Each year, New Trier High School hosts a Seminar Day organized by the school district. This year’s Seminar Day focuses on race and civil rights and is designed to “help students better understand how the struggle for racial civil rights stretches across our nation’s history […] and how previous civil rights movements connect with the issues that we are discussing today.” The keynote speakers are Colson Whitehead, a National Book Award-winning author who has taught at Princeton, Columbia, and NYU, and Andrew Aydin, who won the National Book Award for his graphic novel March, co-authored with civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. Students will also choose to attend two of over a hundred workshops that explore various issues in civil rights.
However, a group called Parents of New Trier is complaining that Seminar Day is designed to indoctrinate students. The school district promises that Seminar Day does not ““promote the philosophy of one political party or another.' Nonetheless, the parents believe that Seminar Day is an inappropriate use of school resources and, among other arguments, cite a Harvard Business Review study that claims diversity programs, like the Seminar Day, are harmful because they “reinforce racial stereotypes and resentment.”
The parents complain that some workshops are overtly biased and suggest that the school district should either invite more speakers such as John McWhorter, an African-American professor at Columbia University who believes the black community is guilty of “self-sabotage,” or Allen West, an African-American former Republican congressman, who made headlines in December for posting a meme on Facebook that suggested then President-elect Trump's pick of General James Mattis as Secretary of Defence would "exterminate" Muslims.
The parents suggest that if more speakers cannot be added, the school should consider canceling Seminar Day altogether.
The parents are not alone in their perspective, however. An opinion article in the Chicago Sun Times with the headline 'New Trier H.S. swings too far on left on civil rights" agrees with the their line of argument, referring to the event as a "check your priviledge brain washing session."
Supporters of Seminar Day are also mobilizing to encourage the Board of Education to proceed with the program as scheduled. As of February 9, over 3,500 people have signed a petition in defense of the scheduled program.