New Trier High School, Chicago Suburbs:
Students, Parents and Educators Defeat Fascist Attempt to Suppress Seminar on “Struggle for Racial Civil Rights”
March 9, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The Trump/Pence regime is moving to impose their fascist narrative of America First and Make America White Again, and moving quickly to crush any challenge to that narrative. One of the many crucial battlegrounds in the struggle against this regime is over truth/reality versus “alternative facts” and the regime’s assault on critical thinking in society, especially in universities, and this relates to their plan to destroy the public schools. And another critical fault line is Trump’s call for a genocidal police-state assault on Black and Latino people in the inner cities, blaming the youth for the situation in which the system has cast them after centuries of oppression.
All these things came together in an intense struggle at an elite, 85 percent-white public high school in the wealthy Chicago North Shore suburbs over the attack against an all-school seminar “Understanding Today’s Struggle for Racial Civil Rights” at the end of Black History Month. Breitbart and other fascist websites, blogs, and organizations (with connections to people in the White House) waged a national assault against New Trier High School, which is ranked academically among the top 10 high schools in the country. The school’s mission statement says it is committed to critical thinking, compassion, and the service of humanity. Less than one percent of the students are African-American; 98 percent of the students go on to college.
The seminar description said it was aimed at helping students “better understand how the struggle for racial civil rights stretches across our nation’s history, that people of diverse racial backgrounds were involved in each chapter in this history, how previous civil rights movements connect with the issues that we are discussing today.” The keynote speakers for the seminar were both highly acclaimed National Book Award winners: Colson Whitehead, author of the novel The Underground Railroad about slavery; and Andrew Aydin, co-author with John Lewis, congressman and icon of the civil rights movement, of the graphic memoir March.
Students and faculty developed over 100 workshops on a broad range of topical questions with readings and questions to engage the students and stimulate the debate. Here are just a few of the workshops: voter suppression in the 21st century; affirmative action; history of systematic racism in housing; examining biases; how does an inclusive society benefit us all; mass incarceration; American Indian struggles for civil rights; music against gun violence; race and poetry, race and dance; what is racism and what it does; microaggression; Colin Kaepernick activism and symbols of America; 1968 Olympics and the salute heard round the world; taking action against injustice.
A tiny group of parents at New Trier launched the opposition to the seminar. One of them works for the Heritage Foundation, a major national right-wing think tank which directly influences policy for the Trump/Pence regime. These parents were backed by other national right-wing forces, including the fascist Breitbart.com, which has direct ties to the Trump regime, and the Illinois Family Institute, which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They waged a campaign of lies and intimidation, accusing the program of “left-wing bias” and “indoctrination” for holding this program and saying that they had been excluded. They tried to stop this learning experience from happening at all if it didn’t include “equal time” for extreme right-wing speakers like David Clarke, the fascist sheriff of Milwaukee County who called Black Lives Matter activists “terrorists,” recently volunteered his police force to round up immigrants, and said anti-Trump protests after the election should be quelled because “there is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people.”
Then, based on the lies established by the fascist noise machine, the Wall Street Journal lent its support to the attack calling the seminar “racial indoctrination day,” and the Weekly Standard published an op-ed claiming the seminar was “white guilt day” and posing that the real problem was that conservatives are being marginalized. What does it mean for these reactionaries to claim that THEY are being persecuted and marginalized when Trump is in the White House calling any media that dare to challenge his lies “enemies of the American people”? It means they do not think any views that challenge their white supremacist narrative should be tolerated, and that they aim to impose that on society.
The viciousness of the organized attacks over several weeks was downplayed in the school’s public statements in defense of the seminar and in the local press, but the reality was that fascist Internet minions nationally put the school under siege. A relative of a board member said, “You have no idea what a nightmare these last weeks have been.” The school had to put out a fact sheet refuting the lies of the parents opposing the seminar that were repeated on social media over and over. This organized attack was not just intimidating to New Trier but also sets a chilling atmosphere for schools everywhere—intended to send out a message that you can’t have such a discussion on civil rights without being hounded and persecuted. If they attack such a seminar at one of the most academically rigorous and prestigious high schools in the country where the faculty, administration, and school board were behind it and approved it, what would this mean in school districts dominated by reactionaries whose idea of the “truth” is whatever they want to believe and serves their agenda?
