Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Woke wars good and bad news

R.A. Fisher, famous statistician, is canceled by Cambridge University, along with a pretty nice stained glass window

Bari Weiss has a tremendous essay by  on the state of affairs in elite secondary schools, but including the first inklings of secret resistance. Coverage below. 

The New York Times allows Brett Stephens to be critical of California's Ethnic Studies Follies. A short excerpt below. Others have slammed the curriculum more effectively, but the source makes this notable. 

A group of courageous University of Chicago students sets up "The Chicago Thinker" a well-produced news website devoted to "defend conservative and libertarian perspectives in a community that is increasingly intolerant of such voices." 

The Academic Freedom Alliance is launched, not just to talk and expose censorship but also to offer concrete and even legal help to those targeted. Spend some time browsing the website. We need not just voices, but institutions of civil society to defend free speech and thought, and this is a great initiative. It adds to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Heterodox Academy


Bari Weiss  (I have reordered many paragraphs by my topics) What's it like at fancy schools these days? 

A Harvard-Westlake English teacher welcomes students back after summer with: “I am a queer white womxn of European descent. I use [ she | her ] pronouns but also feel comfortable using [ they | them ] pronouns.” She attached a “self-care letter” quoting Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

“We don’t call them Newton’s laws anymore,” an upperclassman at the school informs me. “We call them the three fundamental laws of physics. They say we need to ‘decenter whiteness,’ and we need to acknowledge that there’s more than just Newton in physics.”

One of her classmates says that he tries to take “the fact classes, not the identity classes.” But it’s gotten harder to distinguish between the two. “I took U.S. history and I figured when you learn about U.S. history maybe you structure it by time period or what happened under each presidency. We traced different marginalized groups. That was how it was structured. I only heard a handful of the presidents’ names in class. 

Way back in the 1970s I chose MIT and majored physics in part because I understood that in the humanities and social sciences I would be graded mostly on my willingness to spit back professors' political opinions. As a developing libertarian grappling with important issues, I could not stay quiet. I left. Plus ça change, but it has changé a lot for the worse. There is no hiding in physics anymore either, apparently. 

“They replaced all the books with no input or even informing the parents.” The curriculum no longer features classics such as The Scarlet Letter, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lord of the Flies. New books include: Stamped, Dear Martin, Dear Justice, and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

At Grace Church School, seniors can take a course called “Allying: Why? Who? and How?” The curriculum includes a ’zine called “Accomplices Not Allies” that declares “the work of an accomplice in anti-colonial struggle is to attack colonial structures & ideas,” alongside a photograph of a burning police car. ..

One teacher told me that he was asked to teach an antiracist curriculum that included a “pyramid” of white supremacy. At the top was genocide. At the bottom was “two sides to every story.”

“‘Two sides to every story,’” he said. “That was on the racist pyramid.” 

Indoctrination extends so sadly to lower grades. Bari captures well the voices of very young children: 
Consider this story, from Chapin, the tony all-girls school on the Upper East Side, involving a white girl in the lower grades who came home one day and told her father: “All people with lighter skin don’t like people with darker skin and are mean to them.” He was horrified as she explained that that was what she had been taught by her teachers. “I said to her: that’s not how we feel in this family.” 

Let's hope he added "shh, don't tell your teachers I told you that." Later, 

 the mother to a four-year-old...was drawing with her daughter, who said offhandedly: “I need to draw in my own skin color.” Skin color, she told her mother, is “really important.” She said that’s what she learned in school.

My emphasis. 

The most interesting part of Bari's essay though is the realization of just what this is: A complex marker of privilege, to gain access to an increasingly credentialized and stratified society. 

Power in America now comes from speaking woke, a highly complex and ever-evolving language. The Grace Church School in Manhattan, for example, offers a 12-page guide to “inclusive language,”

The guide is worth reading. I thought of doing a joke version of such a guide. I don't need to. Reality is better than farce.   

Fluency in woke is an effective class marker and key for these princelings to retain status in university and beyond. The parents know this, and so woke is now the lingua franca of the nation’s best prep schools. As one mother in Los Angeles puts it: “This is what all the colleges are doing, so we have to do it. 

Woe betide the working-class kid who arrives in college and uses Latino instead of “Latinx,” or who stumbles conjugating verbs because a classmate prefers to use the pronouns they/them. 

