American High Schools Go Woke

Consultants cash in on radical changes to curricula nationwide

empty classroom
An empty classroom during the coronavirus pandemic / Getty Images
November 30, 2020

In July, the leadership of Los Angeles's elite Harvard-Westlake School issued a 20-page confessional about the school’s role in perpetuating "racism and injustice" and promised changes. The school, which sends dozens of kids to the Ivy League every year, will now teach 11th-grade U.S. history from a "critical race theory perspective." And diversity consultancies, which routinely charge six figures for their services, will facilitate the school's transformation at every step.

On the East Coast, the wealthy Fairfax County public school district shelled out $20,000 for an hourlong speech from critical-race commentator Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. At one school in the district, faculty went further, disseminating "anti-racist" reading lists to parents and organizing students into "equity" committees.

Dozens of schools across the country, both public and private, have taken similar steps. The perceived need to announce sweeping changes in leadership and curricula has been a boon to the growing diversity-consulting industry, which is designed to profit from racial discontent.

A list of "anti-racism" resources, compiled just days after the death of George Floyd and featuring such writers as Kendi, Dr. Robin DiAngelo, and the authors of the New York Times's controversial 1619 project, was shared widely by colleges and high schools across the country.

At Fairfax's Justice High School, emails obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show one of the school's "equity leads" shared the list in an impassioned email to her colleagues. It was subsequently posted to the school's website with the principal's approval and shared in multiple community-wide emails. A representative of principal Maria Eck told the Free Beacon the list "represented the diversity of our families and students" and was posted "during a time of broad discussion of these issues in our community and in our society."

Meanwhile, the tony Connecticut boarding school Loomis-Chaffee has introduced mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for students and now requires faculty members to read Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning and DiAngelo's White Fragility for "professional development." San Diego's public schools have overhauled grading for fear of racist impact, and New York City wants to follow. The KIPP Schools, long a model for charter school excellence, have dumped their "Work hard. Be nice" slogan, claiming that "working hard and being nice is not going to dismantle systemic racism."

These ostensibly progressive changes often enable bigotry. The aforementioned list includes the work of prominent anti-Semite Toni Morrison and was assembled by organizers of the Women's March, a group that has demonstrated deeply ingrained anti-Jewish sentiment. That's in line with the "woke" anti-Semitism at schools such as New York's Fieldston Ethical and Baltimore's Park School, where alumni activists have declaimed the Jewish-founded school's "wealth hoarding" and "tolerance of Zionism."

Such witch hunts have become commonplace as students, faculty, and alumni across the country have devoted themselves to ferreting out racism in their own communities. Many have taken to Instagram, launching "Black at [school name]" pages and encouraging their peers to share anonymous accusations of racism, bigotry, and other misconduct. Other accounts, dedicated to naming and shaming students accused of racial bias or insensitivity, are "popping up left and right," one student told the New York Times.

"I'm not trying to target freshmen or middle schoolers, but people who are about to go to college need to be held accountable for what they say," the administrator of one page told the Times. "People who go to college end up becoming racist lawyers and doctors. I don't want people like that to keep getting jobs."

These changes are profound, but they are not new. Rather, they are built on an existing infrastructure of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) administrators.

Positions like "director of diversity" emerged in the early 2000s, Exeter DEI chief Stephanie Bramlett told the prestigious school's alumni magazine. As far back as 2007, the journal Educational Leadership was emphasizing the need for administrators to confront "issues of social dominance and social justice." Portland Public Schools created its "office of equity" in 2011. Holy Name High School in tiny Parma Heights, Ohio, added a director of diversity and inclusion in 2018. Justice High School already had diversity advisers on the payroll, and Harvard-Westlake's new commitments add to a five-woman diversity team and a diversity conference held annually since 2018.

Harvard-Westlake did not respond to a request for comment.

As schools hire more and more diversity experts, however, accusations of racism and bigotry only grow—fueling further demands for new positions and pricier consultants.

Nearly every top private school has promised to bring on outside help to address rampant racism. Harvard-Westlake is doing business with at least four: Blink Consulting, Jones Inclusive, the Grading for Equity Project, and the Glasgow Group. Loomis-Chaffee plans to hire a "third party facilitator" to assess the "inclusivity climate." New York-based Grace Church School is bringing in an "outside consultant" for an "independent review into the ways that racism persists at Grace," while Virginia's Episcopal High School will hire "independent outside experts" to "identify biases inherent in school structures."

Such consultancies review curricula and conduct workshops on the latest in progressive pedagogy. Grading for Equity's Joe Feldman, for example, has argued that practices such as averaging grades over a semester or grading homework unacceptably perpetuate inequality.

That sort of insight does not come cheap. In Fairfax's neighboring Loudon County, also among the richest counties in the country, taxpayers have shelled out over $400,000 to fund diversity trainings since 2018. Three-hundred-fourteen-thousand dollars of that went to the California-based consultancy the Equity Collaborative, including $90,000 in salary for an "equity leadership coach" and funding to conduct a series of focus groups.

This fall has just boosted profit opportunities. The Glasgow Group, which did not respond to multiple interview requests, launched a guide for independent schools on what to do if they are facing social media accusations of racism.

Steps include hiring a "diversity professional on the senior management team" with "adequate budget" and "invest[ing]" in trainings for faculty on "implicit bias, anti-racism, whiteness, privilege and power." Another step is auditing the school's "practice, policies, programs, and curriculum to uncover any racial inequities, insensitivities, or discriminatory behaviors"—audits best carried out by diversity professionals like those at the Glasgow Group.

Glasgow is typical of such firms. Founded in 2016 by Dr. Rodney Glasgow, the group employs 11 different "principal consultants," almost all of whom, including Glasgow, have day jobs in diversity or leadership positions at independent schools. In other words, teachers who agitate for progressive reforms at their schools can make a pretty penny later in their career—or on the side—implementing those same reforms elsewhere.

This is the logic powering the woke turn in America's high schools. Teachers and administrators press an increasingly progressive line, agitating students into demanding ever more change. In return, they balloon their own budgets and line the pockets of consultants, whose ranks they hope someday to join.