Since the release of our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (DEISJ) Plan, we have been gratified by the engagement of our community, with many offering significant praise for our efforts and a few asking important questions regarding our direction and what implementation will look like.  We want to share responses to these questions as directly as possible here.  

Let us begin with the words of our alma mater: “Change not thy values formed.”  While our DEISJ Plan does call for us to revisit the Core Value of Diversity to be sure it reflects the goals of the Plan, our Mission and Core Values of Character, Educational Vigor, and Community remain unchanged.  We see the work on which we have been embarked for many years now as actually being driven by our existing values.  Our most recent effort, described in our DEISJ Plan, seeks to ensure that our school is living out the promise of our Mission and Core Values every day for every member of our community.  There has been no turning to the left or to the right; rather, there has been a steady incremental process that began several decades ago.  If you have not had a chance to hear from our Board Chair, Kate (Poppenberg ’82) Pigman, on our proud history, please take a moment to view the first part of this video on the right which introduced the community to our plan in April.

The questions below are ones that members of the community have asked in one form or another.  We hope the responses are helpful.

List of 12 items.

  • Is Sewickley Academy teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT)?

    No.  Sewickley Academy does not teach Critical Race Theory.  We have no courses in CRT, and existing courses are not based on it.
  • I have heard that CRT says that all white people are by definition racists. Is this what is being promoted at the school?

    No.  Sewickley Academy believes that race prejudice is learned.  We do not believe that anyone is racist by virtue of their identity.  People are racist based on beliefs often rooted in stereotypes that suggest one race is superior to another.  Sewickley Academy promotes programming that celebrates differences and seeks to educate students that every individual, regardless of race, creed, or color, is a valued member of our community.  In educating our students, we seek to reveal the harm of stereotypes and encourage students to reflect on what they believe and why.
  • I have heard that CRT promotes the idea of systemic racism. Is this idea being promoted at the school?

    The idea that systemic or structural racism exists is not unique to CRT.  By helping students understand that certain laws, statutes, regulations, and other structures have had disparate impacts on certain groups of people, particularly people of color, we hope to educate our students about the reality that race prejudice is not just the province of individuals but can be reflected in laws and other regulations that may make no reference to race or ethnicity but which in effect have a disproportionate impact on people of color.  The two studies cited in the introductory language for Goal 9 highlight such examples. 
  • Why have the history classes shifted and focused only on the negative in our history? What has happened to national pride and patriotism?

    History classes at Sewickley Academy do not focus on the “negative” aspects of history.  In order to make the study of history relevant for our students, we “move beyond simply identifying ‘what happened’ throughout American history, and instead delve into the how, why, and ramifications of events.”  Such an examination of history requires a consideration of different perspectives and points of view.  These are presented through the use of primary source documents, allowing students to hear, see, and understand different points of view directly from the people in the history they are studying.  Students then have an opportunity to develop their own views based on what they have learned.  We do ask and engage with questions about the social construction of race, about the origins and impact of racism, about issues of structural inequality that plays out on the terrain of race, gender, and socio-economic class in order to help our students understand how and why the world they inhabit is the way it is. 

    The development of pride in one’s country (also known as patriotism) comes from a deep understanding and appreciation of a nation’s history and culture. At Sewickley Academy, students explore the people, events, institutions, and ideas that give shape to the United States of America in all its complexity. Students learn to appreciate the great innovations and achievements that inspire pride of country, and they learn about the problems and shortcomings that have challenged us to be better, to live up to the hopes and promises of our founding documents or creed. At Sewickley Academy we believe that identifying and meeting our challenges are often the source of greatness and of pride in knowing that we have and will continue to make progress in the creation of a more perfect union. 
  • Why did Sewickley Academy choose the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards?

