Mr. Capron's unanticipated absence has sparked much surprise, curiosity, and nostalgia from our community. I am sure, by now, that his disappearance has been noted by each one of us. Those of us who have had him as a teacher, and those of us who had just begun to experience one of his classes; those of us who have come to know and grow close to him, and those of us who have come to rely on his trust, his patience, and his wisdom to touch the beam of light we had never known to exist; those of us who have witnessed his rich, effervescent spirit bouncing off the walls of the chapel and pouring into the minds and the bodies of the rejuvenated students, actors, and audience members; those of us who have felt and breathed his warm presence, who have melted in the compassion and the sincerity of his heartfelt hugs, who have regarded him as an inspiring mentor, an honorable colleague, a devoted friend, and those of us who have just heard the stories of his glorious, indelible legacy, have each faced a certain degree of hollowness. I know that the members of our community who have not had the privilege of experiencing the radiance of our Uncle Bear have still noticed the sudden evaporation of his warmth and goodness. If this is not the sign of the fineness of a human being, then what is?
During my first year at Castilleja, I took Mr. Capron's drama and ATA class. Entering the school as a shy freshman with not the slightest touch of self-confidence, I was overwhelmed by the seemingly superior talents and insights of my classmates, and I was convinced that their abilities would serve as a burden to me, as opposed to a source of inspiration. Then, Mr. Capron came to the rescue. The enthusiasm in his guidance, the eloquence in his opinions, and the passion in his teaching brought out in me the zestful life that had forever been longing to soar out into the world and to touch other hearts. Mr. Capron believed in the gift I had to offer, just as he believed and continues to believe in the gift of each individual with whom he crosses paths. "It's funny," he wrote to me in my ATA journal at the end of my freshman year, "because when I met you at the start of the year, I had a vivid flash forward vision of you. Somehow I've always seen you as you are now starting to see yourself." Indeed, Mr. Capron teaches us to become aware of ourselves, to share ourselves, and to love ourselves.
It is important to understand the tremendous impact Mr. Capron has made on our community through his shining and lasting presence. Students, alumnae, faculty, staff, and parents alike have gone as far as to consider their Uncle Bear as their definition of Castilleja. We must cherish the gift he has given us.
Class of 2011
Dear Ms. Lonergan,
I am writing to you regarding Mr. Capron's recent removal from the Castilleja campus.
On November 8th, you wrote to us, saying " we will be able to share more with you within a week or so." More than two weeks later, we have yet to hear anything from the administration. I understand that you are in a difficult situation, but I ask that you keep us updated as much as you can, as promised.
I have been fortunate to represent Castilleja on several occasions, from Peace Dot to the Student Diversity Leadership conference that I will be attending in Denver later this week. However, after Mr. Capron's unanticipated and unexplained disappearance, I am starting to doubt the Castilleja I thought I knew.
Please reconsider your choice in removing one of the most beloved members of this community. One of the main things I have learnt from being a student leader here, is to listen to others when they voice their opinions. Please hear our cries.
I respect you deeply and value everything you have done for the school. In that spirit, I hope you will hear me when I say that I feel strongly that there is something seriously amiss here.
Dear Board of Trustees,
Whether she has been in one of Mr. Capron's classes or not, every student has been personally affected by the presence of Mr. Capron in the Castilleja community. His generosity is widespread, and we now need to give some of that generosity back to him. Mr. Capron has the characteristics every good teacher should have. His endless patience, tolerance, creativity, and his unmatchable kindness are always apparent. He is a source of compassion for those who need it and wisdom for those in need of an opinion on an important matter, and he offers a welcoming ear to all that need to talk.
After the tragic suicides at Gunn high school, the teacher who stepped in and addressed the grief in our school was Mr. Capron. That is the sort of teacher he is. He constantly thought about the well being of the community as a whole. To think that a member of our community so dedicated to his students is no longer able to be among us is saddening.
The lack of communication between the Board of Trustees, the head of school, and the others involved in this decision is worrisome. On top of losing one of our beloved teachers I fear we are starting to lose the communication between the students and the school. Mr. Capron always bridged the gap separating the two. I know that if it was another teacher who had disappeared without word from the school as to why, Bear would have been a source of comfort to all. Mr. Capron was an amazing and inspirational teacher who helped many students find who they are and where they fit into the community -- he helped make each of us a better person. The need for the usage of the past tense in the previous sentence disheartens the whole community. We ask you to reconsider what is really right for the students and faculty of Castilleja.
Class of 2013
DARK TIMES HAVE COME TO CASTILLEJA...
When even our administrators do not uphold our founding principles: the Five C's. Where is the Courtesy, the Conscience, even the Courage in sending away one of our most beloved faculty members with nothing but a very cryptic e-mail as a weak response to the questions of students?
If we can't have Uncle Bear, we demand a decent explanation as to why he has disappeared off the face of the planet.
Castilleja 8th Grader
Dear Karen Fisher and members of the Board of Trustees; Joan Lonergan,
By now you have already heard from many concerned students and alum regarding Bear Capron. Much has been said already about his enormous popularity, so I won't belabor that point (though I happen to concur wholeheartedly.)
I came to Castilleja as a Freshman in the fall of 1958. It would be my second attempt at being a high schooler, having flunked my first freshman year magnificently at another school. My yet to be diagnosed dyslexia had stood in the way of any possible academic success and had eroded my self confidence almost beyond measure. Castilleja became my safe haven, a place where I learned about respect, honor, honesty and fortitude. In the ensuing years I have often said half jokingly that I learned to read and write at Castilleja (which well I did!!). Just as important, though, I learned something else that has put me in good stead, something that I have carried forward into my day to day life since I was that scared little girl waring a white middy blouse, green tie, navy blue skirt and saddle shoes: Conscience. Courtesy. Courage. Charity. Character. The Five C's.
Because the situation with Bear Capron has been kept under wraps since he apparently and rather mysteriously disappeared from campus a few weeks ago, I only know what I have read and heard from others. Perhaps there is more to the story than I personally know; however, what I do "know", if valid, is very disturbing. It seems as though there has yet to be a process that has exercised true justice and due process in evaluating the situation. Surely that will happen...won't it?!
Castilleja is a unique school, a wonderful community made up of decades of students, faculty and staff. In talking with other people, I have come to realize that Castilleja stands head and shoulders above any other secondary school (colleges and universities as well) in this regard. There is a family, a huge clan of "us Casti girls" who were fortunate enough to have been steeped in some time-honored traditions that have made us proud members of this special group.
We've earned that title. We've worked hard for it. We demand a lot of ourselves, just as we demand a lot from others. We demand that we do the right thing, even when its not always "the easy way out."
And so, I ask of you, humbly and sincerely, to remember the Five C's, to do the right thing. This is not about the popularity of Bear Capron (though we've all benefited from his extraordinary being), this is about fairness and justice.
Honor Spitz, Class of '62,
Distinguished Alumna, 2000
Dear Karen Fisher, Board of Trustees and Joan Lonergan,
Two weeks ago I wrote to you, expressing my dismay, if not my sadness, regarding the apparent dismissal of Bear Capron. It pains me to have to point out that I never received an acknowledgement; I hope that you did receive the letter, (along with others that I know have been written) and that you have taken it (them) under advisement and consideration.
Because so much time has now elapsed since Bear disappeared from campus, and because there has been no word about his status, I am compelled to write again. In my first letter I stressed the importance of "doing the right thing", of going through the exercise of due process. I haven't wavered on that most basic principle of democracy. That is a given. That is a must.
What I would like to talk about now is the unmistakable and uniquely wonderful influence that Bear Capron has had on legions of young women. In a rather short period of time I have had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting many of his former students. What impressive people they are!! What extraordinary women, each and every one of them!! Each in her own words has expressed most eloquently how they would not be the confident and poised women they are today but for Bear Capron. Please pay attention. Please listen.
Castilleja is known for its outstanding faculty; parents pay an exorbitant amount of money in order for their daughters to have exposure to the best of the best. Two decades of graduates have come piling out of the woodwork now to tell you about one of the jewels in your midst, yet you refuse to respond. Your silence speaks volumes; it speaks of cowardice and a "new Castilleja" that makes me sick at heart. Have the Five C's been abolished? Has justice vanished from our ranks? Please tell me it "ain't so."
Honor Spitz, class of '62
Distinguished Alumna 2000
Dear Board and Joan:
I have refrained from writing out of respect for the process and because I have not wanted to appear merely to jump into a feeding frenzy. But at this point I am so concerned about the fact that the situation has become very drawn out and the fact that there are attorneys involved, that whatever one might think of the initial decision (whatever that decision was, and it is impossible to have a factually-based opinion at this point) one must surely agree that everything that has proceeded from that decision has been alarming.
I am sad for the faculty and staff who don't feel they can speak out and the students and parents who fear reprisal if they protest, whether that fear is rational or imagined. It is not right that people should feel that way, or that the situation or general atmosphere has led them to feel this way. I am sad for the school, which sounds as if it is pouring money into legal resources and lost donations and pouring energy into this situation instead of going about the business of teaching and learning. The situation has distracted me as I go about my life, unconnected to the school, and I can only imagine what it is doing to the students and faculty and staff who are living with it. One's personal feelings for Bear aside, this situation per se is a humiliating blot on Castilleja's reputation and for that, too, I am sad.
I have cared passionately and actively for Castilleja since I first entered the school 31 years ago, and only increased my commitment when my sister had the same extraordinary experience there after me. It matters to me that Castilleja remain the place where I was allowed to express myself about matters of great importance without being stifled or suppressed, and where one was encouraged to grow from mistakes. That this situation has united parents, students, faculty, staff and alumnae is an extraordinary opportunity, if you can make something positive and strengthening out of it. Please take whatever steps you need to take to learn from this mistake, put Castilleja back on track, restore the faith of the entire community, and address whatever underlying issues may have led to this problem in the first place.
Natasha Moiseyev (Class of 1982)
Dear Ms. Fisher,
I am writing to you to add my voice to the many who are confused and upset by Bear Capron's largely unexplained absence from the Castilleja community. He was an integral part of my Casti experience, and I would have expected the administration to answer in some part our continued requests for an explanation. Each day that goes by without a response makes me more uncomfortable with the school and disappointed in the current administration. As an alumna, I do not feel willing to support this policy of silence. I am saddened that a very important part of my life has taken a turn for the worse.
Any response would be much appreciated. Thank you for your time.
Heather Beckett Oakes (Class of 1993)
Dear Ms. Fisher and members of the Board of Trustees:
I graduated from Castilleja in 1993. I'm writing because I've learned that Bear Capron, one of my most influential, beloved mentors from Castilleja, has been removed from campus, without a clear explanation. This news concerns me, because I believe that a Castilleja education is only as good as its faculty, and the school's integrity is only as sound as its relationship with its community, including alumnae. Without Bear, students will be deprived of a unique, seasoned, deeply nurturing teacher and mentor. Without open communication about what led to Bear's removal--including an objective review and perhaps a reversal of that decision--concerned alumnae may feel, at best, disconnected from the school, and, at worst, disaffected. I believe this situation provides an opportunity and a responsibility to uphold Castilleja's stated values in how it treats both Bear Capron and its extended community. Handling this situation with integrity, straightforwardness, and respect is the right thing to do, and it will give concerned alumnae all the more reason to support the school going forward.
Even among Castilleja's excellent faculty, Bear Capron stands out. He approaches young people's education wholistically, with an eye to both their intellectual and their emotional growth. Bear taught me in drama classes from eighth grade through senior year, and he directed me in school plays and musicals throughout that time. He often cast me in roles that were just beyond my comfort zone--perhaps they required a little more dancing, or more lines memorized, or getting inside the mind of a character who stretched my empathy. Time and again, Bear met my self-doubt on the brink of such challenges with not just confidence that I could rise to the occasion, but with sheer excitement about the growth ahead for me. This wholehearted enthusiasm for what Castilleja students can achieve, and joy when they do so, is part of what makes Bear such an inspiring leader for Castilleja women. It is never about Bear; it is always about the students and their development into poised young women who can deliver a speech, dance a dance, appreciate a playwright's words, or empathize that much more with their fellow-human beings.
Empathy is a hallmark of Bear's deep gifts as a mentor. When I was trying to decide among colleges I had been accepted to, Bear sat down with me and listened to all of the factors I was struggling with. He never tried to influence me with his opinion. He just tried to help me hear myself more clearly, by listening carefully and treating my choice with the utmost seriousness. That kind of careful listening and attending to a young person's soul is a precious gift. When a person has given that gift so generously to so many young souls for twenty years, in my opinion, he has more than earned a careful and empathic hearing. If the school's administration is disinclined to give him one, the Board of Trustees should insist upon one.
Losing Bear from Castilleja would be sad under any circumstances. Losing him for an unjust reason would be shameful. I would ask the administration to make a full, straightforward explanation to the Castilleja community, both on campus and off. I would urge an open evaluation, and the courage to change the outcome if it was a mistake. I hope that the school's leadership demonstrates those five C's we as students learned to emulate. The alums know that Castilleja's most seasoned, beloved, long-respected teachers--of whom Bear Capron is certainly one--continue to lead with those C's. Please show us that the leadership of the school is committed to their efforts, and to those values.
Could this possibly be real? Mr. Capron is such a fundamental part of my definition of "Castilleja"it seems unfathomable to me that the school could exist without him. As many other alums have expressed, Mr. Capron's leadership and guidance were crucial to my learning process and development during those delicate... highschool years. Even among the many superb teachers at Castilleja from 1991-1997 (names like Mrs. Barker, Ms. Pietrzyk, Mr. Smoot, Ms. Melmon, Mrs. McKee, Mr. Shaffer, and Ms. Lewis come to mind) Mr. Capron stands out in my memory. The impact of his lessons come to the forefront at the most unexpected moments. Who knew that it would be my drama teacher's guidance that would be the most useful to me as a physicist? Standing before a room of colleagues, the ability to engage my audience and communicate any new discoveries is essential, yet so few of us scientists can do those things. I truly believe that a lot of my success as a scientist is thanks to his training. The point is: all future Casti students would stand to benefit from his continued presence, not just those destined for theatre.
Class of 1997
Bear Capron is a wonderful, caring, insightful teacher. He always encourages discourse and self-expression in a respectful, caring, and accepting environment. His teaching and presence at Castilleja was a huge reason I feel I was able to navigate the difficulties of adolescence and high school life. It saddens me that...the other students to follow my years at Casti could be so short-changed to not have his wisdom, guidance and support at their side.
Class of 1997
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
If what I hear regarding the dismissal of Bear Capron is true, then it seems to me that Castilleja is in desperate need of a value-check. Conscience is the first of the Five C's. It is unconscionable to fire a beloved teacher after decades of service and force him from his life's work under an undeserved cloud of suspicion. Terminating Mr. Capron's employment is a disservice to current and future students and sets a poor example for how to repay loyalty, passion, and creativity.
I did not take more than a handful of classes from Mr. Capron. But anyone who has ever interacted with him cannot help but feel the caring and inspiration that he radiates. Through drama, he helped some of my classmates find their voices. His lessons about confidence in the spotlight and voice projection have stuck with me all these years and served me well in law school.
I owe the wonderful education I received at Castilleja, which propelled me to Yale, Oxford, and Stanford Law School, to the teachers: educators like Mr. Capron, Mr. Wong, who gave me confidence in math, and Magistra Criswell, whose Latin program instilled in me a lifelong reverence for history and language. The teachers are the foundation of the school, perpetuating its spirit and institutional memory from class to class. It pains me to think that they could be so little valued by the administration.
The best education is not one that shelters its students from all realities (like, god forbid, nudity), but one that challenges them to think critically about the world around them and to act courageously. That is what teachers like Mr. Capron gave me.
I urge the Board to do the right thingnot the easiest thingand fight for Mr. Capron.
Class of 2002
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
I am writing to voice my concern about the abrupt and disturbing disappearance of Bear Capron from the Castilleja community. I write as a Castilleja 2002 graduate and as a participant in countless of Mr. Capron's classes, plays, and musicals.
The first play I participated in at Castilleja was "The Big Beach," written and directed by Mr. Capron specifically for our sixth grade class. At the time, I did not fully understand the existentialist message of the play; we chiefly enjoyed it for the humorous dialogue and fun costumes. However, as I grew up, the thoughtful dialogue of the play resonated with me at deeper levels. Similarly, Mr. Capron's teaching has been meaningful to me at different stages of my life. As a shy middle schooler, drama class with Mr. Capron gave me the confidence onstage that I did not have otherwise. Now, in my work in foreign policy where I deal with people from many different cultures, I use the public speaking and communication skills that Mr. Capron taught me every day.
No other school I have ever visited, public or private, has such a comprehensive and professional drama program, and that is entirely due to Mr. Capron's vision. Perhaps, since we have had Mr. Capron here with us so long, we Castillejans do not realize how truly fortunate we are that he has chosen to devote his life's work these past twenty years to the education of countless girls at our school. It pains me to think that future generations of Castilleja students might be deprived of Mr. Capron's expert teaching and guidance.
I understand that as a private school, Castilleja is not bound by any set rules and that its administration can chart its course as they see fit. However, as a private school, Castilleja's existence is also built entirely on its mission, values, and vision for the future. Today, with the opacity surrounding Bear Capron's absence, these hallmarks ring hollow to me.
A significant opportunity lies in your hands. If you communicate with the Castilleja community in a thoughtful, open way about the reason for Mr. Capron's abrupt disappearance and treat him with the respect that his longstanding devotion to Castilleja undoubtedly deserves, you have the opportunity to heal the rift developing between the administration and the wider school community concerning Mr. Capron's absence. Castilleja is, in the end, a small community, and just as one event can divide this community in half, so can positive action on your part bring the school together. Dialogue and transparency can make us closer as a community of students, alumni, parents, and faculty. All of us who have known Bear Capron deserve this.
This is truly a critical juncture in Castilleja's history, and I hope you will take the higher road.
Lilian Haney, Class of 2002
Dear Ms. Fisher and Castilleja Board of Trustees,
As a Castilleja alumna, I am concerned and deeply saddened to hear that Bear Capron has suddenly disappeared from the campus. I am writing to you, as well as to Ms. Lonergan and Mr. Blair, to voice my wholehearted support for Bear and to urge the school to live up to its duty to him and to the community. Bear was central to all of my seven years at Castilleja. An inventive, creative and inspiring teacher, he comforted us regularly and made us laugh every day. We learned by his example to fight for what we believed in and to bear grief with strength and grace. In his plays, I learned to be truly present and honest throughout both mind and body, and to present that deepened consciousness through each word and action on the stage. I carried Mr. Capron's lessons with me beyond the Circle to my theatrical work at Yale; now, as an English and creative writing teacher, I know I am partly indebted to Mr. Capron for my ability to bring passion and creative energy to my own classroom. During my time at Castilleja, I began to find myself; Bear was an important and beloved figure in that discovery. When I visited campus two years ago to attend the Opening Day ceremony, it was the sound of Bear's sweet and booming voice singing "Growing wild upon the hillside..." that brought tears to my eyes. The fact that he has apparently been torn from campusfrom his students and from his workis both a tragedy and an outrage.
While I cannot know the full circumstances surrounding Bear's departure, the lack of explanation or even acknowledgement on the part of the administration has raised strong doubtsin the minds of current students as well as alumnae and parentsas to whether or not the school is acting justly. I wholeheartedly doubt that this secrecy is Bear's choice. Instead, it seems that the administration will neither grant him the right to speak nor come forward openly to provide their own account of what has happened. Although I understand that there may be a legal reason for withholding certain information, the administration's complete silence presents a face of indifference to the rest of the community. This is a frightening image, both in the lack of courtesy and fairness in the school's conduct towards an employee and in the total absence of transparency in communicating with students, parents and alumnae. That Mr. Capron is a beloved veteran teacher only makes the situation more difficult to believe.
I fervently hope that the recent events are only a brief, though grave, mistake. I look forward to Bear Capron's immediate return to campus with a full apology from the administration and a clear explanation for his absence. The Castilleja community, near and far from campus, has come together to support Mr. Capron and to do all we can for him; I know that we will come together with even greater spirit to welcome him back to campus and celebrate a school that will be whole again when he returns.
Class of 2004
Dear Ms. Fisher and Castilleja Board of Trustees,
I am writing a second letter in support of Bear Capron because I would like to address specifically the apparent reason for his dismissal. Bear has not discussed his conversations with the administration or the reasons for his absence. However, the community at large believes that he was fired in connection to the screening of a short film, "Cashback" (2004), which made one student uncomfortable and which was deemed inappropriate because it contained female nudity (though no sex scenes). "Cashback" won numerous prizes and was nominated for an Academy Award in the shorts section.
If Mr. Capron's dismissal was connected to this film, I am deeply concerned about Castilleja's priorities. If the film made a student uncomfortable, the case is not new: we watched many upsetting films in history classes, but their educational value clearly outweighed any emotional distress. Furthermore, individual students can always resolve these situations with their teachers. Did the administration somehow consider the film so inappropriatedespite its critical acclaimthat they had doubts about Bear's character? Surely his twenty-year record at Castilleja, and the glowing words and fierce loyalty of his students throughout those years, have greater weight than the screening of one movie.
Most importantly, it is startling to me that Castilleja would consider its students so fragile and innocent that they would need such a strictand brutalshield from sexual images. (The traditional screening of classic movies like Europa, Europa suggests that this is not a general policy, and I do not want to see it become one.) Surely Castilleja women are capable of seeing beyond any suggestive content, of recognizing the artistic and educational point being made, of discussing the material intellectually. This should be all the more obvious when the film in question is of recognized artistic value. If Castilleja students are taught that images that embarrass them cannot be looked at for art's sake, they will be ill prepared to decide on their own terms what merits, flaws and messages the work containsand thus ill prepared for college and for the rest of life beyond the Circle.
Castilleja pledges to instill in its young women the intellectual and moral honesty to find and speak truth. I cannot see how dismissing a valued, excellent teacher without providing clear and just cause is consistent with this mission. Castilleja is sending an unambiguous message about what kind of person the school valuesand, by extension, what kind of people its students should aspire to be. Are we to understand that the women Castilleja hopes to shape are not women who pour heart and soul into their jobs; not women of compassion and incredible creative spark; not women who inspire others to fight for what they believe inbut women who worry more about propriety than about intellectual growth? Women who play it safe?
I hope with all my heart that Castilleja will firmly refuse to send such a message.
Class of 2004
Dear Ms. Fisher and Castilleja Board of Trustees:
This is what I cherish in my memories of Castilleja: warm Tuesday afternoons on the circle, lolling about in semi-uniform as we ate snack and prepared for rehearsal of the fall plays Mr. Capron selected and directed; cold mornings walking into Mr. Capron's drama class in the Chapel Theater knowing that, while the cavernous stage might be chilly, the atmosphere would be cozy; the close teacher-student relationship he cultivated with me, and the space he gave me to explore the jungle of Theater—
Mr. Capron welcomed me to Castilleja at an open house after I was accepted to the school. Mr. Capron sent me on my way at graduation with a wonderful speech and farewell gift. Mr. Capron provided an anchor for me throughout my time at Casti. Now, five years and a Stanford diploma later, I regularly find myself returning to the knowledge I gained from him. Stories of his performances in Amsterdam set fires in my brain, and have become touchstones in my own creative work. He expanded my definition of performance, and set me on the path I now follow as a theater professional.
Could Mr. Capron really have disappeared from Castilleja? Or, to rephrase: doesn't Castilleja disappear without Mr. Capron? Were he sick, the school would rally around him. Had he decided to leave, he would have told his students, and the school would mourn his loss. I know he isn't sick, and I know he hasn't spoken to his students. The silence surrounding this situation leaves me with only one conclusion: Mr. Capron is being prevented from doing his job. The Castilleja I knew and loved was a community of mutual respect, a community which was open and welcoming—that is to say, a community with an ethos embodied by Bear Capron. Now I think perhaps that Castilleja was a mirage. It is melting away in my memories, and behind it I see its antithesis. Now I see an institution in which beloved teachers disappear, in which the students must start a facebook group in order to gain even a non-explanation from the administration. I hope that my perception is wrong, that this is only a temporary disruption, that Mr. Capron (and with him, my ideal of Castilleja) will return to the campus at 1310 Bryant Street.
If my perception is right, I will mourn the disappearance of the school I once loved.
I opened my makeup box as I prepared to go onstage last night, and one of the pieces of confetti which came in my acceptance letter from Casti fell out. I keep good-luck tokens and souvenirs of happy memories in my box to calm myself before performances, and that confetti was one of the first things I put into it. I went to put the fallen piece back in my box, hesitated, and left it lying on my dressing room table. I am asking, for my own sake, for the sake of other women like me (both current students and alums): give me a reason to put that piece of confetti back in its rightful place. Return Bear Capron to the classroom, and tell us openly what happened to take him out of it and why.
Class of 2004
To Ms. Lonergan, Ms. Fisher, and the Board of Trustees,
As a concerned member of the Castilleja community, I am writing to voice my support of Bear Capron and request that the matter of his employment, at the very least, be given further consideration by the full Board. Though I am without a full account of the details surrounding his departure, I nonetheless urge you to consider his immeasurable contributions to the school and his tremendous importance to his students. Bear is a cornerstone of the Castilleja community and embodies the spirit of the school more fully than anyone else within its walls. He is irreplacable, in the most literal sense of the word.
Of all the uncommonly dedicated Castilleja faculty, I know of no one more selfless with his time, energy, and love than Bear Capron. His students, simply put, are his life. While a skilled director, able to guide us to productions in which we could take genuine pride, his most profound impact was creating an atmosphere in which all students felt accepted and at home, with themselves and with others. In a campus full of demands and obligations, Bear's classroom was an oasis. At an age where so many of us were uncomfortable with ourselves, Bear allowed us to come as we were, without judgment or expectation. It is hard to articulate just how much that can mean to a young girl. It was his steady presence and support that helped us to get through each day.
As a shy sixth grader, "Uncle Bear" let me be a child awhile longer. As a self-conscious eighth grader, he taught me that I could have voice and power on the stage. And through the most difficult moments of high school, he left his door open. No teacher was more of an anchor than he--not only for me, but for nearly every student who passed across his stage.
Bear's impact was as wide-ranging as it was profound. He knew the name and face of every girl at Castilleja. Whether or not a student ended up in the theater community, Bear went out of his way to extend himself--a goofy smile for every middle schooler, a warm embrace for every anxious senior. Any number of Castilleja teachers gave more of themselves than might be expected. But none of them loved us as deeply as Bear Capron. There's simply no other word. His girls meant everything to him, and he loved what the school did for us--gave us a home, a place to learn about ourselves and the world around us. He loved Castilleja with all his heart, and no one who encountered Bear could fail to recognize how big that heart is.
It would be impossible to replace a man who has single-handedly given 20 years (and 26 classes) of students a voice on the stage, a place at Castilleja, and a part of his spirit.
His impact can be seen in the tremendous recent outpouring of support. While an online Facebook page is hardly a forum for sophisticated discourse, the comments that have emerged, from current students, parents, and alumnae nearly 15 years graduated, have been extremely telling of the community response.
Now six years graduated, I understand more with each passing day just how tremendously lucky I was to call Castilleja my home for seven years. Its atmosphere of acceptance and respect, its dedication to rigorous, forward-thinking education, and its love and respect for all students are all rare, tremendously valuable qualities--and all embodied in Bear Capron.
The Castilleja I love and value is one in which talent and character are valued, differences are respected, and decisions are made with the best interests of the students in mind. In keeping with these principles, I ask that, at the very least, the Board take the chance to consider whether removing Bear Capron from Castilleja is a decision that best serves its students. A beloved teacher of twenty years is owed that much.
A Circle without Bear, in my mind and the minds of countless students, parents, staff, and alumnae, is a Circle that has lost a part of its spirit. I am saddened by the thought of Castilleja without Bear Capron and urge the Board to reconsider this decision.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
To Ms. Fisher, Ms. Lonergan and the Board of Trustees,
When I wrote last week to express my support of Bear Capron, I addressed only those facts that were indisputable: that Bear had disappeared from Castilleja; that throughout his career, he had been a tremendous asset to the school and a beloved friend and mentor to me and thousands of other students; and that the administration had not come forward with an explanation.
It was a Castilleja education that taught me to ignore speculation in favor of hard evidence. I feel somewhat uncomfortable writing from a position of uncertainty and genuinely wish I were better informed. However, the story that our community has been forced to cobble together in the absence of any word from the administration troubles me so deeply that I feel compelled to address it.
The situation, as I understand it, is as follows: Bear showed an Academy Award-nominated short film, "Cashback," to his freshman film class; a complaint was voiced; Bear was dismissed.
Should this be accurate--indeed, should this be even partially accurate--it strikes at the heart of everything that I believe Castilleja stands for.
It is the right of any student (or parent) to question the propriety of what goes on in a classroom; indeed, such opinions allow an opportunity for valuable discourse. Perhaps such a complaint would result in a dialogue concerning the role of controversy in art, or the age at which certain materials should be introduced. Perhaps--though, given the situation, I believe even this unwarranted--an apology might be called for, or a reworking of the curriculum. To dismiss a long-cherished faculty member, whose character is all but unimpeachable, whose dedication is simply incontestable, hardly seems a logical response.
But after taking a moment this week to watch the film in question, I sat through the closing credits stunned into silence. I could only think back to my fourteen-year-old self-- and imagined telling that girl she shouldn't be watching the movie I'd just seen.
She would have laughed, at first. But then she would have grown offended. The entirety of the case against this film, as I see it, would be in the nudity shown; the film itself makes clear that these unclothed figures fall into a larger artistic tradition. (Lest we forget, nudes have hung on the walls of galleries and universities and museums for millennia.) But the notion that a high school student couldn't handle those images, that there was something in that film so odious as to upset or confuse or somehow tarnish her, that the naked body itself is so offensive as to require students be protected from it, seems a position more suited to a mid-century finishing school than our 21st century institution of learning.
To suggest that Castilleja students should be sheltered from such an innocuous film not only insults their maturity, but implies something downright alarming as to the school's priorities. The Castilleja I remember is one that encouraged girls to approach difficult material, evaluate it, and understand it--not shy away from anything that might make them uncomfortable. What distinguishes Castilleja girls is their willingness to take on challenges, intellectual, moral, artistic, or otherwise. (Though with that said, from this alumna's perspective, the film in question could hardly be classified as "challenging"). There is something almost comical about attempting to shield near-adult young women from the naked female form--something that would be comical, rather, were it not so troubling.
What sort of message does this send to the community?
To a student, that she cannot be trusted with films or images that might prove in any way upsetting; that the human body cannot be considered an acceptable art form; that her opinion as to what is appropriate course material, and what is not, holds no weight; that her connection with a beloved teacher is so unimportant as to be severed without notice or recourse or explanation.
To alumnae, that their memories of the school as a place of open discourse, reasoned justice, and intellectual growth no longer hold true; that their concerned voices matter little to the administration; that a radical shift in values has occurred.
And to faculty, that curriculae must be airtight against any possible complaint; that a single misstep in decades of devoted service could be grounds for dismissal; that lesson plans should be crafted, first and foremost, with an eye towards not causing offense.
When I first heard of this situation, my primary concern was for Bear and the students deprived of his presence; the more I reflect on the situation, however, the more gravely concerned I become for Castilleja itself.
The strength and singularity of the Castilleja community has emerged more clearly than ever in the wake of Bear's absence. At what other school would six decades of women, from the 1960s through the 2010s, maintain such an active interest in the workings of their high school? At what other school would alumnae who haven't visited the campus in years write to share their recollections of sixth-grade skits, or unforgettable classes, or teachers still in their hearts?
The Castilleja we value is one of superlative faculty and a genuine community. In which we felt respected, in which our opinions were valued, in which the school valued its devoted teachers and their contributions just as much as we did. This is why we still care. This is why Castilleja will never leave us. But sadly, this vision of the school has been challenged in recent weeks.
It seems to me that Castilleja has reached a crossroads.
Do we value devoted teachers, or those who toe the line? Daring intellectual exploration, or safe and inoffensive pedagogy? Open dialogue, or speculation, rumor, and distrust? A supportive community, or a fearful one?
The last three weeks have thrown into question everything I believed that Castilleja stood for. I am saddened to say that the school I have seen in recent days is no longer one I am inclined to support, vocally, financially, or otherwise. I fervently hope that the Board of Trustees will regard this situation, as does the wider community, as one of dire importance--not only for the man who has given so much to this school, but for an institution that has always been built around honesty, openness, and intellectual growth. Castilleja is only as great as the actions it condones.
Class of 2004
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees:
Recently, I was reminded of the final scene from Balzac's novel Père Goriot. The young Rastignac stands at the apex of a Parisian graveyard and looks out over the city, whose lamps are shining from across the Seine, as he wipes childhood's final tears from his eyes. "When such tears fall on earth, their radiance reaches heaven," writes Balzac of the bittersweet crossing into adulthood.
For the lucky among us, education represents a permanent reckoningthe moment we stand and look out over a past life and realize that we cannot return, that what we have learned has changed us for good. Education is about wisdom and maturation, and the true student, like Balzac's hero, must stand periodically at the precipice and take stock.
I remember Castilleja, fondly, as that precipice. Tears were shed, most often over rough drafts of essays and into midnight cups of tea. And I was, at times, made uncomfortable by what I learned, both about the world and about myself. But I would not change a thing about my Castilleja education, an education for which I grow more and more thankful each year. And in my catalog of cherished Casti memories, I can only find a handful that do not involve Mr. Capron.
My best memories are not necessarily my happiest, but are often of my most painful epiphanies. I remember staring down failure and disease at an audition and feeling bested; but most of all, I remember Mr. Capron's eternal kindness and empathy as he urged me to find beauty and meaning in even the most bewildering of circumstances. I remember feeling overwhelmed by work and impotent in the world, and then returning to the chapel stage for rehearsal of the Fall Play or Spring Musical and feeling, for those two irreplaceable hours, an uncanny power and liberation under the guidance of Mr. Capron. It is the purpose of art to sometimes beckon us toward the strange and the terrifying, and Mr. Capron often gave us encouraging nudges toward that outstretched hand, but he never did so without providing a safe place to which we could return.
I urge you to stand at this precipice and take stock of what is being lost. For me, and for the thousands of students past and present who love Mr. Capron, to find that he has been dismissed and not to know the reason is both confusing and heartbreaking. It is a rude awakening to find that such a thing could happen at my beloved Castilleja, and one that is inconsistent with my memories of a school that trusted its students to confront new and disquieting experiences with poise and maturity, and its teachers to act in the best interests of those students.
I ask that the administration reconsider its decision to dismiss Mr. Capron, lest Castilleja's formidable peak be eroded further.
Class of 2004
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
The outpouring of concern and outrage that has occurred within the past few days among the many alums and current students concerned over the situation with Bear Capron astounds me. If the students' affection for Mr. Capron has ever been in doubt, that doubt should be obliterated by now. The stories of Mr. Capron's love and support have allowed me to remember the many times that he encouraged me and pushed me to become better than I knew I could be. From an excited, drama-loving sixth grader to the self-aware and confident senior that Castilleja helped me to become, Mr. Capron played an integral role as teacher, mentor and friend. For this reason, I object to the abrupt way that Mr. Capron was removed from Castilleja and the blatant disrespect that the school has paid its students and alums in failing to inform them about the reasons and circumstances surrounding his disappearance.
At this point I am regrettably only knowledgeable of a part of the story regarding Mr. Capron's disappearance from the Circle. Nevertheless, the fact that Castilleja's students must resort to grounded speculation to make sense of the situation speaks volumes to the way it has been mishandled. As far as I can tell, and as other students' letters have also supposed, Mr. Capron has been dismissed from his position as a result of showing a short film including material that made a student (or students) uncomfortable. As a young woman having substantial interest in youth empowerment and also in mediation, I cannot connect the incident of the film with the immediate dismissal of a beloved teacher from a position he has held for more than twenty years. A situation such as this should be an opportunity to reevaluate Castilleja's role in educating its students as well as facilitate communication between and among those who viewed the film. It is inappropriate for a school so dedicated to teaching and mentoring girls in becoming articulate and confident young women to stifle the potential for dialogue inherent in a situation such as this. Of course, the school has obligations to its students and also to those students' families. The campus includes a broad age range of young women and must accommodate students and families with very different values. If a student or her family were uncomfortable with something that the student encountered at school, this clearly would be grounds for an examination of both the school's mission and the student's comfort at attending Castilleja. It could also be grounds for a reevaluation of a faculty or staff member's fit with the school's mission. The problem I see here is that the transparency of such a dialoguesurrounding the school, the student's attendance at school, and the teacher's fithas been suppressed.
The students do not deserve the disrespect of not knowing what has happened to a beloved teacher. Mr. Capron does not deserve an immediate and unexplained dismissal from a position to which he has dedicated himself wholeheartedly. Furthermoreand this is perhaps the root of my discomfort with the whole situationMr. Capron has been a teacher at Castilleja for many years. During those years, Castilleja has graduated the most intelligent, savvy, discerning, and creative young women I have ever met. Mr. Capron has mentored many of these young women and in my mind is at the center of Castilleja's mission. If Castilleja has determined that Mr. Capron no longer belongs at the school, I am forced to ask: what has changed, and is that change really beneficial to the students? I know that the teachers who have challenged me and forced me to grow the most have been the ones that confront the ideas I put forward and ask me to explain my convictions. They are also the ones who, after confronting my assumptions, invite me into their offices for tea. Learning and growth certainly benefit from loving and supportive teachers, but even more from teachers who treat students as fellow thinkers, not as children. Mr. Capron has always seen his students as capable, mature young women, and his treatment of them as such is one of the reasons Castilleja produces such outstanding graduates.
I have been both challenged and supported by many teachers at Castilleja, including Mr. Capron. Before going on stage for my Founder's Day speech in 2007, he told me: "What are you worried about? You're a Castilleja girl!" I would not be that Castilleja girl if not for him, and I will not view Castilleja with the same respect given the treatment afforded my beloved mentor. Please reconsider the way that the school handled this situation, and give the students back one of the best teachers Castilleja has been honored to employ.
Class of 2007
Dear Mr. Blair:
I am writing you this evening to express my concern over the lastest important decision the administration has made, regarding the sudden disappearance of Mr. Capron from the Castilleja campus. I do not claim to know all the facts behind the current state of affairs, as I understand for legal and privacy reasons, they must be kept personal. I also do not officially know, nor has anyone explicitly told me, that Mr. Capron has been dismissed. You more than anyone understand, however, that current and former Castilleja students are generally intelligent, and, given that Mr. Capron appears to be in good health, and with no obvious cause for his sudden departure, permit me to make the assumption that he has, indeed, been dismissed from employment.
For better or for worse, I believe I understand more that a lot of current and former students who have begun raising questions about the issue (I am sure that you are more than aware of the firestorm that has evolved in the last week or so), the delicacy that must be taken when considering issues of employment (the result of having a labor and employment attorney as a father, who used to discuss business at the dinner table). I am aware of the difficult position in which the school finds itself, and that it feels justified in the decisions that it has made as of late.
My main concern, however, more than what was done, or why, is the long-term consequences that these recent actions will have on the overall educational and experiential quality of the school. During my time at Castilleja, I participated every year in the fall play, and fulfilled my arts requirement by taking drama classes from Mr. Capron. While I was never and will never be the next Meryl Streep, I felt I learned so much from Mr. Capron, not only about drama and the theatre world, but about myself, which is perhaps even more important. I learned a confidence and self-presence, and really, a personal responsibility, which I might not have otherwise found. I also observed him with other students, especially those very heavily involved with theatre. He connects with students on a deep and personal level that is very rarely seen in an educator, and which I believe is integral to the learning process. Furthermore, the quality of productions he produces, through his skill as a director, is almost without parallel at the high school level. I currently attend Northwestern University, which is renowned for its theatre program. And, I must say, that many of Mr. Capron's productions would fit quite well into the caliber of theatre found at Northwestern.
Thus, what concerns me the most is that the school is in the process of making a decision that will ultimately reduce its effectiveness as a learning institution. What concerns me ever the more, is that this is not the first time that this has happened. Last year the school attempted to unilaterally do away with the Latin program. That issue, obviously, has since been resolved, and thus I have no need to go into it now, expect to say that I see here the same sort of short-sighted decision making that is coming into play again with Mr. Capron. I feel that these two issues point to a trend where, as of late, the administration of the school is making broad decisions of change, without considering fully what the long-term implications of these decisions might be. This is to say, not considering how the academic program will be affected.
I believe that, during my four years at Castilleja, I received an education, on many levels, that was of a premiere quality, which in many ways rivals the education I am now getting at university. Thus, it pains me to see the school making decisions that might reduce that level of excellence for the next generation of students. As an alum, I feel it is my responsibility and duty to make sure that the academic integrity of the school remains in-tact into the future. Thus, it is for this reason above all others that I urge you, as Dean of Students, to urge the administration, and whoever was involved with the decision, to take another look at the matter, and to seriously consider whether whatever brought about the current course of action, was indeed serious enough to warrant such a huge and I would argue devastating change in the Castilleja community. I can guarantee you that you will be hard-pressed to find another educator that possesses Mr. Capron's level of expertise and knowledge, along with his unique rapport with his students. I also urge you to take a look at the direction that the school has been taking lately, at why the administration has suddenly and rather bluntly felt the necessity to make such polarizing decisions. In the wake of these actions taken by the administration, and the resulting community (students, parents, alum) backlash, I believe it would behoove the school to examine whether its interests are still in touch with the student's interests, as well as the fundamental goal of academic excellence.
Again, I completely understand the extreme care that these matters must take, and am fully aware that there is much I do not know about the exact circumstances. Still, if you wish to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me at: [address removed]. Please know that I really only have the best interests of the school and its current students at heart, and am simply concerned that the school's present course of action, with this and similar decisions, are and have been unfortunately short-sighted. My only concern is to preserve the integrity and excellence of a school I came to love and value very highly for the education and experience it gives to its students.
Class of 2007
To Karen Fisher and the Castilleja Board of Trustees:
Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to the board for sustaining a school that has provided me with the most rewarding education a young woman can receive. Castilleja, you have truly given me unparalleled opportunities. I was able to go on an unforgettable trip to India my junior yearthe best experience I have ever had abroad. I was able to sit in the presence of such individuals as Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, Mohammed Yunus, and Jill Bolte Taylor, whom I was given the utmost privilege of introducing. I've been blessed with the most unique and innovative set of classes and electives that I can imagine. I have been surrounded by brilliant educators, and even more importantly, students, who have motivated me to spread my existence into as many corners of this world as possible. I have been given all this, and I can't even begin to thank you enough.
However, these unmatched academic experiences pale in comparison to one thingthe growth that I have experienced in every part of my being under the mentorship of Bear Capron. You can add as many global trips and seminars to the curriculum as you want, invite as many renowned speakers as you possibly cannothing has fostered my development into a confident young woman as much as the guidance of Bear Capron.
Walking into the theatre for an afternoon rehearsal after a day of classes feels like coming back to yourself. In the presence of Bear Capron, you find your own passion, your own soul. Each of your limbs, your movements, your lines, your soundsthey all suddenly belong to you. You have returned to your home. Bear Capron taught me how to find my presence, both on the stage, and in my own life. He sat with me and showed me how to know myself through the characters I portrayed. He was there when I cried over silly boy problems, and he was there when I cried because my mother had become ill. He was there to understand me when other teachers brushed me off as a rebel, or a "spaz." He was there to bring me back to myself when I had lost my sense of identity. He was there on the global trips India to enhance the educational experience of traveling abroad. He was there as my advisor to treat me as an equal, as a friend, but simultaneously to impart upon me his unwavering wisdom. When my political views were attacked by most of Castilleja campus (including teachers), he was there to support me in voicing my opinioneven though he disagreed with it. He was there to help me make my college decisions. He was there to repair my friendships. He was there to have coffee the day before I left for college, allowing me to depart with only my most cherished memories of home in mind. Give me another example of one teacher who has done a fraction of this for any of his/her students.
We alums have all heard the rumors, regardless of the lack of information distributed to us. We are aware of the apparent reason for Bear Capron's dismissal. Many students have written to you regarding thisI have seen nudity in films in at least half of my Castilleja high school classes, and I know that Cashback utilizes nudity for an artistic purpose, not one that is provocative or inappropriate. Castilleja tried to do away with Bear Capron during Lysistrata, and now again, for simply showing students a different perspectiveone that is not harmful, and moreover, one that they should not be hidden from. How is it that we are encouraged to watch historical movies about war and violence, but punished for viewing humanity in a way that is arresting, peaceful, and beautiful? In the past few weeks, students have gone home sick because they are at a loss for what to do without their Uncle Bear. Girls in the play have called me in complete distress because their most valuable educator, mentor, and friend has disappeared with little or no explanation.>/p>
Castilleja, it is not too late to undo what has been done. If the administration upholds this decision and its supposed underlying reasons, Castilleja will be remembered by its alums, faculty, and students as a school which rejected emotional and intellectual growth. It will be a school which is remembered for instilling in its students a great talent for Calculus and English Grammar. It will not be remembered for all that I once valued from itthe unique ability of teachers like Bear Capron, who were able to know and separate each student as an individual, and to encourage, rather than hide from us, our ability to question the status quo; teachers like Bear Capron, who allowed us to grow into powerful young women who would be capable of truly knowing themselves and knowing the world.
The administration surely believes that it "knows best" when it comes to the students at Castilleja, much as parents may think about their own children. However, Castilleja must come to grips with the fact that we aren't children. With the education we receive and the values of integrity that are instilled in us, we often know what's best for ourselves. In the past few years, Castilleja has made several abrupt decisions without involving any semblance of student input. How was the administration supposed to know the importance of Latin in the lives of the students when not even ASB was consulted in the decision-making? During my college selection process, one of my top choices was Haverford College because there were at least two students on every single administrative, decision-making council at the college. You can argue that this is because it's collegethe students must be more intelligent, mature, and equipped to make decisions. I can tell you right now that I am in college, and the girls with whom I spent my Castilleja years were more than equipped to aid in making the decisions that influence their own lives.
I greatly appreciate your time in considering what we alums have to say. Please reconsider your decision regarding the dismissal of Bear Capron. Please consider returning to Castilleja the most incredible man I have had the joy to learn from and to call my friend. Please consider returning to Castilleja its very soul.
Class of 2009
Dear Ms. Fisher,
I already sent you a letter expressing how valuable Bear Capron is to the Castilleja campus. I am writing now concerning ideas that encompass more than just one brilliant educator and mentor.
In the past few years, most students, alums, and teachers will agree that Castilleja has taken a turn for the worse. Ms. Lewis, one of the most exemplary teachers Casti has seen, left her job as an administrator, I assume for a reason. Stars such as Ms. Barker and Ms. Pietrzyk have retired or are retiring. Brilliant instructors that I cannot name for fear of endangering their jobs are considering leaving Castilleja in light of recent developments. All I can say is that Castilleja would be extremely sorry to lose them. Now Mr. Capron is gone, and his absence and lack of any contact with students has yet to be explained.
I visited Castilleja a few days ago. It's not just the students, Ms. Fisher. Faculty are terrified of their head of school. They are afraid to speak up, and they are second guessing every one of their teaching decisions over the past few years, wondering "Would that have gotten me fired if a parent complained?" Teachers don't understand why their attempts at even talking over the current situation have been thwarted. This doesn't sound like a prized institution to me. It sounds somewhat like a totalitarian regime.
We are losing everything that made Castilleja the unique, progressive, innovative institution that it isor was. The school is at a crossroads right now. If it goes through with letting Bear Capron go, it will have chosen a path towards mediocrity, a lack of integrity, and backwardness. Please think this over and grant Bear the due process he deserves.
Class of 2009
Dear Ms. Fisher and Castilleja Board of Trustees,
By now I know you have received many letters from various members of the Castilleja community regarding the mysterious dismissal of Bear Capron. I would like to add to these accounts my own personal support of Bear Capron, and a sympathetic warning to the school.
I graduated from Castilleja last year, and when I met with you, Ms. Fisher, to give input regarding my experience with the school, I felt extremely grateful for the opportunity and hopeful that the administration was taking an active interest in the opinions and experience of its students. When I described my favorite things about the school, my main praise was for the teachers. Mr. Capron epitomizes Castilleja's impressive teachers and is an integral part of what I was referring to in my personal praise. Besides providing an excellent education in the arts, Mr. Capron directly contributed to my coming out of the school a much more well-rounded and worldly student.
As my most prized mentor, Mr. Capron was a primary source of my intellectual, mental, and emotional growth over my seven years at Castilleja. I don't think I would have ever built up the confidence to audition for plays, musicals, choral performances, or any other public performance had I not been constantly encouraged by Mr. Capron. My current self-confidencethe same self-assurance which helped me thrive at my job this past summer and get through college interviewsI attribute directly to him. His talent for encouraging students through compliments and constructive criticism makes him the ideal mentorone who can act both as a fundamental supporter, and as a source of growth and improvement. He taught me the importance not only of expressing the truth and of helping people grow, but also of stepping back and of tolerating others with different viewpoints.
Of all of the wonderful teachers I had at Castilleja, I value Mr. Capron as one of my best mentors, friends, and role models. I know that my experience with Mr. Capron is characteristic of his interactions with many other students, whether they were involved in theater or not. Within my friend group, even those who were never involved in drama have related stories to me about how Mr. Capron was there for them and went out of his way to get to know and encourage them. Few have done more for Castilleja than Bear Capron.
Regarding his recent dismissal from the school, like the rest of the community, I am obviously uncertain about the exact reasoning and the situation behind his disappearance due to the lack of transparency from the administration. The most plausible explanation, however, seems to be that he was dismissed after showing a somewhat controversial film in his film class. I was immediately shocked by this possible justification, as I have heard he required permission slips for rated R movies from the parents of his students and, in addition, I've heard and know from experience that he would allow any students who felt uncomfortable with the movie to leave. As a student at Castilleja, I remember a number of times where I was shown controversial or "racy" material: reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Death in Venice, watching If..., Othello, and Germinal (while my peers watched Europa, Europa), to name a few. In my experience, the teachers chose such materials tastefully and to enhance our education, and students were of course allowed to express their discomfort; I am confident the situation with Mr. Capron was not much different.
While the silence on the administration's part has clearly caused significantand seemingly unwarranteddamage to Mr. Capron's reputation, I hope you understand the extremely negative reflection this event has had on Castilleja's overall image as well. As many of my peers have pointed out, this action in many ways undermines the administration's support of the 5 C's, and, additionally, contradicts the school motto of "Women Learning, Women Leading." By withholding I information from students, faculty, and alumna, the administration seems to grant very little respect towards our reasoning skills, maturity, and ability to understand important dilemmas that characterize various types of leadership. The only type of leadership the Castilleja administration has modeled and implicitly promoted through this event is a subtle form of totalitarianism. The very type Mr. Mitchell taught so many of us about in 10th grade; the kind characterized by the widespread fear of its members and by a suppression of knowledge.
After a proper reversal of the administrative decisions eliminating peer advising and Latin, many of my peers and I sincerely hoped that the school would recover and reconnect with its students and faculty. However, Mr. Capron's dismissal unfortunately shows this not to be the case. If Castilleja does not make significant steps towards demonstrating its connection to its studentsprimarily by reinstating Bear Capron and fully explaining the situationI fear that many students, alumna, and teachers will likewise feel they have lost their connection to Castilleja. I know I personally will feel very little inclination to endorse or support the school that I have loved for so long if I do see significant progress soon.
Please let me reiterate that I wish Castilleja the best, and I want nothing more than to continue to feel a strong connection to the school. Again though, I encourage the board and the administration to examine the feelings of its students, alumna, faculty, and larger community. You need only look to the Facebook group "WE WANT UNCLE BEAR BACK!", the website www.whereisbear.org, or your students on campus to see the detriment Bear Capron's dismissal has caused to your students and your reputation. Please resolve the confusion and pain of your community by bringing clarity to the issue and restoring Bear Capron to his rightful place at Castilleja.
Class of '09
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
I apologize for the imperfections of this letter; I want it to be perfect, polished, and precise for maximum impact - to somehow express all my sentiments and all the truth. But it is not. I have to focus; all I can do is ---
I will say my story and express my voice as I have been taught.
I graduated from Castilleja last year having first entered campus as a sixth grader - that is the year I met Bear Capron. I was one of his 60 most recently acquired "nieces." This, in fact, doesn't matter. I was going to mention how Uncle Bear opened the stage for me (for me and countless others) - how he unlocked the gates to a limitless world where I could be whatever I wanted, care for whatever character I was portraying, believe in myself, believe in my classmates and cast mates, respect others, voice my opinion -- but --------
By now I'm sure you have ample evidence of Mr. Capron's "positive" (it is too weak a word) influence - his centrality to all the students lucky enough to have learned from him, whether formally in a class, extracurricularly in a play, briefly in a senior talk rehearsal, or, most critically, as a role model and friend. All these examples - these "whether...or...or...or....or........" are insufficient -
Here, then, will be my focus. I want to share an essay I wrote for my application to Castilleja as a fifth grader. Here is my response to the last question, in which we were asked to explain which of the 5 Cs (which the prompt described were "as important today as they were when Castilleja was founded") we believed was most important in our school or community:
Although it is hard to choose which C is most important, I think courage is the most important one.
At school, it takes courage to learn because if you want to understand something, you need to ask questions. But raising your hand in a classroom takes courage. Once I asked a question to which everyone else knew the answer (or seemed to know the answer). Although I wanted to understand, I was afraid to ask because I feared that my peers would tease me later on, and that the teacher would be annoyed with me for asking and not knowing.
It also takes courage to challenge what everyone else believes and to pursue new ideas. Darwin, the famous scientist, questioned the belief that God created people. After exploring the Galapagos islands, Darwin concluded that animals and plants had evolved because of their environment over millions of years. At the time, most people, especially very religious ones, rejected his discovery. Galileo was also very courageous when he claimed that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Before him, people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, and that the Sun revolved around the Earth.
Both Darwin and Galileo believed in their ideas. They were determined to find the truth even if people hated them for their new thoughts. They dared to be different thinkers.
Sometimes, I have noticed that some people think that boys are better than girls. For instance, one time we (the girls) played basketball at school, a girls' team against a boys' team. At break time, we heard the P. E. teacher (a woman) telling the boys to "play easy on the girls" although we were just behind by one point. I felt so angry. I wish I had had the courage to stand up for the girls' team and to tell the teacher that girls can be as good as boys, in sports or other things. Anyway, we played even harder and we tied.
Again, I apologize for how disorganized my thoughts are - I will proceed nonetheless with the hope that my sincerity, at least, comes through. The first thing that strikes me as I read this letter is that, while somewhat increased maturity (for which I can, for a large part, thank my time at Castilleja) would now prevent me from audaciously summarizing such generally known concepts as Darwin's theory of natural selection and Galileo's theory of a heliocentric universe, the "point" of this letter - and that of all the letters you have been receiving so far - seems to me to be as equally well-known and appreciated. Recognition of the centrality of Bear Capron to Castilleja, of his inspirational leadership, teaching, advising, and creating - is unquestionable. How, then, is he gone? How can Castilleja exist without him? Where do the planets go when the sun is removed?
Again, again, I apologize for how dramatic this sounds - you could, after all, dismiss all our outcries as the complaints of "drama" queens (ha ha). But this would be an unforgivable insult to the man who to me represents the school I loved and love and whose best interest you are supposed to protect. It would insult the school whose values have made us learning, leading women.
Here is the real point -
It is time for courage. As I once earnestly wrote, if you want to understand something, you need to ask questions. We need to understand why - and how - a teacher can be removed without explanation or justifiable reason. By now (I hope) you must be familiar with the facts (albeit concealed at first and never officially disclosed or confirmed - this in itself is incomprehensible) of this situation.
You, the Board of Trustees, have to have the courage to question the decision that removed Bear Capron from Castilleja. They - whoever they are - have done the unquestionable; more than ever, then, must we question them.
So: I am begging you to have the courage to question, and thus understand and right the wrong that has befallen our community. Unlike the girl who "felt so angry" but remained silent eight years ago, I now have the courage to speak up when I believe something is wrong. In the past two years, I have undergone a few instances with this school that have made me question whether the 5 Cs I defended in my application are in fact "as important today as they were when Castilleja was founded in 1907." I do still believe courage to be this school's most important founding principle; without it, one may lack the nerve for charity, conscience, character, and courtesy.
I know the last paragraph had no conclusion; I feel this letter can have no conclusion. I simply have to end it. Courage and trust are very related: we believe in what we believe to be right, and we believe to be right what we believe in. Perhaps naively, I still believe in Castilleja's ability to fix the grave mistake it has made, to make it once again the Castilleja I so longed to be a part of eight years ago.
Respectfully but urgently yours,
Class of 2009
Dear Ms. Fisher,
I'm sure you can guess why I am writing to you... but I first wanted to say that I fondly remember our two chances to meet and discuss my time at Castilleja before my graduation. I truly appreciate and respect the fact that you take the time to listen to each senior class; you understand that students know first hand what makes Castilleja great and how it can be improved. So, in this letter, I ask you to do the same thing: listen to the students.
I am aware that letters and emails from concerned students, alumnae, and parents regarding the 'disappearance' of Bear Capron from campus must be bombarding your mailbox. I'm sure it is overwhelming to be the recipient of such a massive outcry, but I hope that you will hear what they have to say.
I trust that my fellow letter-writers are doing a great job of explaining why Bear Capron is such an integral part of the school, so I am not going to go into detail about all that he has done for my friends and me. I will point out, however, something that I told you in one of our meetings: the Castilleja girls that do not follow the 'castigirl' stereotype of being super confident, fast learners, and easy-'A'-getters do not get a lot of support from the school. Castilleja caters to those girls that are automatically successful and immediately fit in. Girls that are not so lucky as to quickly find their place on campus can feel alone and overwhelmed, unless they are able to find a personal mentor. Bear Capron is one of the most utilized personal mentors on campus. He is a monumental part of a too-small support system. His sage advice and loving support is not limited just to his advisees and the 'theatre girls'. Instead he generously donates himself to help any girl who feels lost, whether she is struggling with Casti's academics, hasn't found her friend niche, or hasn't stumbled upon her own identity and self-confidence yet. Bear Capron is patient, kind, encouraging, and welcoming. His hugs can make anyone feel at home on campus.
Although Bear's disappearance greatly disturbs and upsets me (I have cried multiple times), I must admit that one thing has me even more disappointed: the administration's recent way of handling decisions. After fighting to save Latin at the end of last year, I was hoping that the rash decision that almost got rid of Magister Klopacz and his Latin program was a mishandled fluke, a one-time mistake that was not soon to be repeated. However, now that secrecy and hidden intentions are again surrounding the administration as a beloved member of Castilleja is missing, I can't help but feel betrayed. Castilleja is based on the principle 'Women Learning, Women Leading,' where we are taught that we are intelligent women that are capable of making tough decisions and deciding what is right for ourselves. If this is Castilleja's mission, then why doesn't the administration trust that the students can handle being informed? Why would the school hide a decision so meaningful to its students from its students? If you can answer that question, please enlighten me, because I am at a loss. The Castilleja that I used to believe in (and hope still exists) had faith in the competence of its students and valued their opinions. So why does the administration keep hiding such important things? Didn't the Latin scandal show how much students are willing to be involved in (or at least informed of) administrative decisions?
I understand that the administration runs Castilleja, but the community of students, faculty, alumnae, and parents are what define it. The community should therefore be more involved than it currently is, for they are the ones that experience Castilleja and know it best. Hear what they have to say, because at the moment they are crying out for a fair and transparent trial. Ms. Fisher, I ask you to make sure that the decision process surrounding the disappearance of Bear Capron is handled with care and clear judgment. Trust in the character witnesses that have declared their undying support and love for Bear Capron.
