This issue of City Journal features several stories that focus on educational controversies. That emphasis reflects the importance of the battle for the classroom, as Nate Hochman describes in “The Parents’ Revolt.” His report captures the anger of many families over the radical racial and gender curricula and programming that school districts have adopted in recent years— anger that has erupted at school board meetings and driven the formation of new groups seeking reform. Andy Smarick’s “Too Big to Succeed” shows how massive school districts are alienating parents and intensifying curricular conflicts. He says that it’s past time to break up such bureaucratic monstrosities and restore lost parental influence over the schools.
One of the most contentious of today’s educational debates surrounds an initiative to bring cross-dressers into libraries and classrooms that its supporters say is all about teaching young children tolerance. As Christopher F. Rufo documents in “The Real Story Behind Drag Queen Story Hour,” however, the underlying agenda is far more subversive: to overturn traditional conceptions of sexuality and family. Meantime, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is proposing new Title IX rules that will pressure school districts to facilitate students’ gender transitions, even without their parents’ knowledge, as Leor Sapir chronicles in “The School-to- Clinic Pipeline.”
Boys are struggling in schools—and not only in college, where they now are just 40 percent of graduates, but throughout their educational experience. Kay S. Hymowitz’s “Where the Boys Aren’t” assesses the problem, which involves differences in how boys develop compared with girls and how educational policies aren’t taking those differences into account. She considers some reforms that might help.
In “Affirmative Distraction,” Glenn C. Loury looks at another kind of educational struggle: the achievement gap between blacks, on the one hand, and whites and Asians, on the other. Until the foundational reasons for this gap are addressed, Loury believes, policies like affirmative action will not offer true equality; they will, rather, serve mostly as comforting deceptions about uncomfortable realities. “Head counts are no substitute for performance, and everyone knows it,” Loury writes.
Low expectations might help explain why New York City has opted for an economic-development strategy tied to vice— specifically, investment in new gambling casinos and policies encouraging marijuana sale and distribution. As Nicole Gelinas writes in “New Vice City,” struggling cities that have taken a similar path have not seen success; claims that gambling is a jobs multiplier and an economic engine have been debunked by experience repeatedly. New York, Gelinas writes, should focus instead on “the tough work of cleaning up midtown, improving public safety, and upgrading public transit in hopes that more people return.”
Other municipalities, along with whole states, are embracing a different kind of excess, courtesy of the hundreds of billions in federal Covid relief money that the government has handed out. As Steven Malanga writes in “The Biden Bucks Blowout,” this unprecedented largesse from Washington has “turned pols into the proverbial kids in the candy shop.” Local officials have used money from Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to fund lavish new golf courses, pickleball courts, state-of-the-art sports facilities for schools, and much more, including payments to illegal aliens. All this spending is not just needless and wasteful; it has helped drive inflation to four-decade highs, and it will likely erode local governments’ recent budget surpluses.
Two stories in our issue grapple with distinct contemporary crises: one of faith, the other of free expression. Malcom Kyeyune’s “The New Gnostics” examines the impassioned efforts among the young, especially males, to find meaning in a chaotic economic and political landscape in which institutional confidence has plummeted. In “Social Credit: Could It Happen Here?,” Corbin K. Barthold looks at creeping censorship on digital platforms and assesses whether anything like the system of pervasive control that Beijing has instituted could take hold in the West.
—Brian C. Anderson