It's not right vs left, but liberal vs illiberal. Allies on the right are working with the libs to resist public school DEI. And the illiberals can't understand why.
I hope it’s a sign of the times, that perhaps, at long last, liberals and conservatives are learning to cooperate again.
Not in Washington D.C., of course; that’s crazy talk! But in upscale Newton, Massachusetts, activist parents are partnering with conservative groups similarly self-tasked with bringing a little common sense and maybe even actual education to—well, public education.
Certain Newton Public Schools parents maintain that DEI initiatives are bringing down academic scores, while others disagree. The controversy pits those who claim diversity and inclusion are critical for racial equity against those who want to de-emphasize DEI initiatives and social justice politics.
Sound like a typical left vs right tug-of-war over children’s education? Think again.
Newton is no New England bastion of white, conservative values. According to Data USA, it’s 72% white, 15% Asian, about 5% multiracial, about 3% black, and 2% Hispanic. Unlike their northern neighbors hovering at around 90% white.
The median income of this average-age-forty suburb is $164,607, with nearly 72% property ownership in an area where the average house price is a little under a million. And Massachusetts, in a new study, finds the state ranks first for the best U.S. school systems.
A group called Newton Families for Improving Academics or also ImproveNPS, has circulated a petition calling for empowering parents to advise educators more on school policies, practices and curricula. Their wild-eyed extremist aim? To, quote, “Provide a culture of fairness and understanding with an emphasis on common humanity above group identity.”
Their pro-DEI adversaries paint them as ‘right-wing’, which they’re largely not, and cozying up to conservative activist organizations (well…somewhat).
Maybe the pro-DEIs are getting their information from sources like Boston’s PBS-affiliated WGBH radio and TV.
The WGBH headline I found is Right-leaning groups opposed to diversity efforts find unlikely allies in Newton parents. WGBH’s website states, “True journalism is driven by the hunt for the truth,” but the article reveals a fair amount of bias and not much investigative digging for alternative interpretations or points of view. The website also claims a commitment to science, which is noticeably missing in the their search results for ‘gender-affirming care’ for kids which don’t appear to address growing documentation of the lack of evidence behind it.
Not exactly promoting a balanced-sounding approach.
The activist parents are concerned about how much DEI ideology has crept into the system. The resistors aren’t screaming, red-faced, red-capped MAGAs; Newton is a moderately liberal town in a solidly blue state from which Senator Elizabeth Warren hails. The Newton DEI fuss seems to be more of a face-off of what I hope to see more of in this new year: Not liberals vs conservatives, but hard-left illiberals challenged by traditional liberals and conservatives.
Last year, the Newton Public' Schools Statement of Values and Commitment to Equity was amended to call for ‘racial equity’. The parents fighting back say they’d prefer a more humanist, universal approach to education. To the extremist illiberal mind, unquestioningly committed to a diversity model now under attack for many very good reasons, a more moderate, truly inclusive approach looks threateningly right-wing.
One of the external organizations the activist parents are collaborating with is no right-wing think tank. WGBH’s description of FAIR, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, subtly suggests it might be conservative, noting that, “Almost all of FAIR’s legal and political advocacy has been directed against DEI and anti-racism efforts across the country,” and that its work “is based on a philosophy that equates diversity, inclusion and equity policies with what it calls ‘neo-racism’ — a new twist on the idea of ‘reverse racism’.”
The Elect: The Threat To A Progressive America from Black Antiracists - John McWhorter, author of Woke Racism
What WGBH doesn’t mention is FAIR’s commitment to, according to their What We Stand For page, ‘defending civil rights and liberties’, advocating for those ‘threatened or persecuted for free speech’, ‘respectful disagreement,’ ‘that objective truth exists,’ and that they are ‘pro-human’, committed to ending (non-color-specific) racism. All classic, traditional liberal values.
FAIR and other critics challenge DEI and other ‘antiracism’ efforts because that’s where they find plenty of intolerance and racism.
