Dana Stangel-Plowe, a teacher at the Dwight-Englewood School in Bergen County, New Jersey, resigned from the private school in a damning resignation letter subsequently published by the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism. FAIR is an organization created to oppose the teaching of Critical Race Theory teachings in schools. Among her other accusations in the letter, Stangel-Plowe wrote that the head of Dwight-Englewood, Rodney De Jarnett, told the faculty that he would fire everyone if he could to replace them with non-white teachers. She also revealed that $52,000 a-year school segregated its teachers by skin color and asked students to segregate themselves “within the oppressor or oppressed group.’
Upon reading the letter, John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, called the news media’s attention to her protest by tweeting his support, writing,
“All hail Dana Stangel-Plowe, who has resigned from the Dwight-Englewood School, which teaches students “antiracism” that sees life as nothing but abuse of power, and teaches that cringing, hostile group identity against oppression is the essence of a self,” and added,
The entire resignation letter is below.
LETTER OF RESIGNATION
Englewood, New Jersey
June 8, 2021
Dear Joe (copies to Head of School, Board Trustees, & English Department Colleagues),
I became a teacher at Dwight-Englewood because, as a parent, I loved how the school both nurtured and challenged my own children. Today, I am resigning from a job I love because D-E has changed in ways that undermine its mission and prevent me from holding true to my conscience as an educator.
I believe that D-E is failing our students. Over the past few years, the school has embraced an ideology that is damaging to our students’ intellectual and emotional growth and destroying any chance at creating a true community among our diverse population. I reject the hostile culture of conformity and fear that has taken hold of our school.
The school’s ideology requires students to see themselves not as individuals, but as representatives of a group, forcing them to adopt the status of privilege or victimhood. They must locate themselves within the oppressor or oppressed group, or some intersectional middle where they must reckon with being part-oppressor and part-victim. This theory of power hierarchies is only one way of seeing the world, and yet it pervades D-E as the singular way of seeing the world.
As a result, students arrive in my classroom accepting this theory as fact: People born with less melanin in their skin are oppressors, and people born with more melanin in their skin are oppressed. Men are oppressors, women are oppressed, and so on. This is the dominant and divisive ideology that is guiding our adolescent students.
In my classroom, I see up close how this orthodoxy hinders students’ ability to read, write, and think. I teach students who recoil from a poem because it was written by a man. I teach students who approach texts in search of the oppressor. I teach students who see inequities in texts that have nothing to do with power. Students have internalized the message that this is the way we read and think about the world, and as a result, they fixate on power and group identity. This fixation has stunted their ability to observe and engage with the full fabric of human experience in our literature.
In my professional opinion, the school is failing to encourage healthy habits of mind, essential for growth, such as intellectual curiosity, humility, honesty, reason, and the capacity to question ideas and consider multiple perspectives. In our school, the opportunity to hear competing ideas is practically non-existent. How can students, who accept a single ideology as fact, learn to practice intellectual curiosity or humility or consider a competing idea they’ve never encountered? How can students develop higher order thinking if they are limited to seeing the world only through the lens of group identity and power?
Sadly, the school is leading many to become true believers and outspoken purveyors of a regressive and illiberal orthodoxy. Understandably, these students have found comfort in their moral certainty, and so they have become rigid and closed-minded, unable or unwilling to consider alternative perspectives. These young students have no idea that the school has placed ideological blinders on them.
Of course, not all students are true believers. Many pretend to agree because of pressure to conform. I’ve heard from students who want to ask a question but stop for fear of offending someone. I have heard from students who don’t participate in discussions for fear of being ostracized. One student did not want to develop her personal essay — about an experience she had in another country — for fear that it might mean that she was, without even realizing it, racist. In her fear, she actually stopped herself from thinking. This is the very definition of self-censorship.
I care deeply about our students and our school, and so over the years, I have tried to introduce positive and constructive alternative views. My efforts have fallen on deaf ears. In 2019, I shared with you my negative experiences among hostile and doctrinaire colleagues. You expressed dismay, but I did not hear any follow up from you or other administrators. Since then, the stifling conformity has only intensified. Last fall, two administrators informed faculty that certain viewpoints simply would not be tolerated during our new “race explicit” conversations with our new “anti-racist” work. They said that no one would be allowed to question the orthodoxy regarding “systemic racism.” The message was clear, and the faculty went silent in response.
The reality is that fear pervades the faculty. On at least two separate occasions in 2017 and 2018, our Head of School, standing at the front of Hajjar Auditorium, told the entire faculty that he would fire us all if he could so that he could replace us all with people of color. This year, administrators continue to assert D-E’s policy that we are hiring “for diversity.” D-E has become a workplace that is hostile toward educators based solely on their immutable traits.
During a recent faculty meeting, teachers were segregated by skin color. Teachers who had light skin were placed into a “white caucus” group and asked to “remember” that we are “White” and “to take responsibility for [our] power and privilege.” D-E’s racial segregation of educators, aimed at leading us to rethink of ourselves as oppressors, was regressive and demeaning to us as individuals with our own moral compass and human agency. Will the school force racial segregation on our students next?
I reject D-E’s essentialist, racialist thinking about myself, my colleagues, and my students. As a humanist educator, I strive to create an inclusive classroom by embracing the dignity and unique personality of each and every student; I want to empower all students with the skills and habits of mind that they need to fulfill their potential as learners and human beings. Neither the color of my skin nor the“group identity” assigned to me by D-E dictates my humanist beliefs or my work as an educator. Being told that it does is offensive and wrong, and it violates my dignity as a human being. My conscience does not have a color.
D-E claims that we teach students how to think, not what to think. But sadly, that is just no longer true. I hope administrators and board members awaken in time to prevent this misguided and absolutist ideology from hollowing out D-E, as it has already hollowed out so many other institutions.
Upper School English Teacher
P’16, P’19, P’21