Woe betide the immigrant who gets "of color" and "people" in the wrong order.   

This is not about actually helping disadvantaged people. This is a new race for status -- like $500 torn jeans and designer Che Guevara t-shirts.  Membership in the upper class has always come with status markers of language, clothes and behavior. The Queen's accent. Knowing which fork to pick up. Knowing Latin or Greek. Today, 

 ...children learn how the new rules of woke work. The idea of lying in order to please a teacher seems like a phenomenon from the Soviet Union. But the high schoolers I spoke with said that they do versions of this, including parroting views they don’t believe in assignments so that their grades don’t suffer. 

If they want good grades in college, and good jobs in our tech companies, that might be a very good idea. The hilarious hypocrisy of course is that access to an increasingly controlled upper stratum of society depends on mastering a vocabulary of nonsense words that pretends to care about the disadvantaged.  Well, sort of like getting ahead in the Soviet Union depended on pretending to care about "workers" and mastering "marxist-lenisist thought."  

The cynical answer for their silence is two words: Ivy League. “There are definitively rumors that the school has like, say, three picks for Duke and that if you stand up against this your kid will get blackballed,” says one mother.

Bain & Company is tweeting about “Womxn’s History Month.” The Cartoon Network is imploring children to “see color.” Coca-Cola employees were recently instructed to “be less white.” You cannot buy or sell the newly problematic Dr. Seuss titles on eBay. 

Most succinctly, 

This ideology isn’t speaking truth to power. It is the power. 

My emphasis. 

But Bari starts with a little good news. There is an underground resistance: 

Harvard-Westlake parents’ group is one of many organizing quietly around the country to fight what it describes as an ideological movement that has taken over their schools. 

Underground, though, because we all know the power of the mob:

They worry about losing their jobs or hurting their children if their opposition to this ideology were known.

“The school can ask you to leave for any reason,” said one mother at Brentwood, another Los Angeles prep school. “Then you’ll be blacklisted from all the private schools and you’ll be known as a racist, which is worse than being called a murderer.” 

That fear is shared, deeply, by the children. For them, it’s not just the fear of getting a bad grade or getting turned down for a college recommendation, though that fear is potent. It’s the fear of social shaming. “If you publish my name, it would ruin my life. People would attack me for even questioning this ideology. I don’t even want people knowing I’m a capitalist,” a student at the Fieldston School in New York City told me,...

Fancy prep schools are just the vanguard. Back in the public schools, 

Most alarmingly, the ideology is increasingly prevalent at the local public school. The incoming New York City schools chancellor is a vocal proponent of critical race theory. In Burbank, the school district just told middle- and high school teachers to stop teaching To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. The Sacramento school district is promoting racial segregation by way of “racial affinity groups,” where students can “cultivate racial solidarity and compassion and support each other in sitting with the discomfort, confusion, and numbness that often accompany white racial awakening.” The San Diego school district recently held a training 


Brett Stephens updates us on California public schools: 

From the opening pages of the model curriculum, students are expected not just to “challenge racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist/colonial beliefs,” but to “critique empire-building in history” and “connect ourselves to past and contemporary social movements that struggle for social justice.”

Irish-Americans have faced a long history of discrimination in the U.S. and are famously proud of their heritage. But the word “Irish” hardly appears anywhere in the model curriculum, and nowhere in its sample lessons. Russians, Italians, Poles and others rate only the briefest mentions.

Perhaps this is because all of them, like most Jews, have a new identity, known in the jargon of ethnic studies as “conditional whiteness,” which simultaneously erases their past and racializes their present. Leave aside the ignorance this fosters regarding the long history of differences, struggles and achievements by various European ethnic groups in America. It’s also the mirror image of longstanding prejudices regarding “Asians” or “Hispanics” as ethnically undifferentiated masses of mainly identical people.

... To treat “whiteness” — conditional or otherwise — not as an accident of pigmentation but as an ethnicity unto itself is what the David Dukes of the world have always wanted.

The Chicago Thinker, AFA,  FIRE and Heterodox Academy will have plenty to do.  