Thank you for your time in reading this letter (and the many others like it).
Class of 2009
Dear Board of Trustees,
I'm writing to express my concern and disappointment over the disappearance of Mr. Capron. Although I do not know Mr. Capron as well as some of my fortunate peers do, one need not spend more than a few weeks around the Circle to understand his positive, irreplaceable influence as a teacher and mentor. I can attest to his talent as a teacher and director having seen the theatrical and artistic gems that emerge under his instruction. I can attest to his power as a mentor having always gained relief knowing that if I could not alleviate a friend's suffering (or worse, if I caused someone distress), Mr. Capron would always be around the (circular) corner -- a force of listening, Casti's very own emotional miracle maker.
I would also like to call attention to Mr. Capron's invaluable role as Castilleja's Gay Straight Alliance leader and as a role model for all students. I'll hazard a guess that I wasn't the only 14-year-old who found sexual orientation rather mind-boggling and petrifying, but from the moment I entered Castilleja as a new freshman, it was clear and comforting to know Mr. Capron's door and mind would always be open. As leader of Castilleja's GSA -- and as a confident, caring, individual who is not overly concerned with the social "norm" -- Mr. Capron holds a critical position in Castilleja's community. Each student will eventually confront issues posed by her own identity and sexual orientation, along with innumerable (perceived or real) social, familial, and self-inflicted expectations (What will my parents think if I'm just not good at math? What will my classmates think come free dress day?), and in Mr. Capron's leadership of GSA and in his graceful refusal to sacrifice personal values to appease social convention, students can find a role model.
I acknowledge the complexity and sensitivity of this issue. I do not know all the facts, but I cannot picture a situation in which replacing Mr. Capron with a shroud of silence would be best for the school, its students, its faculty, or its administration. For the past four years, Castilleja guided me as a person and student, while at the same time listening attentively to my feedback. It is out of gratitude that I wish to guide Castilleja back to its beloved drama teacher, and it is out of my gratitude that I believe my feedback, and the feedback of the concerned community, will be fully recognized and result in Mr. Capron's return to Castilleja.
Evie Pless '09
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
This is literally the 5th time I have begun this letter to you. Every time I sit down to write to you about Bear Capron, his effect on me and the Castilleja community, and his tragic disappearance I freeze up and am unable to continue. This time I will finish this letter because I owe it to my teacher, my mentor, and my friend, Bear Capron.
Castilleja has been the love of my life. It has nurtured me, supported me, taught me, and loved me. It taught me not only about history and chemistry, but also about friendship and love. It taught me to be honest, determined, courageous, and strong in the face of danger. As a freshman in college I have littered my dorm room with Castilleja memories and paraphernalia. The infinite support I received and continue to receive from the Castilleja community has made the "college transition" less painful. I talk about my school with pride and longing to whomever will listen.
This suddenly stopped when I found out about Mr. Capron's disappearance. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has shocked me so much as hearing that my beloved director, adviser, mentor, teacher, friend, and "uncle" had disappeared and had been allegedly fired. A fellow classmate called me five times in three hours, trying desperately to get a hold of me. When she finally did she was crying. In the last three weeks I have spoken to dozens of alums, current students, and faculty who are all terrified by what has happened. Current students, especially, have been absolutely devastated by Mr. Capron's absence. It has affected their personal and academic lives in a profound way. From talking to them, it seems as if Castilleja has become a war zone instead of a place of learning. Instead of talking about Plato and the Holy Roman Empire as my friends and I used to do during lunch, they talk about the horror and hypocrisy that surrounds Mr. Capron's disappearance. Their lives have been violently disrupted.
It is not an exaggeration to say that this incident has flipped my world upside down. It has made me question everything I was taught at Castilleja. It has made me doubt myself. It is deeply disturbing that the place I respect and love most in the world is capable of such deceit. I have become afraid. I perceive Mr. Capron's disappearance as a threat to my way of being. It stands in direct opposition to the ideals that were instilled in me at Castilleja. As a Castilleja girl who finds it to be her duty to honor her school by implementing the values she learned there into her daily life, I cannot bear to stand back and watch as the Castilleja community is robbed of one of its most beloved supporters and teachers. That would be irresponsible of me. I would not be living up to the expectations placed on me by my Castilleja teachers and peers if I did not do everything in my power to reverse this situation.
Mr. Capron has played a huge role in my growth. For one, he made me love the theater. He introduced me to a world of magic, which has marked me and defined me. I now intend on minoring in Theater. He is a passionate and talented teacher. Castilleja, however, is not lacking in fabulous teachers. Mr. Capron is more than that. He did more than just teach about acting and film. He transformed us. He, more than anyone at Castilleja, understands the difficulties inherent in being a Castilleja student. And he was able to know you, just by looking at you, because he is observant, intuitive, and loving. He has inspired all those he has come into contact with to be more thoughtful and creative people. Bear Capron is my hero. He was there for me when no one else was and I will forever be indebted to him. What is most amazing, however, is that he was able to be that "hero" and mentor to everyone who wanted his advice. Mr. Capron has so much still to give to this community, that it is shameful that we are depriving ourselves of his gift.
Besides asking for a reversal of this decision, I would also ask that the process in which this was done be investigated and seriously questioned. The secrecy in which this was done only intensified the panic and pain that has followed. I would like to continue to support Castilleja in every way I can, but if the school allows a figure like Bear Capron to just disappear I cannot support Castilleja with a clear conscience. It would be going against everything I have learned. Castilleja will no longer be my Castilleja, the Castilleja I know and love, if this situation is ignored. The basic integrity of Castilleja is in question. I beg you to protect her.
Thank you for all of your hard work.
I greatly appreciate all you have done for me and for our community.
I ask you to stay strong and face this challenge courageously and nobly.
Attached is the Founder's Day Speech I gave last May. It deals with how theater and by extension Mr. Capron have shaped my Castilleja experience and community.
Thank you so much.
Sincerely and Respectfully,
Class of '09
We measure all things by how much they have changed. Growth versus destruction, addition versus subtraction. What Castilleja has taught me, however, is that growth isn't really about growing vertically and that becoming who you are means first realizing who you are not. I've learned a lot of things in the classrooms here, but this is not one of those answers that can be found in Brinkley's United States History book or one of those problems that can be solved by a complicated chemistry equation.
If you look to my right you will see the place where I changed. But like most change, it is immeasurable. This building, the chapel-theater gives students a voice. Whether you're up there making an announcement at meeting, dancing your heart out at "Arts with a Heart", or acting in a play, the chapel-theater is always a place for expression. And for me, it's this magic place that has allowed me to come into my own.
I came to Castilleja my freshman year, thinking that I had already become the person I was going to be for the rest of my life. Having gone to a German School since I was three years old, I considered myself German. Having done ballet all my life I considered myself a ballerina. And I thought I was happy in these boxes I had chosen. But after a year of exploring Castilleja, I realized I wanted more than what I had laid out for myself. I wanted to try it all, to explore my new world - this circle. So after my freshman year, I did something scary and exciting. I stepped out of my comfort zone: I quit ballet and tried out for the fall play. Which happened to be, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Much to my surprise, I was cast as the arrogant and imaginative actor, Bottom. I was ecstatic. This character had everything I wanted: spirit, ambition, energy, and a loving heart. I dove into Bottom and found myself entranced by the power I had over this character. The way I inflected even one syllable turned Shakespeare's creation into my own. When opening night rolled around, all the work I had put into Bottom paid off. I had never acted before, but ever since that first opening night, I have been spellbound.
It is hard for me to imagine life without theater. I have fallen in love with this world that values creativity, encourages exploration and introspection, and demands understanding. When I agreed to act as Bottom, I agreed to go on a journey with him - to explore his past and my past, his dreams and my dreams. And by the end of that journey, I had managed to create a character that was neither Bottom as I had originally seen him nor me as I had originally seen myself, but instead a molding of the two. This character was entirely new yet completely my own.
Acting has helped me create intense and loving friendships, it has provided me with the most generous uncle and mentor, and it has given me the opportunity to find my voice. Acting and it's emphasis on connection and expression have brought a brilliant focus to my life and have begun to create the person I strive to be.
Anyone who has ever acted will tell you that the fastest way to forge a friendship is to be in a show with them. In the fall of my senior year I had the unbelievable privilege to work with a talented cast and the brilliant Mr. Capron in "The House of Bernard Alba". I had worked with most of the cast before and so I knew the experience was going to be wonderful, but I had no idea that it was going to be life changing. The play is a devastating tragedy. I played the crazy grandmother of eight oppressed women, one of whom kills herself. Just remembering how Maria Josefa, I, had to cry on stage while my daughters, my friends, dragged me off, still burns a whole in the pit of my stomach. Because to a certain extent, everything my characters have gone through, I have gone through too. An unbreakable trust is developed, when you allow yourself to be this vulnerable in front of your fellow actors. Acting is like being born and growing up all over again. When you're first developing your characters, that's exactly what you're doing. You're developing, you're growing, you're changing. You see the world in an entirely new light. You don't know where you're going or who your character is going to turn out to be. You just have to trust your actors, your teachers, and most importantly yourself. You have to trust that somewhere inside of you, there is a crazy old grandma just waiting to come out.
Some people see acting as reaching out to embody a fictitious character. I see it as reaching inside yourself to embody a version of yourself. Teachers have to believe in the power of nurture, or else they would have given up on us a long time ago. Well, so do I. I believe that every one of us, can learn to empathize. To understand someone is to find yourself in them, and if you love yourself, as you ought to, you must love those you understand.
In learning how to become these characters and adopt their voices, I have been able distill my own. And that is what Castilleja is all about. During my four years here I have been handed hundreds of opportunities to use my voice. And as I leave, I finally understand how privileged I am to have been given these opportunities and how important it was that I had the courage to take them. I have never felt so committed to my responsibility to use my voice as I do right now. As I look ahead and think about who it is I want to be, I waver in my confidence. I'm scared that I will not be brave enough or strong enough to take the risks that could bring me the future I desire. But then I look back at the risks I have taken here and I see what wonderful treasures they have brought me. Who knew four years at Castilleja could seem like a Midsummer's Night Dream? Thank you and in the words of our trusted fairy Puck, So good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.
Dear Ms. Fisher and Castilleja's Board of Trustees (and whomever else it may concern):
I realize that you have by now received many letters, phone calls, and e-mails about the recent news regarding Mr. Capron. Although I treasured Mr. Capron as a campus figure and as my drama teacher in Middle School, during my high school years I was not directly involved in the Drama program. Therefore, having read the eloquent statements of many of my peers, I will not presume to offer you further reasons that I believe Mr. Capron was an excellent teacher and mentor.
However, as a recent alum who was very much involved in student leadership at the school (on student government; as editor of several school publications; as a peer advisor; and in other organizations), I wish to voice my concerns about the way in which the whole affair was conducted, and to explain why it was drastically affected my impression of the school. I was shocked to hear about Mr. Capron's abrupt departure and the subsequent lack of information disseminated to students, parents, and alums. To small schools like Castilleja that count on active participation and donation of time and money from those connected with it, fostering a sense of community is crucial. As a student whose sister still attends Castilleja and whose parent was active in many ways in the school community (as CSA President and in other roles), I have always felt a close connection to the school and its administration. I admired administrators like Cissy Lewis and Joan Lonergan, and felt extremely close ties to several of my teachers. However, in recent years I have increasingly felt as though my understanding of Castilleja is different from its growing reality.
It is my understanding at this point that Mr. Capron was asked to leave due to an incident in a class that involved an R-rated movie. Although from what I understand students had the opportunity not to watch the movie, I do not believe that the specifics of the situation are relevant in this case. From what I know, there is a specific time of year in which teachers' contracts are renewed, or not renewed. Unless Mr. Capron had committed a dangerous crime, I feel as though the proper procedure for asking a teacher not to return the following year should have been followed. As a loyal and integral part of the Castilleja community (at least in the eyes of students), Mr. Capron should at least have been offered the respect of a quiet dismissal. Instead, the administration fired him abruptly and then went into lockdown mode about the whole situation. Not only does this make the administration of the school look cowardly, but it also establishes dangerous distance between the administration and the rest of the community.
