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
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