In late 2020, New York City’s Dalton School drew headlines after trainers from Pollyanna, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, led mandatory training that included “forcing a Jewish student to play a racist cop” in a science class exercise and teaching an art class on “decentering whiteness” Seventh and eighth-graders were required to examine their lives through the perspective of “intersectionality,” a left-wing theory that posits that a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. The takeaway here, of course: the students must come to grips with their “white privilege.”
As of 2020, Pollyanna was spreading the Woke Gospel in 60 schools around the nation, including cream-of-the-crop Manhattan private schools—The Brearley School, The Dalton School, Horace Mann School, The Spence School and the Hunter College Elementary School, as well as Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. Indeed, the Woke-Ed Machine has penetrated the National Association of Independent Schools, whose membership includes religious and secular private schools.
While our investigative reporting project, Consultants Report Card, focused on public schools, we wanted to chronicle the phenomenon of indoctrination in private schools, because they are a key target of activists, educators and consultants indoctrinating children.
Consider St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Connecticut. In 2002, Mark Davis arrived from the elite Phillips Exeter Academy, to be headmaster. Just an hour’s drive northeast of Manhattan, St. Luke’s drew well-heeled families to its “Hilltop,” with its secular mantra of “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.” After taking a sabbatical to learn the Vipassana tradition of Buddhism, commonly known as “insight meditation,” Davis returned in April 2019 determined, with the help of a handful of activist teachers and parents, to bring his energized Woke politics to the school in his charge.
In June 2020, Davis hosted the second Political Discord & Civil Discourse assembly, “Student Leadership: Bringing Civil Discourse to Life,” featuring a St. Luke’s parent, former President George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. Later—after Woke adherents criticized Davis for allowing a Republican viewpoint to be voiced at St. Luke’s—he would apologize for Fleischer’s appearance.
Increasingly, parents started noticing staff activism that made them uncomfortable. At one point, Carrie Meatto, a Spanish teacher in the Upper School since 2017, required her students to write letters to governments in Central America and Latin America, advocating for the legalization of abortion, among other issues.
In early 2020, in the school’s Forese Fireplace Commons, school officials welcomed controversial author Robin DiAngelo to talk about her book, White Fragility. Davis didn’t allow parents to ask questions directly of DiAngelo. They had to write their questions on index cards, hand-chosen by Liz Perry, an English teacher and Head of Upper School, and Amber Berry, another staffer.
That spring 2020, as families were isolating during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, a teacher facilitated a parent event and told parents to create “bubbles” based on identity. By fall, after the killing of George Floyd, the teachers were full throttle with their “anti-racism” exercises. The first week of schools, students had to play the “Factuality Game,” charged $50 each to roleplay identities they were assigned, from “woman of color” to transgender men. Black Lives Matter stickers on her classroom bulletin board, teacher Jennifer Pokorney one day told students they were going to play charades, acting out current events.
One team got “mass shootings.” A team of two boys got “abortion.” The boys objected. Pokorney insisted they do it. School officials swept it under the rug. This isn’t clear. Parents complained but nothing happened.
That fall, in late October 2020, the school held one of its regular “Town Meeting” events. The presentation, during Asexual Awareness Week, or “ACE Week,’ encouraged children to know the differences between “demisexual” and “asexual.” One elementary school student had to fill out a nametag with her preferred pronoun.
Just before the 2020 presidential vote, Davis held a “Drop-in” session and lamented his choice for president hadn’t won in 2016. Some parents shook their heads.
Parents quietly chronicled the indoctrination they had been witnessing. Now, “Affinity Groups,” not straight-up education, were the norm at the school they loved. Some parents pulled students from the school but many remaining parents continue to be frustrated.