Last week, a purge was attempted at the Tome School. Its basis, according to certain Tome parents, was that the faculty was engaged in “political indoctrination” of students. These parents targeted the head of school—and, by extension, the faculty—for her decision to recommend summer reading books related to race and racial justice, texts that “have been critically reviewed, and many of them are Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Pulitzer, and other prize winners,” according to a faculty letter.
A petition circulated like wildfire among the alumni community demanding an end to this attack. We experienced and grew from a Tome School education, and we are in the best position to judge what kind of learning environment Tome is. I can say, ten years after graduation, that Tome is the finest education I could have ever received, precisely because its gifted, professional teachers fostered an atmosphere of rigorous intellectual discourse. I am now in my fifth year of my own teaching career, and I am inspired by my Tome teachers every day.
The parents in question took the outrageous step of demanding the head of school’s resignation. This was a slap in the face not only to a talented educator, but to a community of alumni who have been touched and inspired by her work and the work of her colleagues for decades. Such an action would have sent an irrevocable intellectual chill through Tome, destroying an ecosystem of ideas and knowledge and replacing it with a repressive, censorial regime that represents the very opposite of open education.
Ironically, the same parents demanding the best education for their children and a “non-political” atmosphere were the ones undermining the very pillars of open discourse in their pursuit of an ideological, political witch hunt. The conversation about race will still be happening beyond the doors of Tome regardless of anyone pretending otherwise, and all of us should understand that silence, too, is a political position. Indeed conversations will be happening among students as well, in the hallways, in the parking lot, in the gym. Tome students are not stupid, and teachers should be allowed to help them make sense of the very real issues happening in the world around them. They should not be silenced nor have their curricula censored.
What happened last week was McCarthyism, pure and simple. If successful it would have spelled the end of Tome’s legitimacy. Students, parents, and alumni joined together to reject this purge and safeguard decency.