Englewood, NJ – A high school English teacher has resigned from her position at a prestigious New Jersey prep school after observing concerning changes in students and faculty amid the school’s forced critical race theory curriculum.
Dana Stangel-Plowe’s June 8 resignation letter to Dwight-Englewood School (D-E) was posted on the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism’s website on Wednesday.
Stangel-Plowe, a Cornell University grad and published poet who has been teaching English to D-E high school students since 2014, said the school’s use of critical race theory has created a “hostile culture of conformity and fear,” in which male and white students have come to believe they are “oppressors,” the New York Post reported.
“I believe that D-E is failing our students,” she wrote in her letter of resignation. “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.”
Critical race theory has been presented as the one and only way to perceive the world, so students are choking back any alternate ideas and censoring themselves in an attempt to avoid being labeled as racists, she said.
“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,” Stangel-Plowe wrote. “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,” she added.
Students are now accepting as fact the theory that “people born with less melanin in their skin are oppressors, and people born with more melanin in their skin are oppressed,” Stangel-Plowe continued. “Men are oppressors, women are oppressed, and so on. This is the dominant and divisive ideology that is guiding our adolescent students.”
The now-former English teacher said her day-to-day classroom interactions with her students gave her a front-row seat to the startling realization that the critical race theory “orthodoxy” has hindered the teens’ ability to write, read, 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,” Stangel-Plowe wrote.
“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,” she explained. “This fixation has stunted their ability to observe and engage with the full fabric of human experience in our literature.”
Schools are responsible for encouraging “healthy habits of mind, essential for growth, such as intellectual curiosity, humility, honesty, reason, and the capacity to question ideas and consider multiple perspectives,” but that isn’t what has been happening at D-E, Stangel-Plowe said.
“In our school, the opportunity to hear competing ideas is practically non-existent,” she wrote. “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?”
Stangel-Plowe said many of her students have become close-minded and rigid in their thinking as a result of the curriculum, resulting in them being “unable or unwilling to consider alternative perspectives.”
They also have no understanding that they’ve been indoctrinated.
Those who don’t agree with this “regressive and illiberal orthodoxy” feel they have no choice but to pretend they do due to “pressure to conform,” she wrote.
“I have heard from students who don’t participate in discussions for fear of being ostracized,” Stangel-Plowe said. “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.”
Similar issues have also arisen among faculty members over the past several years, she said.
According to Stangel-Plowe, the head of D-E addressed school faculty on two occasions in 2017 and 2018 and told them all that “he would fire us all if he could so that he could replace us all with people of color.”
Stangel-Plowe said she spoke to D-E administrators in 2019 about negative experiences she had with “hostile and doctrinaire colleagues,” but that the school did nothing, despite having “expressed dismay.”
“Since then, the stifling conformity has only intensified,” she declared. “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.”
Stangel-Plowe further alleged that teachers were segregated by skin color at a recent faculty meeting.
“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 wrote.
She said the forced segregation and efforts to get the white faculty members to label themselves as oppressors was both “regressive and demeaning.”
“Will the school force racial segregation on our students next?” she asked.
Stangel-Plowe told school administrators she roundly rejects “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,” she wrote, adding that she aims 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,” she said. “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.”
Stangel-Plowe said she resigned from her job because the changes D-E has made in adopting critical race theory are undermining the school’s mission.
Those same changes also prohibit her from “holding true” to her “conscience as an educator,” she wrote.
D-E Principal Joe Algrant refused to comment on Stangel-Plowe’s letter, saying he is barred from speaking about personnel matters, the New York Post reported.
“In this case all I can say is that Ms. Stangel-Plowe notified us several months ago that she would not be returning next school year,” Algrant told the paper.