In an essay recently featured on Bari Weiss’ Substack, Daniel Ifresne—a senior at Brooklyn Tech High School—came out to the world as a conservative Christian. Being a black 17-year-old son of Haitian immigrants with a humble upbringing, he defies all the usual expectations that most people have of a person with his background. Not only does he reject identity politics and leftist narratives, but he has excelled in his studies, shows admirable grit and character, and stands to achieve great things in his life despite his lack of privilege.
It’s a great story and inspirational, which is why it has gone viral. It flies in the face of popular narratives which assert that the forces of systemic racism and classism will inevitably determine one’s social outcomes. More importantly, it gives hope to others from similarly poor backgrounds or those with similarly unpopular views to follow their dreams and pursue excellence.
Besides bringing some much needed positivity for Americans today, Ifresne’s story reveals some disconcerting points about his generation (the iGen) and the world they inhabit. After discussing his “inoculations” against the woke culture that predominates among adolescents, Ifresne reflects on the real force influencing his peers, the screen: “When acceptance is the highest value, when avoiding condemnation online is worth more than the truth, the truth will be swiftly discarded.” Most kids his age seek “acceptance,” so they do what the screen tells them to do, whether or not they are repeating a falsehood or doing harm to themselves or others.
This reality of online peer pressure and brainwashing of young people cannot be understated. More than the Maoist teacher giving extra credit to his students to attend Antifa rallies or the teacher who asked her student to pledge to the Pride flag since the American flag made her uncomfortable, it is the endless barrage of leftist messaging on the screen that determines young people’s worldviews.
As Ifresne points out, the great majority of young people are utterly captive to their personal technology and will conform at all costs. For many, the TikTok and Instagram celebrity has more influence than any parent or teacher, and the likes and engagement on these platforms are the main motivators for most of their actions and beliefs.
Case in point: local teachers were put on watch for students vandalizing bathrooms and stealing items from classrooms because this has become a popular trend on TikTok. Sure enough, within the week, several students were caught in the act and disciplinary measures had to be taken. The same has been happening at schools across the country.
Was it worth it? I’m not sure the students even thought that deeply about it. At most, they probably weighed whether it was worth having three days of in-school suspension for 300,000 likes from strangers online, and decided it was.
This kind of idiocy is a real challenge. So much is driven by emotions and herd instinct. There is nothing compelling or persuasive about these videos and comments—there are just so many of them and they never stop. The consumption of all this media both creates and feeds insecurity in users, and no amount of rational arguments and loving appeals can penetrate the cycle once it takes root.
Rather, these things need to be canceled and blocked out, which is what Ifresne’s parents and teachers effectively did. At home, he writes that “the television could not be turned on until the weekend. And even then, I had only two hours after I’d finished my homework.” This rule was loosened when Ifresne was a teenager, but by then, he had likely cultivated habits for studying and socializing that allowed him test into an elite high school, whereas his peers probably developed addictions that started with television and gradually transitioned to online video streaming.
Outside his home, Ifresne’s charter school reinforced healthy work habits by continually holding the students to a high standard: “We had to wear uniforms, fold our hands, sit up straight, and track the speaker with our gaze. Essays were assigned every week. We took regular quizzes to ensure we read the books in our logs.”
These strict demands are designed to keep students busy and away from the temptations that proliferate with idleness. It’s the schools that make no demands on students by relaxing discipline, allowing technology, and minimizing academic rigor that end up having high rates of failures, dropouts, and delinquent behavior.
Blocking the propaganda from the screen, however salutary, is not enough. Another influence needs to replace it and give a person’s life real meaning. In Ifresne’s case, this again came from his parents and teachers—as well as alternative media.
Ifresne explains how his parents strove above all to teach him the Christian faith. This was responsible for filling his life with purpose, and it taught him to love his neighbor and be grateful for his many blessings. Unlike many of his peers, he learned to appreciate different perspectives and take ownership for his actions. He learned to talk (and listen) to real people, and he didn’t succumb to tempting ideologies promising to “liberate” people from personal responsibility.
Again, this outlook was supported at his school, which stressed the values of self-reliance and self-respect. Students were set apart with their uniforms, and they weren’t taught to change their situation by becoming activists or agitators, but by doing their work and keeping away from lowlifes looking to bring them down. In Ifresne’s case, this was a literal threat, as he recalls “teachers escorting us and pleading us to walk directly home so as to avoid the gang violence that plagues the surrounding streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn.”
In a rare moment of something good coming from the internet, Ifresne also sought out the voices that articulated his values and “discovered Jordan Peterson’s lectures, Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge at the Hoover Institution, Ben Shapiro’s show, and more.” Unlike the vacuous flow of content from popular social media platforms, which feed FOMO (fear of missing out), the apologists for conservatism, free speech, and objective truth fed Ifresne’s intellect. Of course, to have this healthy curiosity, he had to have the foundation established at home and school. Without that foundation, he would have been just as incurious and bored as most kids his age.
Taken altogether, Ifresne’s story should give confidence not only to young people, but to the people (parents, teachers, mentors) who care for those young people. It’s important to realize that a person like Ifresne doesn’t sprout up randomly, but results from an environment that encourages virtue and discourages vice. Although many outside influences threaten such an environment, parents and educators can still go a long way to keep their kids safe. Often, it’s hard, frustrating work, but in so many ways, it’s the most important work we have in life.