students to the “Students of Color” conference sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools, where they can learn the newest ways to identify racism. The NAIS’s annual “People of Color” conference gives adults the same tools.
Backing up these formal supports for race- and gender-consciousness is an informal, but inescapable, ethos. “Diversity is absolutely explicit at Exeter,” enthuses Cary Einhaus, a college counselor and dorm advisor. “We talk about it at the dining-room table, at faculty meetings. It’s part of our common language here.” (Einhaus boasted to the New York Times that Exeter’s year 2000 decision to allow homosexual couples to serve as dorm masters sent the message that gay life was “normal.”)
The “common language” of diversity can seem like a Babel to students. Robert Baldi, editor of Exeter’s student newspaper, the Exonian, struggles to convey the school’s diversity-consciousness: “It’s overwhelming, sort of. I don’t know how to describe it. We’re hit with it almost every day.” John Stern, a recent Exeter graduate, reports that as a result of the obsessive focus on diversity, “there was a tremendous amount of division. Everyone [who wasn’t white and male] had some sort of ‘identity’ separate form everyone else. Black folks had one, so did females, Latinos, younger students, gays, [and] poorer students.”
Young people quickly learn that their teachers see an awareness of difference, not commonality, as the highest civic good. “I have never felt more Indian than when I came to Phillips Academy,” wrote Tara Gadgil in the Phillipian, Andover’s student newspaper, last year. Gadgil contrasted the atmosphere at Andover with her school back home in Texas. There, she says, “I was never made to feel that I was any different [from the white students] and the kids . . . never found the need or desire to speak about race relations.” At Andover, by contrast, students “tend to classify the community into its various racial groups.” “We are very aware of racial differences,” she says proudly.
Gadgil believes she is complimenting Andover by this depressing indictment, having flawlessly absorbed the school’s value system. At its most innocuous, that value system can simply look silly. At Brearley this year, when senior girls posted photos of their current heartthrobs—Brad Pitt and Britain’s Prince William—under the signs “The Wall of Brad Pitt” and “The Wall of the United Kingdom,” black seniors saw a racial subtext. They claimed a separate wall, called “The Cocoa Lounge,” for black sex symbols. When someone put a picture of a white man on The Cocoa Lounge—apparently in the spirit of “Tear down this wall”—screaming and crying matches erupted over charges of racial disrespect and separatism. The solution? Distinct ghettos for idols from different identity groups: The Jew Crew, Asian Haven, The UK, and The Cocoa Lounge. A “White Wall” has been threatened but not yet established.
The adult version of the diversity value system is merely pathetic. In 1999, an admissions officer at Oberlin College, Paul Marthers, published an account of his experience advising students in Andover’s summer minority math institute. His article is the anatomy of a nervous breakdown, the perfect expression of heightened diversity-consciousness: “There was fear of inadvertently saying something offensive. Of course I did—using the expression ‘low man on the totem pole.’ . . . There was the fear of acting too white. There was the fear that I would mistake normal adolescent opposition to authority for race-based resentment. There was the fear that colorblindness was inappropriate. There was the fear that I might seem to be favoring Latino and Native American students because they looked whiter. There was the fear of guilt-induced over-compensatory niceness to the students of color. . . . Should I address racism? Should I avoid it? What could I do to not appear defensive or insensitive? . . . I discovered that I had to confront the Caucasian tendency to stress the melting pot and assimilation into the dominant culture. For students of color, maintaining their own ethnic identities is as essential as breathing.”
Marthers’s neuroses are exactly where such diversity tutorials as “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” lead. And his students played their part to the hilt as well, treating him—a man as full of liberal good intentions as you can cram into one midwestern college administrator—with icy contempt and sensing racial subterfuges everywhere.
The epidemic of prep-school racism must be pretty serious to justify such crippling cures, right? Wrong. Even school diversity professionals can’t come up with persuasive reasons why a formal diversity program is necessary. Christine Savini, diversity director at Milton Academy outside of Boston, claims that race issues arise as the inevitable by-product of students living together; the official diversity program only formalizes what is already occurring. An example of a spontaneously occurring racial incident? “If a white student says, ‘Let’s go to the swimming pool!’ the black student may not want to go because of her hair,” Savini explains. “The white student may not know how long black hair preparation takes, and the black student doesn’t want to explain again and again.”
