Diversity in Education and Life: Beneficial Progression
A Broadening Body of Evidence Supports the Conclusion that Diversity in Schools, Communities, the Workplace, and Managing Bodies Leads to Better Decisions and Better Results. Government, Nonprofit Organizations, and Institutions of Higher Education are All Playing a Role in Shaping a Better Outcome for Our Collective Future.
History is a Spectrum of Change
If we want to improve the world we must begin to understand where and who we are as a society and as individuals; it helps to look at where we have come from and establish a course for where we are going, for Rome was not built in a day and anything great takes time to create. While we could go into greater depth and further bounds, let us quickly look at just a few turning points that have brought us to where we are today.
The American Revolution
The United States of America was established in the late 1700’s — nearly 250 years ago at the time of writing — by a growing body of people who saw an opportunity to improve their world. At that time, much of the world was ruled over by an elite class of monarchs with vast colonial empires stretching all over the globe. These empires would clash in near unimaginably large skirmishes at sea and with enormous brigades of mostly conscripted soldiers fighting barbaric and brutal battles on the land. They enslaved masses of people everywhere they went in order to strengthen their power; the more similarity between the cultures, the more they worked together, while the more dissimilarity they found, the more they took advantage of one another.
Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet called Common Sense and first published it anonymously at the beginning of 1776. The first printing sold over one hundred fifty thousand and went on to sell over five hundred thousand. By today’s standards, it would have been considered a best seller. Therein he makes a stirring argument for self-government likening the royalty of the day to a lineage of usurpers who seized power through force, not unlike criminal thugs running a protection racket.
In an introduction to the work, he says that “[t]he cause of America is… the cause of all [people].” He goes on to say: “Many circumstances have and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of [people everywhere] are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested.” He surmises that everyone with any sort of feelings — regardless of their class or political leanings — must condemn those who would, through war, attempt to silence the people standing up for their own human rights.
“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” — Thomas Paine, Common Sense
America’s Civil War Era
It was just a little more than eighty years after the founding of The United States of America when the institution of slavery was abolished. For perspective, it was about eighty years before today that World War II began. The thirteenth (1865), fourteenth (1868), and fifteenth (1870) amendments ended slavery, strengthened the rights of the newly freed people of America with guarantees of due process of law and equal protection of the law, and prohibited states from using race to deny any citizen their right to vote, respectively.
Despite these — at the time radical — moves toward a more just and verdant society, the plague of holding human rights for some and not for others continued, on multiple fronts. Citizens at the time were literally defined as men. Women’s suffrage — the right to vote — for example, was still not to come for another fifty years. Largely overlooked in many histories to date, the American Civil War and the ensuing legislation overlooked the women’s rights movement that began in earnest as early as 1848. That July, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were the organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, the first women’s rights convention.
The Declaration of Sentiments, provided at the convention and which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, called for broader educational and professional opportunities for women. Additionally, it called for the rights of married women to control the use of their own wages and property. Fredrick Douglas, a formerly enslaved man, and a renowned abolitionist leader also attended the Seneca Falls Convention. He published that same year in his own newspaper The North Star, an editorial, saying, “…in respect to political rights,… there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the elective franchise,…”
After the sweeping legal changes for racial justice were enacted there were still entire states’ legislatures that seemingly flaunted their ability to make and enforce laws that were in flagrant disparity with the constitutional amendments made to bring the country and its people together. These were collectively known as Jim Crow laws and were a blight to the furtherance of equality in America.
In 1896, the nine-member Supreme Court of The United States of America (SCOTUS) heard the grievances of Homer Plessy. Plessy was a man of African American descent who was criminally charged for not giving his seat on a train to a paler skinned man who demanded it. In an 8–1 decision, the only sanity held by the court of the time was iterated by the dissent of the honorable Justice John Marshal Harlan who stated: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
The cognitive dissonance of this time in American history, and the inability to choose a path forward that would honor the intent of those who came before and prescribed a doctrine of true equality would last, for many people’s lives, interminably.
Just A Hundred Years; Though Really, Not Even
As mentioned, the fight for women’s rights was well on its way during the same period and comingled at times with, the fight for racial equality. And it was just a hundred years ago that the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified. August 18, 1920, was the day that this country made a declaration enfranchising all adult American women with the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. This would seem to have settled the forgoing issues and ushered in a new era of equality and signaled an embrace of diversity, however, it was not yet the case.
It was not until May of 1955 that the Supreme Court gave direction for the implementation of the ruling that “… in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal…” It was then that the Justices’ plan to proceed with “all deliberate speed” to desegregate the school systems began to take shape. The ensuing actions took many more years to implement throughout the country.
According to Drexel University, 2014 was the first year that the minority-majority milestone was hit. At that time the number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students enrolled in the public school system surpassed the number of white students. Additionally, the U.S. Census predictions tell us that, by the year 2044, over half of the nation’s population will be people of color — indicating that the trend toward cultural diversity will continue.
The increase in diversity of both students and citizens is also not limited to race or ethnicity. There will be more people of different religious views, economic status, language background, sexual orientation, and gender identity. If students are going to thrive in an environment with exponential growth in diversity, their multicultural awareness and acceptance of inclusion will be paramount to their own successes.
