Letter to the Community About Our Racial Justice and Advocacy Program

On Friday, July 1, the New York Post posted an article on its website regarding the Bank Street School for Children’s Racial Justice and Advocacy program. In response, the administration distributed the following letter to the Bank Street community, inviting feedback and opening a dialogue about the article and the school’s diversity program:

Dear Bank Street Community,

As you may already know, the New York Post published an article about the School for Children’s Racial Justice and Advocacy Program yesterday. As leaders of the school, we are very proud of the work Bank Street educators and students do to understand, discuss, and fight discrimination. The equity and justice work at Bank Street belongs to all of us and has been one of the hallmarks of our academic program for decades. We are honored to have had Anshu Wahi leading this work in the School for Children over the past several years. She is a national leader in this area, and in February, when she announced she would be departing at the end of the school year, we knew it would be a real loss for our community.

At Bank Street, we believe it’s important for our children to examine their own identities and engage in dialogue about race, power, and privilege. We are direct and honest in our discussions about the history of discrimination in our country, and in our current lives. We also work incredibly hard to ensure that every student in our school—children of color and white children—are known deeply and are supported in their individual development.

Unfortunately, the article published yesterday was biased, inaccurate, and did not make a serious effort to understand our work. Students at Bank Street are not taught to feel guilty or ashamed, nor are they taught to think they are racist. They learn to think for themselves, to understand how the world works, and to act to address injustice. Many across our community have expressed justified outrage about this piece and we will work to respond appropriately in the coming days.

We are grateful for the outpouring of positive feedback and support from across the community that so many of you have shared. Yesterday, one parent forwarded an eloquent unsolicited letter to the editor from a graduating 8th grader, part of which is excerpted below. This student powerfully captures the value of the learning our students are engaged in:

I just read your article about Bank Street School for Children and I am literally fuming. When I was four and I first came to Bank Street, my classmates and I started to learn about the racial injustice that goes on in our world. From this age, we not only knew who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, but we also looked up to him. When we were six, we started learning about the civil rights movement. By the time we were ten, we were able to have in-depth conversations about racism and white privilege. I’ve grown up knowing about the huge privilege I have in this world just because of the color of my skin. I see this as a major advantage in life and I owe it to Bank Street for teaching me this. At Bank Street there is an affinity group called KOC (kids of color). In the article, it states that this is a form of segregation. It also states that white students are taught to feel guilty about their privilege. Let me be the first one to say: NO. As a white student who attended Bank Street for 10 years, I need to stress that I was NEVER made to feel “guilty” about my privilege. However, I was taught that since I am aware of it, it is my job to use my privilege to do good.

That said, we are not doing this work to make a point to the outside world. We are engaged in it because it reflects our shared values and aspirations for our children.

We recognize that conversations about race can be uncomfortable and realize that it’s not always easy to raise honest questions or concerns about programs like this. We are an organization that continuously learns. Our curriculum has always evolved in response to how children, teachers, and families experience it. Where you have questions or concerns, we want you to share them, so we can engage and think about how to strengthen this work together. Where you see success and growth, please share these insights too, so we can build on what’s working.

Let us be clear: we will not step back from the important task of nurturing well-rounded, civic-minded, engaged children who understand the world in which they live and can use the skills they’ve honed in the classroom—language and reasoned thought—to make the world a better place for everyone.

We’ll be around all of next week and available if you’d like to schedule time to discuss this further, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Many thanks,

Shael, Jed, and Laura

Message on racial justice at Bank Street School for Children