We started to ask questions. I have always felt a strong connection with Martin Luther King Jr. ’s dream of an America where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I advocate genuine antiracism, rooted in dignity and humanity. But the ideology underlying the “racial literacy” guide distributed by the school wasn’t like that. Instead of emphasizing our common humanity, it lumps people into simplistic racial groupings. It teaches that each person’s identity and status is based largely on skin color, and leaves no place for people like me, who are of mixed race or don’t place race at the heart of their identity.
After confirming that the curriculum, obtained from a nonprofit called Pollyanna Inc., was “one of many resources” the school was using, I became concerned by the emphasis on grievance over gratitude and by the stated goal of turning young children into committed activists. “By the end of the unit,” one section of the curriculum explains, “students will set commitments for rectifying current social ills, such as learning and planning how to carry out anti-racist activism and/or social advocacy in their communities.”
My concerns multiplied when, going off the Pollyanna curriculum, our fourth-grade daughter and her 9- and 10-year-old classmates were given “The Third Chimpanzee for Young People,” a book intended for middle and high schoolers that covers mature topics such as adultery, self-mutilation and suicide. After we and other parents argued that it was inappropriate, the teachers backtracked and asked students to return the books. But school administrators didn’t want to hear our questions.
Less than a week later, concluding an unrelated email exchange, the head of the school wrote to us: “I wonder if this might be a good moment to think whether or not this is the best school for you and your family—being philosophically misaligned is never a very good experience for all concerned.” It took him almost a month to respond to the letter we wrote in reply, explaining that our philosophy hadn’t changed and asking if our children were still welcome at the school.
The headmaster eventually asked the Bartnings if their kids wouldn’t be happier elsewhere. More: