Barr Quits Dalton School Post, Charging Trustees’ Interference

Donald Barr, the controversial and outspoken headmaster of the Dalton School, one of the city’s largest and most selective private schools, has resigned in protest of what he considers the trustee’s interference with his leadership.

“Everyone knows that I am somewhat anachronistic in my views of the educational leadership of a school,” Mr. Barr wrote in a letter yesterday to faculty members and parents. “I am not comfortable with the definition of board‐head relations that I see becoming current in schools everywhere.”

Mr. Barr’s resignation, which the board says was not requested and not expected, comes after 10 frequently stormy years as head of Dalton, which is housed in an 11‐story, brick building at 108 East 89th Street.

Question of Authority

The source of conflict between the strong‐minded Mr. Barr and his 20‐member board seemed to center on the question of where the board’s authority should yield to the headmaster’s judgment. There was apparently no one incident that prompted the resignation, but the confrontation was exacerbated by financial pressures that have forced the school to set priorities.

“The issue is the prerogatives of the board and the headmaster,” said Richard Ravitch, a construction company executive who is president of the board. “My sense of trusteeship and my understanding of the requirements of the state law And the bylaws of the school all say to me that it is the obligation of the trustees of an institution to make all the policies.”

Ironically, the present board of trustees includes many parents who rose to Mr. Barr’s defense when a faction of the former board and some of the parents sought his ouster in 1971. He was accused then of turning a “humanistic, progressive” school into one in which “discipline and authoritarian rule” were the hallmarks.

The issues then had nothing to do with this issue now,” Mr. Ravitch said. “All of us who are now officers of the board were supportive of him in that fight and supported his educational philosophy.”

The Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom, and the Future of the Right Paperback – October 9, 2007

if the acceptance and love of others as they are is the essence of Christianity, then the acceptance of our loneliness and doubt in a world far beyond our understanding is the core of all non-fundamentalist religion.

pg 219  Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul

 

What religion can be at its most sublime is the fusion of that wonder we should really feel all the time in the presence of God. What religion can be at its most sublime is the fusion of that wonder with practical life. It is the marriage of the poetic and practical modes of experience. This does not require the imposition of fixed rules and doctrines, although they may be helpful guides from time to time.  It requires a constant reimagination of the potential of life  lived on earth as if it were heaven. It requires letting go of our desire not to let go. Jesus saw it in children. One of his most radical teachings was the notion that only if we become like children will we enter the kingdom of God.

Children love rituals, and their games are full of them. Perhaps because they are not yet fully formed, every moment matters more. We older types have sometimes become inured to the wonder and mystery of everything.

pg 222

 

These moments may come upon us when we least expect them. We may see flashes of eternity in the simple grin of a child in a game of hind and seek, in the approach of the tide on an autumn  afternoon, in the eyes of a lover in sex, or in grandmother’s ritual– but we know them when we see the. The key is to be open to them, because they happen all the time, all around us. But we are too “busy” to notice.

The opposite of this kind of faith is fundamentalism: the constant recourse to abstraction and authority or text.

Most people are bad at arguing. These 2 techniques will make you better.

Anyone who has argued with an opinionated relative or friend about immigration or gun control knows it is often impossible to sway someone with strong views.

That’s in part because our brains work hard to ensure the integrity of our worldview: We seek out information to confirm what we already know, and are dismissive or avoidant of facts that are hostile to our core beliefs.

But it’s not impossible to make your argument stick. And there’s been some good scientific work on this. Here are two strategies that, based on the evidence, seem promising.

1) If the argument you find convincing doesn’t resonate with someone else, find out what does

The answer to polarization and political division is not simply exposing people to another point of view.

In 2017, researchers at Duke, NYU, and Princeton ran an experiment where they paid a large sample of Democratic and Republican Twitter users to read more opinions from the other side. “We found no evidence that inter-group contact on social media reduces political polarization,” the authors wrote. Republicans in the experiment actually grew more conservative over the course of the test. Liberals in the experiment grew very slightly more liberal.

Whenever we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed.

On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like, “No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America.” And they think other people will find this compelling, too.

Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What both sides fail to understand is that they’re arguing a point that their opponents have not only already dismissed but may be inherently deaf to.

“The messages that are intuitive to people are, for the most part, not the effective ones,” Robb Willer, a professor of sociology and psychology at Stanford University, told me in 2015.

Willer has shown it’s at least possible to nudge our political opponents to consider ideas they’d normally reject outright. In 2015, in a series of six studies, he and co-author Matthew Feinberg found that when conservative policies are framed around liberal values like equality or fairness, liberals become more accepting of them. The same was true of liberal policies recast in terms of conservative values like respect for authority.

Willer has shown it’s at least possible to nudge our political opponents to consider ideas they’d normally reject outright. In 2015, in a series of six studies, he and co-author Matthew Feinberg found that when conservative policies are framed around liberal values like equality or fairness, liberals become more accepting of them. The same was true of liberal policies recast in terms of conservative values like respect for authority.

So, his research suggests, if a conservative wanted to convince a liberal to support higher military spending, he shouldn’t appeal to patriotism. He should say something like, “Through the military, the disadvantaged can achieve equal standing and overcome the challenges of poverty and inequality.” Or at least that’s the general idea.

In a recent effort Willer and a co-author found, in a nationally representative sample, that conservatives would be more willing to support a hypothetical liberal candidate for president if that candidate used language that reflected conservative values. For instance, conservatives who read that the candidate’s “vision for America is based on respect for the values and traditions that were handed down to us…” were more likely to say they supported him than when the candidate’s message was framed with liberal buzzwords.

How to sway the other side: Use their morals against them

Willer’s work is based on moral foundations theory. It’s the idea that people have stable, gut-level morals that influence their worldview. The liberal moral foundations include equality, fairness, and protection of the vulnerable. Conservative moral foundations are more stalwart: They favor in-group loyalty, moral purity, and respect for authority.

Politicians intuitively use moral foundations to excite like-minded voters. Conservative politicians know phrases like “take our country back” get followers’ hearts beating.

What moral foundations theory tells us, however, is that these messages don’t translate from one moral tribe to the other. “You’re essentially trying to convince somebody who speaks French of some position while speaking German to them,” Willer says. “And that doesn’t resonate.”

Willer cautioned that it’s still extremely difficult to convert a political opponent completely to your side, even with these techniques. “We found statistically significant effects,” he says. “They’re reliable. But in terms of magnitude, they are not large.”

The chart below shows how well the moral reframing worked for each policy area in Willer’s study. To be clear, there’s only so much that reframing in terms of values can do: It can’t turn an anti-Obamacare conservative into a proponent, but it can soften his stance and get him to listen to counterarguments.

Half of 10 Biggest Federal Law Agencies Lack Permanent Chiefs

Number of acting heads produces a lack of leadership stability at agencies that enforce critical parts of Trump agenda

Five of the nation’s 10 largest federal law-enforcement agencies are currently operating with only interim heads amid an unprecedented long-term leadership vacuum that even some of the president’s congressional allies say is untenable.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons all lack permanent heads.

Several of the agencies—ATF, DEA and ICE—have been without Senate-approved leadership for the entirety of Donald Trump’s term in office. That is the case despite unified Republican control of the Senate and presidency during that period, which typically leads to easier confirmation scenarios.

Because of opposition by some gun-rights groups, presidents of both parties have struggled to get ATF nominees through the Senate—but Mr. Trump has never even tapped anyone for the job. The leader of the Bureau of Prisons need not be Senate-confirmed, but even so it has only an acting director.

CBP has been run by an interim leader since mid-April because its current commissioner was tapped to run the entire Department of Homeland Security—as an acting secretary.

In part, the situation reflects Mr. Trump’s management style. He has said he prefers keeping people in “acting” roles rather than going through the Senate nominating process.

I sort of like ‘acting,’” Mr. Trump said earlier this year. “It gives me more flexibility.”

He is giving himself plenty of that. While vacancies are common toward the end of a presidential administration, the sheer number of them across the Trump administration as well as the turnover in crucial jobs, particularly at prestigious law-enforcement agencies, is without precedent, according to Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service.

Of the roughly 700 key positions requiring Senate approval that his organization tracks, only about 400 of them have been filled with a Senate-confirmed official. Some are extremely high profile, like the secretaries of defense and DHS.

But the result is a lack of leadership stability at several agencies that enforce critical parts of Mr. Trump’s agenda. The Drug Enforcement Administration has a prominent role in curbing opioid abuse, a priority of the Trump administration. ATF is a central player in combating gang violence and illegal firearms trafficking, other law-enforcement priorities of the president.

And CBP and ICE both play major roles in enforcing immigration law, the centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s domestic agenda. The president often talks of what he says is a “crisis at the border.”

Steadiness in leadership at government agencies with police powers may be especially crucial. “A law-enforcement organization is dealing with some of the most serious powers of the state and that is the power that involves people’s liberty,” said Mr. Stier.

Running a government with so many vacancies and “acting” leaders at high levels also bypasses the Senate’s constitutionally mandated “advice and consent” role in approving senior leadership at many agencies—and, similarly to Mr. Trump’s recent defiance of House subpoenas, shows little regard for Congress as a coequal branch of government.

“One of the purposes of the constitutional system we have is the checks and balances. The Senate, one of their critical roles, is to be able to in essence vet the senior leadership of our government—choices that the president is making,” Mr. Stier said. “That absolutely is a challenge to the system of government that we have.”

Veterans of government service note that it is difficult to be an effective manager with “acting” in your title.

To effectively lead an agency, you need as much authority and gravitas as you can muster. These are difficult jobs. Senate confirmation definitely helps,” said Robert Bonner, a former federal judge and prosecutor who was successfully nominated to lead both the DEA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency under two Republican presidents.

“It is enormously important that the people that work for you in that agency view you, not as an ‘acting,’ but as somebody who is going to be around for a while,” said Mr. Bonner, who was confirmed to four separate positions by the U.S. Senate. “If you’re not a confirmed head of an agency … you’re not going to be able to command as much respect and attention from your own people and from other agencies whose cooperation is important.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ally of Mr. Trump and the chairman of the committee that considers nominees for the DEA and AFT, said he doesn’t approve of the long-term vacancies created by the Trump administration.

“It bothers me. Why aren’t they doing it? They should,” Mr. Graham said about nominating permanent heads for those agencies. The South Carolina Republican is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Justice Department and all its law-enforcement agencies—which include the FBI, DEA, AFT, U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The lack of any nominees has created a messy situation at the top of several agencies—requiring tricky legal maneuvering to even name an acting successor.

ATF is currently being led by Reggie Lombardo, who holds the title of “acting deputy director.” Ms. Lombardo, who took office earlier this month after the departure of her predecessor, cannot hold the title of acting director because of a quirk in federal law caused by the lengthy vacancy and the lack of a nominee.

The current acting head of the DEA, Uttam Dhillon, had to be transferred from his White House job into a Justice Department post first—to qualify for the appointment as acting administrator because of another requirement in the agency secession rules. Mr. Dhillon was involved in the search for a DEA head while he was at the White House.

And Mr. Trump purged the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security last month in a clash over the direction of the agency. He named CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan as the acting DHS secretarybypassing a law that required the acting job to go to the undersecretary for Management, Claire Grady. Ms. Grady eventually resigned to resolve the issue—clearing the path for Mr. McAleenan to become acting DHS secretary.