Ethics Hero: Private School Teacher Dana Stangel-Plowe

protesting teacher

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,

MacWhorter tweet

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.

Sincerely,
Dana Stangel-Plowe
Upper School English Teacher
P’16, P’19, P’21
dstangelplowe89@gmail.com

20 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Private School Teacher Dana Stangel-Plowe

  1. Just a few years ago, a situation such as Stangel-Plowe describes would’ve resulted in an outcry and visit from the Department of Education, and possibly a “Dear Colleague” letter.

    How far we have fallen. I know this observation is unfortunate for the first comment, but one cannot help but be reminded of the stories of the Hitler Youth of Nazi Germany. This school is creating the same kind of closed-minded, morally certain, intellectually incurious ideological cannon fodder that resulted from the Hitlerjugend.

    At the risk of even more whataboutism, I can only marvel at the success of the Left. If a Christian school were to force its children into groups by faith, or by color, the outcry would be heard all the way to Pluto. Yet when the identical situation presents itself (i.e. a neo-religious indoctrination) we hear crickets from everyone but staunch ideological opponents.

    There is no reason at all to believe that anything will be done. This school is likely to receive very little in the way of opprobrium for their manifest totalitarian indoctrination. What they should get is a visit from the local authorities investigating child abuse, as this program is demonstrably damaging to the future of children’s intellect and antithetical to proper education as it has been understood for centuries.

    Even a decade ago, there would’ve been serious consequences. Now? I fear there my be cheers in place of gasps of shock.

    • Reminds me of an epi of the now mostly forgotten one-season show “Nowhere Man,” in which the eponymous man investigates a regimented prep school in Connecticut, where the students begin each day by saying “Unity… Commitment… Strength!” while gesturing. My brother and I, both cynical 20somethings at the time, watched and each time they came to the end of the sequence we added “Heil Hitler!” because that’s what it sounded like belonged there. Maybe “Uhuru!” will take the place of “Heil!” but it’s pretty much the same.

        • Indeed. Particularly in cases where tolerance of dissent is nonexistent. This is an example of such a case. It is frightful to see, but as in the case of the Loudon County, Virginia coach, it is clear that in some cases, dissent is not tolerated at all, or at any level.

          Am I wrong in fearing that it is much more prevalent than most on the Left would have us believe? How many situations like this are being suppressed by the media, state, and local governments so that the stories never see the light of day?

          • Glenn Logan wrote, “How many situations like this are being suppressed by the media, state, and local governments so that the stories never see the light of day?”

            How many don’t tell others of these kinds of situations in every day life for fear of persecution and retribution.

  2. Brave, true, but, ultimately in the short run, futile. The powers that be at that school will replace her with a woman of color tomorrow, which is what they were going to do when they had the chance anyway. The big thing to take away from this, I think is not that this person stood up for ethical values, but instead the horror that someone could say that they would like to fire everyone and replace them with people of color, and say it openly, and get away with it.

    At least in this area of the world, it sounds like there is a war on white people, and especially on white men. The only question is how far is it going to be allowed to go before there is a serious backlash, that is going to set relations between the races and the political parties in this country back even farther than they have already been set?

    I am a man of mixed European heritage, about half Latin (Italian), a little bit more than one quarter Celtic (Irish), and the rest a mixture of northern European (English and Swedish, although you can’t see any of the last in me, dontcha betcha). Part of my family arrived here with the Puritans and hack a home out of what was then the wilderness of Rhode Island. Another part came here fleeing the gross mismanagement of the great Irish famine and the oppressive anti-catholic laws put in place by Cromwell in his successors. My father’s family arrived here a lot later than that, leaving an Italy that had been turned upside down by the wars of unification, and from which the unskilled or the underskilled were being encouraged to emigrate. Of my known great-grandparents, only one great-grandfather could read or write in any language, and all had issues with English. Nonetheless, my great-grandfather pulled a business together selling coal, feed, and other necessary items. My grandfather went from coal to oil and also had his own business. My father was the first in his family to go to college. I was the first to go to law school. One thing my family never did was to use our initially poor status as a crutch.

