Diversity is the Most Important Reason to Save Public Schools

Public schools are under attack.


So what else is new?


It’s been so since the first moment the institution was suggested in this country  by revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson:

“Education is here placed among the articles of public care… a public institution can alone supply those sciences…”


And John Adams:


“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it.


But as the founders saw public education as primarily a means of securing democracy by creating informed citizens able to intelligently vote, that is only one of its many benefits today.


Compared to its main alternatives – charter, voucher, and private schools – public schools are more fiscally responsible, democratically controlled and community oriented.


However, these are not the most important reasons to cherish our system of public schools.


For all the system’s benefits, there is one advantage that outshines all the others – one gleaming facet that makes public schools not just preferable but necessary.


That is diversity. 


Public schools ARE the American Dream


They are the melting pot made real. 

Where else can you go and see so many different races, cultures, ethnicities, religions, abilities and genders learning together side-by-side from adolescence to adulthood?


Nowhere. 


I don’t think you can understate how important that is.


When you grow up with someone, you can’t really remain strangers. Not entirely.


When you sit beside different kinds of people in every class, you learn that you and people like you aren’t the center of the universe. You learn that there are many other ways to be human.


And make no mistake. I’m not talking about mere tolerance. I mean seeing the beauty in difference.


I’m talking about seeing the grace and originality in black names and hairstyles, the fluidity of Arabic writing, the serenity of Asian philosophy…


When you make friends that are diverse, have different beliefs, styles, cultures, you open your mind to different ideas and concepts.


If children are our future, we become that future in school. If we’re educated together in a multifaceted society, we are more at home with our country’s true face, the diversity that truly is America. By contrast, if we become adults in secluded segregation, we find difference to be alien and frightening. We hide behind privilege and uphold our ways as the only ways worth considering.


In fact, privilege is born of segregation. It is nurtured and thrives there.


If we want to truly understand our fellow citizens and see them as neighbors and equals, it is best to come to terms with difference from an early age in school.


Integration breeds multiculturalism, understanding and love. 


I’m not saying this happens in every circumstance. All flowers don’t bloom in fertile soil and not all die in a desert. But the best chance we can give our kids is by providing them with the best possible environment to become egalitarian.


That’s public schools.


Of course, diversity was not there from the beginning. 


Through much of our history, we had schools for boys and schools for girls that taught very different things. We had schools for white children and schools (if at all) for black children – each with very different sets of resources.


But as time has gone on, the ideal embodied by the concept of public schooling has come closer to realization. Brown v. Board took away the legality of blatant segregation and brought us together as children in ways that few could have dreamed of previously.


Unfortunately, a lot as happened since then. That ruling has been chipped at and weakened in subsequent decades and today’s schools still suffer from de facto segregation. In many places our children are kept separate by laws that eschew that name but cherish its intent. Instead of outright racial or economic discrimination, our kids are kept apart by municipal borders, by who goes to which school buildings and even by which classes students are sorted into in the same building.


But it’s really just segregation all over again. The poor black kids are enrolled here and the rich white kids there.


The surprising fact is how much we’ve managed to preserve against this regression. Even with its faults, the degree of diversity in public schools far outshines what you’ll find at any other institution.


That’s no accident. It’s by design. 



Each type of education has a different goal, different priorities that guide the kind of experiences it provides for students.


Privatized schools are by definition discriminatory. They only want those students of a certain type – whatever that is – which they specialize in serving. This is true even if their selection criteria is merely who can pay the entrance fee.


After all, the root word of privatization is “private.” It means “only for some.” Exclusion is baked in from the start.


By contrast, public schools have to take whoever lives in their coverage area. Sure you can write laws to exclude one group or another based on redlining or other discriminatory housing schemes, but you can’t discriminate outright. Yes, you can use standardized testing to keep children of color out of the classes with the best resources, but you need a gatekeeper to be intolerant in your place. You can’t just be openly prejudiced.


That’s because you’re starting from a place of integration. The system of public education is essentially inclusive. It takes work to pervert it.


And I think that’s worth preserving.


It gives us a place from which to start, to strengthen and expand.


There are so many aspects of public schools to cherish. 


