These are tough times for Minnesota schools.
In Lakeville, for example, the school board recently announced wrenching cuts of almost $7 million. Ninety-four teachers will lose their jobs, arts programs will suffer and a school will be closed.
There was wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the board set its jaw: There's not a dime for anything extra.
Unless you've got an ax to grind with white folks. Then the money spigots open.
The Lakeville schools are sending a delegation of teachers to the 12th annual "White Privilege Conference" at the Bloomington Sheraton from April 13-16. The district is shelling out $160 a pop -- plus $125 a day for teacher subs -- for this "white guilt" festival.
Organizers say they expect attendees from a number of other Minnesota districts.
The conference is "built on the premise that the U.S. was started by white people, for white people," according to conference materials. Its mission is to get participants to confront their biases in a "journey in understanding white supremacy, whiteness, privilege, power and oppression," and to "agree to take action in [their] own circle of power."
The conference is sponsored by the Minnesota Justice Collaborative, a consortium of local higher-education and philanthropic institutions. It is expected to draw 1,500 teachers, students, activists, artists, social workers and counselors from more than 40 states. Minnesota public schools are represented on the list of speakers and workshop presenters.
What can Lakeville parents and taxpayers expect for their investment?
To find out, we can peruse the keynote address for the 2009 conference. It was delivered by "social justice educator" Paul Kivel and appeared in the conference journal, "Understanding and Dismantling Privilege."
Kivel begins with what passes these days as a prayer: "I want to acknowledge the creative spirits in the world that nurture and sustain us and that connect us to each other and to the plant and animal life around us."
Then he winds up for a fire-and-brimstone sermon. We Americans "are completely dependent on U.S. imperialism and war to sustain our daily lives."
Our schools, too, are riddled with racial bias. "Our school system has been set up ... to perpetuate white supremacy and white privilege." Poor and minority students "do not drop out -- they are pushed out."
What's gone wrong? For one thing, Christianity has far too much influence. It "has played a key role in developing and justifying sources of oppression" such as "violence and genocide," Kivel tells us, and is "the beginning of modern or biological racism."
But don't despair, he counsels. We must look beyond our "declining empire" to "exciting progressive developments" in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela -- among them, "land reform and redistribution of wealth, neighborhood committees, recognition of women's unpaid labor, end of spanking."
I feel better already.
At this year's conference, participants can look forward to a tongue-lashing from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of "Outlaw Woman."
"Clamor" magazine describes Dunbar-Ortiz as "a fiery, indefatigable public speaker" on issues of capitalism and imperialism who cut her teeth in Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, then built "associations with other revolutionaries across the spectrum of radical and underground politics."
In addition to drinking in Dunbar-Ortiz's wisdom, Lakeville teachers will have countless opportunities for navel-gazing or self-flagellation. They can sample workshops where participants will "discuss how white privilege, white supremacy, and oppression affects daily life." Every grievance get its due, with topics including not just skin color but sexuality, gender, class and disability.
Teachers also can seek counsel from Ruth King, "a recognized authority on emotional wisdom and the author of the groundbreaking book 'Healing Rage and the Emotional Wisdom Cards'" -- or relax with Victor Lee Lewis of the Radical Resilience Institute, who will instruct them how to "rapidly release and overcome stress, trauma, drama and toxic beliefs."
Whom should we thank for this rich smorgasbord of white guilt? Sponsors include the University of Minnesota, MnSCU, the St. Paul Foundation, Hamline University, Gustavus Adolphus College, the YWCA of Minneapolis and Augsburg College, among others.
"This conference is on the radar of conservatives because it threatens the status quo, because we're not just talking about individual change, we're talking about systems change," University of Minnesota professor Lisa Albrecht, a local organizer, told MinnPost last fall.
The website reported: "There's always the possibility that the 'haters,' as one of the organizers puts it, will descend in mass and try to disrupt peaceful discussions about the advantages of being white in America and the oppression that has led to."
Not a chance. We're laughing too hard.
Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. The views expressed here are her own. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.