FRIDAY, MAY 7, 2021
Banality and grace: "We're tumbling into Graceland."
So (almost) says the narrator of Paul Simon's 1986 album, Graceland. He's speaking to his 9-year-old son in the album's title song, the second song on the album.
In the penultimate song on the album, the narrator tells the boy about the time when he first saw the young woman who would become the boy's mother. In this fictionalized account, the child's future mother was, in effect, "danc[in'] to the music of Clifton Chenier, king of the bayou."
Where did this imagery come from? The leading authority on the album describes the state of Simon's personal life at that time and the state of his career:
In the early 1980s, Simon's relationship with his former musical partner Art Garfunkel had deteriorated, his marriage to actress Carrie Fisher had collapsed, and his previous record, Hearts and Bones (1983), had been a commercial failure. In 1984, after a period of depression, Simon became fascinated by a bootleg cassette of mbaqanga, South African street music...
The album unfolded from there, with ruminations on marital failure and on the onrushing reach of world music. According to this same authority, "Actress and author Carrie Fisher, Simon's ex-wife, said that the song [Graceland] referred in part to their relationship."
Simon saw himself "bouncing into Graceland" (or, more likely, into graceland) in the song of that name. Today, Our Town seems to be tumbling into Loveland, a remarkably banal human "space" first discovered by Karen Garner in April of last year.
Garner was 73 years old at the time. According to a lawsuit filed by her family, she weighed 80 pounds, and she suffered from dementia.
Also, she was unarmed. She was picking purple flowers as she walked home from a Walmart.
Despite these circumstances, Garner was violently arrested by several members of the Loveland, Colorado police. Officer then sat around the station house, chuckling and exchanging fist bumps as they watched bodycam footage of the violent arrest.
Ten feet away, Garner sat in a holding cell, positioned on a wooden bench with nothing to lean back on. Her arms were handcuffed behind, She shifted uncomfortably on this perch, dealing with the discomfort of the dislocated shoulder and fractured arm she'd received in the violent arrest.
Watching this edited fourteen minutes of videotape, we were struck by the astounding banality of the conversation in which those officers engaged. That said, we've also been struck by the banality of what has happened in the past few weeks:
When videotape of this conversation was released, it was almost wholly ignored by the major top professional "journalists" here in Our Town. For the past ten years, these performers have been pretending to conduct a discussion of violent behavior by law enforcement officers, but this astonishing videotape didn't quite make the cut.
Of course, everyone knows why that videotape didn't make the cut. Amazingly, the banal stars of Our Town's "cable news" only discuss one type of news event at this point in time.
It's hard to believe they could be so banal (and so obedient), but they plainly are. They're willing to tell us certain things. Other things will be withheld.
It's hard to believe that they'd function like this, but they plainly do. This returns to the question of what happened, without Our Town being told, at Manhattan's Grace Church School.
In Tuesday's report, we showed you what Our Town was being told about those events in that day's Washington Post.
In a front-page report, Meckler and Natanson, and their editors, were willing to tell you some of what had occurred at that school.
There had been a dispute at Grace Church about the school's approach to issues of race. Meckler and Natanson, and their editors, were willing to tell you this:
MECKLER AND NATANSON (5/4/21): In Manhattan, the private Grace Church School had always seen itself as racially progressive. Then, in the aftermath of [George] Floyd’s murder, it heard from alumni posting on Instagram, saying they felt marginalized as students there. “It was a wake-up call that we were not doing as excellent a job as we thought we were,” said George Davison, the longtime head of school.
The school had already revised its curriculum. Then it hosted workshops on race and created affinity groups where students of different races could discuss their experiences.
At least one teacher, Paul Rossi, objected, both internally and, when he was not satisfied with the response, in public, including in an essay in the New York Post. He said the school requires teachers to treat students differently based on race and rejects dissenting voices.
“My school, like so many others, induces students via shame and sophistry to identify primarily with their race before their individual identities are fully formed,” he wrote. “The morally compromised status of ‘oppressor’ is assigned to one group of students based on their immutable characteristics. In the meantime, dependency, resentment and moral superiority are cultivated in students considered ‘oppressed.’ ”
Davison replied that no one should feel guilty about the circumstances of their birth. But he said students must face the systemic racism that surrounds them.