  1. Respectfully, this essay feels outdated. Byzantine language codes, and arguments and meta-arguments about whom they serve and whom they disenfranchise, date (in their current iteration) at least to the '90s, when the debates over "political correctness" began in earnest, but have probably existed as long as spoken language itself. Grog not call Theena a Neanderthal, else Thog hit him. I can't escape the feeling that the entire debate is an exercise in turning molehills into mountains, where exceedingly minor issues are blown far beyond their reasonable proportion. I'm not just referring to microaggressions, either. School is by and large an outdated institution, especially high schools (where most of the documents you shared originated. Seriously, we can't teach kids basic Algebra, but you expect them to be forever instilled with the tenets of wokeness? If school is bad at one it is bad at both, neither for lack of trying; it takes nothing more than an edict from the administration to render any idea instantly uncool. High school kids aren't (for the most part) petitioning their schools to police their language; it is an ineffectual measure just like any other brought about by administrations too hamstrung to even hold kids accountable for latenesses, let alone material retention.

    But the elite prep schools, the Ivy League colleges. Are they not churning out the kids who will soon have their boots upon our faces? Are they not the hallowed, exclusive clubs of the Upper Middle Class where future executives and Presidents first touch on the levers of power? Perhaps this was true fifty years ago, but today when I observe those campuses I see little more than the abdication of personal responsibility; escapism in pride and the sense of betterness. What Weiss argues, that the language of wokeness perpetuates class barriers through exclusivity, while it's not incorrect, does miss something important. Twitter cancel mobs are powerless. Language is powerless. Policing language is a game in rapidly diminishing marginal returns, because you can change what someone says, but you can't say how they say it or what they intend by it. So the people we used to call fat are now obese, the disabled are differently-abled, etc etc. Who cares? The changes are meaningless, they are a band-aid on a bone fracture. Nothing material has changed or improved for anyone the policy was intended to help.

    Progressives should stop seeing language policing as a tactic, and conservatives should stop seeing it as a threat. Instead of embroiling ourselves in tangential disputes about how best to refer to people of unconventional genders, or of marginalized populations, let's start talking about how to treat them, and making policy with meaningful impacts. Progressives can argue for reparations, changes to policing, voting reform, rent control, streamlined immigration and income redistribution. Conservatives can argue against the aforementioned, and suggest policies of their own. But can we all just drop the arguing about this manufactured, meaningless, powerless kulturkampf and get on with our lives, once and for all?

    1. "Progressives should stop seeing language policing as a tactic, and conservatives should stop seeing it as a threat."

      Good luck with that one. You need to understand the basic goal of everything that progressives do, is to impoverish, humiliate, and demoralize the lesser classes. They are not kind hearted souls trying to protect kittens and puppies.

      Their operating manual is is Book 3 Chapter 3 of Orwell's 1984.

      "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever.'

    2. Their first goal is to improve their own situation and enrich themselves, as is true of everyone. I don't deny that Orwellian power-hunger exists, nor do I deny that some progressives are motivated by the desire to harm others, to extract revenge, to stamp on faces. What I deny is that Twitter cancelling is powerful in any form or function. Unlike Orwell, I believe that you can police someone's language without changing the way they think. After all, we don't call people "fat" anymore, but "obese" is no kinder. For power-hungry jerks trying to "impoverish, humiliate, and demoralize the lower classes," progressives have chosen a remarkably impotent tactic to achieve their ends. At least when you have a boot to stamp on someone with, you can plausibly threaten to negatively alter their facial structure. With Cancelling, there is nothing, and it's about time people stopped caring.

    3. “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.”

    4. It is not that innocent. People are getting fired, run out of jobs, thrown out of colleges, and off sports teams. And, they won't stop there. They will press their advantage in every forum they get.

    5. The argument that since we can't teach kids algebra, we [they] can't teach them 'wokeness' misses a point: algebra requires some hard work, but being 'woke' just requires repeating the Party Line.

      What's happening is that we are training the future ruling class in America to despise their own country. The consequences of this, in the world as it is now, if it continues, do not bear thinking of.

  2. Egads.

    I am offended that any teacher would start the year by a self-centered ID politics speech. Nobody should care about a teacher's looks or private sexual practices.

    Let's go back to,"I am your teacher Mr. Brown. There is some great literature out there, so let's start reading."

  3. I'm frankly always puzzled by the efforts at extreme wokeness. It feels like a cheap and lazy attempt to appear "hip, "cool", or "enlightened" among a certain class of progressives who want to create a badge of merit for themselves instead of actually engaging with people over real issues. Notice, please, that the pronouns people list as their preferences are generally third person pronouns: in other words someone is telling me how they want me to refer to them when talking to a third person. What!?! Personally I'm more interested in how you dialogue directly with me than in the pronoun you use to refer to me.