What it also doesn’t tell you is that FAIR’s Executive Director is Monica Harris, a black lesbian feminist who some writer colleagues and I wrote about last year when she got censored by blogging platform Medium for quite politely criticizing transactivism that she claimed harmed women, lesbians and gay men.
Not exactly a screaming white supremacist Proud Girl.
On the other hand, WGBH claims to have taken part in a FAIR Zoom meeting for outreach and recruitment in which the staff facilitator claimed they had united in common cause with the far-right group Moms for Liberty, an allegation I can’t yet confirm. The cooperation may have been circumstantial rather than intentional as the FAIR facilitator said, “There’s been a few cases where we have been on the same side of them to support each other in some town hall kind of situations.”
This is what I call the Murky Middle, where you don’t always like the company and allies you keep. Where you find yourself suddenly toe to toe with some political hack you think you can’t stand, but then you realize she also groks Jordan Peterson’s personal responsibility rap, or you find not all libs drink the trans Koolaid. Or the Bible-toting Christian lady shares your concerns that her kids might die in a Uvalde-style shooting, and she wants saner gun laws too. And she finds you don’t want to repeal the Second Amendment, either!
This is where social and political ‘salvation’ for all of us lies—putting aside our differences and working together for common goals. Perhaps even borrowing, stealing, or revisiting some of the other side’s better ideas.
One Newton pro-DEI parent interprets FAIR’s website with the same suspicion and trepidation I once associated with conservatives protesting a Playboy-carrying 7-11, terrified they might see a naked nipple. “It’s a lot of dog whistles on [FAIR’s] website. The language they use is very lovely, but when you look at it basically it is an ‘All Lives Matter’ kind of narrative, it’s coded language. They can’t come out in Newton and say, ‘We don't like these programs that are focused on Black kids, kids of color.’”
I wonder if Monica Harris realizes she’s just one declined antiracism workshop away from embracing white supremacy or something.
It highlights just how far some have strayed from actual liberalism. FAIR’s value commitments really are out of the liberally libby-lib Great Book of Liberalism. And ‘All Lives Matter’ has sounded a lot less right-wing and more necessarily universal since the DEI-disoriented brought antisemitism and calls for Nazi-reminiscent genocide back into fashion. DEI consultants’unwillingness to address antisemitism after it exploded last fall as quite arguably the most pressing racism problem we face now, is exactly why traditional liberals are turning to the right who have been calling attention to DEI excesses for years.
‘All Lives Matter’ is what I want to yell at any kaffiyeh-clad protesters, since it’s quite clear that Jewish lives don’t.
The article quotes a Harvard (oh no!) history and race professor as saying that FAIR and similar groups are trying to ‘de-legitimize’ antiracism efforts and position them as morally wrong. The comment exposes the lack of self-awareness and the self-satisfied, dogmatic self-righteousness with which the far left comes to resemble their sworn enemies on the far right. No, we can’t possibly be wrong, we have all the answers! Wokeland, Wokeland über alles!
The professor simply can’t fathom that the criticism and resistance woke antiracism receives is because so many of us can point to its blatant unexamined racism and promotion of divisive perpetual conflict between identity group human constructs ever-further defined as ‘marginalized’.
Maybe he should read FAIR’s guest article, How our treatments for ‘racial trauma’ already make the problem worse by Dr. Tara Gustilo. This explains why us libby-libs want to dial back DEI and ‘antiracism’ initiatives as much as our conservative counterparts: Because they make our racial problems WORSE, not better!
Maybe then, the Harvard professor and all of Newton’s terrified parents might understand why others don’t always perceive them as ‘antiracist’ and ‘socially just’ as they think they are.
Before I moved to Canada and became a liberal gadfly—for liberals—I spent more than twenty years talking with, debating, and arguing with conservative Republican Christians. I see the same sort of rigid, faith-based, slavish devotion to a morality begun with good intentions but corrupted by humans’ relentless ability to make it all about themselves—how good and virtuous they are—and how deplorable Those People Are.
