Will Private Schools Survive the Culture Wars?

One day last spring, while chitchatting with other moms at the private elementary school their children all attended in Los Angeles, Mimi (her name has been changed) learned about a video that had been shown in her daughter's first-grade class. Intended to help kids understand the racial unrest sparked by George Floyd's death, the film, which was made by the educational company BrainPOP, was a five-­minute lesson in structural racism. An animated character walked viewers through the civil rights movement and the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black individuals at the hands of police.

According to Mimi, it was the latest example of how the school had developed a "fetish with race," which included "blasting out emails about Asian hate crimes" and pushing an anti-bias curriculum into all aspects of the classroom. She and her husband had been excited to get their child into the $31,000-a-year school—a feeder to top high schools—but the video was a breaking point. "Diversity is great," she says, "but all this is doing is making these kids feel different from each other."

Mimi contacted administrators at the school, who listened to her objections and then sent out a letter to all first-grade families saying that there had been "concern" among parents and explaining that the school took its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) direction from organizations teaching racial equality like Pollyanna and Learning for Justice. For Mimi—coming off a year already strained by Zoom school—it wasn't enough. She pulled her daughter out.

Welcome to a conflagration that has been raging in the country's most prestigious independent schools for well over a year, ever since the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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