Page Links

Community Commentary

Many members of the Bank Street community have reached out in the aftermath of the inaccurate and incendiary piece published by the New York Post on July 1, and we are grateful for the offers of support, words of encouragement, and signs of solidarity. Below are a few of the messages we have received:

I'm not going to link here to any recent media inaccuracies that have helped me to decide to write this post. (Anonymous tabloid attacks do not deserve to be given more attention than they already get.) I am going to use the occasion instead to frame my own narrative of support and gratitude.

I'm lucky enough to be the mother of two phenomenal kids, one of whom is black and the other of whom is white. I am even more lucky that my two kids attend the School for Children at Bank Street College of Education, one of the brave and thoughtful schools in New York City that follows a curriculum of intentional diversity, the open and honest study of race. 

For years now, my children’s school has been a (THE) national leader in this curriculum — it teaches children from an early age, (usually 1st grade), that it’s okay to talk about race, because race is a part of each of our integral identities and how we experience the world. It teaches children to be unafraid to say what hurts them, to be empathetic when others are hurt, to tackle the elephants that inhabit and influence every room, to stand up for others and for themselves. To be, as my children say, “upstanders” in the world.

As part of this curriculum (which is both time-tested and always-growing, reviewed, and revised regularly), children are allowed to self-identify as kids of color if that is how they see themselves, and to discuss some of the topics in “affinity group” settings. Self-identified kids of color therefore sometimes meet in spaces with other kids of color; the other children in the class meet simultaneously to study the same civil rights and social equity curriculum, which is called “Racial Justice and Advocacy (RJA).” All of the children are taught to understand that every society has structures, and that those structures have historic weight and biases built into them. In 2016 Trump-addled America, the privilege of whiteness is certainly on display, and we who believe in equality have to work to lessen the consequence of that.

Because my children’s father and I are raising kids of two different races, we sought out this curriculum. We wanted our black child to have a context that we can't offer ourselves, one that is filled with students and teachers who have shared some of her core experiences. She participates in the affinity group at school and it has been all that we hoped for her, helping her to become a confident, expressive young woman who tells us exactly what we need to know about her ideas. As a transracially adoptive family, we are all subjected to the worst kind of stranger comments regularly. Thanks to the RJA curriculum and the Kids of Color affinity group, my child can handle these situations often better than I can. She is an awake and self-actualizing human being, as we hoped and expected she would become in this setting.

What we DID NOT expect is that it is in fact our white child who gains as much, or maybe more, from this curriculum. But that is the truth. He is smart enough to see the injustices around him in the world and is actually relieved to be learning effective ways of standing up and addressing them. The young “advocates” who are white do not learn a history of guilt or hopelessness. They do not learn that they are somehow to blame for human suffering, or somehow personally racist. They learn instead the opposite: that they are uniquely empowered. Unlike so many adults in our society, my son and many of his classmates are quite clear that there is a meaningful difference between personal racism and institutional racism. Whatever they may have gained from their privileges, they are taught to think about using it for the betterment of society, and therefore for the betterment of themselves. The thoughtful understanding that my son has, and that we his parents have, gained from this kind of critical and empathetic thinking cannot be overstated. 

I can't answer why any families who do not value progressive education, with its central mission of social justice, would choose a world-leading progressive school for their children. To me, that is the same as parents who do not believe in science choosing, say, Bronx Science for their children's education. If they did, they would not expect Bronx Science to change its focus from science — and if they did that, their efforts would of course not be successful. Similarly, adult bullies will never be successful in dismantling the progressive components of our progressive school and community. (They are in fact exactly the reason that it must exist.) 

The education that our children (and we) have received has been a highlight of all of our lives, transformative in every way. I hope that this post is one of many, by many, moving beyond petty attacks into unifying and teachable moments. We are so proud of Bank Street, of our community and of the teachers who have taught our children so well there. Many special thanks to Anshu Wahi, whose leadership of this curriculum as Director of Diversity and Community at Bank Street has been marked by deep commitment to each and every child at the school.

– School for Children parent

I have taught at Bank Street for almost my entire adult life, and it has been my pleasure and privilege to do so.  One of the aspects of a Bank Street education I treasure so dearly is the way we ask children, and adults, to critically reflect on themselves and their world, particularly around race and racism.  We certainly owe Anshu Wahi a great deal for our growth over the last four years.  As an Upper School teacher, I am intimately aware of the beautiful work Nayantara Mhatre, José Guzman, and Morika Tsujimura have done over the years not just as facilitators of Kids of Color who help students share and process their experiences, but also in the way they contribute important perspectives to the entire community.  Their work, and all of our work, in this area is critical and priceless to me and makes me grateful to be a part of this amazing institution.

