Chicago Elite Schools Channel Progressive McCarthyism in Admissions, Curriculum
Are you now or have you ever been against Critical Race Theory?
The other night at a dinner party as an autumn chill took hold and a nearby drive-by shooting on the North Side of Chicago caught the group’s attention on Citizen six blocks away (you can’t make this up anymore), your trusty correspondent learned of a friend who had applied for his children to attend one of Chicago’s elite private schools. He recounted how an admissions interview included the representative asking about the prospective family’s “commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism.”
While seemingly innocuous, the question was a test to weed out parents who would not pledge their fealty to progressivism, including the need to acknowledge white privilege — which antiracism demands — and, by extension, to dismantling the existing system and seeing the entire world through the lens of racism.
Let me repeat: This did not happen at a social justice oriented non-profit, screening potential board members or employees. Nor did it happen in an institution of higher education at a place where one would expect it, such as admission to a Comparative Literature or Women’s Study graduate program at Berkeley or Yale. It happened at The Latin School of Chicago.
Current and prospective donors and parents should let that sink in — you are supporting a school which discriminates based on the intellectual freedom of its community in its admissions process. Simply put: Are you now or have you ever been against Critical Race Theory?
Put another way: A new McCarthyism has taken hold in the admissions process for Chicago’s elite progressive schools. But as we’ll get to in a minute, not because of plurality and agreement among boards, donors and leadership. Rather, because of a radical few who stole the agenda in the middle of the darkest nights of COVID when parents, literally, were not allowed in the building (in some schools, they still are not as a general rule).
But how did we get here?
Parents like me are the problem
For a family to be singled out for their commitment to antiracism in an interview process at Latin is akin to asking for a party membership card in China. That this line of questioning should even be explored in a vetting process for a Chicago private school is appallingly illiberal.
However, even more concerning is the response of parents sitting on the other side of these questions. To wit, many, at least until they become truly honest with themselves, still want their children to attend and remain at these institutions even after such an interrogation would lead any reasonable person to conclude that critical thought and debate on controversial topics involving race and politics is now censored.
Sometimes it takes time for the magnitude of such a profound backwards change to sink in. I would know. Earlier this year, this author was in the same position as a friend who was not immediately taken aback at the question by the admissions representative.
I was, like him, chasing an intellectual foundation for my children at elite Chicago schools that I have come to realize no longer exists. And like my friend, I would accept these types of questions at the time without realizing what they really were — a weeding out of those who desire debate and freedom. Only after this actually sunk in, did I realize just how insidiously anti-intellectual these schools had become and that I was the problem in making excuse after excuse to still want to include my children in Chicago’s new elite progressive educational party.
Identity politics and prep school: A brave new world
It is indeed a brave new world of identity politics at Latin and other elite schools. Other parents have recounted similar experiences at The Lab School, Francis Parker and others, according to the author.
When I went to an elite prep school as a scholarship kid, critical inquiry and thought still existed. We were encouraged to grapple with multiple sides of an issue. For example, on the topic of Critical Race Theory (CRT), if themes from Ibram X. Kendi or Robin DiAngelo would have been around and read, or at least socialized in class, we would also have referenced and debated John McWhorter, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele and others who held opposing viewpoints. We might have even included views on the individual vs. society from Greek and Roman philosophers.
But the notion of debate on topics of race and CRT no longer exists at elite Chicago schools, let alone CPS. Part of the challenge is that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) team members at Latin and its peers — which are growing in size, standing and stature — are behaving as a secret intellectual police.
As one parent remarks:
“Like Nazi Germany's Gestapo during WWII or the Stasi in East Germany, these individuals have free reign to investigate and root out nonconformity. While the shiny boots and spiffy fascist uniforms have been replaced by rainbow flags, these people are one in the same — you are either a true believer or an enemy who must be turned away, converted or eliminated. The result is that white parents encourage their kids to keep their mouths shut if they are non-conforming with the CRT groupthink, lest they invite a progressive inquisition or worse (a meeting with the restorative justice counselor now placed in many Chicago Public Schools and also at private schools). And teachers that disagree keep to themselves.”
Star Chamber trials and “beacons of the time”
Today, if you are a heterosexual, white male at an elite school in Chicago, taking the wrong side of an issue and being vocal about it, especially if that issue involves race, can invite a Star Chamber trial. Indeed, even harboring the wrong sexual attractions on social media is sufficient grounds for discipline.
According to one parent, “a white male student who says, even outside of school, that he is not attracted sexually to a female student of another race or persuasion would be disciplined if his thoughts became public; but if a black or LGBTQIA+ student said similar things, no one would say anything. It’s absurdly illiberal and unfortunately, the first scenario is not fictionalized.”
