Message from Head of School on Inclusive Language Guide

Dear Grace Community Members,

As you have likely seen from yesterday’s press, we have found ourselves in the eye of the culture war storm this week, and it is important to remember why we are proud to be there. 
Since its founding as an Episcopal School—one open to students of all faiths and students of no faith at all—Grace Church School has believed that it is central to our mission to, as Robbie Pennoyer said the other day to a reporter, “recognize the dignity and worth common to humanity. That is what leads us to promote values like kindness and respect, to urge our students (and our adults!) to treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated.” We hold to that traditional value, and we strive to use language to promote politeness, dignity and respect.

We have taught our students to use language thoughtfully from day one. It is why we require students to use honorifics such as Mr., Ms., or Dr. when talking with adults in this community. It is as basic as saying “please and thank you.” It is why our vacations are denominated by the seasons and not the Christian holidays that fall within them. Not every student at Grace has two living parents; that is one reason why we encourage teachers to use language that does not presume that all of their students do. 

We know that policing language demonstrates more concern for getting a community to use the right words than for cultivating a sense of belonging for its members. That is not how we do things at Grace, and that is why our Inclusive Language Guide does not ban any words. At Grace we understand the power of language both to include and to cause alienation. We also know that it is our job to give community members resources to allow them to make informed and generous choices.
 
The Inclusive Language Guide at issue in the press, which we shared with you this fall, comes from that place in our hearts and mission. It is designed to help the adults in the community find words to affirm and unite. One lesson I learned a few years ago is that I should never assume the familial relationship between any student and the adult that is with them. I was embarrassed, to say the least, when I once presumed that two adults with an applicant were his grandparents. (They were not.) Offense was caused that could have easily been avoided. I now carefully use “your adults” or “grown-ups” with individuals whenever I am not 100% positive about their family make-up and always with groups and classes. That is the spirit of the guide, to give us all words to use that will bring people together.
 
So if the boorish “cancel culture” press wants to condemn us a newly dubbed “Woke Noho” school of politeness, dignity and respect, then I embrace it, and I hope you will too.
 
George P. Davison
Head of School
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Grace Church School is a co-educational independent school in downtown Manhattan, New York City providing instruction for over 700 students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12.