    According to these new critical race theory people none of that matters. My family was white so we are automatically privileged. Never mind the fact that half my family didn’t arrive here until slavery was over and the other half always lived in the Northeast and none of us have ever seen a slave, owned a slave, bought, sold, or traded a slave, and neither has anyone on any of our behalf. It still doesn’t matter, the critical race theory people say. That’s just deflecting, they say. In fact there are whole lists of the 10 or 20 defenses that white people are supposedly not allowed to assert when dealing with critical race theory, and the fact that your family never had anything to do with slavery is, if not number one on the list, pretty close to the top. Essentially white people, and specially white men and white conservatives, are just supposed to roll over and play dead at this point. Actually, I take that back, because that isn’t enough. I have personally been told that it isn’t enough that I have not said or done anything racist. I need to be actively anti-racist. That means I need to be out there right alongside, saying black lives matter, repeating all the slogans, and doing whatever the people of color tell me to do. At the same time, I need to understand that I am just an ally, I am not one of them, and there are certain things I just wouldn’t understand and shouldn’t try to. When I’m not doing that, I need to be an ambassador from the future to my own people and tell them to get with the program. This is our future.

  3. So black kids attending a $52,000 per year school are oppressed by their classmates? This does not compute!

    I believe the backlash has begun. What is transpiring in Loudoun County VA regarding parental push back against all sorts of doctrinaire programming is being seen nationally. I expect and hope this war against the melanin deficient members of the nation will be waged at the school board level and such ideologies will be relegated to the trash heap. If not, there will come a breaking point in which newly oppressed whites under these ideological systems will retaliate and will make Tulsa look like a Sunday School picnic.

    • I don’t see the conflict as a racial one. The big bulk of beneficiaries of grievance theology are white women of economically privileged backgrounds. The thing is, they have to launder their economic privilege through demographics to claim victimhood based on sex. That means that they have to stand squarely in favor of all claims based on demographics.

    • No, I doubt that. McWhorter has been railing about this for a long time. If they were capable of punishing him, they would’ve done so long ago.

      But who knows? Maybe eventually they’ll find a way.

    • I was thinking the same thing. He’s just an associate professor. He’ll never get tenure at Columbia. He’ll have to go to Hillsdale.

  4. You can just see the “white privilege” boiling off of this woman. True equity will never be attained without a strictly enforced, regimented program of “uniform diversity”. So, as you exit the cattle car, form a line in front of the official and await your designation. Those directed to the “shower facilities” are advised to keep their children close. For the rest – we must all WORK to achieve equity, for “Arbeit Macht Frei”.

  5. The game’s over. We don’t need to worry about the students at this school. The horrifying thing is the faculty and administration. They’re all fully baked products of the American academy and they’re in their thirties, forties and fifties. They have been marinated in this stuff since they were in high school and we were all sleeping. We’re fucked.

  6. But my goodness, isn’t that a wonderfully well written letter. Too bad those kids lost a high school English teacher of that super high caliber. She’s impressive.

    • It’s a damned good letter. It should be used as a resource by others having to deal with this sort of situation.

  7. There’s definitely a Motte-and-Bailey dynamic going on with Critical Race Theory and it’s related disciplines pertaining to gender, sexual orientation, etc. The Motte is to examine how facially race-neutral policies can perpetuate racial inequalities, and how the dominant group’s perspective comes to be viewed as the “default” or objective viewpoint. It invites us to expand our understanding with new perspectives, dig down to see why things are the way they are, and question why we believe the things we do. In that sense, CRT is a valuable intellectual exercise.

    But thinking is hard, and most people would rather not do it if they can avoid it. Hell, most people resent the kind of sustained mental exertion involved in doing long division, forget about epistemology. Sadly, this includes many who believe themselves to be “thought leaders”, whether in academia, media, politics, or even corporate boardrooms. So we get simplistic divisions of people into “oppressors” and “oppressed” based on skin color. We’re told that mathematics and marriage are tools of white supremacy, that we must abolish the police, desperately silly notions offered up by intellectual mediocrities, and grifters on the take. Is it any wonder they circle the wagons and strike with such fury at any sign of dissent? They are protecting their own positions of power and privilege, and they know they have no hope of doing so on an intellectual level.

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