The author had the chance to speak to the school head at an elite East Coast prep school earlier this fall and challenged him on the notion of antiracism and CRT being about meeting all children equally, which was his argument for the programs, and told him first hand how his own children had been treated differently from others based on their skin color, including being asked to admit their privilege in elite Chicago private schools.
His response: “This is just a beacon of the time and it too shall pass.”
A beacon of the times? Try alarm bells telling us to get into the air raid shelters for a long progressive educational winter, despite the “fake diversity,” that multiple current Latin parents suggest is in the school. Based on interviews with dozens of parents who are just starting to realize what is happening at these elite Chicago schools, it feels like the early to mid 1930s in Germany — the early guard is starting to think about getting out of these institutions for next year and warning others who are just now starting to pay attention to what is really going on.
Granted, more and more parents are considering moves away from these strange centers of wokeness — which for some, cannot come quickly enough for other families that have to balance multiple children, aging parents and other factors keeping them in Chicago and often at these schools for longer than they want, despite the fact their totalitarian spidey sense is tingling. But even as some feel powerless to move quickly, many have seen firsthand how there is no reasoning with administrators and leaders who continue to brainwash our children, as if they were preaching the gospel — which is precisely what it is to them.
In his new book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, John McWhorter, a Professor at Columbia, suggests CRT started in part when Richard Delgado began teaching non-whites to base their complaints about injustice not on something so “rigid” as objective truth, but upon the “broad story of dashed hopes and centuries of mistreatment that afflicts an entire people … this kind of argument was the source for the one now so familiar, that if a brown person says they have encountered racism, then it is automatically indisputable that they did, and if you don’t agree it makes you 'problematic.'”
The fact that at Latin, Parker and Lab parents and prospective parents are being weeded out because they are “problematic” should give pause to anyone who would want to send their children to such institutions — let alone remain. Yet many parents remain chasing the past and wishfully thinking that their children have intellectual freedom and will be exposed to multiple sides of controversial issues. They are in denial until the evidence is simply overwhelming.
“That elite Chicago schools could even conceive of screening out critically thinking families who want to debate the dogma of antiracism and critical race theory is a sign of how accepting we have become of progressive discrimination,” says one parent.
But such behavior is likely to backfire as the word spreads especially when combined with declining rates of admission at Ivy and equivalent colleges for white and Asian students from these Chicago schools alongside the rising and rampant violent crime in the city — including carjackings, shootings and murders literally on the doorsteps of Latin, Parker and Lab. In short: More families that can afford to may call it quits on schools like Latin, and with it, leave the city of Chicago entirely.
But what are the choices for those that stay in the city when parents become aware of what is really happening? Parents suggest the British School, Lycee and IB programs generally offer potential local alternatives primarily grounded in a global standard vs. woke antiracism and CRT, at least for now.
For example, British School’s diversity statement suggests that, “recruitment, performance and promotion decisions are based on merit.” Which down the street at Latin would be construed as a thought-crime by the school’s antiracist diversity admission screeners given that we all know that merit-based hiring and promotion perpetuates racism.
Making the uncomfortable choice
It took me a while to admit to myself the intellectual education I was chasing for my kids at schools like Latin, Parker and Lab was a figment of my childhood memory — it simply no longer exists in Chicago’s elite schools. This group of institutions, at the moment, have become political factories preparing kids for a life of groupthink, conformity and self-censorship.
But until more parents like me admit this to themselves instead of brushing it under the carpet, they will be pursuing a dream for their children which simply no longer exists, writing huge checks annually to fund the very antithesis of a liberal education. And they’ll do so while not only discouraging the ability of their children to think critically on today’s most controversial topics, but while also telling them to self-censor along the way.
Fortunately, there is hope. I have learned from those close to the school that what has happened at Latin, and many other institutions in Chicago, is not the result of democratic pluralism at the board and parent level, but progressive militant fiat by a selected few, helped along by a group of radical administrators who were waiting for the moment to storm in from the far left. Sources tell me the same is true about what happened at the Art Institute with its docents: the vast majority of board members simply had no idea it happened until after the fact.
This can change. The more board members, donors and parents who speak out, the sooner that free thinking and critical inquiry can be reestablished at places at all schools, elite and non-elite alike.
But until that happens, parents who have the choice should ask themselves: Do you really want to expose your children to an environment which denies the very right of a family or child to value self-determinism, hard work and merit over a race-driven agenda in which whites are always oppressors and blacks are always victims?
Even if you don’t want to (or can’t) make the move away from these institutions, if you are a donor, parent, or prospective parent who does not think that progressive political litmus tests should play a role in admissions and curriculum, please let your Board of Directors know what you think.
You might be surprised at what they are not aware of. And how much they want to know what is actually happening on their watch.