– School for Children teacher

I am a white parent of a white child and I want to say how meaningful the RJA curriculum has been for my son. He has been at Bank Street since he was a toddler. Never once has he been made to feel “guilty” about his race, nor has he ever been called racist. Rather, he has learned about racism and privilege on a deep level, and he has learned empathy for the challenges that people of color continue to face in our world. Bank Street teachers do a masterful job of discussing issues of race and privilege with sensitivity and grace. We have seen our son's understanding of diversity and justice deepen over the years. When he was 5, he asked why Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t on Mount Rushmore. By age 9, he started asking why homeless people were more likely to be people of color, and he started noticing when certain places, TV shows, etc. were mostly white. Now, at age 10, he is concerned that his black and brown friends might face discrimination as they grow older. We have no problem with him learning about the ways in which he is privileged at school; actually, we discuss this at home, and we think it is quite important for all children to be aware of the ways in which they are fortunate. We both grew up in homogenous public schools where race was never addressed. It is very important to us that our son grow up with people of many backgrounds in an environment where differences are embraced, celebrated, and yes, discussed openly. 

I have the utmost respect for Anshu Wahi, Zeny Muslin, and all of the teachers and administrators who have helped to develop the RJA curriculum over the years. I know how much deep thought and work has gone into it, and I know how much it has meant to our students of color. We should never lose sight of how meaningful it is for our white children as well. The New York Post’s depiction of this work as “anti-white” is off-base and frankly, ignorant. I see this work as entirely in keeping with Bank Street’s mission. Social studies has always been an integral part of the Bank Street curriculum. Lucy Sprague Mitchell stated that "Our work is based on the faith that human beings can improve the society they have created”. Especially in this day and age, I don’t see how we can improve society without awareness of racial issues and privilege. Discussing identity and privilege with our children is taking an activist approach to social studies.  It is just another example of the developmental-interaction approach for which Bank Street is so well-known and so successful. Our family came to Bank Street for its rich progressive tradition, not only in its instructional design, but also in its commitment to social justice. We stand with the school’s RJA work now more than ever.

– School for Children parent

I read an article recently regarding Bank Street and their teaching policies.  The article was poorly written.  It was full of half-truths strategically sewn together, by non-thinkers for fellow non-thinkers, to create an ugly portrayal of what goes on in Bank Street classrooms. 

Which is the point of this short and sweet letter: Bank Street births thinkers.   

Bank Street has always been a place where TRUTH and expression are encouraged. Unfortunately in today's society, this is not the case. Most are not willing to examine the facts, facts of history through today, to see how we can evoke change. People are afraid of the truth because they are afraid of the responsibility that goes with conscious thought: change. If we as thinkers, as teachers, are not here to correct the wrongs of the past through shaping young minds, WHAT, I ASK, IS THE POINT? 

I cannot ask the parents who complained about the existence of white privilege being taught to their children because they have asked to remain anonymous.  

Maybe if all children were learning about white privilege and other ills of the aftermath of colonialism and slavery, society's race relations would be much different, as I write this in 2016...the day after a man was killed in front of his son during a routine police stop.  

– School for Children alumna

This article is ridiculous. I am a white parent from Bank Street school, so I know from where I speak. When you read the actual material from the Bank Street school, it is professional, level, enlightened and insightful. The surrounding article by Mr. Perry is itself slanted and inflammatory, clearly written from the viewpoint of people who don't want to lose their white privilege, preferring to let it go undiscovered so they can continue to reap the benefits. The article mentions "a parent" and "another parent" as sources; since the writer doesn't actually quantify his sources he clearly doesn't have any kind of majority voice to support his defensive views, and probably only has the 2 people mentioned. 

I also think it's cowardly that this internet article, unlike most others online, doesn't allow for comments; it's as if the New York Post knows it would get a backlash from more enlightened people if they had been given a chance to challenge this opinion. Instead of being just like typical closed minded thinkers who spill their thoughts without allowing for rebuttal, I challenge the New York Post to open this article for responses. 

– School for Children parent

Anti-racist education is progressive education. The Bank Street credo calls upon us to develop an attitude of "gentleness combined with justice" towards others. Our racial justice and advocacy curriculum teaches students to approach racial identity and racial inequality with empathy and an ethical commitment to righting historical and contemporary injustices. We teach children of all races to be advocates and upstanders because not to do so only ensures that they will without any fault or malice go on to replicate the current racial inequities in our society. We teach and we act under the belief that this is not the only possibility; that a more just world is possible. 

– Bank Street Assistant Teacher 

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.

– School for Children Student 

I am a teacher who received my master's degree from Bank Street College and trained in the School for Children when Zeny Muslin was just beginning to talk to other teachers about how to better support children of color. I was blown away by the incredible compassion for children, understanding of their needs, and foresight that Zeny and other teachers demonstrated. There was never any question in my mind that Bank Street would be the ideal place for my children to go to school. Luckily, I was able to find myself at Bank Street again as parent, several years later.

Some people we knew initially expressed concern about us sending our children to an “elite private school”, wondering whether they would actually be exposed to the “real world”. The truth is, there is no choice; the way we live today, all of our children are exposed to the real world. There is no moving away from the inequalities we see around us—on screens, through windows, and right next to us—if we are truly looking. Brushing over these injustices is equal to sending our children a message that looking away and pretending we don’t see things is absolutely fine. Thankfully, Bank Street chooses to start, from a young age, empowering children to know that they can be allies, advocates, and agents of change.

Seven years after we became a Bank Street family, I cannot imagine my children going to school anywhere other than this incredible place. Two years after we started, Anshu Wahi took on the role of diversity coordinator. One of the most important jobs she did, with the support of our then Dean, Alexis Wright, was to evaluate and further develop the Racial Justice and Advocacy program. In addition, she has done much additional and vital work to support and educate many children, teachers, and families in our school.

As a teacher who has worked in several schools around the city, I see a lot happen in the classroom and I know that it’s up to us teachers to help support the children who need it the most. Many teachers in schools across the city have seen this as well and used Bank Street as a model for their own versions of the RJA curriculum. This in itself speaks volumes about the validity of the program. Bravo to Bank Street living true to its mission and values.

I am so proud to be a Bank Street parent, because I can see clearly that my children are being taught by thoughtful, empathetic teachers and, as expected, are turning into emboldened, humanitarian members of society themselves.

– Bank Street Graduate School of Education Alumna and School for Children Parent 

In a world of seven billion people, it is never less than challenging to find one's own safe place, but the entire Bank Street ethic is built on helping humans of all ages and backgrounds achieve this right. The community strives to help people find confidence and security in themselves and their wonderfully diverse heritages. Bank Street's founding and continuing beliefs invite diversity, which encourages, teaches, models, and understands that difference is a desired quality. It is how children and families embrace the important principle of getting along.

– Bank Street Staffer 

To Paul Sperry and the New York Post:

"I refuse to engage."

That is what I said after reading your "Elite K-8 school teaches white children they're born racist" (July 1st).

The article was so smug, I thought; so demonstrably fraudulent; so predicated on the shrewd exploitation of racist tropes; so journalistically spurious in its exclusive reliance on "anonymous" sources; so cowardly and cheap in its appeal to conspiratorial shibboleths about "liberals" and "elites" and so patently self-serving, offering a specious stew of divisiveness for the ostensible purpose of social revelation but in fact in the service of a self-aggrandizing personal agenda, that I chose not to respond. Doing so, I thought, would only draw attention too invective, too offensive, and even too patently ridiculous to critique.

But the events of the past week have proven me wrong.

I have had four children at Bank Street since 2001. It is an outrageous fallacy to suggest that any child there is made to feel either "guilty" or aggrieved about who they were when they were born. What they are encouraged to do—as citizens; as Americans, while being steeped in a curriculum deeply committed to teaching the historical aspirations and Constitutional underpinnings of our American democracy—is to seek means by which we can, for all Americans, best realize those aspirations, which requires acknowledging both their revolutionary promise and their profoundly unequal distribution. "White privilege" is not, as your invective suggests, a rhetorical ruse created by shame-faced, weak-willed white liberals dragged through life by the scruffs of our effete, Hermes-scarf-swaddled necks. (Although many of us would be no doubt delighted were you to proffer, in the interest of perpetuating the myth, a few of those scarves. They're very nice. And most of us can't afford them). Whether one is white or black has enormous bearing on how one is perceived by others and by oneself in a country whose history is rife with momentous events literally predicated on racial division. Bank Street students, encouraged to examine the privilege that attaches to certain arbitrary qualities of being and the disadvantages that attach to others, learn among other things to engage meaningfully with contemporary issues and, perhaps most significantly, to listen to one another.