Not only is this example trivial; there are many ways to interpret this exchange without deeming it racial. After all, not so long ago, shamefully, a white girl might never have sought the companionship of a black girl at the swimming pool. Our racial-insensitivity alarm has become jittery indeed if an invitation to the pool now sets it off. Furthermore, black students as well as white students might commit the faux pas of asking unwilling black students to swim, and surely the unwilling student could convey the demands of her hairdo quickly, without resentment, and without encountering insurmountable incomprehension.
Further oft-cited evidence of racism is any student’s mention of racial preferences in college admissions. It turns out that students are universally aware of double standards in admissions, despite college administrators’ years-long cover-up. Now that even the proponents of preferences, such as Derek Bok and William Bowen, acknowledge their existence, only prep-school administrators seem still to be in denial about the practice. “When college admissions rolls around, you’ll hear from these very talented, PC-trained kids—to the one: ‘You probably got in because you’re black,’ ” rues the Baldwin School’s Lisa Ameisen. Does race-based admission ever happen? I inquire. “I’m not sure,” Ameisen replies. Most of the time, she believes, allegations of racial preference are an “emotional response” resulting from “white privilege.”
Russell Willis, Exeter’s multiculturalism dean, is even more adamant about the nonexistence of preferences. He says Exeter’s “students of color” get really upset when they hear the sentiment: “Oh, you don’t have to worry about college, because you’re black—even if your grades are lower.” Such an assumption is “utterly false,” Willis asserts heatedly. Exeter’s black students don’t share his certainty that preferences don’t exist, even if they resent anyone bringing up the subject. Exonian editor Robert Baldi’s black friends tell him: “It’s OK, I’ll get into MIT, because I’m black, even if my grades aren’t as good as yours.”
Undoubtedly, many high-achieving black students are unjustly suspected of benefiting from preferences. But the unjust suspicion is the result of the preference system itself, as author Shelby Steele has observed, not of racism. Preference advocates cannot set up a system where, every year, black and Hispanic pupils with lower grades and SATs are admitted to colleges that have rejected their higher-scoring white and Asian peers and expect students not to notice what is going on. To deny the obvious, as diversity deans do, and accuse students of racism for noticing the obvious, creates a totalitarian demand for bad faith.
Black prep-school students often cry racism when white students cast them as the class experts on the black experience. “I was never a slave and I didn’t live through segregation, so don’t expect me to know everything about it,” complained Angelica Alton in the Exonian recently. Fair enough. But the rationale for race-conscious “diversity” admissions is that skin color equates with point of view and life experience. Advocates of color-conscious policies in prep-school admissions shouldn’t be surprised when people respond to this argument accordingly.
The diversity industry also cites the recurring debate over voluntary segregation on campus as a further example of student insensitivity. Every year, someone publishes an op-ed in a student newspaper bemoaning the clustering together of blacks in dining halls and classrooms. A February essay in the Exonian lamenting the lack of integration on campus set off a mostly angry response. Says Exeter’s Willis: “The tone offended a lot of students, who felt as though the writer didn’t even think about how students of color feel every day when they walk into a dorm and there are no students of color.” Why is it racist when the author yearns for integration? I asked. “The issue is, why didn’t she question the other side of the coin: ‘We are black students in a white environment,’ ” Willis responded.
However ineptly phrased, the offending essay was nevertheless a cri du coeur for racial mixing. If that now constitutes racial intolerance, then the definition of racial injustice has been distorted beyond recognition. Prep-school authority figures are starting to apply a double standard for defining racial torts. In Exeter’s course “The Black Experience in White America,” students recently were debating the acceptability of interracial dating—not whether it’s okay for a white teen to date a black, of course, but whether it’s okay for blacks to date whites. When a black girl announced that blacks should only date other blacks, a white girl burst into tears and asked: “But wasn’t this part of the civil rights struggle—to get to the point where people are just people?” The teacher, Russell Weatherspoon, says it was “poignant” that the white girl was so stunned by this expression of black separatism, but he did not intervene on the side of colorblindness. Had a white student argued against diluting white racial solidarity, of course, the whole school would have risen up in protest.
