Headmaster’s Thoughts – February 2008

There are two things I should state at the outset of this piece.

First, I am not good with forms, and secondly, I have nothing against the New York State Department of Education. Honestly!

It is just that every year the State Education Department asks me to complete a statistical report on our school that includes a section asking for a numbers breakdown of students by race. And when I complete it by simply answering “human,” they sometimes seem to get upset and call to pressure me to answer in detail… something I will not do.

I assure you that we answer all the other questions (or rather I ask my assistant, Vivian Garneier, to do most of the legwork in figuring out the statistics they want). We solemnly fill in the number of students from each borough or school district (72% come from Manhattan if you are interested). We give the number of periodicals in our library and the number of students getting a diploma. We do everything else except answer that race question.

There are a number of reasons for this. A minor reason is that individual schools in the New York City Public School System are less diverse by most standards (including economic) than those in any other city public school system. In fact, New York private schools are often far more diverse. And, among private schools, we have one of the most diverse populations. But, actually, although that might be a moral high ground, that is not the reason I fail to complete the form. The real answer is that I don’t believe in it and I am not prepared to count. And I certainly am not going to ask. Nor should anyone! How do I know if you are part Eskimo, part Cuban, part African American, and part Irish? And what difference would it make? I believe that I would be mostly Caucasian, but I have very little communication or contact with the Caucasus and they have very little contact with me.

Of course, when the Education Department does not call me about failing to fill in the form, that probably means they didn’t read it. This year, however, I was called. When I explained to the lady caller that I had no intention of asking parents or students where they came from, and that in my opinion the answer “human” generally serves for all questions about race, to my pleasant surprise I got a receptive audience.

“So you are saying…?” she said, encouragingly.

“That we are all multiracial by the State’s definition of race,” I answered.

“Okay! We will put down all 340 of York’s students as multiracial.”

Neat solution! Probably skews the statistics, but those are statistics that should be skewed anyway.

There is a lot of confusion about the word “race.” I understand interspecies dating (I saw the movie with Woody Allen and his sheep), but I don’t understand what “interracial” dating is. Humans dating humans?

Don’t you get annoyed when groups hijack words for their own cause? Non-racists call racists discriminatory. I beg to differ; they are not discriminatory, they are stupid. Women who have anesthetics during delivery of their children have no less a “natural” delivery than women who have no pain killers. People who don’t want women to have the right to choose to abort (I disagree with them!) are no more pro-life than the majority of us. And only some homosexual men are so cheerful as to be called gay.

We need to use words as words and not bumper stickers. And it would be nice if we had to answer fewer personal questions on any official form from any government authority.

I should end this polemic with the true story of my first visit to America. I was coming to be a sailing counselor at an all-girls camp in Maine. In those days a British citizen got a green card by merely walking in the door of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in London, because the British quota (“Why should there be a quota?” you might ask) was never filled. Naturally, you had to fill in an official form. On my form, among over fifty questions, it asked if I was going to America “to engage in illicit activities.” So, of course, I wrote in reply, “Sole purpose of visit!” Fortunately, the young Foreign Service officer who looked at my form recognized a 19-year-old idiot when he saw one (me!) and asked if I really wanted to be allowed into America. When I replied in the affirmative, he told me to change my answer to “No.” I did, came to America, met Jayme, and so it goes.

As I said, I was never good with forms.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

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