Metropolises like New York City have long been identified as epicentres of Western culture and cultural shifts. If this characterisation is accurate, the West best be warned.

There is a woke choke gripping Manhattan’s elite schools. Teachers are being sacked for their failure to uphold critical race theory; wealthy parents are threatening donation boycotts; some are simply giving up and removing their children from schools altogether.

Bari Weiss, a courageous journalist who was elbowed out of the New York Times last year for having the wrong opinions, has this year been drawing attention to the wokeification of elite schools around America.

A piece she penned in March called The Miseducation of America’s Elites centred on a school in West Los Angeles. Her byline tells the story all too well: “Affluent parents, terrified of running afoul of the new orthodoxy in their children’s private schools, organize in secret.”

Weiss has since turned her attention to parallel events taking place in Manhattan schools. Last week, she published an essay by Paul Rossi, a maths teacher at US$57,000-a-year Grace Church High School. His letter begins:

As a teacher, my first obligation is to my students. But right now, my school is asking me to embrace “antiracism” training and pedagogy that I believe is deeply harmful to them and to any person who seeks to nurture the virtues of curiosity, empathy and understanding.        

“Antiracist” training sounds righteous, but it is the opposite of truth in advertising. It requires teachers like myself to treat students differently on the basis of race…  

Rossi’s letter includes an eerie account of what happened when he dared question the school’s radical race dogma. Though many students appreciated the breath of fresh air provided by his independent perspective, the head of the school informed him that he had caused “neurological disturbance in students’ beings and systems’”. Then a public reprimand of Rossi’s conduct was read aloud to every student in the school.

In Paul Rossi’s tell-all piece, he conceded:

I know that by attaching my name to this I’m risking not only my current job but my career as an educator, since most schools, both public and private, are now captive to this backward ideology. But witnessing the harmful impact it has on children, I can’t stay silent.

His words were prophetic. Days later, Rossi was told that he was barred from teaching for the remainder of the school year, and that his contract would not be renewed.

In the aftermath, Paul Rossi called out the hypocrisy of the head of school George Davison for toeing the woke line in public, while admitting behind closed doors that Grace Church was “demonizing white people for being born”. Davison accused Rossi of misquoting him, until audio was released confirming Davison’s private admissions.

Indeed, what is increasingly clear about the woke phenomenon is not only that it prompts people to hold one view privately and express another in public—it causes them to publicly rebuke others for expressing views they themselves secretly hold.

Even as the dust was settling around the Rossi affair, Bari Weiss published another piece—this time from a Brearley parent. Brearley is a private all-girls school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with $54,000-a-year tuition. Weiss explains that, according to her research, prospective families are required to take an “anti-racism pledge” to be considered for admission.

The parent begins his letter thus:

Dear Fellow Brearley Parents,

Our family recently made the decision not to reenroll our daughter at Brearley for the 2021-22 school year. She has been at Brearley for seven years, beginning in kindergarten. In short, we no longer believe that Brearley’s administration and Board of Trustees have any of our children’s best interests at heart. Moreover, we no longer have confidence that our daughter will receive the quality of education necessary to further her development into a critically thinking, responsible, enlightened, and civic minded adult…       

It cannot be stated strongly enough that Brearley’s obsession with race must stop. It should be abundantly clear to any thinking parent that Brearley has completely lost its way.

The letter can be read in full here.

These incidents are not isolated. Former TV show host Megyn Kelly recently pulled her sons out of Collegiate, a $59,000-a-year, all-boys school, also in Manhattan. She conceded that Collegiate has long been known as a progressive institution, but was concerned by recent developments, particularly since the George Floyd riots:

I didn’t really care, most of my friends are liberals, it’s fine. I come from a Democrat family, I’m not offended at all by the ideology, and I lean center-left on some things. But they [Collegiate] have gone around the bend,… I mean, they have gone off the deep end.

Following this, another Manhattan school, Dalton, found itself mired in similar controversy. Parents   began pulling their children from Dalton when it was revealed that faculty and staff had signed an “antiracist manifesto” that demanded the elimination of certain classes if black students’ scores don’t equal those of white students; mandatory “diversity plot lines” in school plays; and an overhaul of the school’s curriculum.

Only last year, it was also revealed that billionaire John Paulson wrote to ultra-elite Manhattan school Spence to inform them he would no longer fund the school as long as it engaged in “anti-white indoctrination”. Wrote Paulson:

The advantages enjoyed by most individuals from middle or upper-income backgrounds today are the result of stable family backgrounds, high education levels, hard work, and personal responsibility.          

To attribute them to their race entails a blindness to the values that we rightly want to cultivate in our children. Our daughters are successful in school because they are disciplined and work hard…       

As you know we have been amongst the largest financial supporters of Spence. However, we will not continue to make donations to Spence while Spence continues on this path.

It is heartening to see this groundswell of pushback against the illiberal doctrines of wokeness. We must keep the pressure up if the students of tomorrow are to have any will to defend the Western liberal order that has secured the freedoms and opportunities we have enjoyed.

One practical way you can help is by signing the FAIR pledge. FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism) is an organisation that has supported Paul Rossi through the Grace Church scandal.

Kurt Mahlburg

Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate...