"When the Culture War Comes for the Kids"—The Sailer Take
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From The Atlantic:

When the Culture War Comes for the Kids
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.


Packer is a prominent foreign and foreign policy correspondent. His latest book is a biography of diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

First he and his youngerish wife do the whole New York City zillion dollar private kindergarten thing that I’ve had a lot of fun with over the years.

The pressure of meritocracy made us apply to private schools when our son was 2—not because we wanted him to attend private preschool, but because, in New York City, where we live, getting him into a good public kindergarten later on would be even harder, and if we failed, by that point most of the private-school slots would be filled. As friends who’d started months earlier warned us, we were already behind the curve …

I arrived to find myself, at best, the 30th person in a line that led from the locked front door of the school up the sidewalk. Registration was still two hours off, and places would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. At the front of the line, parents were lying in sleeping bags. They had spent the night outside. …

When parents on the fortunate ledge of this chasm gaze down, vertigo stuns them. Far below they see a dim world of processed food, obesity, divorce, addiction, online-education scams, stagnant wages, outsourcing, rising morbidity rates—and they pledge to do whatever they can to keep their children from falling. They’ll stay married, cook organic family meals, read aloud at bedtime every night, take out a crushing mortgage on a house in a highly rated school district, pay for music teachers and test-prep tutors, and donate repeatedly to overendowed alumni funds. The battle to get their children a place near the front of the line begins before conception and continues well into their kids’ adult lives. At the root of all this is inequality—and inequality produces a host of morbid symptoms, including a frantic scramble for status among members of a professional class whose most prized acquisition is not a Mercedes plug-in hybrid SUV or a family safari to Maasai Mara but an acceptance letter from a university with a top‑10 U.S. News & World Report ranking. …

So they get their oldest into a Dalton-type private school, but then they have a second and it’s starting to look like private school for both will cost a total of $1.5 million after taxes. So, it’s off to public school:

My wife and I are products of public schools.

Packer’s parents were both Stanford professors, so I’m guessing he went to Palo Alto HS. He wrote in 2013: “The public schools in the area were excellent and almost universally attended; the few kids I knew who went to private school had somehow messed up. The [Santa Clara/Silicon] Valley was thoroughly middle class, egalitarian, pleasant, and a little boring.”

Whatever torments they inflicted on our younger selves, we believed in them. We wanted our kids to learn in classrooms that resembled the city where we lived. We didn’t want them to grow up entirely inside our bubble—mostly white, highly and expensively educated—where 4-year-olds who hear 21,000 words a day acquire the unearned confidence of insular advantage and feel, even unconsciously, that they’re better than other people’s kids.

Eventually they find a public school that is “38 percent white, 29 percent black, 24 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian.”

This combination of diversity, achievement, and well-being was nearly unheard-of in New York public schools. This school squared the hardest circle. It was a liberal white family’s dream. The admission rate was less than 10 percent. We got wait-listed.

But eventually a school administrator responds to the letter from a National Book Award winner and lets their kid in.

Everything was fine until The Great Awokening:

And then things began to change.

Around 2014, a new mood germinated in America—at first in a few places, among limited numbers of people, but growing with amazing rapidity and force, as new things tend to do today. It rose up toward the end of the Obama years, in part out of disillusionment with the early promise of his presidency—out of expectations raised and frustrated, especially among people under 30, which is how most revolutionary surges begin. This new mood was progressive but not hopeful. …

Within two years, almost every bathroom in the school, from kindergarten through fifth grade, had become gender-neutral. Where signs had once said boys and girls, they now said students. …

The school didn’t inform parents of this sudden end to an age-old custom, as if there were nothing to discuss. Parents only heard about it when children started arriving home desperate to get to the bathroom after holding it in all day. Girls told their parents mortifying stories of having a boy kick open their stall door. Boys described being afraid to use the urinals. Our son reported that his classmates, without any collective decision, had simply gone back to the old system, regardless of the new signage: Boys were using the former boys’ rooms, girls the former girls’ rooms. This return to the familiar was what politicians call a “commonsense solution.” It was also kind of heartbreaking. As children, they didn’t think to challenge the new adult rules, the new adult ideas of justice. Instead, they found a way around this difficulty that the grown-ups had introduced into their lives. It was a quiet plea to be left alone. …

Hamilton and the campaign had a curious relation in our lives. The first acted as a disinfectant to the second, cleansing its most noxious effects, belying its most ominous portents. Donald Trump could sneer at Mexicans and rail against Muslims and kick dirt on everything decent and good, but the American promise still breathed whenever the Puerto Rican Hamilton and the black Jefferson got into a rap battle over the national bank. When our daughter saw pictures of the actual Founding Fathers, she was shocked and a little disappointed that they were white. The only president our kids had known was black. …

He’d been painfully aware of climate change throughout elementary school—first grade was devoted to recycling and sustainability, and in third grade, during a unit on Africa, he learned that every wild animal he loved was facing extinction. “What are humans good for besides destroying the planet?” he asked. Our daughter wasn’t immune to the heavy mood—she came home from school one day and expressed a wish not to be white so that she wouldn’t have slavery on her conscience. It did not seem like a moral victory for our children to grow up hating their species and themselves. …

“If you fail a math test you fail seventh grade,” our daughter said one night at dinner, looking years ahead. “If you fail seventh grade you fail middle school, if you fail middle school you fail high school, if you fail high school you fail college, if you fail college you fail life.”

We were back to the perversions of meritocracy. But the country’s politics had changed dramatically during our son’s six years of elementary school. Instead of hope pendants around the necks of teachers, in one middle-school hallway a picture was posted of a card that said, “Uh-oh! Your privilege is showing. You’ve received this card because your privilege just allowed you to make a comment that others cannot agree or relate to. Check your privilege.” The card had boxes to be marked, like a scorecard, next to “White,” “Christian,” “Heterosexual,” “Able-bodied,” “Citizen.” (Our son struck the school off his list.) …

Wokeness prettifies the success race, making contestants feel better about the heartless world into which they’re pushing their children. Constantly checking your privilege is one way of not having to give it up.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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