Questions about hair, observations about racial preferences, pleas for racial integration—this sum of alleged student insensitivity hardly supports the need for racial reeducation in prep schools. A poll of Andover’s senior class last year found overwhelming rejection of the claim that Andover subjected students to racial or gender bias. But nothing so offends a diversity bureaucrat as the suggestion that his institution is ready for colorblindness—and asserting one’s own colorblindness is rapidly gaining status as a form of hate speech. Diversity consultant Glen Singleton warns that the “belief in being colorblind is a big negative for students of color. It means: ‘I’m not willing to notice how much white privilege there is in this environment.’ ” Lewis Bryant, the director of multicultural programs at the Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols school, objects that “you’re asking everyone to be the same; they’re not the same.” Even tolerance is getting a bad name. “I bristle at the word ‘tolerance,’ ” remarks Andover’s Bobby Edwards. “I don’t know anyone who wants to be ‘tolerated.’ ”
Without diversity programs, why, students could . . . die! Asked why their schools can’t just shut up about race, diversity bureaucrats infallibly refer to Best Intentions, the story of Exeter graduate Eddie Perry, who was fatally shot while mugging an undercover police officer in 1985. But for us, the diversocrats imply, more students could meet Perry’s fate!
But far from exposing Exeter’s “institutional racism” in the benighted days before formal multicultural programs, Best Intentions unwittingly paints a portrait of the school just as it is today: warmly welcoming to all students and determined to help everyone succeed. It was in fact Exeter’s paternalistic attitudes toward black students as the victims of racism that facilitated Eddie Perry’s crack-up, just before he was to enter Stanford on full scholarship. Perry had become consumed with racial hatred during his four years at Exeter. Rather than trying to intervene, some of his teachers defended his hostile behavior as “legitimate black rage” and part of black identity. The school was busily inflating black students’ grades, having already admitted them with far lower test scores in a quest for diversity. Work that would earn a white student an F got a black student a C minus. “My position is very simple: We brought them here, and we have an obligation to get them through here,” explained an Exeter teacher quoted in the book.
Had Exeter not viewed militancy as the normal condition for black students, it might have broken through Perry’s fury before he and his brother viciously attacked a white guy in Harlem (one who happened to be armed).
The diversity-mongers also cite Black Ice, Lorene Cary’s account of her experience at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire in the 1970s, as evidence of their own indispensability. But the best that diversity consultant Randolph Carter could come up with to show St. Paul’s racial insensitivity is a passage in which Cary complains that the bubbly white girls who gaily troop through her room didn’t feel “guilty” about the ecological and social resources that their education was “sucking up.” But surely it is ludicrous to assert that most black students would be made uncomfortable by alleged white indifference to the environment. Cary’s discomfort comes from class anxiety in the face of her classmates’ easy sense of belonging to a privileged world; nothing useful comes of racializing her insecurity.
Nor is anything to be gained by racializing another unacknowledged source of stress for minority students: academic under-preparedness. Black and Hispanic scores on the national private-school admission test run about a standard deviation below those of white and Asian students; at the most competitive schools, the spread can reach two standard deviations. A history teacher from Massachusetts’s Groton School expresses a universal fact about prep-school admissions: “To get minority representation, we need to take greater risks.” Independent schools struggle to retain under-prepared minority students and blame themselves when they lose them. More multicultural programming is not the answer: a student who is failing trigonometry will be helped by tutoring and hard work, not by reading Beverly Tatum on racial identity.
Where the race industry has been, you can usually count on the gender industry muscling in, and the prep schools are no exception. In the area of gender-consciousness-raising, Andover is miles ahead of anyone else, but the competition is desperately trying to catch up. In 1996, Andover created the Brace Center for Gender Studies, a baby sister of the college feminist research outfits. Its director, Diane Moore, speaks the melodramatic dialect of college feminists: the purpose of the center, she told the Phillipian last year, is “to create ‘gender safe’ spaces for boys and girls to flourish.” The Brace Center provides research fellowships for students and faculty to explore “gender issues” (the only campus money available for students to do historical research, notes an American history teacher wistfully). Past and present projects include a study of gender and multiculturalism in the Bible through the lens of feminist and third-world liberation theology; the triumph of women rock musicians in a man’s world; and gendered images and advertising. The center brings speakers to campus—including, recently, the author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sports—and it sponsors “community forums” on such topics as “the relationship between the presumption of heterosexuality and the development of gender roles.”
Women’s studies tends to welcome all sorts of victimhoods: the Brace Center sponsored a faculty research project on male “African-American identity” as defined by “confinement, bondage, and resistance,” for instance, and a student research project on the barriers faced by the disabled. The resultant message: come into the big tent to protect yourself from able-bodied, heterosexual white males.
The charming Moore epitomizes the young, theory-saturated faculty who are initiating prep-school students into the anti-Western dogmas of the academy. Her major influences, she says, are Karl Marx and Michel Foucault, a French theorist who saw Western history as one long saga of veiled repression. Moore also cites as influences Judith Butler, a queer theorist and advocate of cross-dressing, famous for her impenetrable, jargon-ridden prose; Cornel West, Harvard’s resident rapper and Al Sharpton advisor (see “The Mau-Mauing at Harvard,” page 66), and bell hooks, a black lesbian theorist of the intersections of racism and sexism.
What about the criticism that Marx has been discredited everywhere but the academy? I asked Moore. Oh, she laughed, “that whole ‘end-of-history’ analysis is challenged by Marx himself. To say ‘Marxism has been discredited’ implies its exclusive association with the Soviet Union. But as an intellectual framework, it is still a powerful critique,” Moore explained. Of what? Of the “assumptions about a global increase in democracy and capitalism,” Moore offered. “The Marxist critical studies approach gives students an alternative framework with which to consider whether our current practices are something we want to promote.”
Maybe this mindset helps explain why the Brace Center has misdiagnosed gender relations at Andover about as spectacularly as Marx misjudged Western democracies. In a 2001 poll, six times as many Andover girls “strongly disagreed” that they “have personally experienced gender bias in the classroom” as “strongly agreed”; and three times as many girls “strongly agreed” as “strongly disagreed” that “their school administration equally supports/provides for athletics for both genders.”
It is only the Andover administration and faculty, by now thoroughly “sensitized to gender-related issues,” in the words of the dean of students, who see Andover as a “gender-dangerous space.” That is why the administration, egged on by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, strong-armed the student council last spring into requiring equal gender representation on the council. Explained faculty advisor Albert Cauz: “There’s been a perception that women were not getting equal access to this part of education at the school, and [that] caused a lot of pain on campus.”
Maybe the faculty were “pained,” but the students clearly were not. Student polls showed little support for gender gerrymandering. Student editorialists pointed out that girls held some of the school’s most prestigious positions, such as the editorship of the school newspaper. Ultimately, in a resounding rejection of female victimology and a triumph for democracy, the wider student body threw out the council quota system, presumably leaving the faculty gender-mongers to gnash their teeth in frustration.
The inability of girls to “get” the gender issue is a source of despair across the private-school universe. Diversity practitioners have an explanation for it: girls’ brains aren’t sophisticated enough yet. “Feminism is hard for adolescents to grasp,” sighs Ellie Griffin, head of counseling at Milton Academy. “It doesn’t take hold till college. It may be a question of cognitive development.” Diversocrats cite the “immature brain theory” to explain students’ lack of interest in race and racism, as well.
Yet maybe adolescents’ brains have all the cognitive capacity they need to recognize inequality, but what they see around them is equality. It must be challenging to convince an intellectually honest female prep-school student, surrounded by lavish opportunities and adults cheering on her every accomplishment, that she is a victim of the patriarchy. Even assuming that gross sexual injustice infects the workplace or married life (a dubious proposition), a 14-year-old girl has experienced none of it, so why burden her prematurely? Why not fill her brain with the beauties of poetry, painting, and physics?
There is no holding back the surge of feminist theory, however, into the secondary-school arena. Even boys’ schools have been overrun. The International Boys School Coalition has invited to its annual conference in June gender psychologist Carol Gilligan, whose work fueled the spurious claim that schools were destroying girls’ self-esteem, and Anna Quindlen, former New York Times chronicler of America’s growing list of victims. Rounding out the roster of speakers are representatives of the homosexual community: the director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which works in “K-12” schools—that’s “K” as in “Kindergarten”—to “ensure equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students,” and the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, the Harvard minister who challenges fundamentalist claims that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Finally, psychologist Michael Thompson will decry the “tyranny of toughness” with which boys are socialized. TR or Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell would not feel at home at the Boys School Coalition.