“Lots of people have, for a generation or two, said, ‘Well, I’m not a racist, so I have done all I need to do,” he said. “We have arrived at a point in our culture where we say you can’t be race-neutral anymore. Either you are against racism and therefore anti-racist or [you're] supporting racism.”
Rossi had complained about those workshops on race. Davison had replied, in heroic fashion.
Davison had rejected Rossi's critique. If you read the Washington Post—if you live in Our Town—the story at Grace Church ends right there, in a morally pleasing manner.
If you live in other towns, you've been allowed to know much more. More precisely, you've been allowed to know what happened next.
Meckler and Natanson, and their editors, seemed to feel that you shouldn't know that. Why spoil a pleasing report, one drawn from Storyline?
What happened next at Grace Church School? We'll hand you a quick overview, then we'll show you where to go to hear lots of audiotape. Also, we'll show you where the New York Times seems to have vouched for the authenticity of that audiotape.
Here's what happened next:
As it turns out, Paul Rossi isn't some hot-headed right-wing kid. He had come to the teaching of math as a second career. As it turns out, he and Davison had conducted some long, mutually respectful adult conversations about those workshops at Grace.
Rossi thinks the school's approach to race is causing a lot of harm. His essay at the New York Post is very much worth reading, although, of course, we can't vouch for the accuracy of the various things he says about events at the school.
We think that essay is well worth reading. Here's the problem:
We don't necessarily have to vouch for the accuracy of Rossi's complaints. As it turns out, Rossi taped at least one lengthy phone conversation with Davison—and Davison is heard, on that audiotape, agreeing with the bulk of what Rossi has said.
Here's the way things broke bad:
After Rossi's essay appeared in the New York Post, Davison denied saying the various things attributed to him by Rossi.
Apparently, Davison didn't know that his remarks had been captured on tape. In response to Davison's curt denials, Rossi released the audiotape, in which Davison said such things as this:
ALGAR (4/20/21): The head of an elite Manhattan school that booted a teacher for ripping its extremist “antiracism” policies was recorded admitting that it has been “demonizing white people,” according to audio released [today].
“We’re demonizing kids, we’re demonizing white people for being born,’’ George Davison, principal of the private Grace Church School, was allegedly caught telling whistleblowing teacher Paul Rossi on the tape.
“We are using language that makes them feel ‘less than’—for nothing that they are personally responsible for,’’ the supposedly woke principal acknowledges, according to the audio released by Rossi.
“The fact is, I am agreeing with you that there has been a demonization that we need to get our hands around in a way in which people are doing this [understand],’’ Davison says.
There's more, but you get the idea.
This report was written by Selim Algar, a veteran education reporter at the New York Post. Algar's report is accompanied by lengthy chunks of audiotape in which Rossi and Davison are heard discussing these issues.
No one seems to be denying that the audiotape is real. On Sunday, April 25, Ginia Bellafante discussed this issue in the New York Times, in her weekly Big City column.
As part of a remarkably snarky essay, Bellafante scolded Rossi for having released the audiotape, but she never denied its authenticity. Following an earlier reference to a concerned parent at a different private school, this is the remarkable way she described the episode at Grace Church:
BELLAFANTE (4/25/21): Thanks to Fox News and all the other outlets dedicated to the notion that elite liberal institutions have abandoned any hope of sanity in the name of social revolution, Mr. Gutmann soon became a minor celebrity on the right—which might have been the whole point.
There, he was joined by a math teacher named Paul Rossi, who had composed a letter of his own, seemingly to the nation at large, laying out his objections to the way that his employer, the Grace Church School in Lower Manhattan, was going about the business of changing its culture around race. Mr. Rossi’s note lacked the hysterical tone of Mr. Gutmann’s. It raised valid concerns about the squelching of free thought. But he also took the dubious step of publicizing part of a secretly taped conversation he had with the school’s headmaster, George Davison, in which he goaded his boss, as if he were a prosecutor grilling a witness, into acknowledging that the new programming demonized white students.