I do it. You do it. We all do it.
But if we’re honest, we try not to do it, and if we continue to, we at least have the decency to feel quietly hypocritical and ashamed of ourselves.
ImproveNPS has pointed out to their ultra-lefty neighbors that many black intellectuals support a more universal antiracism return to an emphasis on working hard and downplaying structural racism allegations. Like Cornel West, Coleman Hughes, Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell. Something for these parental illibs to think about on the next Martin Luther King Day.
Another terrified parent, and a Brandeis University professor, claimed it was all about ‘white supremacist politics’, not higher educational standards. Because, you know, all those Newton DEI critics wear their sheets at night rather than sleep on them, amirite?
So what’s the deal with racists and academic scores in Newton?
Are Newtonites super-racist? Are they woke-crazy social justice warriors? The details are murky.
In 2016, a group of Newton High School students caused a scandal when they drove a car around with an unfurled Confederate flag. Others allege racist and antisemitic attacks, and Principal Henry Turner said some felt like others ‘didn’t want them to succeed’.
A different group involved in Newton, Parents Defending Education, definitely owns more conservative cred than FAIR. PDE was founded by Nicole Neily, an operative affiliated with the notoriously right-wing Koch Network. In Newton, PDE tried to shut down a scholars program they claimed only allowed ‘underrepresented’ students, except it didn’t—it was open to all. PDE also targets antiracism and pro-LGBTQ policies. Still, a liberal like me is with them at least partially; they state classrooms should provide ‘rigorous instruction’ in ‘history, civics, literature, math, the sciences, and the ideas and values that enrich our country’.
So yeah, there may be some ugly right-wing and even racist elements in Newton. But there may also be efforts to reduce academic standards a bit, which might lower Newton’s scores, in service to students who just may not be cutting it. Why remains a mystery. Some point to Newton eliminating something called mathematics ‘tracking’ which groups students by ability, IQ, or achievement levels, which some say is discriminatory.
Others point to Newton’s declining Advanced Placement college prep courses, which were opened up to include more black students. Some accuse changes made to the AP program since the pandemic, and others claim it’s DEI. It’s unclear whether there’s been any investigation to determine why fewer students are enrolling, and not scoring as highly. Is it DEI, or something else? Or is DEI a contributor but not a cause?
There’s concern in Newton, perhaps not without just cause, that right-wing groups might use these kerfuffles as excuses to push ‘anti-woke’ education efforts. And unchecked anti-DEI is just as anti-educational as unchecked pro-DEI.
Consider that ‘anti-CRT’ activists usually want to replace the left’s simplistic, overtly racist message of white oppressors vs darker oppressed with an equally simplistic and racist sanitized history of the Civil War and why it was fought in the first place, and, as Nikki Haley demonstrated recently, a remarkable inability to mention the s——-y word.
Are the pro-equity parents afraid their adversaries will return common-sense education and a universalist humanist approach to race issues that have become highly unfashionable for today’s identity-obsessed antiracists? Maybe their adversaries are afraid their kids will catch the ROGD ‘trans virus’ so many are bringing home from school after the successful permeation of American education by LGBTQ activists, and particularly transactivists.
What I hope to see come out of this, and education battles across North America, is liberals and conservatives working together to bring about a better education system, hopefully diluting each side’s more extreme education inclinations. Maybe on a different battleground, conservatives and liberals can work together on, for example climate change, just as I hope ImproveNPS can keep the worst excesses of Parents Defending Education in check.
The Newton Public Schools controversy holds out hope that maybe red and blue can come together, after all. And that the ‘enemies’ of liberty, free speech and diversity of ideas come from the extremes, not the Murky Middle.
MAKE AMERICA GRAPE AGAIN!!!
Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a damn thing!