Few journalists are as respected by, and respectable to, liberals as The Atlantic’s George Packer. The author of The Assassin’s Gate (2005), The Unwinding (2013), and a recently published biography of Richard Holbrooke, Our Man, Packer has written for bastions of liberal thought from the New York Times Magazine to The New Yorker in a distinguished, decades-long career. His latest piece for The Atlantic, “When the Culture War Comes for the Kids,” is essential reading.
Why? Because it relates, in Packer’s haunted and sympathetic style, the experience of having a child enrolled in a New York City school system corrupted by politics. For anyone who believes in individualism, the freedoms of speech and conscience, and the equal dignity of human beings, the experience sounds like a nightmare.
The summer before kindergarten, an official informed Packer that his son had made it off the wait list at their preferred public school. “This school squared the hardest circle,” Packer writes. “It was a liberal white family’s dream.” He, his wife, and his son became invested in the institution. “The school’s approach — the year-long second-grade unit on the geology and bridges of New York — caught his imagination, while the mix of races and classes gave him something even more precious: an unselfconscious belief that no one was better than anyone else, that he was everyone’s equal and everyone was his.” Then, Packer says, “Things began to change.”
No kidding. A new sort of left-wing cultural politics developed toward the close of the Obama presidency. “At the heart of the new progressivism was indignation, sometimes rage, about ongoing injustice against groups of Americans who had always been relegated to the outskirts of power and dignity.” Theories of intersectionality and of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” seeped into business, politics, media, and education.