Bellafante is stunningly snarky throughout. In a rational world, it would be amazing to think that the New York Times would publish a column like this.
In that early passage, Bellafante says that Rossi somehow "goaded" Davison into saying the things he'd said—into "acknowledging that the new programming demonized white students." According to Bellafante, the math teacher made him do it!
As she continued, Bellafante voiced exactly zero concern about the idea that the programming at Grace Church might be "demoniz[ing] white students." Nor did she quote a single thing Davison actually said.
The head of school had actually said that his school's exciting new programs were demonizing white students, but Bellafante let that slide. When she returned to the events at Grace Church, she acted like none of this had actually happened, or might be continuing now:
BELLAFANTE: Mr. Rossi’s letter argued that students and teachers at Grace did not feel free to challenge a new language or ideology. When he did, he was reprimanded for “acting like an independent agent of a set of principles or ideas or beliefs,” he wrote. After the letter became public, Mr. Davison, the head of school, put together a committee to bring voices from all sides of the debate together. He asked Mr. Rossi to join, but Mr. Rossi instead chose to leave the school.
In a conversation I had with Mr. Davison last weekend, he was very frank about the imperfect nature of the changes at Grace. “We were in the process of developing programming faster than we ever had before,’’ he told me. “Whenever you build something quickly, you don’t always see all the pieces. The ones who are going to help you build it the most quickly are the true believers,” he said. But the truest believers are not always those in the best position to advance change without fear. “We need to be better at communicating those things. We need to get more opinion.” The truth, he said, was that most people were on board with the new mission. “If we were a school in Oklahoma, we might not have the consensus.”
Bellafante quoted the high-minded things the head of school had thoughtfully said, now that he knew his remarks were being recorded.
As Bellafante's essay ended, Davison was the high-minded hero again, as he would be at the Washington Post two days later. Bellafante had rushed past his remarkable statements to Rossi. As Meckler and Natanson would do, she was serving Storyline.
In Our Town, you aren't allowed to know about the many things Davison said. In Our Town, the things you're told will almost always conform to Storyline.
Davison will end up upright and good. You won't be told about the things Rossi described in the New York Post, and you won't be told about the things Davison actually said on that remarkable audiotape.
What's actually happening at Grace Church School (or at Dalton or Brearly?) We can't tell you that. We're writing about Our Town's most famous newspapers, not about that one private school.
Concerning our newspapers and our other news orgs, we can tell you this:
This'll tell you about certain shooting deaths. They'll disappear all others.
They'll tell you about certain no-knock raids. No other raids need apply; it all depends on who dies.
They've been pretending for the past ten years to be discussing important aspects of police behavior. But when Karen Garner tumbles into Loveland, they will walk on by.
Here in our rapidly failing town, that astonishing Loveland videotape didn't make the cut. It simply wasn't worth discussing. And now, also this:
The head of school of a big private school made some startling admissions. The Washington Post and the New York Times didn't have to discuss this matter at all—but when they did, they were very careful to avoid telling Our Town what had actually happened.
On his Grammy-wining 1986 album, Paul Simon reviewed a breakdown in his personal life, even as he marveled at the rise of global understanding through the rise of world music.
He mourned the way he had failed in the personal realm. Elsewhere, people were learning.
A stunning banality was on display in that police station after an eight-pound woman tumbled into Loveland. Is the banality ruling Our Town now almost equally large?
Also on that album: The voice of the world first reached Simon's ears through that fellow at (the literal) Graceland.
It had entered the country at New Orleans, then moved up the Mississippi. Down at the mouth of that river, "Cajun girls" still danced to the music of Clifton Chenier, king of the bayou.
Simon invited Linda Ronstadt to describe how the voice of the world had first reached her ears. On the song Under African Skies, this is what she said:
In early memory,
Mission music was ringing 'round my nursery door
I said, "Take this child, Lord, from Tucson, Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through
Harmony, she won't bother you no more."