June 29, 2021
I appreciated the brief email exchange after reading your Atlantic article, “Private Schools Are Indefensible.” I know you have received an avalanche of responses and read follow-on articles but as a private school alum and retired private school teacher, tech integrator, dorm adviser, et. al., I thought I would write a more formal response. My goal is to add some context to the assertion in your title. I would also like to suggest a potential explanation for the behaviors of the private school parents to whom you refer that I will call The Magic Carpet Fallacy.
Let’s begin with a brief look at the landscape of private schools and the proposition that not all private schools are alike. You know this since you taught and were a parent at Harvard-Westlake. We can agree, I hope, that you are talking about DEI programs at a small group of elite schools known as independent schools. Given your focus, I will ignore the current DEI controversies in state legislatures. Most of your target schools charge steep tuitions and fees and are accessible primarily to affluent families. While there is financial aid available, diversity has been challenged by insufficient resources with a resulting “barbell” effect, meaning that the student demographic is primarily affluent full-pay students and talented lower-income full-financial aid students. Middle-class kids are often squeezed out of that admissions equation. Let’s agree that most private schools have worked hard to increase the diversity of their communities, but few have achieved ratios that reflect the national or regional demographic.
Equity and inclusion are the areas that have suffered the most, even with additional diversity, most likely because those values require real commitment to a new mindset for private school communities that are currently grounded in exclusivity. The tragic murder of George Floyd inspired a rejuvenated and proactive commitment to equity and inclusion, and some private schools (as well as the rest of education and the corporate world) felt pressured to respond in kind. Since education cultures do not respond well to shifting priorities overnight, the easiest solution to market was wholesale curriculum changes, a strategy that might raise awareness for a few in the community, but would not result in a culture shift. Unfortunately, the most visible response was one of anger from the parent community and many students. At the schools you write about, the curricular shift was…