Words by Mark Heller, Head of School
In recent days, the public square has brought a discussion of the concept of Critical Race Theory (an academic theory typically kept to post-graduate studies). When issues like this arise in our highly-polarized media culture, I feel an obligation to share our school’s practice and perspective.
Do we teach Critical Race Theory?
Short answer: No. Of course not.
Better answer: We teach history. We teach critical thinking. And we promote patriotism.
We teach history because history helps us understand ourselves and our world. Our past is always part of our present. Our history has shaped every element of today – who we are, what we believe, how our society and government and economy work. History often includes exploration of the triumphs of our spirit, our great achievements, and our grand purpose as well as exploration of the unpleasant, the unenlightened, and the shameful moments of our past. We teach history to help us understand, often to emulate, and always to be inspired to do better and to be better. We teach history to gain insight about ourselves.
We discuss slavery and its legacy. (We also discuss westward expansion, Johnny Appleseed, immigration and migration, how humans overcome barriers, the hero’s journey, and countless other topics.)
As students grow and mature, we don’t shy away from discussing race as a deeply important issue in our history. (Because it is.) In exploring slavery and race, we do not teach that all white people are evil or that our children are responsible for having oppressed other people. We work to help our students understand that injustice has been part of our history, that it persists in ways that are both overt and subtle, and that our democratic system has brought progress and change from earlier days. We work to help our students know that they, as citizens and voters, will have the opportunity and the obligation to continue to shape our nation’s evolving narrative. This is one of the key ways in which we promote patriotism.
We do not aim to teach our students what to think. We teach them how to think:
- How to form and frame good questions;
- How to seek, gather, and evaluate information;
- How to analyze information, see patterns, and draw conclusions;
- How to make a case and reason through an argument with support;
- How to listen to those whose arguments are different from their own and how to engage with those people and those arguments with respect and a genuine spirit of inquiry.
Especially at the Upper Division level, we discuss many philosophies (including Marxism, laissez faire economic theory, and many other systems of thought). We examine issues from multiple perspectives and take care to include a range of voices in order to uncover and explore universal truths of human existence and to strengthen each student’s capacity to develop empathy, understanding, and opinion. We encourage students to arrive at their own conclusions and judgments, and we challenge them to make their best case. These are the skills they need to be active and engaged citizens in our democracy.
We promote patriotism — not “love it or leave it” patriotism, but a patriotism that understands and is inspired by our system and our history toward the ends of both pride and participation.
I believe that the United States of America is a truly exceptional nation because of our commitment to common ideas (freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, equality under law, free enterprise, and the right to vote, to name just a few). I am deeply proud that, in our country, citizenship and “Americanness” are not conferred by common race or religion or ethnic heritage, but by common commitment to those Enlightenment-based ideas. We are special because of that, and we have served as a beacon of goodness and principle to the rest of the world because of it. I want our school to help all our students learn to love our country and our system through exploring both those times when we rose to meet the moment and those times in which we did not.
Our Core Values and policies in our handbooks trumpet our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are continually working toward those ends. Our approach is balanced, inquisitive, and open.
We believe that our way is the best way to answer today’s urgent call to citizenship. Progress may not be linear, but the arc of history does bend toward justice. Our school is working to make it so.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this note. As ever, I welcome your comment and/or criticism. And thank you very much for choosing Academy at the Lakes.