Sunday, January 31, 2016

Do you see segregation in this photo? I do.

Photo by woodleywonderworks, used under Creative Commons license.

"The most segregated hour of the week is on Sunday morning."

Have you heard this? I have. I suppose the meaning is that people tend to go to church with people of their same backgrounds, be it a national background, a racial background, or what have you. Given that I go to a Chinese church with few non-Chinese, it's obviously not any empty sentiment.

Nevertheless, I don't think it's true. That is, it may be true in the racial or ethnic sense, but that's not the only kind of segregation. In fact, segregation happens anytime we force others to be separated from people who are different from themselves. When we think of the biases that exist, we think of sexism, racism, classism, and a few others. Too often, however, we ignore age.

In my opinion the most segregated time of the week is Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 3:00 (or thereabouts). We call it elementary school, middle school, and high school. We call it 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc. Here we force children, for many hours every day, to be with other children of approximately the same age, give or take a few months. We enforce this segregation as if kids have nothing to learn from those older than themselves or younger than themselves, as if they have no skills to develop by interacting with students who are older or younger than themselves. And this despite the fact that children have primarily interacted in mixed-age groups throughout history, pretty much up until this Prussian experiment we call the public school system.

We force upon our children an unnatural division as if all students of a given age are supposed to hit the same milestones at exactly the same time, as if they can't be inspired by those older than themselves, as if the can't learn empathy and compassion and capacity to nurture others by being with those younger than themselves. What's the most segregated place in America? The public schools. It always has been. Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka legally destroyed institutionally approved segregation of schools by race. I fear it's merely wishful thinking to image a similar ruling based on age.

There are many kinds of bias and discrimination. There are many ways that we, as humans, segregate ourselves. In almost every case, these discriminations and segregations bring about primarily negative results. It's time we rethink what we think we know about public education. It's time to reevaluate how we segregate children from one another. In a world where young people are increasingly only amongst peers, 24 hours a day (thank you, social media),  it's time to rethink and recognize the value of students mixing with those of a variety of ages.