Friday, January 24, 2014

Do you support diversity or "diversity"?

In 2002 while working as a substitute teacher for Des Moines Public Schools I came across a motivational poster with a quote from the Chinese founder or Taoism/Daoism. I know that the school employees were likely ignorant of the religious connection, but I decided to perform an experiment. I sent an email to the DMPS head office asking why, given the “Celebrate Diversity” slogan seemingly posted at every school, Taoist quotations were permitted but Christian, Jewish or Islamic quotations were not. The response was both predicable and sad: Please let us know where the poster is located so that we can take it down.

Is this really what US educators believe is the fundamental character of diversity and inclusivity?

If so, we are a deluded bunch.

First things first: Popular opinions of acceptability and unacceptability are not indicators of how open-minded or inclusive people are. There was a time when it would have been unpopular to suggest that women work outside the home. Today it would be unpopular to suggest women should stay at home. In both situations, popular sentiment is not nor should be the arbiter of correctness.

True diversity is not simply equality and respect for people of different races or genders. True diversity is not simply saying people can love whomever they choose. True diversity is not simply empowerment to previously or presently marginalized groups. True diversity is not simply about appearances and behaviors.

No, for diversity to be truly diverse and for inclusivity to be truly inclusive requires the ability to respect and appreciate those whose views diverge greatly from your’s own. It means not resorting to petty name-calling and twitter battles when hearing opinions with which you disagree or even believe to be evil. It means not seeking to label others (e.g. ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic, religious fanatic, etc.), especially when you don’t know the people, nor have tried to truly understand why those people think the way they think.

Being inclusive means acknowledging that most people want to be good, and their views accord with their attempt to be good. It does not mean believing the people, their ideas, or their behaviors are good, but rather that most people want to be good as they understand it. Diversity and inclusiveness does not mean abandoning your own right to an opinion, but it does require the humility of recognizing that (a) your own views may be wrong even if they are popular and (b) your own understanding of what is good may very likely be flawed, if not in one way, then in another.

1 general truth about inclusiveness (said 2 ways)

  1. Exclusion cannot create greater inclusivity.
  2. Greater diversity, tolerance, and respect for differences cannot happen by subtraction.

Going back to the opening example, banning religion from public view and public discourse does not create greater inclusiveness. You cannot exclude viewpoints and somehow become more inclusive. Subtracting exposure to topics cannot lead to greater diversity, but lesser.

Similarly, removing viewpoints from the realm of "acceptable", that is, vilifying views such that people holding those views can no longer be heard or respected is not inclusiveness. Let's say a student thinks that homosexual marriage is wrong, or that women should should be accompanied by male relatives when leaving home, or that prenatal babies with handicaps should be aborted. These are all unpopular opinions in today's social climate in the US. But when we vilify these viewpoints and claim them to be unacceptable from the get-go, we exclude viewpoints from respectful discourse and ultimately support less diversity, not more. In the end, we don't create more thoughtful, reflective, ethically engaged students, but rather students as judgmental as those we vilify. You cannot remove ideas and get greater diversity; it is as impossible as it is illogical.

5 signs of so-called "diversity"

  1. As long as people get "offended"by hearing something that makes them uncomfortable, true diversity is NOT happening.
  2. As long as people are using 160 character tweets and faceless attacks on people with different views, true diversity is NOT happening.
  3. As long as people of both popular and unpopular views are unable to come together for respectful, meaning, constructive dialogue, true diversity is NOT happening.
  4. As long as people of different viewpoints and opinions are content to stereotype and mock those whose viewpoints and opinions differ significantly or even insignificantly from their own, true diversity is NOT happening.
  5. As long as currently popular notions of inclusiveness and exclusiveness are used to demean or marginalize those with unpopular views, true diversity is NOT happening.

5 signs of actual diversity

  1. If people can realize that disagreement does not equal hatred and that saying, "You're wrong," does not mean, "I don't like you," true diversity is happening.
  2. If people of both popular and unpopular views feel they can express their views without fear of attack, true diversity is happening.
  3. If people of both popular and unpopular views are learning to express their views without attacking others as individuals, true diversity is happening.
  4. If people are learning to disagree while still having mutual respect, true diversity is happening.
  5. If people whose viewpoints and opinions differ in fundamental and divisive ways are meeting together, discussing views, and attempting to understand one another, true diversity is happening.

Well teachers, what can be done to foster true spirits of diversity in our classrooms?
What should we stop doing if celebrating diversity is really our goal?

Follow Matthew on twitter @MatthewTShowman

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