A meeting on diversity in svs-model schools

Sat, 31 Aug 1996 14:52:29 -0400

Michael Levy here from Pacific Village School in Santa Cruz, CA.

This is a mini-report on a meeting on diversity in our schools that happened
at the recent conference at Sudbury Valley School. (Attending the conference
were staff members and founders and their families, from about 40 or 50
sudbury-model schools and startup groups.)

I called the meeting to help us push our thinking forward about a dream of
mine, which is to see our school and our school movement as a whole become
more inclusive of people from diverse backgrounds, or to put it another way,
to see the excellent information we have about "education" become available
for as many people as possible. About 7 people came to the meeting.

As a background, I want to give a very incomplete "diversity sketch" of the
people attending the conference, which I think will be somewhat
representative of the school movement as a whole at this time. The group was
diverse in terms of gender (i.e. plenty of women and men), and age (we had
toddlers to septuagenarians). We had some diversity of sexual preference and
people from a variety of class backgrounds and religious backgrounds. We also
had several participants from countries other than the US.

I was very pleased to see all this wonderful diversity at the conference!

Notably lacking were people of color (except for a couple of the children)
and people from poor backgrounds (there may have been a few, but the group
was predominantly middle class). Because of this lack, I started the meeting
with a primary focus on these groups.

Here are a few of the points of discussion that I recall--I invite other
people present at the meeting to chime in with things I forgot.

--Even though white and middle-class people often feel defensive or guilty
about this topic, there is absolutely no reason to feel bad about ourselves
in relation to it. We are already doing great work and this is just an
opportunity to enrich our lives and give our work broader meaning.

--It was mentioned that people who have been traditionally excluded from
power or the "good life" in our society may perceive a radical educational
approach like that of SVS to be too risky in their pursuit of success for
their children. Another person pointed out that in any community there are
sub-groups or individuals who are open to trying something different. She
described her urban startup group as quite diverse.

--If diversity is a goal, it doesn't make much sense to wait until the school
is all set up before taking steps to promote it. From the very start,
decisions are being made that make it either more or less likely that there
will be diversity at the school. Site selection was an example; another was
who founders reach out to to join the founders' group. One person told a
story of successfully re-inviting a black woman to founders' meetings. The
same woman had become discouraged earlier in the group's history after coming
to a meeting, apparently because of cultural differences the group was
unaware of.

--One person raised the question, "Is it patronizing to reach out to people
of a particular group (e.g. people of color) with a message that 'We have
something that can improve your life, etc.'?" On the other hand it didn't
seem to make sense to have what we're doing be kept like a secret. Two
thoughts came up in response to this: 1) If you decide to have diversity in
your life, and build real relationships with people different than yourself,
the question disappears--there's nothing patronizing in sharing this
important part of your life with any friend. 2) It's worth subjecting your PR
efforts to scrutiny for bias. If you advertise in the local English-only
weekly paper, do you also advertise in the local Spanish or bilingual weekly?
(Of course, this, like many of these points, could be moot for schools
already located in areas truly lacking in diversity of one type or another.)

--We also talked about scholarships/sliding scales, or across-the-board low
tuition. One point mentioned about these options is that they should be
funded with money that's not likely to dry up from one year to the next. The
Highland School, for example, owns their own oil wells which produce income
that keeps tuition extremely low.

--I also want to mention that one person at the meeting felt that there is no
reason to take on diversity as a goal.

That's all for now with my selective memory! Hope this is of some use.