  4. So when does Keynes get kicked to the curb?

    "In 1911 Fisher became founding Chairman of the University of Cambridge Eugenics Society, whose other founding members included JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, R. C. Punnett, and Horace Darwin. After members of the Cambridge Society – including Fisher – stewarded the First International Eugenics Congress in London in summer 1912, a link was forged with the Eugenics Society (UK)."

  5. The hue and cry from the "Woke" when they are cancelled will reach a decibel level only heard from jet engines. As for cancelling Newton, is Einstein next? Good luck with that one.

  6. You neglect to mention why the tribute to Fisher was removed. In defense of O.F. von Freiherr, a German scientist who worked with Josef Mengele to perform experiments on concentration camp inmates, Fisher wrote: "In spite of their prejudices, I have no doubt also that the [Nazi] Party sincerely wished to benefit the German racial stock." Is that really the hill ya wanna die on, John?

  7. The State of Oregon's department of education has withdrawn a document that encouraged teachers in the elementary and secondary public schools to approach the teaching of arithmatic and mathematics in a fashion that counters what is described as a 'white' ethnocentric approach characteristic of instruction in earlier eras, in an effort (laudable) to improve outcomes for other than 'white' or 'asian' racial groups in their school system. The proponents insist that their efforts and the purpose of the program are mischaracterised by the media and those who retain a conventional view of the proper approach to mathematical instruction and student outcomes. The department indicates that the materials originate from the State of California.

    It seems clear that the best of intentions often go awry. Educators need an education in educating, evidently. The push-back encountered in Oregon needs to be replicated elsewhere, if the USA is to avoid entering a spiral of worsening outcomes that leads to loss of human potential and opportunity in the lives of its young population.

    One would not wish to see a future Edward Gibbon, inspired by events that commenced in this era, to find occasion to write a six-volume history of the decline and fall of the United States of America. But, if the nation continues in the way described by the passages quoted in the blog, such a future is more than just a distance theoretical possibility.

    1. Google 'Afro-American Baseline Essays', a lunatic document used to teach Black children in Portland and elsewhere that they are descended from the ancient Egyptians, who had psionic powers. An excellent refutation refuation of this nonsense can be found here: [ ]

      The white Left has deep contempt for Blacks.

  8. I am offended as a white person. How can wokeness explain they ( are not ) the most racist of all! And parents better start and stay diligent to the schools their children attend or little Hitlers will be growing in every garden. How tragic and sad this country has come to the lowest rung of the ladder in education. God and good will prevail. But it cannot be ignored by those of us who can and must defend this movement of morans.

  9. Woke vs. Racist is spoofed now

  10. Ironic that Prof. Cochrane blocked my comment arguing (respectfully, I believe, and certainly with no ad hominem involved) that the complaints of crisis of "cancel culture" are vastly overblown, but then signed off on a comment arguing that "the basic goal of everything that progressives do, is to impoverish, humiliate, and demoralize the lesser classes." If I was looking for my own source of confirmation bias, I could think of no better proof of the hypothesis that the squeaky wheels on this issue don't actually dislike "cancel culture"; it's just that they prefer to do the "canceling."

    1. I am not exactly sure what you were trying to argue here, so I hope you will not consider what I respond to be necessarily attributing to you ideas you did not yourself express.

      The issue is that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of many of our institutions. The magic of the western world is that we make a heavy use of adversarial systems: I might not be unbiased and you might not be unbiased, but we can use opposite biases to pin down weaknesses, errors and omissions. This is how our legal system works. This is how our political system works. This is how science itself works. It's not without error, but considering how absolutely everyone is a victim of motivated reasoning, it is a good approximation of the best you can do.

      Cancel culture and identity politics have cost hundreds of people their jobs, their businesses, their reputation, loans at banks, etc. The ideology behind those movements is responsible for billions of dollars in damages through a combination of theft, vandalism and arson. It is responsible for deaths, as well as at least two cold blooded murders. It is responsible for harassment campaigns. Make no mistake: this is what was behind the riots over last summer and what is behind the riots that erupted again recently.

