I just read in this week’s Seattle Weekly a story about Lakeside School and elite private school. It was describing both the school efforts to become more diverse (coming from its white, old money background) and the challenges it faces because of allegations of racism. Here is an excerpt:
The school’s invitation to conservative D’Souza stemmed from those discussions. But Lakeside eventually got boxed into a damned-if-it-did, damned-if-it-didn’t spot with D’Souza. If the school let its invitation stand after faculty had protested, it risked jeopardizing the diversity effort into which it had poured so many resources. If the school canceled, it faced public embarrassment and a backlash over intellectual freedom. The school’s choice of the latter brought a storm of negative press, led to a series of meetings between school officials and families, and amplified the unease that some had with the diversity effort at large.
I think that the article’s author, Nina Shapiro is on target when she says that the school faced a choice between two bad options. Seems to me that the principle that drove their choice at the end was which one would offend less people, i.e. how to appease more. I think a better choice would have been to keep the invitation standing and invite other people as well. The students at the school could learn more by being exposed to a variety of views. That would have ensured their intellectual freedom and D’Souza’s too. As far as the faculty who opposed the invitation is concerned, I would have suggested the administration fo the school to invite them to a panel to have a discussion with D’Souza. That way they could have openly, and respectfully talk about the issue for everybody’s learning.
I cannot help to connect this story to a book I am reading right now: Cynthia Ozick’s The Cannibal Galaxy. In it the principle of a middle school is the only Jewish (and French) person in a small US provincial town. He wants to see brilliance in a certain student, but encounters obstacle in doing so. In the Seattle Weekly article the obligatory human element is an African-American student who transferred to Lakeside from a Catholic school. Because race became, such a prominent discussion topic at her new school she complains that “All I had to worry about at St. Joe’s was doing my best in my classes. In the book the forced topic du jour is what makes a “genius.” I am not trying to say that race and mental abilities are similar categories in any way. They are unrelated. But when they became the preoccupation for a whole school than education can suffer. (Of course, racism should be extinguished, but that’s not my point here.)