Diversity and Our Children’s Future
In a December 2015 edition of the New York Times, Sheen Levine and David Stark wrote an Op-Ed piece titled, Diversity Makes You Brighter. In it they wrote about research that they had conducted. They stated, “Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions. Our findings show that such diversity actually benefits everyone, minorities and majority alike.” They went on to write, “The differences emerged only when participants began interacting with one another. When surrounded by people ‘like ourselves,’ we are easily influenced, more likely to fall for wrong ideas. Diversity prompts better, critical thinking. It contributes to error detection. It keeps us from drifting toward miscalculation.”
Levine and Stark were focused on racial and ethnic diversity. However, the same can be said for other kinds of diversity; socio-economic, gender, family make-up, and even learning styles. A young woman named Sarah T. wrote in Teen Ink magazine, “Diversity can be defined as people coming together from different races, nationalities, religions and sexes to form a group, organization or community. A diverse organization is one that values the difference in people. It is one that recognizes that people with different backgrounds, skills, attitudes and experiences bring fresh ideas and perceptions.” She follows by stating, “Studies show that the lack of cohesion between races, sexes and cultures is due to mistrust, stereotyping, and more within-culture conversation and language problems. When these problems are not paid attention to it may lead to an inability to endorse ideas, the inability to gain agreement on decisions, and inability to take united action. In the educational system it is very important that there is a wide array of diverse groups in the classroom, “It is important to have a diverse student body, not only to create a realistic setting but also to encourage people to grow outside their boundaries and learn something new…”
Currently at Swan School we are drafting a diversity statement for our school community. In it we hope to show both our commitment to diversity and an understanding of its importance to the educational experience of our children. As we have been working on it we have come to understand that we need to do more than simply accept diversity, we need to define it broadly, and to embrace it. As we work towards this goal, we also see the need to search for any implicit biases we may have so that we can more easily erase or effectively deal with them.
In the November 2015 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Willemien Kets discussed some reasons why diversity is important in the academic world. He stated, “Academic departments that are more diverse may produce more unorthodox ideas and do more original work. In the academic world, where there is a big premium on being the first to come up with an idea, this is a major benefit.” He also wrote, “…extensive data suggest that more diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams when it is crucial to be innovative…”
In fact the world outside of school and academia is a diverse place. Our children will be working in a world where successful collaboration is highly valued and the ability to seamlessly work in diverse teams will be essential. Students who grow up and go to school with diverse perspectives will be better prepared for that world. At Swan School we understand this and do our best within the context of our community to structure our students’ educational experience to help ensure their future success. We know that this doesn’t always “look pretty” but that struggles early on lead to deeper understanding later. We support the learning of collaboration skills in the way our teachers structure their lessons, it is even the reason why we have tables instead of desks. Differences in age are much more pronounced in a child’s life than in an adult’s. Being a part of a multiage classroom becomes another step each child experiences at Swan School that leads towards an internalization that diversity is natural and positive. Of course ethnic and racial diversity is welcomed at our school, but so too are diverse learning styles, socio-economic levels, and also a balance of genders – all help children become better prepared for their future and to grow into successful and happy adults.
While you and I may not have the pulpit that our political leaders have, we do have the chance to help the next generation create a world much less divisive and more inclusive than the one we live in today.
Online articles referred to above