While some people have questioned the benefits of diversity in the school systems, there is a growing body of evidence that the outcomes for people of “non-minority” students are bolstered as much as those considered to be minorities. Fifty years ago, nearly 80% of the nation’s public school enrollment was comprised of “white” students. That figure is now less than 50% and continues to fall. Because public schools are attended by approximately 9 out of every 10 school-aged children in the nation — and are meant to prepare children for the world they will experience as adults — ethnically, culturally, or racially segregated schools do not adequately prepare children for the adult world they will enter.
Diverse schools include more robust classroom discussions with higher levels of dialogue and debate and include points of view that homogenous classrooms are not exposed to. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are increased and lead to higher academic achievement. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote, “the nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth ‘out of a multitude of tongues.” An essential academic benefit of more flexible thinking and multiple views of understanding events and problems comes from participating in more diverse environments.
These benefits have been realized outside of classrooms as well, where it has been shown that problem solving within diverse groups of people consistently outperforms that of groups made up of experts in a particular field. Simply put, “Scholars from a variety of disciplines have studied how people and groups make breakthroughs. The common answer: diverse perspectives.” The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. 2008 Princeton University Press.
In 2003 a meta-analysis was done on 515 social science studies. These studies spanned 60 years and included 36 different countries. Overwhelming evidence was found that indicated the contact between diverse groups lowered the incidence of prejudice within those groups. Part of this was due to the fact that exposure to different backgrounds produced a greater sense of knowledge and awareness for those backgrounds. This in turn lowered the anxiety felt by people encountering diversity and raised the exhibition of empathy for others.
It has also been shown that because the human mind takes on many of its more permanent perceptions during the formative years (particularly around the time of elementary school), exposing children to a more diverse environment from these early ages leads to greater flexibility in later thinking around people’s differences. Importantly, the findings of many studies have suggested that people who are exposed to diversity from a young age have a greater ability to resist discrimination and persecution of others throughout their lives.
It is not only the exposure to different races, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds but the development of friendships across these lines that have been shown to make the greatest impact on people’s cultural competency — or ability to function in diverse situations — but also on their long term happiness and success. These benefits and successes have furthermore been shown to extend not only throughout the lives of those first exposed. Importantly, they become multigenerational benefits that go on to help the children and grandchildren of the former students go on to live in more healthy and democratic societies.
Social injustices of all kinds are affected by the integration of diverse groups. This is because people who grow up in these environments are more aware of opportunities to affect civil and political issues. They go on to contribute thereafter to their communities through constructive civic engagement.
What are Some of the Differences That Need to Be Addressed?
It is important to remember that no two people are the same. Even identical twins with the same sets of genes can have radically different thoughts, feelings, and preferences. As we enter an increasingly diverse world, we want to help people to recognize and deal with others’ differing perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, and appearances.
Walden University denotes a few of the areas of diversity that it encourages new educators to address. They include race and ethnicity and make a distinction between the two. While people identify race usually as the color of someone’s skin — and this difference is one that people quickly see with their eyes — ethnicity is more tied to someone’s nationality. The ethnic diversity within any given race can be great and stretch through many generations.
Religion is another form of human diversity. Not all people practice worship, and, among those that do, there can be great differences in the traditions of other people’s faith. It is recommended that we should strive to understand that different people feel different requirements from their diverse faiths, and this leads to impacts on their free time and behaviors.
Human Language is arguably one of the things that set us apart from the other species of Earth. Diverse forms of language convey subtle differences in the human condition as language itself helps to organize and convey our thoughts. René Descartes went as far as to coin the Latin phrase “cogito, ergo sum” or “Je pense, donc je suis” as was published in French. An English reader might more quickly recognize this phrase as, “I think, therefore I am”.
With 7,117 known languages in the world — 347 of which are spoken in the United States — it makes little sense to attempt to limit education to one dominant language. As such, gearing our schools and our workplaces to accommodate those for whom English is a second language helps us all to experience a richer view of life.
Socioeconomic diversity is an interesting fact of life, and one not to be ignored as we look at learning and life. Many of the most gifted people in the world — who may carry some of the greatest value to society — come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds. While the poverty rates around the globe are falling, they are rising in the United States. As we move forward, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to include people from diverse economic backgrounds so that we have a better understanding of the issues that confront different people and can create structures that support a thriving community.
Sexual orientation and gender identity have been overlooked, kept closeted, treated as a disease, and even criminalized in the past. As we move beyond these damaging views of people and embrace our diverse views of self, we grow culturally and as communities. It is mutual respect and safety that we promote both for ourselves and others as we allow people to be who they are. By fostering acceptance and understanding that we may all have different ways of being, we do not threaten either institution, our past, or our future. We embrace and create a better future for every life on the planet.
The Future Starts Today
Today is the day. This is it and it is all we have. Moving through life is a series of changes and the way that we deal with a changing world and each other will determine what today looks like for the children of the future. We owe it to ourselves, the children of the future, and their memories of us, to strive to produce a society that everyone can thrive in. The things we do today to better understand and foster the growth of our diversity will ultimately lead to a stronger species of humanity able to not just survive but thrive and enjoy the fruits of life.