      And this assessment isn't a right vs left kind of situation. Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibi, Bill Maher, ShoeOnHead (leftwing personality with a big following on Youtube), Jimmy Dore, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying (Bret's wife), Tulsi Gabbard... It's starting to be a pretty long list of people, all on the political left, who range all the way from Bernie Sanders to Hilary Clinton. None of those people are personally or politically motivated to agree with conservatives and libertarians and, yet, they reach the same conclusions.

      When we talk about cancel culture and identity politics, we're not talking about a group of liberally minded people that just ask you to be mindful of others when you talk -- and would never try to hurt you over a difference of opinion. We're not talking about whether or not discrimination exists in some capacity and should be tackled.

      We're talking about extremists taking advantage of the better angels of our nature to push an authoritarian agenda. I don't care about the more reasonable kind of person who wants social changes, except for the fact that they are being duped into thinking radicals use the same expressions they use to mean the same thing they do, even though they do not.

  11. Excellent post, John.

    I think where the rubber will meet the road on this issue is pushing this ideology on children in public schools. Adults have freedom of speech, association, movement, etc. in order to embrace or avoid this stuff. Our children do not.

    Why does the progressive left even have this desire? I have plenty of beliefs I am passionate about but understand others may disagree. I would not try to use my power as an educator to push these beliefs on a young, formative child who lacks proper life experience and critical thinking skills.

    Also, I wholeheartedly agree that wokeism has become the currency of the elite. The narrative is ever-changing in order to keep out of reach of others (who likely have less time, too many responsibilities to remain 'woke'). It seems odd to me that wokeism is almost universally adopted by the corners of our society with the highest levels of egocentrism -- Hollywood, Wall Street, big tech, etc. It makes you wonder who they're doing this for

  12. Greg Clark seminar in Glasgow has been shut down by wokes. The problem was "Bell curve" contained in the title. Any study using IQ and genetics is considered as "flat earth theory" for wokes, and then you just don't have the right to work on it

  13. One random aside: regardless of what political side people are on, or what they think of the subject matter at hand, can we all just agree to forever stop treating these "but they are indoctrinating our kids!" news stories as serious matters? I think that'd be good for all of us... left or right, liberal or populist, we need to stop letting journalists whip us into a froth with this transparent rhetorical trick.

    There are 3.7 million teachers in the U.S., and with a population that big you can tell literally ANY story you want via anecdote. You can make it look as though our schools are overrun by the "woke," or overrun by the "religious right," or overrun by incompetents or criminals or "flat-earthers" or heroes or union hacks or whatever else you want. It's just an inherent reality of dealing with a population that large. The sole reason it works is that, when it comes to our kids, we are all irrationally paranoid.

    Sorry for the rant, I know it's a bit misplaced, this is just a long-standing pet peeve of mine. And love the blog!

  14. All power grabs seem to end badly one way or another.

    1. Depends on what you mean by 'badly'. Gulags, Auschwitz, the Cultural Revolution ... yes... bad ends, but mainly bad for the victims.

  15. Cochrane: "The New York Times allows Brett Stephens to be critical … the source makes this notable."

    A rare acknowledgment by John Cochrane of the significance of The Times in American society. It is the newspaper of record in this country.

    Cochrane, of course, is no fan of The New York Times.

    A number of remarks here have suggested that right wing opinion journalists at The Times are at special risk of being fired just for doing their job. This is polemical distortion mixed with emotional reasoning, unsupported by facts.

    Let's take stock of those facts: in the past twelve months, who has actually been forced out at The New York Times because of political controversy? Exactly one newsroom executive. Journalist Bari Weiss resigned voluntarily in a very public huff.

    Finally, The Times has as least three right or center-right regular columnists, and a number of conservative or right-leaning irregular contributors. Ross Douthat is not the token conservative there.

  16. I looked at the link on R.A. Fisher, and I got the impression that it would not be obvious how to judge a memorial to Fisher in a public setting. So I googled for some alternative views and came across Gelman's blog post To me that post and the statisticians comments there quite useful.

  17. Is "wokeness" a problem, or just the tribute that vice pays to virtue?

    I have yet to see hordes of white faculty members sacrificed to make room for BIPOC replacements. Same for the C-suites of corporate America.

    It seems to me the elites remain quite successful at defending their privileges and diverting challenges into worthless dead ends.

  18. Severa; people have argued here along these lines: "It's just a little lump. It'll probably go away."


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