But for me it is increased diversity, understanding and integration that is the most important.


What kind of a future would we have as a country if all children were educated in such an environment!?



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You Can’t Solve Prejudice With a Cookie-Cutter: Celebrate Diversity

057 soft chocolate chip cookies for blog

If America was a cookie, it would probably be chocolate chip.

Sure it’s mostly dough, but the chips are what give it flavor!

I mean, come on! Who wants a plain sugar cookie!? Yuck!

Maybe that’s what they meant all those years ago when they described us as a melting pot. All these different races and nationalities blending together to form a delicious whole.

However, some flavors just don’t mix – or at very least are slow to come together.

In fact, since the very beginning, much of America has been obsessed with ensuring we DON’T mix! Chips and dough can’t melt together! We must preserve the purity of the batter. In fact, let’s send those chips back to Belgium!

But times have changed. We’ve tried to legislate our way to equality. Voting Rights Acts. Anti-Segregation Acts. Non-Discrimination Laws. But the legal system is far from perfect, and it can only do so much. If we’re really going to become one big tasty treat, we’ve got to do something about it – each and every one of us.

So how do we all come together? What should be our goal?

For some people, the answer is silence. We shouldn’t talk about this stuff at all.

There’s very little scientific justification for categorizing ourselves into different races, anyway. Just button your lip and it will all go away.

To which I say, yeah, many things such as race, nationality, even sexuality are to a large extent man-made. They’re the product of culture and society, but that doesn’t make them unreal. They’re totems, archetypes, symbols we use to navigate the social universe. If you think a social constraint is unreal, try violating it.

Moreover, ignoring inequality won’t solve it. That only ensures that the status quo continues to reproduce itself.

In short, if we don’t talk about prejudice, we’ll never get over it. Our biases will never go away.

Other folks – many with the best of intentions – think not that our differences are unreal, but that we should ignore them. Don’t talk about us and them. It’s all just us.

No more twitter campaigns proclaiming #AllChipsMatter. We should instead join hands and proclaim #AllIngredientsMatter.

And I do see your point. We are all important regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But is this really the best way to come together as a nation? If all of us taste the same, we’ll certainly be one – one bland and lousy confection sitting in the bakery that no one in their right mind would really want to eat.

Homogenization has its strengths. Look at white folks. We used to be very different. Czech, Slovak, German, Russian, etc. Now we’re one indistinguishable whole. Sometimes we venture outside of that label for a few hours to celebrate some ethnic festival, but most of the time we’re just white, White, WHITE. Having a beer and a Wiener Schnitzel during Oktoberfest doesn’t change how you usually identify and how you are identified in the world.

But something has been lost here. You can only be blind to the differences in people if you wipe away the rough edges. People become less distinct, more similar. That’s not the best way to be.

There’s another way.

Instead of ignoring the differences between people, we should embrace them. Don’t hide your nationality, your race, etc. Celebrate them!

I am the proud product of this culture! I am the son or daughter of this type of person! I love this! I believe that! I am not just anyone – I am ME!

There is a danger when anyone suggests conformity as a way to fight racism, sexism or any form of prejudice. It puts the responsibility on those who are different. If you don’t want to be discriminated against, YOU need to conform.

I think this is wrong. You have the right to be yourself. Instead it is the responsibility of those who would discriminate to STOP.

If you’re racist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re sexist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re homophobic, YOU need to stop.

And so on.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just walk it off. Prejudice is the result of years of enculturation, socialization and bigotry. It takes time. It takes a loving heart. But most of all it takes two very important things that few people in America have truly achieved:

1) Willingness to try.

2) Acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place.

That’s where we are today.

Very few people exist in the United States without some prejudice. People feel uncomfortable around those unlike themselves. We have preconceptions about how certain people will act. We think we know better how other people should live their lives.

These are all prejudices. And what’s worse, many of them are actually unconscious. I didn’t even recognize that I got nervous around black people – and now that I do, I don’t want to feel that way. I know it’s not justified, but I still can’t help the feeling!

So there is much to be done here in the USA to make us the best we could be. And it is our job to do that work.

Because the cookie of America has lots of cracks in it and more than a few nuts.