Therefore I seriously question the leadership evident in the school right now. If Castilleja's administration cannot handle this issue effectively and frankly, in a mature manner, I do not have confidence in its ability to continue to grow and improve the school. We all know that to remain one of the top schools in the area, state and nation, Castilleja cannot and must not simply coast on its reputation thus far, which has already been sullied by this incident. The school must continue to innovate while maintaining the quality of a classical education that I truly appreciated about the school and that makes having attended Castilleja something of which I am proud.
In conclusion: I am aware that the decision of hiring and removing faculty members is not the domain of the Board of Trustees. However, the issue of leadership is under the Board's jurisdiction. When the Board decided to search from within the school community for the future of the school, I trusted that they had done their research and found the best possible candidate for the job. However, the example of leadership shown this year is deeply disturbing to me as an alum. I feel that in this situation the Board can and must regulate the school's leadership because the reputation of Castilleja School is at stake. An incident like this, if not dealt with maturely and swiftly, can cause deep and irreconcilable divides in a school's community. Castilleja, at this crucial point during a national economic downturn and with a change of leadership in the works, simply cannot afford to cause such divides.
Thank you for your time. I trust that you are in the process of coming up with an answer to all of our questions and concerns.
I remain yours respectfully,
Yale University '13
J'ACCUSE! - Redux (External Site)
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
I am writing to you today in support of reinstatement of Bear Capron. From 1996-2004, I was on the faculty at Castilleja teaching Dance within the Visual & Performing Arts Department. During my time at Castilleja, I had the privilege and the pleasure of working closely with Bear.
Throughout my eight years at Castilleja, I was continually amazed and impressed with Bear's uncanny ability to zero in on the special abilities and unique talents that each young woman brings with her to Castilleja. It was always inspiring to watch Bear carefully construct an appropriate platform on which our students' attributes could shine. His acceptance of each girl's uniqueness, his sincerity in caring about each of his students' well-being, and his ability to challenge his students to move beyond their comfort zone were inspirational, even to a veteran teacher.
From 1995-2002, my daughter Lilian attended Castilleja for all seven years of high school, grades 6-12. It was in the role of a parent that I was to discover first hand just how important a role Bear's insightful, intelligent and encouraging teaching style would play in the education and well-being of my own daughter. It is with a sincere debt of gratitude to Castilleja, and to Bear in particular, that I write this letter.
The lack of openness on why Bear is absent from Castilleja is very troubling to me and to my husband, and quite frankly, has me perplexed. This apparent silencing of information seems to fly right in the face of so much of what I thought was held dear by Castilleja's emphasis on communication and community.
At the very least, the rationale for his dismissal needs to be made public. By not doing so, I'm sure that there are members of the Casti community that are imagining terrible scenarios for his dismissal that could potentially damage Bear's reputation and his career. This absence of courtesy and compassion on Castilleja's part toward a twenty-year beloved teacher is simply inexcusable. It is insulting to the rest of the faculty and confusing to our student body.
I am hopeful that an open dialogue can be started to resolve this situation in a thoughtful manner that befits the excellence we know as Castilleja.
Eugenia and Tom Haney
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
I taught English in grades 7-12 at Castilleja School from 1970 until my retirement in 1999. I worked as advisor to the the Yearbook and school newspaper (under my tenure the name The Laurel was replaced by the current Counterpoint as more indicative of its function as a forum for exchanging ideas) as well as several clubs. I loved teaching the girls and working with the most dedicated and inspiring faculty a school could hope to have. During this time I came to admire and respect the work of Bear Capron. Under his direction, I saw shy little girls become confident and competent actresses and grow in appreciation of the power of good theater. At no time was I given any reason to doubt his skill as a teacher or his personal integrity.
Now I hear that he has vanished from the campus, and his teaching and directing duties assigned to someone else. No reason has been given, and this silence can do nothing but foster wild rumors and demoralize both students and faculty. Most troubling to me is the arbitrary nature of this dismissal and the fact that Bear has been given no opportunity to defend himself from whatever charges are being leveled against him. This is not the Castilleja that I knew and loved for almost half my life.
I hope you and the Board will investigate this matter thoroughly since you are the only body with the authority to ensure that a gross injustice has not taken place.
Susan A. Barkan
To: Karen Fisher
cc: Joan Lonergan, Chris Blair, Nanci Kauffman, Anne Ritchie (CSA) and Michele Ono (Parent Alum Board)
Date: November 18, 2009
It is with grave concern that we write to you regarding Bear Capron's recent leave of absence. We are horrified to hear that our beloved Uncle Bear has disappeared from Castilleja.
We request that the Board oversee the current process surrounding Bear Capron's leave of absence as directed by Joan. We want to ensure that due process is occurring and that Bear's leave is not an overboard reaction.
Because of the cloud of silence surrounding Bear's sudden leave of absence, we have had a difficult time gathering facts. It has also been extremely unsettling to have our girls calling home from college crying to tell us of Bear's plight and questioning the Castilleja that they know and love. Many of us, not being on campus, had no idea of the unfolding drama. Though we appreciate that Joan apparently did send one email message to current students, we would hope that Joan would at least send a brief communication to extremely worried current parents as well as student and parent alums. We have heard that Joan has a lawyer and can say little about this delicate matter, but we hope for a brief communication nonetheless. The concerned Castilleja community needs more reassurance.
This is the situation as we understand it and our concerns:
-Joan insisted Bear take a leave of absence after hearing complaints that he showed an award winning R-rated short film (Cashback) to his 9th grade drama class. It's very important to note that the movie shown was the 17-minute short film produced in 2004 that won 14 international awards & was nominated for an Academy Award for short films. (NOT the 2006 full-length movie.) While there is no sex in the film, naked girls are used as models for charcoal drawings. Keep in mind that Othello has been shown at Casti for 10 years and is a lot more sexual than the film Bear showed. There are numerous other examples of controversial subject matter in curriculum at Castilleja: Catcher in the Rye, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Germinal, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to name a few.
-Bear gave parents a permission slip to sign allowing the girls to watch R rated movies earlier this fall. Before showing Cashback, he did warn the girls about nudity and encouraged girls to leave if they weren't comfortable.
-Bear is on leave until further notice as directed by Joan. The leave plus threat of termination seems like a rapid overreaction. Termination appears to be too high a price for this offense. Isn't there a sequence of steps that should be taken first? What has happened to a reasonable process? Does Casti have a written process in place?
-We also don't understand why Bear's office was cleaned out while he is just on leave. Shouldn't that have waited until negotiations are complete?
-Staff are worried about their job security after such swift and seemingly overzealous reaction by Joan. (What will happen to them if a beloved 20-year employee is suddenly put on leave? Will Castilleja support teachers as they have in the past?)
-The Castilleja community is so upset that there is talk of withholding donations to Castilleja.
-We worry about other damage that will be done to Castilleja, if Bear is fired because of an overreaction.
-There is overwhelming support of Bear through emails, phone calls & the Facebook group, "We Want Uncle Bear Back". As of 11/18 @ 11:40AM there are 424 members of the Uncle Bear Facebook group and 372 students, staff & parents have signed the petition. The student and alumni letters to the Board are passionate, amazing and easily viewed on the Facebook group.
-Those of us that know Bear well can attest to his amazing character, his dedication to his students and that he would never do anything malicious because he always has the girls' best interest at heart. Bear is one of a handful of outstanding teachers at Castilleja - among the truly great ones.
-Bear is what Castilleja theater IS and has been for 20 years. Bear is always encouraging and makes learning engaging and fun. He is widely known and kids come from other schools just to be in Bear's productions.
In closing, we hope reasonable action will be taken. We are confident that you will be able to get to the bottom of this issue. We hope you know that we have the best interests of Castilleja, Bear, our kids and future generations of Casti girls in mind. Let's get back to the five C's and great education as soon as possible.
Thank you for your time and we anxiously await your reply. Furthermore, we would hope you will be able to provide a statement to the Castilleja community. One email to current Casti students is not enough. Damage control needs to start ASAP.
Respectfully and most sincerely,
PS: You should know that while other parents agree with the statements in this letter, they are afraid to sign for fear of repercussions to their daughters. What does this say about the Castilleja of today?
Dear Karen, Joan, and Nanci,
I am writing as a concerned friend of Castilleja (father of Mel '09), adding to the chorus of letters, emails, and calls I know you are receiving. I write not only out of concern for Bear Capron, but also for the many other constituencies of the school: the students, the alumni, the parents, the faculty and staff, the administration, and the board.
There is a vacuum of facts around the situation beyond the reality that Bear is no longer on campus and his office has been emptied. In the absence of facts, I am operating on the conventional wisdom that the administration has decided that due to their view of some action Bear took, he is being immediately and involuntarily terminated.
As a business executive, I have had the unpleasant "honor" of being directly involved with employee terminations over the years, whether for economic reasons, performance, or cause. I appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and understand sharing of information may be restricted, some perhaps forever.
Regarding Bear, it is hard to imagine what he would do after twenty years of service to lead to this outcome. As you can see from the outpouring of concern from current and former students and their parents, there is a tremendous reservoir of goodwill and a presumption of innocence for Bear. I don't believe any of them arrived at this view casually; rather it is based on the years of amazingly positive interactions students and parents have had with Bear. Both students and parents see "Uncle Bear" as one of the most upbeat and encouraging people on campus, seemingly always willing to help as a friend and in a non-threatening way. It is apparent he is one of the most frequently used faculty for on- or off-the-record advice. He is widely seen as a ready and caring resource for both the students and fellow faculty. This contributes to the strong doubt that he would ever be involved in a situation that would be detrimental to either the girls or the school.
Given the widespread visibility and concern about this situation across a wide swath of the community, I ask that the board work together with the administration to confirm (i) the offense really happened, (ii) if so, there is some way to resolve the situation that would allow Bear Capron to continue as a member of the faculty in good standing, and (iii) failing the prior option, termination truly is an appropriate remedy. If Bear Capron is terminated, it is apparent both the school and he will lose.
Let me expand on the last point. As painful as terminations can be to organizations, I've found that terminations for the "right" reasons can improve morale and respect for management. In this case, I am afraid if termination is pursued in the absence of visible and credible evidence of truly egregious conduct by Mr. Capron, morale will be damaged across a wide swath of the Castilleja community, especially among students, alumni, parents, and faculty and staff.
I do not believe this is good for Joan, occurring as one of the final events in her tenure which has brought many positive returns to the school. "What have you done lately" tends to inform most folks thinking, and I'm afraid terminating Bear during Joan's last year would stain her legacy.
As it relates to Nanci, the Castilleja community does not know how directly she has been involved in this decision. That said, this situation will reflect on her as well, and is equally unfortunate as Nanci approaches her installation as Castilleja head of school. Not the best way to get started in a new job.
And for Karen and the board, as custodians of Castilleja's history, present, and future, it will raise questions about oversight.
Bottom line, I hope some appropriate resolution to the triggering event, short of Bear's termination, can be found to avoid the adverse impact across the school community. I'm not saying there is never a situation which would understandably lead to termination. What I am saying is that if termination of Bear Capron proceeds, I believe there will be a high and unfortunate level of collateral damage. I'd be curious who in the larger Castilleja community "wins" with such an outcome? I don't see how the causes of conscience, courtesy, character, courage, or charity are enhanced.
My sincere best wishes to those in possession of the truth to somehow put this matter behind the school in the most positive way possible.
Dear Ms. Fisher and Board Members:
We are facing an extremely delicate situation involving the possible termination of a highly respected and beloved teacher like Bear Capron. It is hard to understand how the matter could have been handled worse.
I don't think there is any need to expand on how Bear Capron stands within the Castilleja community. It suffices to look at the FaceBook public discussion group (WE WANT UNCLE BEAR BACK!) which as of this writing is approaching 400 members (students, alumnae, faculty members and parents). Also, those of us that have daughters (Paz ('04) and Sol ('07) Hilfinger-Pardo in my case) that have been Mr. Capron's students have received personal testimonies about his stellar qualities as a teacher, counselor and friend.
After the "disappearance" of Bear Capron from Castilleja I tried to get official information and could get none. A cloak of secrecy surrounded and still surrounds the matter.
