The father of children attending one of New York’s most elite schools has revealed its anti-racism initiatives aimed at teaching ‘allyship’, that even his Soviet Union-raised wife found ‘alarming’.
Bion Bartning, whose two young children attended Riverdale Country School – a school found in an idyllic setting in the Bronx that caters to students of pre-kindergarten age up to Grade 12 – has said he witnessed the initiatives first-hand.
When his children logged in to a Zoom meeting at home at the start of the new year at the $54,000-a-year school, rather than hearing them recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing ‘America the Beautiful’, he heard the head of the junior school.
Speaking to the children, the head said ‘the theme for this school year is going to be allyship […] in the way that some adults talk to kids, in a babyish sort of way,’ Bartning told The Times in an interview published on Wednesday.
Looking up allyship online, Bartning found it was the idea that members of privileged groups should fight to advance the interests of people in oppressed groups, and to amplify those voices instead of their own.
After the introduction from Riverdale’s head of junior school, a video – featuring the school’s falcon mascot – told the children that they needed to ‘check each other’s words and actions,’ Bartning told the newspaper.
His wife, he said, was born and raised in the Soviet Union where she was taught to report on her own parents. She found the introduction quite alarming, he noted.
But the introduction to the school year’s ‘theme’ was all part of a new anti-racist initiative that has been adopted by a number of New York’s top private schools after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Bion Bartning pulled his children out of an elite $54,000-a-year New York private school after learning of the new anti-racism initiatives they were being taught
Some of Manhattan’s elite schools – including Brearley School and Dalton on the Upper East Side, as well as Riverdale that’s a 20 minute bus-ride from the city – have made it part of their mission statements to build ‘an anti-racist community’.
Brearley School – where Chelsea Clinton and Tina Fey are said to send their children – has said it would require both pupils and parents to take part in anti-racist training, and to assist in ‘identifying and eliminating policies, practices and beliefs that uphold racial inequality.’
Dalton, where actress Claire Danes and US secretary of state Antony Blinken attended, has said it will ‘adapt out policy to better live up to our stated values as a visibly, vocally, structurally anti-racist institution.’
Many of the top schools have turned to a non-profit group by the name of Pollyanna, which on its website boats connections with a number of the country’s top private schools.
NYC’s Dalton and Bearley Schools, as well as The Nightingale Bamford School – an all girls school on the Upper East Side, the nearby Horace Mann School, the Harvard Westlake school in California and The Fessenden School in outer-Boston, all feature on Pollyanna’s website.
Workshops designed by Pollyanna, founded by a former Dalton pupil, tells parents about ‘systemic racism’ and informs them of the impact of ‘concepts like microaggressions, implicit bias and ally vs accomplice and/or co-conspirator,’ the organisation says on its website.
Riverdale Country School (pictured) is found in an idyllic setting in the Bronx that caters to students of pre-kindergarten age up to Grade 12
The children of some of New York’s elite passed through the doors of Dalton School, a private college preparatory school on New York City’s Upper East Side (pictured). Dalton is one of the schools to have introduced Pollyanna’s anti-racism initiatives
Pollyanna: The New York-based non-profit promoting diversity and ‘allyship’ to the country’s most prestigious schools
Pollyanna is a New York-based nonprofit organisation founded in 2015 by Casper Caldarola, a former marketer and Dalton student.
The non-profit was initially founded to ‘promote inclusiveness within communities,’ its website says, and has since expanded to offer other services, including Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) reports, as well as services relating to curriculum and programming.
Polyanna describes itself as ‘a national nonprofit helping academic and other institutions achieve their diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
‘Our mission is to advance systemic change by developing stronger communities. We do this through programs that enhance cultural competency, racial literacy, and equity practices.’
Under the group’s FAQ’s section, in answer to the question ‘How do I know if my institution needs to address systemic racism?’, it answers:
‘Systemic racism is just that – ‘systemic.’ It permeates every aspect of our society and transcends person-to person interactions.
The question isn’t whether our nation’s schools are burdened by systemic racism; the question is how deliberately and purposefully we are working to dismantle it and counter the effects, creating the most equitable environment for our students.’
Another workshop is called ‘Making an Anti-racist Home’, where the instructor asks: ‘How can our homes mirror and promote anti-racist values and practices?’
Some parents appreciate the initiatives, with Brearley sending The Times a statement from an unnamed parent who was ‘incredibly proud of the crucial and necessary work that Brealey is doing to create an environment where all students are welcomed,’ adding that they support the anti-racism work the school is doing.
Other parents disagree, however, with Andrew Guttman, 45, telling The Times the initiative is ‘inane’ and ‘superficial simplistic nonsense’, suggesting that the parent body – made up of lawyers and doctors – doesn’t need to be patronized.
Discontent appears to be growing among parents at Brearley, some of whom claim that the anti-racist training itself was racist for forcing students to look at everything in the context of race.
Guttman circulated a letter saying he ‘cannot tolerate a school that not only judges my daughter by the color of her skin but encourages and instructs her to prejudge others by theirs’.
Bartning was so upset with the ideologies being taught at Riverdale that he pulled his children out of the $54,000-a-year school.
Bartning then went a step further, founding the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) to fight against what he calls a dangerous new ‘orthodoxy’.
