A much-praised English teacher at a posh private school in New Jersey quit her job over the school’s apparent adoption of critical race theory, claiming that the head of the school twice told faculty he “would fire us all if he could so that he could replace us all with people of color.”
Dana Stangel-Plowe, who had graduated from Cornell University and became a lawyer before she started her teaching career, taught at the $52,000-per-year Dwight-Englewood School in Bergen County. She accused the school of fostering a “hostile culture of conformity and fear” in her resignation letter.
Famous attendees of the school have included chef Anthony Bourdain, economics guru Larry Kudlow, actress Brooke Shields, and former Secretary of State George Schultz.
In the letter, issued on Tuesday, Stangel-Plowe wrote, “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,” she continued. “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,” she asserted. “Men are oppressors, women are oppressed, and so on. This is the dominant and divisive ideology that is guiding our adolescent students.”
She then segued to how the students were affected: “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.”
“Sadly, the school is leading many to become true believers and outspoken purveyors of a regressive and illiberal orthodoxy,” she warned. “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.”
Stangel-Plowe recalled students reluctant to speak up for fear of being ostracized, noting one student who left an essay about an experience she had in another country unfinished because it might elicit claims she was racist. She noted:
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.”
She concluded, “I reject D-E’s essentialist, racialist thinking about myself, my colleagues, and my students. … 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.”
In February 2021, the Chair of the English Department at the school wrote a recommendation letter for Stangel-Plowe, saying, “It is a great pleasure to recommend Dana Stangel-Plowe, one of the finest educators I have ever worked with. … her classroom is a dynamic place where students feel comfortable pushing themselves and taking risks. She has earned the strongest possible recommendation.”
The recommendation added, “Dana has a particular talent for eliciting the very best from students not previously known for their passion for literature. Her own enthusiasm is obvious, but her work is also characterized by a powerful commitment to a positive classroom culture. Respect is one of our school’s core values, and Dana keeps that ideal at the heart of all her interactions with students. … Building a sense of cohesion in each class is one of the first priorities of any teacher; Dana does this better than just about anyone I’ve seen in twenty years as chair. … Dana started her career as a lawyer, and I’m sure she was a very good one, but in my view she was born to teach. I am grateful for the years she gave us here at Dwight-Englewood, where her legacy will live on.”