And make no mistake, what the reactionaries were calling for was not a “sharing of diverse viewpoints.” Their “alt-fact” view is that to even discuss the reality of the oppression of Black people and the struggle for civil rights, backed by generations of experience and scholarship, is “biased” and should be suppressed. And in that way, they tried to use this as a battering ram to shove their false “narrative” down people’s throats and stop a seminar that was promoting the actual process of vigorous debate and discussion about race and civil rights to get at the truth.
The organized, mass response to stand up to this fascist attack and refuse to compromise and back down is very important. A petition to support the seminar garnered 5,000 signatures from students, parents, and community members. The superintendent of the school district said, “I have never seen this kind of outpouring of support on an issue in my life as an educator.” Over 700 people flooded into a school board meeting days before the seminar. While the opponents of the seminar were very vocal at the board meeting, the overwhelming majority of people were there to support the need for and goals of the seminar. Some graduates spoke about the importance of the seminar and how they had felt woefully unprepared to go out into the diverse world beyond New Trier. Other speakers refuted the lies about “bias” and “leaving parents out of the process.”
The school board voted that the seminar should go on as planned. And the seminar did happen on February 28 and was successful, with the majority of students participating in thoughtful engagement with many contending opinions. Many of the minority of students who opposed the seminar did not attend. One student who helped plan the event talked to others who said they understand more about racism now and plan to pay more attention to what’s happening in society than they did before.
It is significant that the fascists took on this particular school, known for its rigorous training of young intellectuals in critical thinking. This is part of a concerted attack in recent years by fascists on places where critical thinking is encouraged—with special aim toward universities and colleges and any media challenging them.
With Trump’s election, the attack on critical thinking—along with attacks on the press, the judiciary, Muslims, immigrants, and Black people—has taken a leap. Trump and his “advisers” have bellicosely insisted that truth is whatever they tell you it is and if you challenge that you will be treated as an enemy. In service of the fascist agenda, Betsy DeVos was appointed to head the Department of Education to destroy the public schools. The fascist “Professor Watchlist” was assembled to initiate a witch hunt against university professors that they accuse of “advancing left-wing propanda, discriminating against conservative students, and promoting anti-American values”—the same kind of accusation hurled at New Trier. To them, merely the existence of these ideas and the students being exposed to them is not allowed because their agenda cannot stand up to a rigorous examination. That to talk about the reality of the oppression of Black people is “left wing.” Breitbart spelled out what views they want to suppress and what they want to uphold when they launched an attack on a MLK Day seminar at New Trier a year ago for not including “conservative perspectives, such as ... questioning the idea of ‘systemic racism’ itself.” The aim is to discredit, delegitimatize, and suppress all the views that do not serve the interests of the fascist program.
Read the entire HOW WE CAN WIN—How We Can Really Make Revolution HERE
This struggle at New Trier is significant not only in relation to the immediate struggle to stop these fascists before they consolidate their power, but it has strategic signficance for the revolutionary struggle to bring into being a radically different and far better system aimed at emancipating all of humanity—ending the horrific oppression of Black people and white supremacy, the patriarchal subjugation of women, the persecution of Mulims and immigrants and LGBTQ people, the destruction of the environment, the murderous wars of empire, and the enforced ignorance. Those who catch the worst hell under this system must take up the orientation of being emancipators of humanity, and they must be joined by all “those who are sickened by the endless outrages perpetrated by this system,” including “people in the inner cities, and in the prisons, students, scholars, artists, lawyers and other professionals, youth in the suburbs and rural areas.” (From “HOW WE CAN WIN: How We Can Really Make Revolution”)
The students at New Trier and their parents who stood up to this attack, and the broader people whose eyes are being opened to the horrors of this society and world, who are questioning and looking for answers about why are things this way and what is the solution, need to know there is the science, the leadership, the strategy and program, and the basis to organize people for an actual emancipating revolution. They need to be challenged to “defy and repudiate this putrid system and its ways of thinking, and to take up the outlook and values, and the strategy and program of the revolution, build up the forces for this revolution, and defeat the attempts of the ruling powers to crush the revolution and its leadership.” (From “HOW WE CAN WIN: How We Can Really Make Revolution”) In this spirit and with this aim, revolutionaries got out hundreds of copies of the statement “From the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to ALL PEOPLE: What the Trump/Pence Regime Will Mean for Black People—and What Must Be Done about It, NOW!” with the “Points of Attention for the Revolution” to students at New Trier the day of the seminar as they went into school.
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