Yes; they learn to listen—to each others' voices and to their own—with nuance and clarity. And as you are very sly, listening is precisely what your article crushes. Because your intention, whatever you claim, is to shut down dialogue through the fomenting of hate and division. You are so threatened by the recognition that you probably have to give something up—something tangible, maybe, or intangible—in order for all Americans to realize the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness you purport to believe in that in desperation you resort to poisoning people's perceptions of one another to spare yourself the sacrifice. Well, Mr. Sperry, you'd better open your ears. For only through authentic, granular listening can we make lasting, meaningful change; can we heal the collective wounds that keep our nation from becoming not great again, but greater than it has ever been. And the voices are getting louder.

– School for Children Parent 

I am an independent school past parent, turned community activist, who founded the Independent School Diversity Network (ISDN) 12 years ago. ISDN is an alliance of parents and educators dedicated to furthering equity and inclusion in our community. We work towards increasing interschool collaborations, as well as supporting parents and the retention and success of students of color in our institutions. ISDN offers institutional membership opportunities to join our network.

The last guest speaker we had at one of our spring events was Anshu Wahi. We were all amazed at the breadth and depth of Bank Streets commitment to the racial justice curriculum and were anxiously awaiting her ability to share more with us.

I am deeply disturbed by the negativity expressed in the NY Post article and ISDN wants to lend our voice towards suppressing the fears of ignorance and intolerance.

– Community Activist 

Please click here to view the administration's letter to the community. 

In addition, The Huffington Post has published an opinion piece by Steve Nelson, Head of The Calhoun School in Manhattan. In the piece, Nelson refutes the inflammatory statements made against the School for Children and other school communities throughout New York City that offer affinity groups and similar diversity programming as part of their curricula. Below is Nelson's piece:

New York Post Slams Diversity Programs

On July 1st, the New York Post published an article by Paul Sperry titled, “Elite K-8 school teaches white students they’re born racist.” The “elite K-8 school” is the Bank Street School for Children on Manhattan’s Upper Westside. Evidently inspired by complaints from anonymous parents, the article viciously disparaged the school’s diversity program.

Among the article’s claims: “(The school) . . . is separating whites in classes where they’re made to feel awful about their ‘whiteness,’ and all the ‘kids of color’ in other rooms where they’re taught to feel proud about their race and are rewarded with treats and other privileges.”

The school I lead, the Calhoun School, is mentioned along with several other schools as among those offering affinity groups as part of similar diversity programming. I’m proud to be in such good company.

Mr. Sperry’s clear disdain for our work is apparent in various ways, including the choice to enclose these terms in quotation marks: “kids of color,” “social justice,” “voice their feelings,” “systemic racism,” and “institutional racism,” among others. I suppose the “political correctness” of this work is unbearable for Mr. Sperry and the New York Post.

It is ironic that the piece was published on July 1st. Subsequent events gave ample opportunity for the Post to demonstrate its true colors.

On July 5th, Alton Sterling was shot to death by Baton Rouge police, leaving behind 5 “kids of color.”

On July 6th, Philando Castile was stopped for a broken taillight and shot to death because police “thought” he was reaching for a weapon.

As many of us mourned for Sterling, Castile, their families and our troubled country, the New York Post headlines read:

(July 5th) “EAT YOUR HAT,” about a Trump supporter being asked to leave a Mexican restaurant

(July 6th) “HILL SKATES,” describing the decision to not indict Hillary Clinton

(July 7th) “FBI DID ME A FAVOR,” describing Donald Trump’s preference to face Hillary rather than Bernie Sanders, therefore his gratitude for no charges being filed.

Neither the headlines nor sub-heads on the front page on any of these days acknowledged the police shootings.

But today, July 8th, the Post’s headline reads, “CIVIL WAR - four cops killed at anti-police protest,” describing the horrid events in Dallas.

The Post’s editorial choices speak for themselves.

But I need to further comment on the crude caricature Mr. Sperry created. It is the good, courageous work that schools like Bank Street are doing that holds the only possibility of addressing the racial violence and tension that are ripping our country apart. The article demonstrates that Mr. Sperry knows as much about racism and diversity work as I know about nuclear fusion. At least I don’t dabble in nuclear fusion.

White privilege is neither an indictment nor a fantasy. It is simply fact. I and other white folks in America have benefitted from several centuries of advantage. We had the opportunity to chart our own destiny, to accumulate capital, to own property and to live in relative safety while generations of black women, men and children were enslaved, raped, lynched, denied the rights of citizenship, redlined, blackballed, blue-shielded and otherwise denigrated. It’s easy to declare that the playing field is level when you built it on a slope and you’re standing on the top of the hill.

