Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Diversity and Individualism

I just returned from a five-day vacation in San Francisco. It is a fantastic city, and we packed an unbelievable amount of activity into our time there while also enjoying some great meals. We did all the usual tourist stuff along with some more unusual jaunts, and we enjoyed all of it. Of course, the best part is seeing your kids grow wide-eyed with excitement, whether while walking across the Golden Gate Bridge or stepping into a cell on Alcatraz or standing next to a thousand-year-old redwood in Muir Woods.

Since this was my third trip there, not much of it was new to me. but something struck me that I hadn't registered on previous trips. It's something to which I believe we must pay attention. Remove talk by tour guides, and I suspect I heard more talking in other languages than in English--and an amazing range of languages from around the globe. Arabic, German, Chinese, Spanish, Farsi, Korean, Italian, Urdu...I could list at least a dozen more. Yes, many of these were being spoken by tourists. But a great deal were being spoken by people clearly there on business.

It drove home to me how incredibly connected we have become, even beyond the now-cliched notion of the Internet joining us all (as massive and cool as that is). Schools have to embrace diversity in its deepest, most profound sense, somewhere far beyond the holidays and festivals and costumes. It's about more than speaking another language or respecting other cultures. It's about digging into them to see what lies at their core. That's where we find what brings us together in far more meaningful fashion than any differences. It's about our essential human-ness. It's about what drew us to that eclectic patch of Northern California.

Schools that still measure their success at diversity initiatives purely by demographics risk missing this deeper point. No matter what the numbers, a school must struggle with a more fundamental issue. Does the school take all those diverse people and funnel them down a certain line to become a certain product, or does the school let that diversity swirl in ways that can be messy but can bring unforeseen communal benefits while honoring each individual's unique potential?

And isn't the latter really the goal of a meaningful education?

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