The Dalton follies continue.
Yesterday, a letter was circulated from a group of concerned parents. The letter is well written and measured. Will this stop the pendulum swing towards madness, or will it be ignored? It is reprinted in full below.
Note that the letter is anonymous. That parents are afraid to come forward with their honest (and well informed) opinions tells you all you need to know. They are afraid of retribution against their children. Don't think this crowd is above it, either. It happens all the time. Conservative parents and students everywhere have learned to shut up and keep their heads down. (In this case, the parents can't even be call conservative; let's call them just "rational.")
My understanding is that the board is looking to throw Head of School Jim Best under the bus. Honestly, they should throw themselves under the bus. They let this happen. The board actually instructed the school to remove their names from the school's website after the Naked Dollar's first reported on what was happening. Courageous move, that. If you want to see who's on it, I listed their names here. I have learned that some of the board members are "outraged" by the letter, calling it racist.
Of course they did.
Anyway, here it is. Congrats to the scribes, it's a powerful statement, and stands in sharp contrast to the hideous inhumanity of the faculty demands. As you read it, ask yourself how anyone in their right mind would keep their kids at this school. I am reminded of one reader's comment:
"You know your society has reached peak bourgeoise decadence when its ruling class will pay top dollar to learn how to hate themselves."
Loving Concern @ Dalton
An Open Letter to the Dalton Community
Dear Dalton Community,
We are writing with heavy hearts and loving concern over the future of Dalton. As alumni and parents, we have been a part of Dalton and its wonderful community of teaching and learning for several decades. Amidst these trying times, we want to step back and remember what matters most. Dalton's greatest strengths have been 1) an educational philosophy that celebrates teaching and learning, independent thought, curiosity and creativity, and 2) an extraordinarily dedicated and caring faculty. To these strengths, the school has added one more great light - an unbelievable diversity of the student body, unique among its peers, of which the school may be very proud. While the passion for progressive education - true liberal arts, child-centered education that nurtures a love of learning and curiosity native to children - seems to have waned over the years, nothing prepared us for this fall.
Love of learning and teaching is now being abandoned in favor of an "anti-racist curriculum." Our new mission is "vocal" and explicit. How else are we to interpret the repeated communications from the Head of School pledging allegiance to a new ideology that is untested, and worse yet, untestable? How else can we interpret a curriculum night where every single class, from science to social studies, to physical education, must now be rewritten to embody "anti-racism?" When so many of Dalton's extraordinary faculty sign a letter that shows little interest in the education of children, the joy of learning, or the kids' educational development? Every class this year has had an obsessive focus on race and identity, "racist cop" reenactments in science, "de-centering whiteness" in art class, learning about white supremacy and sexuality in health class. Wildly age-inappropriate, many of these classes feel more akin to a Zoom corporate sensitivity training than to Dalton's intellectually engaging curriculum.
Many of us do not feel welcome at Dalton any more. That really hurts to write. This ideology is extremely exclusionary to those families (perhaps a majority of the Dalon community) who don't identify as part of an oversimplified racial dichotomy in a beautiful and diverse world, or those who choose not to make their racial identity the centerpiece of their family life or their children's education.
Dalton's progressive educational philosophy believes that each child has a spark, and all we need to do is fan that flame with a love of leaning, books, art and human civilization, to cherish nature and love and respect our fellow humans. This approach is enshrined in the Dalton Plan. You'd never know that to listen to this years's classes and administration. The curriculum is being revamped in a rush in the middle of a pandemic. Not once this semester have any of us heard (and because classes are taking place in our homes, we hear) mentioned the joy of reading, of learning, of independent thinking, of curiosity, of discovering math and science, of human cultures. What we have heard is a pessimistic and age-inappropriate litany of grievances in EVERY class. We fear that rote learning of political concepts that must be accepted as gospel is not a nutritious educational experience.
In a place of joyful progressive education, students are exposed to an excessive focus on skin color and sexuality, before they even understand what sex is. Children are bewildered and bored after hours of discussing these topics in the new long-form classes. Dalton used to awaken children's imaginations with fiction, art, Aztec bookmaking, the Renaissance, ITL and Carmino Ravosa musicals. Having children focus on skin color and their sexual identities, rather than immersing them in the beauty and joy of human civilization, the wonder of science and nature, or the meaning and power of words and math and music, seems nuts to us.
The children are innocent, humane, and decent young people full of joy in a diverse classroom. It's almost as if we're punishing the children for "the sins of the fathers." Some of this material seems a strange thing to teach seven or ten or twelve years olds. They shouldn't be anti anything. They should be pro the beauty of humanity, works of art, creativity, loving and caring for each other as citizens and community members. We have each found ways to make community building and social change part of our life missions, many of us with the tools Dalton taught us.
