Purely Political, By James Buckley
I got a lot of mail about last week’s column, which reprinted an open letter from Andrew Gutmann to students, parents, and teachers at Brearley, an expensive private K-12 school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Mr. Gutmann’s letter apparently launched — finally! — a conversation about racism, policing, the quality of teaching, appropriate reading material, and a host of other micro matters that deserve more attention. Too often these subjects are deemed taboo and suppressed by left-leaning students, teachers, administrators and activists who regularly shut out and shout down dissident opinions expressed or implied.
First, let’s run those letters, followed by a brief response, then we’ll read a rebuttal and some of the response to it.
GOT TO READ THIS
I recommend that James Buckley read Yassie Liow’s rebuttal to Andrew Gutmann’s letter. Liow is a senior at Brearley and her rebuttal was published by The Iris. The rebuttal is thoughtful and articulate. If this represents the quality of thinking and writing among seniors at Brearley, I would suggest that the school is doing a very fine job educating their students.
We should all attempt to balance our perspectives.
(I did indeed read Ms Liow’s rebuttal, which appeared in The Iris, an online journal written “By The Youth, For The Youth,” and found it both thoughtful and articulate. I congratulate the young lady for being able to express her sentiments so clearly. – J.B.)
Thank you for your recent column. It is a magnificent summary of the poisonous culture affecting our educational system. I have cut it out and will be reading it daily.
It is particularly frightening to me that while the current “educators” will eventually move on, they will have trained generations of teachers to replicate our current insanity. I’d be interested to hear if you can even imagine how things will eventually become sane again.
Robert Gayou, M.D.
(As far as things eventually becoming “sane again,” look no further than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose most recent proposals to rein in college sexual harassment, “Star Chambers,” and to promote “intellectual diversity” on state-funded campuses are an encouraging start. Another great thing would be to bring back Betsy DeVos to head up the Department of Education, immediately upon the end of the Biden administration. – J.B.)
PUBLISH AND ENCOURAGE MORE
I commend your publication of Mr. Andrew Gutmann’s letter to The Brearley School. This letter should be sent to the school boards of every school district in America and every principal of both private and public schools, and to every PTA.
I too am appalled at the reluctance of people to speak out against this kind of Orwellian propaganda being used in our schools and universities and through our cultural organizations in general.
As the response to anyone who objects to these divisive policies is “You are a racist,” we have allowed this charge to become the most feared of epithets in America. It is time to fight back through every means available, especially ridicule.
I urge you to find other newspapers and TV programs to publish this letter and encourage others to rebel against what can only be described as tyranny. Tucker Carlson of Fox News could be one candidate.
(Tucker Carlson and Fox News have both commented at length about Mr. Gutmann’s letter. I am not aware of what the rest of the media covers, so I’m not sure the other major outlets have. I do like your suggestion to use ridicule to combat false charges and fake news. Ridicule, as you probably know, was a favorite tactic of Saul Alinsky, author of “Rules For Radicals.” – J.B.)
I can’t reprint Ms. Liow’s entire letter, but what follows is the essence of what she writes: “As an Asian-American senior at Brearley, I have spent the past few days thinking about how the letter misrepresents my school.
“As a sixth grader, Gutmann’s daughter has encountered roughly half of the Brearley curriculum. She has not encountered Latin at Brearley — as students start the Classics in seventh grade — has not analyzed Cicero, and has not translated Caecilius est in horto, the famous phrase and fan favorite from the Cambridge Latin Course.
“Brearley has not censored ‘dated language.’ Sure, we don’t run up and down the hallways screaming slurs at each other. We do, however, read Huckleberry Finn and ‘A Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass,’ ‘Beloved’ and ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ which include the n-word. We don’t take it lightly. We discuss the meaning of the n-word in its historical context, how it has been used to harm others and why we should not use it.”
Yassie admits that, as a senior, she had “not read a single word written by a white author in English this year.
“Quite frankly,” she says, “it was liberating to hear non-Eurocentric perspectives on colonialism. I left the class feeling better equipped to assess power dynamics, having analyzed narratives on both sides …
“One of the books by white authors removed from the Brearley curriculum is ‘A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.’ Rowlandson offers readers a whiny account of being moved from one Native American camp to another in King Phillip’s war, peppered with racist retorts. It will not be missed.