    The Social Justice Standards developed by Learning for Justice are widely acknowledged to support the educational outcomes that we want for our students.  Even a cursory reading of the standards reflects a set of hoped-for outcomes that are developmentally appropriate and thoughtfully conceived.  In several different areas of school life, Sewickley Academy has chosen different standards that we believe reflect the “best in class,” which we want to implement.  Our science classes look to the Next Generation Science Standards, history and social studies use the National Council for Social Studies Standards, and English classes use the National Council of English Standards, for example, reflecting each discipline’s adoption of the standards that best represent what we are trying to achieve here at Sewickley Academy.
  • Is Learning for Justice a biased organization promoting a liberal agenda?

    Learning for Justice is the educational arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which itself was founded in 1971 to combat racist practices that continued to disenfranchise and discriminate against Black people, first in Alabama and then across the South.  In recent years, SPLC has also been an important organization in identifying and combating hate groups.  Learning for Justice has been recognized around the country for providing excellent resources to schools looking to support their students’ learning and growth about social justice and the impediments to it. 
  • Is it true that all classes, Pre-K-Grade 12, will align with the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards, or do they just apply to humanities classes?

    Part of having an intentional curriculum, one that is thoughtfully interconnected and reinforced over time, is that certain skills and certain themes can and ought to be reflected in different disciplines.  Just as good writing counts in English, it ought to count in history, social studies, and math classes, as well.  Skills like problem-solving and careful analysis are likewise cross-disciplinary.  In this way, we would expect, as appropriate to the discipline, that the Social Justice Standards would be reflected in classes beyond just the humanities.
  • While I can appreciate how the use of Learning for Justice Standards might support children of color, how will they allow my white child to feel included and valued?

    A reading of the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards reveals that they actually do not focus on any particular race or ethnicity.  Rather they seek to elevate issues of identity in a way that affirms for each child that they matter.  Acknowledging, understanding, and affirming the value of each person’s unique identity is at the core of the social justice work that we do.  
  • The use of the Learning for Justice Standards and some of the goals of the DEISJ plan sound like a plan to indoctrinate my child into a certain way of thinking. How will differing religious, political, and social views be valued?

    There is no effort to “indoctrinate” anyone into any particular way of thinking.  The central goal of the DEISJ Plan is to ensure that students have the opportunity to reflect on the complex issue of identity in American society.  None of us alive today created the world in which we live or the country we proudly call ours, but each of us has an obligation to understand the history of our country and how that history has led us to where we are today.  This is a complex and difficult undertaking that certainly will involve differences of opinion.  At Sewickley Academy, we have long prized our ability to be a community that represents and celebrates divergent yet informed opinions.  Our DEISJ work clarifies our commitment to ensure that every student is informed.  Once students have the information and the skills to engage in the analysis of it, they will come to form their own – perhaps divergent – opinions about what it all means.
  • I have heard that white children are told they should feel guilty for being white.

    No student at Sewickley Academy is ever told that they should feel guilty or ashamed because of their identity, so no white student is ever told this, nor is such an idea implied.
  • I have heard that, among other things, CRT calls for students to be divided into two groups, with white children assigned to the oppressor group and children of color assigned to the oppressed group. Does Sewickley Academy do this?

    No.  Sewickley Academy does not divide students at any grade level into groups associated with being oppressed or oppressing others.
  • The videos of your teachers speaking about what DEISJ looks like in their classrooms seem to suggest this is all the school is focused on. What has happened to the subject disciplines these teachers are supposed to be teaching?

    In the video clips, the purpose of which is to help our community understand how the work of DEISJ is reflected across the curriculum, teachers are specifically asked to comment on DESIJ work as reflected in their classes.  Not surprisingly, their responses reflect the specific nature of the question asked: “What do diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice look like in your classroom?” DEISJ work does not replace the skills and content of the disciplines we teach. Rather it supports building important skills and contributes to deeper understandings of the respective disciplines. The content and skills of each discipline continue to be the central focus of our curriculum. Had we asked teachers about the skills or subject-matter content of their disciplines, the responses would have been different.  

    At Sewickley Academy, we prize academic excellence, and we seek to reinforce the academic vigor of the program by providing ways for students to see and connect the intellectual work in which they are engaged with broader issues.