For the 2021 spring Friends school heads gathering, Friends Council convened a virtual conversation between author Anand Giridharadas and Friends school head Bryan Garman. Giridharadas is a nationally known writer, the author of several books including Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, a former New York Times columnist, and an alum of Sidwell Friends School. Garman, currently the head of Sidwell Friends School, was Giridharadas' former history teacher and thesis advisor.
“I personally feel Anand’s voice is one of the most important as we consider what is a civil society and where it might go,” said Friends Council Executive Director Drew Smith in introducing Giridharadas to Friends School heads. “As a fan I am thrilled to welcome Anand and as a friend I am happy to welcome Bryan.”
In opening remarks, Giridharadas acknowledged the role Garman has played in his life and career. “Bryan was my former history teacher and thesis advisor, and one of two teachers to put me on the path of being a writer and thinker.”
On being a writer in today’s society, Giridharadas shared he is devoted to the craft of long writing. “I am incredibly privileged to stand outside structures that others are tightly wrapped in. Most in society cannot tell the truth,” says Giridharadas. He likened today’s writer to “a village gossip who can take what others think and feel and say it.” Giridharadas’ writing can be found in his weekly publication, The.Ink.
Giridharadas shared that he feels that the United States doesn’t have a “chassis of commonality” anymore and that the epistemology of how people come to a decision of what is true is fractured.” Even something of the magnitude of COVID pandemic is not viewed by everyone in the same way. “We have fallen out of curiosity with each other,” says Giridharadas.
Giridharadas's current project is a book about the identity transition underway in our country and will deal with what we do about the large number of white people and men who feel the loss of their privilege. “This is the greatest problem in our country. …I want to understand what those people are going through so I can help shape the identity transition of this country… If we don’t understand the thinking of the other side we will not be very effective.”
“We are trying something no other country has tried – we are trying to shift to a minority majority,” said Giridharadas. “We are attempting to build the type of country you would say no one in their right mind would try.”
When asked about the function of wealth in our society and the tension often felt in Quaker private schools, Giridharadas shared the story of his time in the Aspen Institute, a place where, from his perspective, he found that the people who gathered to solve certain problems were often the very same people causing the problems through their roles in the corporations they work for.
“There is a possibility for schools like yours to replicate the Aspen Model... and possibility to not,” said Giridharadas. “There is a way to operate where your way of operating tends to erode the unfair systems, or it operates to shore them up.” He advised that Quaker schools start with the contradiction – there are ways a school can shore up the (current model) even more or it can make institutional design choices to make that world collapse.
When asked, “Where is the hope for us right now?” Giridharadas responded, “So much of darkness we have lived through in the past four years is a symptom of a really beautiful thing. This country is trying to become something right now. Something unique. A country forged of the other countries. That is a bold commitment."