When information after such a sudden transition is gagged as it has been for the last three weeks the only possible understanding for the community is that some egregious crime has taken place. Anything short of that can and should be processed in the usual ways of an organization like our school: through evaluation, careful consideration and corrective action as needed.
But by now it is patently clear that nothing of great consequence has taken placeunless our school upholds the most prudish standards and considers Castilleja students unable to view and analyze film content that includes female nudity within the classroom and with teacher guidance.
So: one has to conclude that the Administration has some other reasons for their actions against Mr. Capron. It is difficult to imagine what those would be, especially having read the outpouring of support for Mr. Capron from the community. Furthermore, the effects of getting rid of Mr. Capron in this irrational way are many, profound, and out of proportion to the purported cause.
First, firing a member of the Faculty, or any employee for that matter, without good reason and due process is immoral. Compounding this, the drastic method used so far (banishment from Campus) casts a veil on his character that is tantamount to character defamation.
Secondly, the current students are, by all testimonials, losing an excellent teacher. They are also witness to an obscure process which is not at all compatible with the 5 C's of Castilleja.
Thirdly, I am extremely concerned about the message that the faculty is receiving from this "process." Teachers witnessing this will have good reason to wonder who will be next to disappear.
Lastly, as with many ill-conceived actions, the Law of Unintended Consequences applies: by now I would bet that the large majority of students as well as many other members of the community have watched CashBack, but not within a classroom nor under adult supervision.
Either the egregious crime committed should be exposed, or Bear Capron should be immediately brought back to the classroom so the process of healing and mending rifts in the community can commence. This matter will not go away by itself.
Luis Trabb Pardo
Dear Ms. Fisher and Castilleja Board of Trustees:
I write to you as the parent of two Castilleja graduates and as a professional colleague of Mr. Bear Capron.
I understand that Mr. Capron mysteriously disappeared from campus and that for two weeks there was no explanation given to the students in his classes and the fall play. I know Bear well enough to know he would not, in good conscience, leave his students abruptly with no conversation or information about his absence. For where is the courtesy in that?
The silence regarding Mr. Capron's disappearance from campus is very disturbing; people disappear in evil dictatorships, not in exemplary educational institutions. These tactics of disappearance of a teacher and silence to the students instill fear in the community. Does the administration not have the courage to report what is happening? The character of Bear Capron is well-known throughout the school, its faculty, students and alumnae. He is a man of openness and honesty and a person who embodies charity in his benevolence to others and forbearance of judgment. I cannot imagine that he would be the instigator of his disappearance, nor the silence surrounding it.
This indicates to me that the administration is silencing Bear Capron and other members of the faculty. What kind of example of "women leading" is the administration setting? This action lacks conscience, courtesy, courage and charity. What is the character of a school that treats its employees and students this way?
Or—did I misunderstand? Are the 5 C's simply a banner that flaps in the wind rather than five sterling principles to be practiced by those who work and study at Castilleja?
This situation raises serious questions about the judgment of the administration, and requires immediate investigation of the administration's handling of an employee and of the school community as a whole. I expect a public apology by the administration and the Board of Trustees about the way the community and Mr. Capron have been treated.
Sharmon J. Hilfinger
Dear Karen and other members of Castilleja's Board,
I have to voice my opinion on how disappointed I am in the way Castilleja's administration has dealt with the Bear Capron "situation".
Is this the example we want our daughters to see on how to deal with employees? On how to deal with people that are important to us? A person that have given their heart and soul to an organization that makes them invisible after a decade of service with no party, no good byes and no explanations?
This is not the education I anticipated for our daughter. We have sacrificed so much to send her to Castilleja and I am seriously questioning our wisdom in the choice we made.
Dear Castilleja Board of Trustees,
Given that my first letter to the Board in mid-November was never acknowledged, I have decided to send you another letter regarding the dismissal of Bear Capron.
Although personnel matters are complex and delicate to handle, it is not an excuse for the Castilleja Administration to have remained silent on this matter for the last 3 weeks thus damaging the reputation of a well-respected individual with 20 years of teaching at Castilleja.
Community members (students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni) can only wonder about what Bear Capron could have done that would lead the Administration to take such a swift and extreme action.
The only reasonable justification would be that Bear Capron was an immediate threat to the physical or mental well-being of students and had to be removed from the school premises. As Trustees, you no doubt understand that these are grave accusations to make. Given the outpouring support for Bear Capron from the Castilleja community, I hope that you will recognize that I and many students, parents, and alumnae believe that Bear Capron is incapable of threatening individuals.
If indeed Bear Capron committed a professional mistake, let the truth come out. Otherwise, Bear Capron should be re-instated immediately.
Leaders show character and courage by speaking the truth and facing their conscience. For an institution that claims Conscience, Courtesy, Character, Courage, and Charity as their core beliefs and values, I would expect nothing less.
(parent of Xanthia Tucker '09)
To the Castilleja Board of Trustees:
The lack of transparency regarding faculty member Bear Capron damages the reputation of Castilleja School. A widening circle of parents and alumni seeks a full accounting of the event. Setting aside what is fair and decent for a faculty member with two decades of service, such an accounting is now necessary to protect Castilleja's reputation and integrity.
Glenn D. Rennels
(parent and donor)
Like many in the Castilleja community I was unhappy to learn that Bear's employment at Castilleja has apparently been terminated. I do not pretend to know the details of the circumstances, but the rumor is that it was for showing a movie that some people found inappropriate.
I for one do not send my daughter to Castilleja to be protected from the world. I am quite satisfied that the history and literature they are exposed to at school is rich with cruelty, prejudice, and misery, not to mention outright starvation, rape and torture. They need to know about these things to learn how to deal with them personally, and hopefully to gain the strength and motivation to speak out and strive for a better world for others as well as for themselves. Is there no useful lesson that can be found in Cashback - for example about male obsession with female beauty and (sadly) how that beauty is so often narrowly construed in the media?
So I ask myself: did Bear show Cashback out of wickedness with the intention to hurt the girls? If so, I support the action that the school has taken. If on the other hand Bear took a risk (as we encourage our girls to do - take risks even if those around you you're your behavior "inappropriate"), and it went poorly I encourage you to reconsider.
By now I imagine it is possible that the parties involved have taken hard positions and perhaps have said things to each other that seem irrevocable. From my perspective it would be great if the "teachable moment" turned out to be that it is nevertheless possible to restore important life-long relationships; to put anger aside, to reconcile and to do the very difficult business of working together for the good of the community.
Dear Karen and Board of Trustees,
We are writing to express our concerns regarding the recent departure of Bear Capron.
As you are no doubt aware, this has been extremely upsetting for many of the girls and very frustrating for those of us who value Bear's contribution to the school. While we understand the difficulties involved in these situations, the lack of transparency and apparent arbitrariness of the process makes us very concerned for the future culture of Castilleja. Given the commitment to the mission of compassion and diversity we are disappointed that such a valued and long serving member of staff should be removed in such a way. We strongly suggest that this situation be reviewed and every attempt made to repair the damage done to the spirit of the school. We would hope that Mr. Capron be reinstated in order to continue his remarkable contribution to the education of Castilleja students.
Yours most sincerely,
Tim and Gaynor Brown
To all of the Castilleja Board of Trustees; Joan Lonergan:
I wish to express my puzzlement and subsequent outrage at the summary dismissal of Bear Capron from the Castilleja faculty. I myself am not connected directly to Castilleja School, but know Bear Capron as a friend and through my wife who has worked (as a musician and composer) closely with Mr. Capron for several extended periods over the last eight years.
More broadly, my standing is simply that of a former member of the larger Palo Alto community, where for over thirty-some years I had come to think of Castilleja as not only a place where students could gain a fine academic grounding, but also a place where the principles of honesty and fair play were honored in practice as well as in theory.
I write now not because I am certain Bear Capron is innocent, but because I am not even sure what he might be innocent (or guilty) of. He seems to have disappeared from the scene with no explanation, no response to concerned students - or to faculty or parents or alumni - or perhaps even to most of the Board members. One report has it that the school administration says Mr. Capron has not in fact been dismissed, but that he is merely on leave of absence. But it has become public knowledge that over the Veterans' Day holiday his office was stripped of all evidence of his more than twenty years of teaching at Castilleja. Thus the claim that he is simply "taking a leave of absence" is shown to be not merely dishonest, but also ludicrous. When this claim is coupled with the assertion that the school's official silence is actually to protect Mr. Capron, it almost seems that someone is plagiarizing from Kafka. It is quite clear that the official silence is to protect the school administration from what it has chosen - in a very abrupt and non-consultative way - to do. Although I have not seen the allegedly offensive film, it appears to me that the high-handed and secretive way the school administration has used to deprive Bear Capron not only of his current livelihood, but also of any hope of obtaining a similar teaching position elsewhere, is what may really deserve the status of "obscene" in this whole affair.
I would suggest that rather than try to pave over what is clearly an imprudent and grossly unfair way of acting by the school administration, the Board should move to re-instate Mr. Capron - unless of course there was some real cause for dismissal - in which case the dismissal should be carried out in a manner consistent with the principles that Castilleja still wishes to claim it stands for. It seems up to the board to determine whether or not such a claim will from now on be seen as simply fraudulent.
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my letter.
Dr. Donald F. McMillen
To Joan Lonergan, Head of School, and the Castilleja Board of Trustees:
This email message will be followed by a letter to each of you.
I am a musician and composer who, before my recent move to Portland, OR, lived for over 30 years in Menlo Park. I have known many families that included current and past students at Castilleja, andbecause of themhave come to hold the school in high regard. I have also worked on several long-term professional projects with Bear Capron during the past 8 years, and have only respect and admiration for his personal sagacity and generosity as well as for his professional abilities and accomplishments.
His recent removal from Castilleja troubles me profoundly. The secrecy surrounding it can only be damaging to Mr. Capron, to his current students, to the faculty at large, and to the entire Castilleja community.
I have read the eloquent letters written to you by current students and alumnae, and think of a scene from David Mamet's film The Winslow Boy (1999), which has lived in my memory ever since I saw it. A family has pursued justice for the youngest son at considerable cost to all its other members, and finally succeeds in engaging a barrister willing to take the boy's case. In the memorable trial scene, the words "Let right be done" are uttered, and taken up by the London media and public-at-large. The word right suggests something of honor even beyond the ramifications of the word justice. Surely Castilleja's high standards can only be upheld by doing right in this current painful situation.
I urge you to consider that doing right entails 1) a full review of the decision-making process responsible for the disappearance of Bear Capron, and 2) his return to his work at Castillejathus protecting both his and Castilleja's good names.
Dear Ms. Fisher and Castilleja Board of Trustees:
Bear Capron is a gifted, compassionate teacher and a good man. The silence about his disappearance from the school is ominous and troubling in any community, let alone an academic one. Such tactics smack of threat and hypocrisy and have no place in an enlightened institution.
I am a professional playwright whose plays Bear has directed for the school and I've been moved and impressed by Bear's dedication to his students, his commitment to the highest standards of professionalism, his ability to inspire, and his willingness to present theater to his community that challenges and engages both his students and their audiences. Such boldness, originality and sensitivity are rare indeed and to be cherished and supported. That's the kind of teaching that changes lives, as has been evidenced by the outrage and support with which Castilleja's alumnae have been responding to this bizarre course of events. Anyone who has known Bear and been witness to his passion for the school and his students is appalled by the notion that such a man, such a teacher, might be censored and threatened. You should know Bear has a wide circle of support in the world outside the school as well as within it and that many people are watching the events unfolding now. We are all deeply concerned to see justice done to this fine man.
Playwright/Actor/ Professor of Playwrighting, Barnard College
I experienced first hand the kindness, warmth, whimsy, and sophistication of Bear Capron. Beyond theater and film, he understands people, and has surely helped countless students navigate the complexities of modern adolescence with grace and dignity. His departure is a huge loss to generations of future students and the circumstances and subsequent handling of this event are reprehensible. At the end of the day, a school is a building with four walls that is only as good as the teachers within them. It is my hope that this situation ultimately reaches a positive resolution, because the alternative is detrimental to all parties involved.
Castilleja Theatre Participant
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