writings and Reflections

Rising Above the Rancor: A Letter to Students at an Historic Moment
Tara Christie Kinsey

Yesterday, I shared the following letter to our students in upper school. The letter is the product of conversations I have been having with some of my colleagues who lead independent schools in New York City. Many of us felt that, in the midst of this uncertain time and on the eve of the presidential election, our students deserved to hear from their school leaders about the things for which we all stand, the principles in which we all believe. For in this season of bitter partisanship, we must remember that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. 

I look forward to hearing what comes of our community members' own conversations--in school, at home, and in the workplace--as we commit to action aligned with our core values and our school mission to inspire girls and young women to become game changers and ethical leaders who forge an equitable, sustainable, and joyous future. I am grateful to our students and families for being in the conversation, and for making the vision behind our mission a reality.

Dear Students,

Over the last eight months, your world has utterly changed. You are living through a moment in history that may well prove pivotal to the future of our world, our nation, and our city. You are bearing witness to an unprecedented set of interlocking and cascading crises, and many of you are telling us that you have lost trust in some of our leaders–locally, nationally, and globally. There is no getting around it: you are coming of age in an extraordinarily turbulent moment in history. 

Yet as educators, we are in the business of developing deeply optimistic futures. Your futures. To be sure, there is difficult work ahead. But nothing truly worthwhile comes easily. As the Nobel Peace Prize winning South African theologian Desmond Tutu said: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness." Practicing hope allows us to harness the energy of hardships and tragedies and transform them into generative possibilities for the future. Our world needs you to care deeply, engage wholeheartedly, and commit to action fueled with hope in order to build a better future. We want to do all we can to make this happen for you—not after you graduate, but right now.

In a year marked by intense political rancor, we write to you to remind you of a simple truism: hope in the face of adversity spurs collective action. Democracy only works when we all commit ourselves to it. Think about how high those stakes are. Since your education hinges on your ability to trust the adults in school, you deserve to hear from us about a few of the things in which we all believe:

We believe that schools must demonstrate that they are not partisan–not “red” schools or “blue” schools, but rather safe and brave schools where you learn to engage in reasoned, respectful debate, critical thinking, and a free exchange of ideas (even half-formed ideas), without fear of judgment or reproach. 

We believe that schools must give you the skills and habits of mind to debate the issues at stake in our city, country, and world, but also to learn that there are clear guardrails and certain issues around which there is no debate. For example, we believe it is important to unequivocally condemn and reject white supremacy and bigotry in all its forms. 

We believe that schools must stand for these ideals and model them for you every day. We also believe it is important to unequivocally condemn and reject violence in all forms. You should expect to hear this from leaders.

We believe that schools must create environments built on kindness, equity, honesty, inclusion, and respect for those whose opinions differ from your own. 

We believe that schools must promote the act of voting in democratic, free, open elections and the peaceful transfer of power. 

We believe that schools must espouse truth, facts, science, and reasoned debate. 

We believe that schools must proactively support your hope-fueled activism and create opportunities for you to give voice to your values and practice courage in the face of adversity and wrongdoing.

We believe that schools must be communities that expose you to ideals that you fall in love with so much that you will not only work towards them but also cherish and protect them.

Finally, we believe that our city, our country, and our world will emerge wiser and healthier. We believe this to be true because we believe in you, and in our individual and collective ability to rise above the rancor and, no matter what the outcome of the presidential election, live our lives in a way that is aligned with our values.


Doug Knecht, Interim Head of School, Bank Street School for Children

Rebecca Skinner, Interim Head of School, Blue School

Jason Morrow, Headmaster, The British International School of New York

Crissy Cáceres, Head of School, Brooklyn Friends School

Tim Madigan, Head of School, Churchill School

David Egolf, Head of School, Corlears School

Robert (Bo) Lauder, Principal, Friends Seminary

Laurie Gruhn, Head of School, The Gateway School

George P. Davison, Head of School, Grace Church School

Diana Schlesinger, Head of School, Greene Hill School

Tara Christie Kinsey, Head of School, The Hewitt School

Janet Wolfe, Head of School, The IDEAL School of Manhattan

Carla Jantos MacMullen, Head of School, The Kew-Forest School

Maria Castelluccio, Head of School, Léman Manhattan Preparatory School

Phil Kassen, Director, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School

Debbie Zlotowitz, Head of School, Mary McDowell Friends School

Mark W. Lauria, Executive Director, New York State Association of Independent Schools

Leslie Thorne & Albina Miller, Co-Heads of School, The Parkside School

Audrius Barzdukas, Head of School, Poly Prep Country Day School

James Dawson, Head of School, Professional Children's School

Daniel K. Lahart, SJ, President, Regis High School

Chris Ongaro, Head of School, Robert Louis Stevenson School

Danny Karpf, Head of School, Rodeph Sholom School

Evan Moraitis, Interim Head of School, St Bernard's School

Bart Baldwin, Head of School, St. Luke's School

Scott Gaynor, Head of School, Stephen Gaynor School

Douglas Brophy, Head of School, The Town School

Scott R. Reisinger, Head of School, Trevor Day School

Carrie Catapano, Head of School, West End Day School

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster, York Preparatory School

Dr. Kinsey shared this letter with Hewitt upper school students on October 27, 2020.

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