By Kerry McDonald | Foundation for Economic
More parents are waking up to the “woke” ideology that is
seeping into their children’s classrooms and curriculum. Increasingly, they are
speaking up and opting out.
Last week, Andrew Gutmann, a father of a student at the
elite, $54,000-a-year Brearley School in Manhattan, wrote a scathing open
letter to the school community. He stated that he wouldn’t be re-enrolling his
daughter this upcoming academic year due to the school’s singular focus on
“anti-racism” efforts that, according to Gutmann, are overtly racist and
“I object to Brearley’s vacuous, inappropriate, and
fanatical use of words such as ‘equity,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness,’”
wrote Gutmann in his 1700-word letter, which was published on Friday at
journalist Bari Weiss’s website.
“If Brearley’s administration was truly concerned about
so-called ‘equity,’ it would be discussing the cessation of admissions
preferences for legacies, siblings, and those families with especially deep
pockets,” the letter continues. “If the administration was genuinely serious
about ‘diversity,’ it would not insist on the indoctrination of its students,
and their families, to a single mindset, most reminiscent of the Chinese
Cultural Revolution. Instead, the school would foster an environment of
intellectual openness and freedom of thought.”
“And if Brearley really cared about ‘inclusiveness,’ the
school would return to the concepts encapsulated in the motto ‘One Brearley,’”
Gutmann concludes. “Instead of teaching the extraordinarily divisive idea that
there are only, and always, two groups in this country: victims and
The Brearley School’s headmaster responded to the letter,
calling it “deeply offensive and harmful.” But more parents are coming forward
to speak up against these initiatives that are rooted in critical race theory,
the push to view social and cultural issues through the lens of racial identity
and, in particular, power structures related to that identity.
In an article last month at City Journal, Weiss described
many of the parents who have come forward from prestigious private schools in
major cities to criticize what they see as indoctrination of their children into
a leftist ideology of “wokeism.” In an article last week, Weiss shared a letter
from a teacher at one of these prep schools who is no longer willing to be
silent about this ongoing indoctrination of students.
“As a teacher, my first obligation is to my students,”
wrote Paul Rossi, who teaches mathematics at the posh Grace Church High School
in New York City. “But right now, my school is asking me to embrace
‘antiracism’ training and pedagogy that I believe is deeply harmful to them and
to any person who seeks to nurture the virtues of curiosity, empathy and
“‘Antiracist’ training sounds righteous, but it is the
opposite of truth in advertising,” Rossi concludes. “It requires teachers like
myself to treat students differently on the basis of race.”
Grace Church High School made headlines in March for
releasing an “Inclusive Language Guide” that, among other recommendations,
urged the school community to become more “welcoming and inclusive” by avoiding
words such as “mom and dad,” “parents,” and “boys and girls.”
Opting Out, Building Up
As more parents and educators feel emboldened to speak
out against the rising tide of wokeism in their children’s schools, it offers
opportunities for change.
Some of that change might come from schools reining in
their woke rhetoric if enough parents object, but much of the change will
likely come from parents opting out of these private schools for other options.
As more independent schools realize there is a market for focusing strictly on
teaching and learning without political indoctrination, they will be able to
differentiate themselves from schools seeped in critical race theory.
Similarly, more parent demand for alternatives to woke
education will lead to more entrepreneurial efforts to build new learning
models that focus on individual development over group affiliation.
The demand for non-woke education is skyrocketing. Who
will meet it?
— Pedro Domingos (@pmddomingos) March 12, 2021
I recently received an email from an Asian mother whose
child attends a private school in the Boston area and who is fed up with the
school “trying to ‘brainwash’ kids.”
“The social pressure to conform with what the schools
define as ‘moral compass’ is enormous and exhausting,” she wrote. “The
underground chattering is bubbling and I wonder where the parents would
ultimately draw the line and declare enough is enough. I personally feel time
may be ripe for more innovative and balanced models to challenge the status
quote of the existing learning institutions.”
The demand for non-woke education truly is skyrocketing
and it presents a moment ripe for “creative destruction” in the education
The term creative destruction was popularized by
economist Joseph Schumpeter in his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism, and
Democracy,to describe the dynamic process of new business models and
organizations replacing outdated or inadequate enterprises. He explained that
capitalism is “the perennial gale of creative destruction,” fueled by
entrepreneurship and innovation.
YES. Or: start new schools + new colleges.
But What About Public Schools?
Parent demand may spur the private sector to offer
alternatives to woke education through free-market capitalism, but what about
the children forced to attend government schools that are much less responsive
to market signals? Like many elite private schools, public schools are also
embracing woke ideology at alarming rates.
In February, Illinois legislators voted in favor of
enacting new “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” in the
state’s teacher education programs. These programs must begin to reflect the
new standards that focus on “systems of oppression.” Illinois
teachers-in-training will be expected to “explore their own intersecting
identities,” and become “aware of the effects of power and privilege and the
need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students
Around the same time the Illinois standards were passed,
a group of educators released a document criticizing objective math education
as being racist, and called for “dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms
by visibilizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture with
respect to math.” States like Oregon seem to be taking note.
And last month, the California Board of Education passed
an ethnic studies curriculum for K-12 students that focuses primarily on four
ethnic groups, including African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders, Latino Americans, and Native Americans. While the new statewide
ethnic studies curriculum is not a high school graduation mandate, as
California legislators and the state’s teachers union originally proposed
before California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill last fall, the new school
curriculum emphasizes group identity over individualism.
Ahead of the governor’s veto, The Wall Street Journal
editorial board wrote about the state’s proposed ethnic studies curriculum:
“This is ugly stuff, a force-feeding to teenagers of the anti-liberal theories
that have been percolating in campus critical studies departments for decades.
Enforced identity politics and ‘intersectionality’ are on their way to
replacing civic nationalism as America’s creed.”
Many parents may disagree with the woke ideology their
children are exposed to in schools, or they may simply prefer that these
schools focus on academics, not activism. But too many families have too few
options beyond a mandatory public school assignment. Expanding education choice
policies, as more than two dozen states are currently attempting to do, will
enable more families to choose their preferred educational setting.
Private school parents are courageously pushing back
against the ideology of wokeism that is invading their children’s schools, and
they are using their resources to find or build different learning models.
Education choice policies will allow public school parents the same opportunity
of exit and innovation.
Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and
author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the
Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct
scholar at The Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a
B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from
Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and