Letter: NCHS Alumni Group Actually Got It Right

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On June 24th, 2020, former New Canaan High School student Griffin Hall, wrote an opinion piece skewering an open letter and presentation delivered by several current and former NCHS alumni. The main thrust of the letter and presentation was to appeal to the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi to amend the New Canaan Public Schools curriculum to add a broader and deeper understanding of systemic racism, implicit bias, police brutality, and privilege. They also asked Dr. Luizzi to encourage surrounding school systems to adopt such ideas.

Griffin’s Op-Ed wanted to “remind” these alum that “Black Lives Matter is a movement about ending police brutality and racial profiling.” He called their proposal “a retroactive crusade against sheltered white childhoods.” He couldn’t be more wrong on this subject. I hold this subject dear because I grew up in New Canaan as an ABC scholar and part of the NCHS class of 2005. I can say with certainty that NCPS is holding its own students back by not giving their students a fuller, broader view of history and the world around them today.

Mr. Hall believes that the letter and presentation are “the left’s cultural putsch.” When did doing what’s right become a political argument or statement? When did valuing the lives of those who don’t look like you become a leftist issue? Simplifying this issue to a left vs. right argument is unreasonable and unproductive. And a “putsch?” A violent attempt to overthrow the government? That level of hyperbole is uncalled for.

Next, Mr. Hall believes that activists are insisting “that white people writ large apologize for alleged thought-crimes of racism.” Even though that’s what you believe, Mr. Hall, that’s not what is being asked. I didn’t ask my high school cohort to reach out to me, apologize to me, or check in on me after the heinous murder of George Floyd. They did so unprompted because they finally understood that what happened to Mr. Floyd could happen to me or any of the other black folks they know. They realized that attending school or university with black students is not reform enough. They realized that not confronting persistent racial injustice not only allows for it to fester, but it allows for innocent men, women, and others to continue be murdered for selling CDs or playing loud music, killed while sleeping in their own homes or just breathing in their own neighborhoods. Then these former classmates committed themselves to being better and putting in the work to become actively anti-racist.

Mr. Hall seems to believe that bringing up race only serves to inflame racial tension. In fact, racial tensions are ignited when communities feel continually ignored. Instead, the way the world has been talking about race ever since Mr. Floyd’s murder is what we as black and African-Americans have been asking for for years: to confront racism to its fullest effect. Racism isn’t just calling someone the n-word. Racism is almost being denied housing as a potential black tenant. Racism is having your white girlfriend hail taxi cabs for you because they won’t stop for a black man. Racism is almost being denied a job because of your skin tone. That’s a tiny fraction of the things that have happened to me in New York City, a city considered a bastion of racial equality. Racism is systemic and has invaded every facet of our lives and must be confronted in order to be rooted out.

One of the ways we root out racism is by ensuring the next generation knows what systemic racism looks like and is given tools to fervently fight against it. That has to start at a very early age because we know that very young children already recognize racial differences and often already demonstrate a bias towards whiteness. To work towards an elimination of conscious and unconscious biases, anti-racist teachings and curriculum must permeate the institutions of NCPS. I appreciate that Mr. Hall understands and urges Dr. Luizzi to push for reforms within NCHS, but he directs this only to the high school. Additionally, Mr. Hall’s ideas for “reform” focus on token improvements for the students of color and ignore the big picture benefits of introducing an anti-racist education for the white students of New Canaan. Mr. Hall suggests “asking minority students if and how their race impacts their role in the NCHS community,” which may sound like a good idea until one remembers how difficult it can be for some high school students to articulate their feelings and emotions. The burden of reforming NCPS should not be placed on their shoulders. All of the kids of New Canaan deserve to be better informed about the world. The letter written to Dr. Luizzi proves that the town cannot rely solely on a few mission trips and one volunteer day to teach students that the world isn’t fair to black and brown people.

Let’s face it, systemic racism is the reason A Better Chance exists. If equal access to a proper education existed there would be no need for ABC and I would have never heard of New Canaan, CT. I appreciate every single opportunity that I had while living in the town of New Canaan and attending NCHS. I used the education and opportunities gained there to become who I am today. Through ABC, New Canaan has already enrolled in “town-sponsored progressiveness.” Will Hennessy and the students that wrote that letter, including Jelani Aladdin, 2010 ABC of New Cannan grad, are only asking that New Canaan go all in in its commitment to its precious few minority students.

David Cox, NCHS ’05, ABC of New Canaan Alum

19 thoughts on “Letter: NCHS Alumni Group Actually Got It Right

  1. Public school system should focus on teaching math, science and basics of humanities. The rest should be left up to families. NCPS should leave ideology out of its curriculum. Nobody should tell our kids that they must feel guilty about wrongs they didn’t commit. If these “improvements” are implemented, there will be an exodus of rationally thinking families out of New Canaan.

    • Thank you, Mr. Cox, for your exceptional letter. As a mom to elementary and middle school age students in New Canaan and as a person committed to doing the necessary work of creating an anti-racist, equitable, diverse community here in New Canaan and beyond, I fully support the NCHS Alumni group and their excellent proposal to the BOE. I’m grateful for the NCHS Alumni group’s leadership and vision. In response to Mr. Friedman’s comment above: if “rationally thinking” actually means persons who believe our curriculum should be censored so as not to include our country’s history of racism, our country’s current struggle with racism, and how those past and current truths affect our community and country, then I would suggest Mr. Friedman find the right word for his/these ideologies – “rational” is certainly not it.