The new "anti-racist" obsession with race is incredibly exclusionary and hurtful to many of the children and their families, and many are considering leaving. Why would anyone voluntarily send their children to be taught that they are guilty regardless of their decency and kindness? A school where they are constantly reminded of the color of their skin, not the content of their character. What Black parent wants the other children to feel sorry for their kid and look at them differently? We have spoken with dozens of families, of all colors and backgrounds, who are in shock and looking for an alternative school for their children.
Jim Best's recent email suggested that the school "will always welcome community input and honest around how to meaningfully bring these principles to life." Nothing could be further from the truth. There is not an intellectually honest debate over the role and scope of "anti racism" at the school and in the curriculum. It is an anti-intellectual, doctrinaire soliloquy of the Head of School, perhaps with the assistance of corporate consultants who are invited to indoctrinate the rest.
Please understand the fear surrounding the implementation of this radical change to the curriculum. No one can speak up for fear of being branded a racist. Or for exhibiting white fragility. Nonsense. We are all caring people who want a better world. As a result of this fear, the Board and the administration don't realize the depth of the pain this has caused many families, or how many feel compelled to leave Dalton altogether. Jim's recent email states that this is a done deal. "We agree that our commitment is clearly aligned with our mission, strategic plan, and values as a culture and a community. I need all of us to understand that as well." Honest debate? Basically it says we know what's best, and get on board.
We are concerned that the administration has lost its way, and that the Board appears unwilling or unable to speak out and represent the Dalton community as a whole.
When a great institution undertakes a periodic curricular review, and certainly a revamping of the core mission of the institution, it is done with the advice of world renowned educators, faculty, board members, parents and alumni. We have forgotten that before being an "antiracist" institution, we must be an educational institution. We can't remake the curriculum only with the expertise of teachers specialized in "anti-racism," or we will accidentally make that the focus of the curriculum,
At most, social justice is just one part of the educational world. We need a broad based group of passionate educators to look at the curriculum over a period of years and restore our educational philosophy. We have confused a progressive pedagogical model with progressive politics. Even for people who are sympathetic to that political viewpoint, the role of a school is not to indoctrinate politically. It's to open the minds of children to the wonders of the world and leaning. The Dalton we love, that has changed our lives, is nowhere to be found. And that is a huge loss.
To be clear, we abhor racism. We celebrate Dalton's diversity and its inclusive environment, and we believe in better outcomes for Black Americans. Diversity is the best thing to happen to Dalton in the last twenty years. We, too, have been inspired by the tragic events of lst summer and are taking action in our own ways to make a difference. We totally understand the administration's desire to do something. We simply reject the "anti-racism" on philosophical, ethical, and pedagogical grounds, and we support other ways to oppose racism and teach children to become thoughtful and empathetic people, In our view, these recent curricular changes achieve precisely the opposite results as intended.
As many scholars have noted, the recent push for "anti-racism" eduction rests on unquestioned and potentially flawed philosophical underpinnings. It flattens out the rich diversity of the student body. There is no questioning allowed. Look at how divisive this initiative has been. One can embrace the ideals of hard work of making the world a better place without straying from our core educational mission. We risk losing what makes Dalton special. We must recommit ourselves to finding it.
It's unfortunate that the discourse has become so fraught that the numerous community members who contributed to this letter feel compelled to remain anonymous. We hope this communication will help the Board and the administration become aware of the depth of hurt that has been unleashed with recent changes in the direction of Dalton. In the spirit of getting a meaningful dialog going, we have shared a few ideas below that we think could contribute to restoring the trust of the community. We have set up an email as a confidential way for people to reach out and share ideas. Any creative ideas to help the community connect with Dalton's core mission would be welcome!
Most importantly, if you share our love of Dalton's education mission and our concerns about the future of the school, please reach out to the Board, share this letter widely, and make your voice heard.
If we focus on ideology at the expense of curiosity and creativity, we will extinguish the spark. Let's celebrate what makes Dalton special - and extraordinarily diverse community, a wise an enthusiastic faculty, curious and engaged students and a distinct educational philosophy that has survived the test of time. Let's build on that foundation to continue to grow and improve in a patient and thoughtful way. We must dig deep into the Dalton spirit and get back on track with an exciting and meaningful progressive liberal arts education.
Loving Concern @ Dalton
Note: Following this, there was a list of ideas for restoring the school. I will publish them at a later date.