Diversity in Democratic Schools

Alan Klein (AlanKlein@gnn.com)
Sun, 01 Sep 1996 21:26:59

In a message Michael Levy (Pacific Village) wrote:
><< --I also want to mention that one person at the meeting felt that the=
>is no reason to take on diversity as a goal. >>

Jeff Bradford replied:

>I confess; it=92s me.
>Diversity of ideas, experiences, and opinions is desirable; however, I f=
>it highly offensive that a person=92s color, social status, or disabilit=
y is
>what diversity has been reduced to.

Alan Klein responds:

It is, I agree, unfortunate that diversity has been reduced to this level
of legalese. It is , however, simply a byproduct of having a legal syst=
that requires precise definitions. Diversity, in human reality, is, I=20
believe, both the diversity of opinions and the diversity of people you=20

While it is true that having diversity of race, gender, religion, social=20
class, etc. is no guarantor of quality or even of diversity of opinion, i=
does raise the odds of achieving a healthy mix of viewpoints and inputs
that go into making decisions. One of the challenges for those of us in
majority, power-wielding groups (even if we don't see ourselves as being
very powerful) is to realize that the life experiences of others who com=
from different backgrounds can be radically different than our own. To w=

-I am white and, though I have been stopped by the police on the highway,
I know deep in my bones that it was not because I am white. For my blac=
friends and colleagues, just the reverse is true.

-I am able-bodied and have never been left out of a photograph because of=
this fact. I know of blind people who have been told, "We didn't include
you because your eyes look different. People are uncomfortable with

-I am straight and have never been beaten up for that. My gay friends
tell a different story.

-I am a man and have never been molested on a public bus. You should see
the knowing nods of familiarity I get from women when I describe the
story of a woman standing on a crowded bus and being approached from beh=
by "Mr. Hands".

-I am Jewish, and the closest I have come to knowingly encountering=20
discrimination is my wife's ex-husband using a slur in anger and a friend
in rural West Virginia using the expression "Jewed him down" in
ignorance. It was during my lifetime, however, that my PhD father was=20
steered out of certain areas of Wellesley, Massachusetts when house hunti=
because, "None of your kind live there."

It's very easy for me to relegate all of those examples (and the myriad o=
others I could have cited) to the pile marked "Due to Bad People" or the
one marked "Exceptions to the Rule" or even the one marked "Well, It's
All Different Now". Unfortunately, that's not the truth of the situatio=
n as=20
lived by millions of people.

It's also very easy for me to rest on my laurels and say, in effect, "I
treat everyone equally. I am not prejudiced. I welcome everyone. I am=
colorblind." Unfortunately, when I do that, what I am really being blind
to is the life experience of others who come from groups that, like it o=
not, get treated differently simply because they belong to those groups.=
The perspectives, viewpoints, priorities, and "truths" of people depend =
much on their life experience that I know I am missing something if my
group does not include a diverse mixture of people.

This idea of viewpoints being based not so much on objective "truth", but=
rather on subjective life experiences, was exhibited in a small way in th=
local paper the other day in an article out of Washington, DC as Congress=
went on summer recess. The author (who is white) described the city as
being "empty". This observation, of course, would come as a shock to th=
city's majority population of hundreds of thousands of poor and lower mi=
class black residents who were in full attendance, not being able to
afford summer recesses -- a fact that a black author probably would not =
missed. Another example: Our local county school system has just recal=
thousands of school calendars which featured a cover photo of smiling
children -- white kids in the front row, black kids in back -- again, a =
that the all-white school board and the virtually all-white administratio=
somehow seemed to miss. Once again, I am not ascribing racist motivation=
s to=20
these folks, just a concept called "top blindness" wherein those of us in=
positions of power can't always clearly see what's going on with those wh=
are not.

Someone in this thread mentioned the idea that quotas are inherently
coercive and that they were incompatible with democratic schools with op=
admission. I must admit to owning the opposite viewpoint. Quotas set b=
a group to manage its own membership are inherently democratic. We deci=
how many students we can hold, how many adults, and, often, how many of=20
different age groups we will admit, should we be in that enviable [hatefu=
position of being able to [having to] turn away applicants. We may some=
come to see a diverse population as being a healthy population. In such =
case, we could conceivably and democratically decide to offer a space to =
applicant over another because, in addition to fulfilling whatever other
requirements we set forth, they also help us meet our goal of achieving =
diverse population.

Finally, in response to the Cascade Valley statement (which I liked): I=20
believe that it is not enough to be an institution that "welcomes"
diversity, although that is important. We must be institutions and
individuals that seek out diversity, if for no other reason than biology=
lesson that a multi-culture will thrive over a mono-culture. If we do no=
reach out to others who are different than us, we run a real risk of dyin=
g of
insularity and isolation.

To those of you who made it through this oration, thanks for listening! =
hope that this issue is well-debated by our school communities.

Alan Klein ... AlanKlein@gnn.com
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