This Story About NYC Private Schools and ‘Anti-Zionist’ Extremism is Sad

To be clear, I don’t mean that it’s sad in the sense that the author of this did a bad job. On the contrary, it’s a great story. I mean that it’s actually sad to read it because it’s chock-full of Jewish progressives who are surprised to learn their fellow leftists don’t really want them around, at least not if they dare to support Israel’s right to exist.


The story takes us inside Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, a $55,000 a year private school which was founded as a place where social justice would be a major part of the curriculum. That explains a recent field trip students took to The People’s Forum, an anti-Zionist encampment in midtown which considers itself the heart of the “student intifada.” Students were taken to the site and subjected to a 90-minute lecture about the evils of the US and Israel. One brave 9th grader objected to this indoctrination of a captive audience.

According to the grievance report, The People’s Forum employee who made the presentation to the LREI students said that the war between Russia and Ukraine “would stop if America stopped funding Ukraine and implied the same with Israel.” The report said a ninth grader “raised his hand and rebuffed this by sharing that he believed that America’s involvement helps keep the world safe and that without it Ukraine would cease to exist. The staff leader dismissed this, said he was a communist and began referring to the students as comrades. As the conversation turned more pointedly to anti-Israel rhetoric, a few students stood up and left.”

When the students returned to school, the complaint said, they met with the school’s head of diversity, equity and inclusion, who told them that hearing “controversial and polarizing viewpoints was good practice for subsequent years’ social justice trips.”

Several days later, Mr. Kassen emailed ninth-grade parents to apologize. “I should not have put the students in the position to visit the organization, both due to their call for the ‘destruction’ of Israel, and due to the fact that their more general political views had the kids being in well over their heads,” he said…

About a week later, Mr. Kassen angered some parents anew when he informed them that teachers had received antisemitism training. Parents discovered in quick internet searches that the curriculum had been developed by pro-Palestinian activists.


Mr. Kassen, the school’s headmaster, sounds like an idiot or, more likely, a liar. Even a cursory glance at the People’s Forum website would have made it clear to anyone that this is not your run-of-the-mill social justice group. Here’s a sample from their political education platform.

Vladimir Illyich Ulynav, more commonly known as Lenin, is a well-loved revolutionary across countries and movements, whose name embodies the spirit of working-class internationalism. 

Lenin and his successful leadership of the Bolsheviks not only proved the capacity of the proletariat to seize power but successfully established the first socialist state in 1917, demonstrating Marxism as a powerful and revolutionary force for the working class. A hundred years later, Lenin’s theories and strategies continue to illuminate the path forward for people and movements committed to building working class power, showing the necessary steps for achieving worldwide socialist revolution.

Is it the Little Red School House or the Little School for Reds? In any case, the trip to the People’s Forum isn’t the only indication that anti-Zionist extremism has been running rampant in the school. Some of the teachers have been coming to school wearing kaffiyehs. And then there’s this:

In November, some parents of sixth graders were startled when they visited their children’s classroom. On display were several maps of the Middle East created as part of a student geography project on which Israel did not exist. In its place some maps were labeled “OPT,” for Occupied Palestinian Territory.


Some parents have noticed that, despite years of focus on identity and crimes against minorities, the school’s reaction to the 10/7 massacre was pretty tepid. And yet, the article suggests that things could be worse. We know this because they are worse at some other progressive private schools in the city.

At some private schools in New York, a focus on personal identity, built into their curricula, appears to have exacerbated the tensions…

A photograph of young children wearing name tags with their names and identities (“Black,” “Jewish”) was widely shared by distressed parents this spring. A school spokeswoman said those name tags were used only at the beginning of the previous school year — and had been a mistake.

Everything is a mistake when you get caught but does anyone believe these woke numbskulls would have backtracked if not for the pushback from parents and the photos? Unfortunately the story doesn’t include the photos which is too bad because it would be a good reminder to normal people how far gone some of these institutions, in this case the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, really are.

Fortunately, readers at the NY Times seem to grasp the underlying problem here. Here’s the top comment:

Being a graduate of both Elizabeth Irwin and Columbia University, I hang my head in disgust, sadness and anger. Critical thinking skills involves teaching all views– not just biased one-sided ones.

The #2 comment:

“A photograph of young children wearing name tags with their names and identities (“Black,” “Jewish”) was widely shared by distressed parents this spring. A school spokeswoman said those name tags were used only at the beginning of the previous school year — and had been a mistake.

There are affinity groups for parents too.”

Are educators really having a hard time understanding these are terrible ideas. This isn’t educational, it plays into polarization.


From a reader in Portland:

Skipping over the 1200 murder victims and going directly to supporting  the Palestinian cause seems an odd way to teach children how to navigate our political system. What it tells children is it is ok to use any means to an end.

How about a little perspective beyond Israel and Gaza:

Sure , educate students about Gaza . Absolutely  . It is terrible there . ( and also tell them how it all started ) . 

But talking to students about the awful things in Gaza , without similarly ‘educating’ them about the awful things the Ayattolahs are doing to women in Iran ; about the hundreds of thousands killed in Sudan ; about the millions of refugees forced out of Syria by their own brutal Assad regime ; about ISIS beheading innocents : about the terrible things the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan :  etc etc etc  , – is the worst kind of education I can think of  . 

Shame on the people who ‘run’ those schools….

Getting back to Mr. Kassen, this is from a parent of an alum at the Little Red School House:

Mother of Elizabeth Irwin alum. I found LREI to be as rudderless and vacuous as this article describes. Many frustrated social justice warrior teachers (who wanted to do something else with their lives, not teach) with Phil Kassen at the helm, glad-handing everyone. There was no pedagogy that I could perceive. There was HEAVY pressure on the kids to be social justice warriors, less emphasis on say, learning Spanish or math.


Sounds like a great place to leave behind and save some money in the process.



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