Many American parents hope to avoid the problems of public schools by enrolling their children in exclusive private schools. However, not all issues can be avoided. Even private day schools can find themselves embroiled in discussions over “Critical Race Theory.” Sometimes it is not rebellious students but faculty that bends the curriculum leftward.
The Dalton School
“The Dalton School” in New York City is one such private day school. The school web site’s main page drips with liberal certitude about their good intentions. “The Dalton School is committed to providing an education of excellence that meets each student’s interests, abilities and needs within a common curricular framework and reflects and promotes an understanding of, and appreciation for, diversity in our community as an integral part of school life.”
“Diversity” was comfortable in the seventies and eighties. All places like Dalton had to do was recruit students to reflect the desired diversity mix. Their administrators could then claim they were doing their liberal best to make the world a better place.
However, the social justice warriors are not satisfied with such window dressing. The new radicals want more action. Dalton and similar schools must now struggle to catch up with the “woke” world lest they be left behind.
The Bad Fruit of a Bad Tree
The Dalton School was founded in 1916 by Helen Parkhurst (1887-1973). Her biographical sketch in Britannicasheds light on her motivations.
“In 1918, she drew upon an experimental plan … in her New York school. Pupils worked in “laboratory brigades” on specific assignments for which they contracted. There were no tests or examinations, and external discipline was minimal.”
A more extended biography on the Dalton International website acknowledges that John Dewey inspired Miss Parkhurst. She also worked closely with Maria Montessori. Dr. Dewey’s unfortunate influence on American education is reflected in the Dalton blueprint.
“The school, according to Parkhurst, should provide sufficient experience. This state cannot be achieved when the teacher gives all knowledge, and the students are only passive recipients of a given message… asking students for silence, making learning make them memorize and recite memorized messages in front of the class.… Parkhurst had already described the main assumptions of the Dalton pedagogy, namely Freedom, responsibility, socialization and individualization of work at the lesson.”
Eating Their Own
Such a “progressive” educational ideology sometimes works with highly motivated students like those at Dalton, especially those who can afford the $50,000 per child yearly tuition. The students’ well-to-do parents provide travel and books, along with lessons in good manners and conversation. Thus, Dalton graduates often have successful careers.
However, the successful outcomes of most students are in tension with the progressive ideals that favor the poor and downtrodden.
Thus, the progressive faculty at Dalton is now introducing “woke” themes into their curricula as a means of showing their progressive credentials. It is also supporting controversial movements like Antifa and BLM.
The social ferment of 2020 inspired the faculty at Dalton to make a series of demands to the administration, including:
- Hiring a dozen “diversity officers.”
- Hiring full-time psychologists to assist students “coping with race-based traumatic stress.”
- A member of the faculty who is assigned to assist black students who face disciplinary action.
- A full-time member of the faculty who exclusively works with black students with complaints against the school.
- Require that all students take courses that examine liberation from “white supremacy.”
- Abolishing high-level classes (especially Advanced Placement) in which black students underperform white students.
- A new reading list focusing on social justice themes.
Unless Dalton meets these – and many other – demands, the faculty is threatening to strike.
The Dalton administration is taking a conciliatory stand. According to La Corte News, “The school claims that these are just ideas that teachers believe might improve ‘Dalton’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution.’” A spokesperson said, “Dalton’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism is grounded in our deep appreciation for the dignity of all community members, an understanding of differing life backgrounds, empathy for one another, and the ability to engage and listen with respect across differences.”
Many parents believe Dalton’s attitude is wrong. The New York Post summarized their sentiments. One parent predicted that ”30 to 40 percent” would withdraw their children because of the demands. The Post also pointed out that “some Dalton parents are fuming over the school’s resistance to reopening classrooms since the COVID-19 outbreak, remaining fully remote while other private and public schools have resumed some or all in-person instruction. “We are, in short, frustrated and confused and better hope to understand the school’s thought processes behind the virtual model it has adopted,” writes one group of parents to head of school Jim Best.
Fox News paraphrased the reactions of an anonymous Dalton alumnus. “[T]he school had been indoctrinating its students with a progressive agenda well before it was mainstream and that the institution offers a glimpse of where public schools might be heading…. He recalled how the school had gender-neutral bathrooms years before it was a topic in the news. He said he remembered race being constantly brought up in lessons – even in Kindergarten.” The alumnus also said that white students were called racists if they did not indicate full agreement. “There’s no disagreeing. There’s no dissent.”
The managing editor of Quillette, Colin Wright, tweeted a summary of the situation, “The Dalton School in Manhattan is having a race meltdown. It’s absolutely insane. Teachers are holding the school for ransom with demands, but they’re so extreme the school will crumble if they give in. But they’ll crumble if they don’t, too!”
If this situation was limited to Dalton or other high-tuition prep schools, it might seem to be a typical case of liberals mugged by the reality of their extreme ideas. The revolutionaries in education would be “eating their own,” as the saying goes.
However, similar discussions are happening in public, private, and parochial schools all over the nation. The professional journal Education Week is full of articles supporting the trend. As of this writing, a search of Education Week’s website for the term “anti-racism” yielded 345 articles, most written within the last year. Education Week is a fixture in administrative suites throughout American education and thus reflects national trends. Parents be warned.
There is only one real answer to Dalton’s dilemma about race issues. It requires a moral perspective in the Catholic sense of the love of God. It is the surest and easiest path to just and harmonious relationships among humanity’s various races and ethnicities. “Critical Race Theory” is a Marxist construct. Fueled by hate, it is as far from this Catholic sense as Hell is from Heaven.
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