The assertions in his article about kids “being made to feel awful about their whiteness” are nonsense. My colleagues and I at Calhoun, and our friends at Bank Street and other schools, have done this work for years. It is true that children may initially feel uneasy in these conversations, but it is the uneasiness that unlocks the door to understanding. Acknowledging white privilege is not assigning guilt. Guilt is not useful. White people, including students, work toward equity when they feel empowered, not guilty. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the goals of any good diversity work. It is a liberating experience to understand one’s privilege and to embrace the opportunity and accept the responsibility to be part of necessary change.

Mr. Sperry describes “ . . . all the ‘kids of color’ in other rooms where they’re taught to feel proud about their race . . .” I won’t dignify the mindset that would find this problematic.

We are deeply divided in America. Some people believe racism is a thing of the past, that black folks are playing the victim, that affirmative action is reverse racism and that the answer to racial tension is for people of color to shut up and work harder.

Others recognize the corrosive effects of racism and poverty, the ongoing reality of mass incarceration, the barriers to employment, chronic despair, stop and frisk policies, racist taunts directed at the President of the United States and yes, the shameful litany of boys and men of color shot by police without provocation. My colleagues and I in progressive, diverse independent schools hope to raise a generation of these “others.”

In New York Post land, down is up and up is down. In America, who exactly is being made to “feel awful about their race” and who is “rewarded with treats and other privileges?”

In Chalkbeat, Dave Mortimer, teacher at the Bank Street School for Children, authored an opinion piece that offered a look into how students at the School for Children talk about race in their classrooms and how the school's curriculum creates age-appropriate ways for children to engage in these discussions. 

First Person: At my school, we let students group themselves by race to talk about race — and it works

At the Bank Street School for Children’s graduation this June, no one was surprised when some of the eighth-graders used their final moments as our students to reflect on race.

A black student recounted a discussion with a black second-grader. “Does it get harder?” the younger student had asked. “Yes,” the the older student said. “Going forward there are things you’re going to have to face. But surround yourself with allies and you will be OK.”

A white student discussed affirmative action. “Racism was a system built for social and political oppression against people of color so that whites could benefit,” she said. “It is impossible to be racist toward white people — the nature of racism itself destroys any notion of such a thing.”

Students feeling confident enough to stand in front of an audience of 400 and talk about race is not something that happens without the considerable effort from teachers and staff. At Bank Street, the private school in New York City where I teach eighth grade and where I am a parent of two children who attend, we’ve learned that teaching about race requires a formal curriculum and “affinity” spaces that allow students to speak their minds.

We see this curriculum as an opportunity to create age-appropriate ways for children to engage with a topic that people too often pretend that children can’t understand. Our experience matches current research: even very young children do notice race, are able to discuss it, and are able to understand issues of inequality.

We, like educators throughout the country, feel compelled to engage our students around the complex issues facing our society, like the Black Lives Matter movement, the 2016 presidential election, and gun control. Through our Racial Justice and Advocacy program, children have opportunities to explore the complex issues of power and privilege. They develop the tools needed to understand, process, and confront injustice.

As an example, classes of 6, 7, and 8-year-olds participate in a lesson where they are asked to suggest what to do if pre-kindergarten students aren’t interested in playing with dolls of color. The students offer a range of answers: “Buy more dark skin babies.” “Have a meeting about it.” “Have the teacher also play.”

While the children’s responses seem simple, through the repetition of themes and dramatic play, our children become adept at talking about race and working toward a more equitable society.

For nearly two decades, our school leaders have also recognized that to best support our students of color, we must hold affinity meetings for those students. Students of color come together with facilitators of color to discuss topics like how to express concern regarding an issue of equity, or current events like the Black Lives Matter movement. It is vitally important for students of color to have a space in which they can interact with each other unaffected by the presence of their white peers.

While some may find the practice of allowing students to self-identify and then engage in group discussion problematic, we know that providing affinity space is an educational best practice. As a white man, I am privileged to live in a society in which I am a member of the majority; the world is my affinity group. My students of color don’t share in this. Affinity groups allow them the experience of sharing a burden rather than carrying it individually. They also allow a group to share in the joy and strength derived from a feeling of belonging.

I consider myself lucky that Bank Street considers racial identity and racial understanding as important as science and social studies. I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who are willing to tackle complicated questions with understanding and patience.

In a world where intolerant acts and declarations have become all too common, I consider myself lucky to send my children to Bank Street. Instead of accepting the status quo, they will be empowered to change the world.