The one service that the women’s studies industry could provide in these schools is a strong voice for chastity. That no one wishes to do. Milton’s Ellie Griffin rightly worries that parents are not setting limits for their children, but Milton will not itself say “ ‘sexual intimacy will not be tolerated,’ ” she acknowledges. Andover teaches its girls how to perform fellatio without a condom (the key: Saran Wrap). What about telling girls not to engage in sex in high school, period? “We’re not promoting any given response to sexual activity,” explains Diane Moore. The Bronx’s
Fieldston School has distributed condoms to seventh-graders, and demonstrated how to apply spermicide before inserting the condom-sheathed relevant part into a female or male body.
This solicitude for the sexual freedoms of their students derives from the sexual revolution and the feminist rejection of “patriarchal” sexual mores. It is also consistent with the growing prominence of gay and lesbian activism on campus. Given the importance of free sex in the homosexual life-style (a salience so pronounced as to have demolished long-standing public health protocols regarding sexually transmitted diseases), advocacy of traditional sexual morality could appear anti-gay. Thus, condoms, not monogamy or chastity, have become the officially sanctioned defense against AIDS.
And with the gay issue, we round out the trilogy of “identity politics” that prep schools have absorbed from university academic culture. Homosexuality is not tolerated at prep schools today (remember, “tolerance” is not a virtue)—it is celebrated. National Coming Out Day triggers weekend festivities in some places; throughout the year, prep schools invite speakers whose primary qualification is their sexual orientation.
Independent schools rival colleges in devising new ways to weave homosexuality into the curriculum. The Concord Review, a journal of high school history essays, recently received a senior essay from the Sidwell Friends School in Washington on Walt Whitman’s warped sexuality. The problem was not that Whitman was homosexual, argued the author, but that his writing ignored lesbianism.
All schools should punish the harassment of homosexuals and demand that students treat everyone with respect. But neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is an accomplishment. Schools should reserve their celebrations for academic achievement. If schools want to highlight homosexuality, they should at least tell the whole story about the gay life-style, including the violent, often drug-induced, promiscuity that bred the AIDS crisis.
The prep-school diversity agenda could not be more destructive. Emphasizing the alleged injustices facing blacks today is a recipe for academic failure: students who believe that external factors (like discrimination) determine academic outcomes work less hard, and are more easily discouraged, than students who believe success results from effort and ability. Achieving students, several studies have found, are optimists who subscribe to the work ethic. Those who complain loudest about inadequate multiculturalism in their classes are the underachievers.
As the diversity bureaucrats admit, many minority students reach high school believing in equal opportunity. It makes no sense to convince them otherwise. As for those students already convinced that the world is stacked against them, reinforcing that sense only provides an excuse for not trying.
The best way to prepare students for success is to fill them with real knowledge and send them forth in such a headlong trajectory of accomplishment that, should they encounter some cretin spouting racial slurs, they will merely brush it off as beneath contempt. The likelihood that minority prep-school graduates will encounter career-threatening racism in the world that lies before them is slim. Most professions today are frantically searching for well-credentialed minorities. Elite law firms in New York City, for example, annually agonize over how to recruit, retain, and promote more blacks; they are desperate for candidates for the partner track.
Besides being self-defeating, exercises in racism-spotting are a waste of time. Students from the most prestigious prep schools are far from oversaturated with European and American history, Greek tragedy, or Enlightenment philosophy, however much they may know about women’s cosmetics choices. Nor is there much chance that the graduates will make up their knowledge gaps in colleges equally stupefied by identity-based theorizing.
Such intellectual powerhouses as Andover and Exeter once saw themselves as factories for a national elite. They searched for talented “youth from every quarter”—from all classes and all parts of the nation—whom they could fashion into a cadre of informed, public-spirited leaders. Today, elite private schools face an unprecedented opportunity: to create an integrated ruling class that will carry us beyond our self-lacerating obsessions with race. To do so, they need merely remove their artificial inducements to race-consciousness, educate their students diligently, and then let them loose to unleash colorblindness onto the world.