Bartning, who is Mexican and Yaqui on one side and Jewish on the other, said he was shocked to learn that schoolchildren are being forced to label themselves as privileged or oppressed by skin color.
‘I don’t fit into any of those race buckets,’ Bartning told the New York Post. ‘I think it is wrong to be teaching kids these socially constructed race categories.’
‘It’s a destructive ideology, teaching children to be pessimistic and full of grievance rather than being optimistic and full of gratitude. It goes against all the values I was raised with, and there are many out there who feel as I do,’ he said.
Bartning said he had even encountered instances of children being given color palettes to match with their skin tone to assess their level of privilege.
NYC’s Dalton and Bearley Schools, as well as The Nightingale Bamford School – an all girls school on the Upper East Side, the nearby Horace Mann School, the Harvard Westlake school in California and The Fessenden School in outer-Boston, all feature of Pollyanna’s website
Email reveals Education Secretary Miguel Cardona worried about making sure teachers were behind new ‘woke’ curriculum
US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wanted to make sure teachers supported a new ‘woke’ curriculum in his previous role in Connecticut, an email has revealed.
In his previous role as Connecticut schools commissioner, Cardona wrote how he wanted to make sure his team was ‘involved’ and that the state’s teachers supported the new ‘woke’ curriculum, according to a Fox News report.
In an email sent November 1, 2019, obtained by Fox News through a Freedom of Information Act request, Cardona writes that he agrees with his then-chief-of-staff, Laura Stefon, that ‘We need to be involved’ in the group creating a critical race theory curriculum.
He adds ‘I want the new Teacher of the Year  Meghan Hatch Geary on it also, for several reasons,’ the then-commissioner wrote.
In his November 1 email, Cardona also noted that Hatch-Geary would be a good candidate for the group because of her previous experience in subjects the curriculum tackles.
When serving as Connecticut’s education commissioner, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote a 2019 email saying he wanted to ensure teachers were supportive of the state’s new ‘woke’ curriculum [File photo]
He noted that she ‘studied Black and Latino studies for her Master’s Program… Has created programming incorporating social justice, for race and gender inequalities… Her application included more references to the importance of Black leaders in History than anything I have read before… She volunteered teaching in Ghana and Ecuador… Understands curriculum reduces invisibility for students of color and creates global preparedness for all students.’
‘We need teachers behind this wave of our curriculum becoming more ‘woke,” he continued.
‘Sends the right message that we are asking the ToY to help us do better,’ Cardona said, using an abbreviation for Teacher of the Year.
‘I want the new Teacher of the Year (2020) Meghan Hatch-Geary on it also, for several reasons,’ Cardona wrote, elaborating: ‘We need teachers behind this wave of our curriculum becoming more “woke”.’
The comments came as Connecticut’s education department was tasked with putting together a new high school course called African-America, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino Studies.
The course will be optional for the upcoming school year but required from the fall of 2022, Fox News reported.
The curriculum was fully approved by the state in December 2020.
Connecticut’s curriculum asks students to understand ‘the construct of race and why and how it was developed’ and spends three days assessing systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The course also includes readings and discussions on other topics including slavery and ‘What African American, Black, Latino(a), and Puerto Rican histories reveal about the United States, its foundation and how power is structured today?’
Some teachers have complained that changing the curriculum to deal with controversial topics is disruptive and has led to backlash from some parents.
Cardona said he wanted 2020 Teacher of the Year Meghan Hatch-Geary involved in the curriculum’s advisory group partly because of her expertise teaching
Cardona said in a press release at the time: ‘Identities matter, especially when 27 percent of our students identify as Hispanic or Latino and 13 percent identify as Black or African-American’.
‘This curriculum acknowledges that by connecting the story of people of color in the U.S. to the larger story of American history. The fact is that more inclusive, culturally relevant content in classrooms leads to greater student engagement and better outcomes for all.’
A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson told Fox News: ‘Under the leadership of Secretary Cardona, the Department of Education remains committed to advancing educational quality and ensuring that we prioritize, replicate, and invest in what works for all students, not just some.’
The backlash against the teachings also came in the wake of a growing number of controversies at the elite NYC prep schools.
In one incident, math teacher Paul Rossi was ‘relieved of his teaching duties’ at the $57,000-a-year Grace Church School in Manhattan after he penned an essay accusing the school of indoctrinating students last week.
On April 20, Rossi released a recorded phone call in which the head of the school George Davison admitted to him that ‘we’re demonizing white people for being born.’
FAIR has publicly said it stands behind ousted teacher Rossi and was first to leak the phone call between him and the head teacher on its social media accounts Tuesday.
Former New York Times op-ed editor Weiss also published Rossi’s initial blog post on her newsletter last week and then hosted a Zoom discussion Tuesday with Rossi and parent Andrew Gutmann – who had complained about efforts to ‘brainwash’ his daughter at another elite NYC school The Brearley School.
Last week, Dalton parents penned an anonymous open letter to the school.
‘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 inappropriate, many of these classes feel more akin to a Zoom corporate sensitivity-training than to Dalton’s intellectually engaging curriculum,’ it read.
In one incident, math teacher Paul Rossi (above) was ‘relieved of his teaching duties’ at the $57,000-a-year Grace Church School in Manhattan after he penned an essay accusing the school of indoctrinating students last week