The Will to Institutionality

Ferguson’s piece made me reflect on how insanely institutional, manipulative, neoliberal, corporate, and resistant to change my conservative Southern high school was and still is.  It’s hard to adequately paint a picture of Charlotte Latin School; it’s almost impossible to do its atrociously problematic values and administrators justice, but, for example, despite yearly protests and actions staged by students demanding a Gay-Straight Alliance, the administration has yet to approve any established club related to queer issues.  While many students are well aware of the problematic nature of the “Gay-Straight Alliance” framework and desire a more radical, potentially underground queer organization on campus, the goal in pursuing a GSA specifically was to appeal to the administration’s narrow understanding of queerness and bait them with the concept of straight inclusion/recognition in order to achieve even a little agency internally.  Unfortunately, even this “reasonable” approach to establishing legitimacy through investment in dominant institutional frameworks has failed.  What does one do when even institutionalization, which already seems like a defeat in and of itself, seems unachievable?  And how can students hold the school accountable for its exclusionary politics, especially when its falsely advertises itself on the website as “committed to an environment of inclusion where everyone is treated with dignity and respect”?  On Charlotte Latin’s Philosophy of Education website page (http://www.charlottelatin.org/page.cfm?p=513), they claim to “endeavor to promote an educated and honorable citizen with a command of facts and a mastery of the English language, capable of rational thought, of unequivocal self-expression, and of taking full advantage of any growth-promoting opportunities in life”.  In the way that Ferguson frames the institutional descriptor “excellence” as a competition-driven market strategy, Charlotte Latin School, in order to establish a sell-able, “superior” image in a mainstream context, stresses its focus on “rationality”, “honorability”, and “growth” (as well, of course, on its “commitment to excellence”).  While never explicitly stated and rarely discussed even in private, it was clear to me during my time as a student there and is even more clear to me now that their definition of “rational thought” is blind acceptance and internalization of neoliberal ideals, that a sincerely “honorable citizen” hesitates to question and refuses to transgresses pre-established social systems, and that an opportunity is only truly “growth-promoting” in its money-making ability.  Latin’s neoliberal education philosophy and contrived marketing tactics are entirely wrapped up in hegemonic Christian, capitalist ideas of morality, respectability, and success: ultimately, the school’s seemingly well-intentioned/student-supporting outlooks and strategies seek to control and undermine the legitimacy of all minority difference. The goal is to earn money, recognition, and ratings (like a business) rather than to actually support the students themselves (like a school). The administration denies vulnerable, minority students a queer space and then turns around and shouts about the school’s “excellence” at every possible opportunity: to me, it is clear that Charlotte Latin’s view of “honor” and “excellence” are rooted in conformity, tradition, capitalism, and sexual hegemony; above all, these baseless and harmful values are carefully constructed, defended, and spouted as the ultimate truth.

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