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By: Chris Robling*


New Trier Township High School has been a national model at least since World War II. Today, unexpectedly, it models the nation’s divisions over how to discuss – and act on – inequities based on race.


Few public high schools can compare to New Trier’s past – or present. Life Magazine’s October, 1950 Special Issue “U.S. Schools, They Face a Crisis,” put a New Trier girl on its cover and presented the school as a Valhalla of secondary education, the very national example North Shore parents had hoped would keep their kids at home, and out of eastern boarding schools.


Today, New Trier is a launch pad for children of the high-performing couples who gravitate to Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe and parts of Northfield and Glenview.  Its top graduates matriculate at our most competitive colleges and universities.


In recent years, New Trier has offered a Seminar Day as a break from regular classes. It’s a school-wide focus on a particular topic. Last year, Rev. Martin Luther King — but only 60 percent of students came.


The topic this February 28 is, “Understanding Today’s Struggle for Racial Civil Rights.” So far, student attendance is unknown. But controversy, division and allegations of political motivations in programming the day have noisily appeared in online postings, chats and petitions.


To some parents, the Seminar Day’s classes, lectures, readings and talks read like a reunion of Education Professor and 1960s Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers’ graduate students and their thesis topics.


“The Seminar claims: ‘Identity’ is defined by race. Period. It is fixed and determinative. (The term ‘racial,’ ‘racist,’ ‘bias,’ and ‘systemic racism’ suffuse the panel descriptions, together appearing over 80 times. Meanwhile, in a Seminar Day devoted to, ‘Understanding Today’s Struggle for Racial Civil Rights,’ a working definition of the term ‘civil rights’ is not offered),” the opposition “” write.


They appeal for balance. They suggest broadening the discussion: Adding speakers, classes, seminars, etc., to expose students to multiple views, so they can hear, evaluate and decide for themselves.


Other parents find the agenda to be precisely what’s needed to immerse privileged white kids in their view of 21st century American racism. They resist any change.


“We believe that the Seminar Day actively works toward New Trier’s values of ‘committing minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity,’” several said in an open letter on Facebook.


“The overwhelming lack of diversity (racial, socioeconomic, etc.) is the *only* reason I was very hesitant to move my family from the city and into this district. We have moved and I still have the same concerns, but knowing that NTHS considers these very real and very important issues by planning and providing a seminar such as this one allays my concerns to some degree,” a parent posted.


Another parent asks – apparently with genuine unawareness of the differences between, say, Thomas Sowell and Al Sharpton, “what is the other side of ‘Understanding Today’s Struggle for Racial Civil Rights’? ‘Not Understanding Today’s Struggle for Racial Civil Rights’?”


Having put together countless panels, including many dealing with race and race-related issues, for the Union League Club, City Club, WBEZ, WMAQ-AM, and joining conversations on WTTW and elsewhere, I think New Trier’s administration ordered — or simply approved — a starkly one-sided agenda.


New Trier is presenting a robust, full-throated and unapologetic introduction to Leftist race theory. Competing analyses are not presented. New Trier is indoctrinating dogma.


That’s surprising – or not. What matters now is redressing New Trier’s bias, out of respect to the significance of the very issues under discussion, to students developing their critical faculties, and to its community of dismayed parents.


New Trier’s purposes of inquiry, compassion and service fail if “inquiry” actually means “uncritically accepting one side of an issue.”


Objectors have met with administrators. They said, ‘No changes.’ Will New Trier’s board of education back that hard line at its February 20 meeting?


That would be an unworthy lesson for so important a school – and a sad example that discussion of race and overcoming inequities, even in 2017, even at august New Trier, is less important than advancing a pre-determined agenda.


*New Trier alum Chris Robling is a commentator for WGN TV and Radio.



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Larry T

Excellent piece by Mr. Robling. I didnt have a chance to go to a good school like New Trier.I went to a rural school in southern Illinois. But at least there we had all kinds of speakers and programs. Republican Congressman, a democrat county chairman, a black teacher, and a red neck police chief and a former car thief. New Trier sounds like it is saying “We are open to any ideas so long as they are ones we pick.” I guess maybe I got a better understanding of how to open my mind than those school administrators did.

Discussing race and social problems openly is good. What is bad is when that discussion is started by the facilitators from the premise of white privilege, which has become more of a political tactic than an idea. The term white privilege is no longer an idea, because it has been manufactured, packaged, labeled and marketed then sold as a curriculum to many colleges and high schools. It can literally be bought in a box with books and teaching materials. But it’s still being used a tactic, not an idea. And that is the tension, it’s putting privilege front and center. Dominican college runs this same program in… Read more »

I was stunned by the agenda which is extensive, detailed and ugly and it seemed to me that the organizers were desperate to manufacture company in the learned guilt that eats at them. Perhaps a more useful seminar would examine that.
But, seriously, “understanding today’s struggle for racial civil rights” should surely focus on the government’s creation and sustenance of a permanent underclass.

Mother Nature

Those New Trier graduates are all the same. They run home to Momma and say: “Momma, momma, someone called me a pussy”,


Careful you don’t say that when you’re 45 and interviewing with a 30-year-old New Trier grad.

Mother Nature

One of their servants going to beat you up?


Ah… the envy. That explains it. Everyone’s richer than you and it’s just not fair, is it? They need to be brought down to your level instead of you elevating yourself.

Mother Nature

Don’t mess with Mother Nature … Freak Snowstorm coming your way …

Mother Nature

No need to worry. In that suburb, if you are driving something other than a Mercedes or other foreign made luxury car, the police will pull you over and escort you out of town …

Mother Nature

On second thought, Charlton Heston was a New Trier graduate. Maybe his ghost will appear and you’ll need that mace.

Steve E.
Much ado about nothing. You neglect to mention that about 90% of NT families support Seminar Day. Neither the community nor the school is divided. The administration has answered questions about how they set up the day, and has stated clearly that its goal is to encourage diversity of opinions. “We have really tried to present multiple perspectives” . . . “We believe that the more they (students) talk about race then the more they are able to express their perspectives and the more they are able to understand the perspectives of others.” Tim Hayes, Assistant Superintendant, 1/16/17 School Board Meeting. Did you, Chris, feel you were… Read more »

Can we see the source for you 90% statistic? Can I see the survey question and know when the survey was taken? This is my fear: People spouting off nonsensical “facts” and feeding them to my children as truth. So show us the source of your “facts.”

Since when does the majority have the right to force their political views on a minority? Plus it isn’t anywhere close to 90%, as 40% (wisely) skipped out last time.

This isn’t a well thought out discussion about civil rights. It is those in power forcing their political views on those who are not in power.

Mark Glennon
Steve, do you seriously think this should be a popularity contest? If this debate were taking place in a district truly hostile to civil rights or to the left’s perspective, would it be right to suppress the topic or the left’s perspective? Besides, you have no basis for claiming 90% support it. The truth is we don’t really know. Those who question the seminar are muzzled because of fear of being called racists and much, much worse, which is rampant. Maybe the best evidence is that last year 40% of students didn’t go, and many others left early or were on their cellphones for the duration. Supporters… Read more »

Didn’t I read that attendance is mandatory? In that case, I would insist on accompanying my child to later counter the presentations and promote discussion. (Altho I’d prefer no confrontation, I’d like to see them try to keep me out.)

Mother Nature

I hear that Mark Glennon is one of the most dangerous men in Illinois. Are you a personal injury attorney?

Mother Nature

I met quite a few of those New Trier graduates at Northwestern University during the Vietnam Era. Referring to Vietnam, those New Trier pussies would say: “Let the Boy Scouts do it”.