  2. Thank you David for your letter. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have lived here since 1990 and raised 5 kids here. I did not send them to the excellent New Canaan public schools because I wanted a globally based education for them. They attended The Montessori School in Wilton because I believed the public school system was missing this essential component. Montessori is education for peace.
    David is correct. Young children need to be taught to recognize the dangers of racial bias along with addition and subtraction. World class education weaves all subjects together. And addressing the racial issues that have divided us for hundreds of years is crucial to achieving that status.

  3. Great piece!! Teaching children the reality of racial inequality is NOT teaching them to feel guilty. One of NCPS’ mission is educating the whole child including, social and emotional wellness. Encouraging children to treat each other with respect, regardless of their ethnicity or color, falls under this clearly stated mission. It is being taught and fought for at higher institutions of learning all over the country. It is both appropriate and helping students prepare for the world outside of New Canaan. If it being practiced in higher education, it certainly can be practiced K-12.

  4. Describing the introduction and implementation of more comprehensive, accurate, and diverse curricula and policy as ideology rather than what it is — equity and inclusion — identifies precisely why our schools so desperately need such improvements.

    Thank you, David, for sharing your perspective and helping to nudge the conversation around equality in this community.

  5. Your letter is so well-written, David. I agree with everything you wrote, and I thank you for writing it. If there was one thing (and there were many) that I took away from Jelani’s 3-part “Unpack,” it was to start early to educate children in the fullness of our American history. I am learning every day now. The legacy I want to leave to my children and grandchildren (I’m almost 80) is to love and respect all mankind, regardless of color.

  6. Mr. Friedman,
    I believe you are attempting to frame this as a political issue just as Mr. Hall unsuccessfully tried before you. This is NOT a progressive vs conservative issue but an attempt to eliminate the persistence of the spectrum of despicable acts of racism that have plagued our country from before its existence. Unfortunately, we would already be living in a harmonious and loving society if we as parents were especially capable, not to mention willing to teach our children to value and respect ALL people as their equal. Doing what is right should be a common goal for all humanity and not viewed as an affront to those who;
    1 – do not respect the American value of all men being created equal as outlined in our constitution and/or
    2 – do not believe that we should love one another as we would ourselves.
    I ask that we all consider the positive impact we could have on the lives of so many people now and on future generations if would recognize and remediate our transgressions rather than pretend they don’t exist or even worse, not worth the effort. Let’s get to work!

  7. Great letter and agree a zillion percent. Being smarter beats being dumber any day. The more information, history, discussion and addressing of systemic racism anywhere and everywhere the better. Classroom, dinner table, etc. Not being racist is not an “ideology.” It’s the right thing to do and the imperative thing to teach.

  8. No ideology, just facts. The intention is not to tell our kids “that they must feel guilty about wrongs they didn’t commit”. The intention is to expose our kids to the historical facts at all, pure and simple. They will be better humans as a result. Thank you, Mr. Cox, for your letter.

  9. I have lived in New Canaan for 42 years and have raised my children here. I would say to Boris Friedman (and others who might think in a similar vein) that any residents who would want to leave New Canaan because of any appropriate awareness program that might be undertaken encouraging students to treat one another with kindness and respect regardless of racial or ethnic background—good riddance!

    • Treating one another with kindness and respect is not what is being proposed. What is being proposed is replacement of the current faculty hiring system at NCHS, which is presumably based on the qualifications of the candidate, with a CODIFIED system of hiring where certain immutable characteristics of an individual are favored over others, regardless of qualification, or diversity of thought. This is regressive, and immoral. I point out “regardless of qualification” because the alumni making the complaint have proposed both a quota for “people of color” on the faculty, AND a timeline for their hiring.

      • Hello William. Why are you assuming that teachers of color have little to no qualifications to teach in the NCPS system? Is it a matter of not having the qualifications or not seeking the talent? Yes the alumni group asked for a quota and timeline. That’s what one does when they are serious about an outcome. No deadline allows the can to be kicked down the road indefinitely.

        • To be clear David, I am making no assumptions about the qualifications of people of color–that is racism, and it’s ugly. As I mentioned in an earlier post on this topic, perhaps “people of color” don’t want to come to New Canaan to teach privileged, mostly white, students. In fact, that may largely explain the current racial makeup of the NCHS faculty. Let’s assume the Board of Ed decided to go along with your requests, what should they do if there are few applicants? Hopefully, you can see the dilemma this will create. It could get to where the qualifications of the candidate take a backseat (or even the third row) to skin color, which is essentially just reversing the flow of the racism you seek to end. Best, Bill

          • Just jumping in here to quickly note: There’s no such thing as “reversing the flow” of racism, Bill, because racism is not just prejudice based on race—it’s prejudice based on race when that prejudice is reinforced by systems of power.

  10. David, we shared a filmmaking class during my freshman year at NCHS. I’ve spent 7 years in the United States Army since graduating from NCHS and can attest that my education at NCHS was outstanding in preparing me for college and woefully inadequate in helping me understand the systemic oppression that exists around me. NCHS is a national educational leader and I would expect them to continue to lead the way when it comes to assuming this most important responsibility. Go Rams!

    • I remember you, Brian! I hope you are well. And yes, New Canaan is a national education leader. It’s time they lead when it comes to educating its youth in African Studies, racism as it stands today, and the ways to dismantle it. If there is any student body that I have confidence to make this world a better place it’s New Canaan’s.

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