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Too Much, Too Fast. Too Little, Too Slow.
by Dr. Mike Riera, Head of School

At the end of the last academic year we asked faculty to take a critical look at their curriculum through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. More than look, however, we further asked them to make changes to ensure a wider range of traditionally underrepresented voices, perspectives, and experiences were present in their lessons. We did this for several reasons.
First, in conversations with and communications from a range of alumni, they acknowledged the overall great education they received while at Brentwood and also underscored that same education was lacking in the areas of equity and inclusion. They lamented that it was not until college that they learned the stories and experiences of typically underrepresented people. Furthermore, what they learned in college was not only different, but in some cases, was at odds with what they learned at Brentwood. They asked more for current and future Brentwood students, and our need to evolve in this area was apparent.
Second, our job as educators is not to tell our students what to think. Rather, our job is to present them with a robust range of information and direct them toward what to think about. The decisions about what they finally believe are up to them, but our obligation is to give them the tools to thoughtfully and rigorously come to these beliefs. For example, in the last year, “Critical Race Theory” is being discussed more often and more broadly than ever before, from the pages of the LA Times to The Wall Street Journal to the New York Times. Our students deserve to be prepared to engage with the issues of the day and the thought leaders of our country, and so it becomes our obligation to teach them about CRT and to let them reach their own conclusions.
Third, curriculum by its nature is a living process that evolves and adapts over time. As such, books and units used today may drop away in a few years, only to reappear years down the road...or not at all. Choices on which materials and approaches to use are based on a range of factors—what was covered in previous years and the preparation needed for what lies ahead, emerging trends in education and pedagogy, current world issues our students need to understand, teacher interests and passions, etc. In the end, Division Directors work with faculty on their curricula, and work together in what they ultimately adopt. For teachers, this is the “independent” in Independent schools.
Perspectives on how our faculty have taken to heart the request to look at and change curriculum has been embraced on a continuum.  At one end, some wonder whether there needed to be any changes at all. Others feel some changes needed to be made, but first would have preferred more research, consideration and time. At the other end are those that feel the changes currently being made are actually late and moving too slowly. Both ends of the continuum have valid points.
It is true that we probably have implemented more curricular changes across all divisions in this one year than any other year in Brentwood’s almost 50 years of existence. Will we overstep in some areas? Possibly. Will we understep in others? Possibly. The takeaway is twofold. Given all the racial awakenings and divisiveness since the murder of George Floyd, we would be irresponsible not to make significant changes to our curriculum. And, since the development of curriculum is a living process, we will learn as we move forward and we will continue to make changes in both directions of the spectrum, always with a focus on what best serves our students.
Finally, it is more than fair to approach administrators with questions as to why certain choices were made about curricular decisions. In fact, we welcome questions as they make us think more deeply about the why of what we are doing. While you may agree or disagree, it is also important that you respect our curricular decisions and differences and that you take the long view. That is, what is not covered one year will, in all likelihood, be addressed in subsequent years.

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