“That year, we also read ‘A Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass,’ one of the few books in my (since amended) sophomore year curriculum written by a non-white author. This book gave me a much greater understanding of American history than Rowlandson ever could.”
Ms. Liow opines that “there is nothing ‘intellectual’ about fearing for your life. It is a privilege, one of a wealthy, white person, to intellectualize the trauma of people of color. It is a privilege to see racism as a debatable issue. It is a privilege to deny its existence altogether.”
Yassie writes that, “Personally, I am more afraid of an underground group of Brearley families who deny that I have a rightful place in the school or argue that I contribute to a ‘lowering of standards.’ I am not thrilled with these beliefs, in the form of a letter, intruding on physical space in my private life.”
Mr. Gutmann objects to the charge of systemic racism in this country. “Systemic racism is unequivocally not a small number of isolated incidents over a period of decades,” Mr. Gutmann wrote.
“This statement is ignorant at best, facetious at worst,’ Ms. Liow responds. “Surely Gutmann has read the news lately. People of color are being shot and killed ‘accidentally’ on the regular. Systemic racism did not end in 1960. In fact, it continues to benefit white people, whether or not they acknowledge their privilege.
“I am so tired of hearing that my existence takes up too much space. I am tired of hearing debates about whether my voice belongs in the classroom.
“Teaching students about anti-racism might make them more close-minded to racist views, but it ultimately helps them appreciate cultures and perspectives other than their own. Brearley’s anti-racist programming is a step in the direction of a more inclusive future, one which some might be afraid to encounter in their households, but one which most of the community readily embraces,” she concludes.
The following responses that Yassie Liow received online barely scratch the surface of the depth of the conversation. Readers should go online to The Iris and read them for themselves. Here is just a sprinkling:
READING THE WRONG STATS
The only pro is that the Yassie is well-intentioned, which is a positive thing! But it goes downhill from there. If the opinion of the student is the majority opinion of both the staff and students at Brearley, we are in big trouble as a society.
It is clear that Yassie is not informed about the statistics about violence by the police and the number of black victims in the United States per year which pales in comparison to black-on-black violence or black-on-white violence.
Andrew Guttman is not guilty of being racist by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, he is guilty of upsetting sensitive people by exposing the inconvenient truth that practicality, objectivity and free thought are being sacrificed at the expense of well-intentioned albeit erroneous thinking.
CLEAR AND BEAUTIFUL
Thank you so much for writing this beautiful, clear letter — so impressive in content, tone and style. It makes “Mad Dad” Gutmann‘s letter that much more sad and crude.
Good thing you are doing here. I wrote a letter to the Times about Gutmann’s letter. The thing that upset me most about his letter, because unlike his racism, which is obvious, people might believe him, is the notion that there has been a decrease in quality at Brearley, among students, faculty and curriculum. Could not be more wrong! I should know, after teaching there for 28 years. My only critical comment: If I were a Spanish teacher, I would be annoyed that they were teaching Marquèz in an English class. lol.
P.S. I gave the letter a C- for opinion stated as fact, sloppy grammar and pompous rhetoric.
There is a lot in this essay that stimulated me — in a negative as well as a positive sense. But the following sentence struck me as being utterly insincere: “Personally, I am more afraid of an underground group of Brearley families who deny that I have a rightful place in the school or argue that I contribute to a ‘lowering of standards.’ I am not thrilled with these beliefs, in the form of a letter, intruding on physical space in my private life.”
The same goes for the bewildering claim that “I am so tired of hearing that my existence takes up too much space. I am tired of hearing debates about whether my voice belongs in the classroom.”
These are serious charges. Do you have anything to back them up?
Unless I am mistaken, the only people who may think you are “taking up too much space” are the anti-racists at elite colleges like Harvard who will tell you “sorry, but we have filled our Asian quota.”
Anyway, Mr. Gutmann’s letter and Ms Liow’s response were all good, provocative reading, and that’s what school — and good schooling — should be.