Brearley is an all-girls day school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with a $150 million endowment and an unparalleled history of academic excellence. Its alumnae are among the most capable, accomplished and charming women on the planet.
Its graduates include publisher Dorothy Schiff, arts patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and actresses Ann Baxter, Téa Leoni, and Jill Clayburgh. The list of Brearley’s serious, soignée women is long. Legendary English instructor Frances Taliaferro was an essayist and book reviewer for Harper’s magazine. Head Priscilla Winn Barlow ranks among the great educators of her generation. The place has always had a dash of marching suffragette and limousine liberal, but hey, this is Gotham, not Grover’s Corners.
As did other top private schools, Brearley took a sharp left turn for inclusion and multiculturalism in the 1990s: mandatory diversity training for faculties, early retirements for unyielding traditionalists, and the arrival of activist trustees and far-left hires. Salvational deans of multiculturalism appeared, promising and organizing worldly redemption.
But yesterday’s inclusion is today’s systemic racism. Doubling down on equity, as a condition of school admission Brearley now asks prospective parents to write a 500-word essay affirming their devotion to its “statement of beliefs.”
Brearley demands contractual adherence to this statement, which is not the same as a statement of purpose. Parents must sign an anti-racist statement, and commit to “embracing diversity, equity and inclusion at Brearley, demonstrated through participation in school-mandated training, dialogue and behavior.” If their daughters are admitted, the school has announced, at least one parent will “be expected to attend two diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism (DEIA) workshops per school year.”
These remarkable requirements complete the gradual transformation of selective private schools in New York City and across the country from learning centers into political seminaries. Willful fictions about race and gender, ethnic loyalties, multicultural adhesion, geopolitics, and the forces of nature drive out facts and science, all to align with devoutly held beliefs.
Haute-woke educators snottily call their program “cultural responsibility,” a sort of noblesse oblige in reverse. If you don’t subscribe to the totems, be gone and be warned: you will be denied access to the best academic circles and the stature they bring.
Gotham’s prep-school establishment has positioned itself and its future against the white race, men, Christianity, capitalism and heterosexuality, in other words, against the people, institutions, belief systems, and worldly activities that fashioned the nation. Culturally responsible trustees, faculty and staff take counter-views to be morally impaired.
How did this trahison des clercs even happen? First, blame parents who think a varsity letter in diversity signaling makes Annabel a more desirable college candidate. Mom and dad might live to consume new and crazy as dished up by Times arts editors, vanguard galleries, and off-Broadway directors. They can’t get enough of haute woke themselves. In their eyes, since spirit mother Hillary Clinton’s epic 2016 fail, the deplorables have morphed into domestic terrorists. Any Democratic Party policy move, no matter how bizarre, gets an automatic pass.
The Alpha Karens in this crowd are fluent in woke-lite chatter. Some think of themselves as “survivors” and #MeToo “allies” who have overcome the patriarchy’s slings and arrows, thanks perhaps to Zoloft, cognitive behavioral therapy, or kickboxing lessons. One mom goes to Heavenly Rest, another to Temple Emanu-El. A third worships Golden Peacocks. “Isn’t diversity wonderful,” they say as one. But no Brearley mom in her right mind would then chime in, “Why yes, and that’s why I vote Republican.”
“Annabel is at Brearley now” is a very droppable status zinger if wedged into the dinner conversation at the Union Club or Century. And Annabel’s strategic journey to Brown or Stanford, that too must be considered in the requisite diversity grovel. Parental fear that precious might be left high and dry in the college admissions race fuels acts of self-abasement that for good reason go unreported in Town & Country.
To object to prep-school fantasias or make fun of victim roleplaying on East 79th Street is to court hurt feelings and vituperation. Thinking this way on a regular basis might close the door to the salons and sought-after gatherings that Alpha Karens and their husbands crave. The advisory council, the honorary awards, the private screenings, the book club, the whole bloody dream could be gone in a flash!
“Sign the goddam pledge, now,” Alpha Karen says sternly to her master-of-the-universe husband in the privacy of their Park Avenue study. She points to the iPad lying on the period table. He rolls his eyes and protests but in vain, “This is utter horseshit.”
Presumably ashamed of its patrician and white-o past, the Brearley School bills itself disingenuously as composed of 56 percent “students of color.” An outside tally labels 47 percent of the school’s students “white” and 22 percent “mixed,” attesting to New York’s cosmopolitan households. Seventeen percent of students are designated “Asian” and 7 percent each for “black” and “Latino” students.
Brearley’s current head of school Jane Foley Fried is the essence of polished woke, and she does it like a champ. Convinced of her superior moral vision and divine duty, Fried exemplifies what social critic John McWhorter calls the progressive elect, a humorless politico-cultural force demanding total allegiance to highly contestable curricula, policies and priorities. With steely assurance, Fried transmits her trustees’ will in rhetoric almost indistinguishable from other New York private school administrators, only more stridently.
The onus falls on the Brearley trustees for whom Fried carries water in cashmere at close to $1 million a year in salary and benefits. The board’s worthies are bellwethers in finance, education and art. Their decision to authorize and enforce a take-it-or-go-away political catechism upon trusting parents, their own children, and selected talent on scholarship signals an alarming shift in the nation’s leadership class and its collective thought.
All the while, objective gauges of expertise and measured thought endure. They do not disappear, nor do essentials of cognition and disposition that lead to higher knowledge.
Whatever the pretty lies, private-school parents know firsthand what cerebral skills pupils need to excel. They realize that precise language, numeracy, and logical thought are not electives. And hush-hush. Most of them hope for the formation of amiable, well-spoken personalities that conform to exacting transnational manners and standards. As do selective colleges, prep schools and their clientele profess to worship equity and the underdog, but they prize high performance and superior talent.