One of the myths of public school is that it’s a great melting pot and an expression of American diversity. The truth is that it’s a great way for immigrants to learn how to fit in with other American kids, and we value the feeling of fitting in. And it’s a great way for you to have your kids spend time with your neighbors, and we value having a tightly knit community. But our schools today aren’t helping knit that community.
1. Public schools are racially segregated.
The Atlantic reports that schools are as segregated today as they were in the 1960s. There is a concerted effort in the South to gerrymander public school districts to keep white kids away from black kids. The law doesn’t have the teeth necessary to stop the efforts, similar to abortion laws not having the teeth to stop states from making abortions inaccessible.
2. Real diversity is economic diversity.
Any public school’s population is determined largely by real estate. You go to school where your neighbors go to school. It’s outdated to assume that if you get a black kid and a white kid together and their parents have similar education and similar economic status that the racial difference maintains diversity. The kids are, in fact, largely similar because of their shared background.
True diversity today is socioeconomic, and neighborhood schools naturally avoid it. We have determined that it’s not a worth two-hours a day in a school bus for rich kids to meet poor kids. Poor kids would probably be willing to ride in the bus, but rescuing only the rich kids from extreme busing would be discrimination. So no one does it.
3. Diversity of ability undermines test scores.
If you send your kid to school you are agreeing that measuring learning by testing is a good thing. You can protest with the other parents who are saying no to tests, but there is no other way for parents (or college administrators) to have a sense of what a child has accomplished during their eight hours a day at school other than testing. Alternative forms of measurement take a huge amount of customization that we cannot do on a grand scale.
So, the fact that rich kids achieve more – no matter what school they are in – means that you are much better off putting your kid in a school with rich kids. This also means that schools are incentivized to keep mentally disabled kids out of the testing pool. Especially when it comes to school funding, kids who think differently bring the school down.
A teacher at Whitney Young, Melissa Fett, points out that top magnet schools like Whitney Young help kids get high test scores, but “Diversity is not just race; Everyone forgets that part. Go to the other high schools and see the special education program and everything else all under one roof.”
4. Homeschool provides the diversity of adult daily life.
The idea of “everything else all under one roof” is our reality as adults, as we move through society in our everyday life. When people make analogies between school and prison, the reason that vision sticks so well is because a “good” school does not allow a kid to travel socioeconomic paths. In fact, a “bad” school also does not allow kids to travel across socioeconomic barriers because high testers and low testers are segregated.
We adults interact with a wide range of people in our everyday lives. Cashiers at Walgreens often have special needs. The electrician who comes to our house learns with his hands, as does the plumber. Learning by doing is not something kids get a lot of exposure to in school.
5. Diversity requires open communication.
Crossing over to interact outside your comfort zone requires a level of unhindered, unstructured communication. The reason diverse teams do better than homogenous teams in the workplace is that diverse teams can solve problems in unique ways, but only if they are self-directed.
If you tell someone what to think about, what to investigate, how to communicate – which is exactly how school works – then any benefit from diversity fades away. A school with variety in its students’ socioeconomic backgrounds requires an unstructured learning and exploration environment to reap the benefits of the diversity. Otherwise, a narrowly focused, single-path arena creates an atmosphere where people stick to what they know so they can meet the school’s goals faster and move on.
6. Diversity requires discomfort.
Real diversity of ideas is not easy. In fact, smaller companies do better with homogenous teams because it’s so difficult to get anything done with diversity. In the Fortune 500 people are trained to work in diverse teams because real diversity is not something we are used to – it feels uncomfortable. We naturally gravitate toward people who are like us.
So real diversity is not an inner-city school where black and white kids don’t mix. It’s my son, a rural farm kid, thinking all Asian kids are related, and offending the boy he was talking to.
A picture of diversity is not a college web site with kids of different races on the front page. The picture of diversity is jarring, because it’s two people coming together with significantly different experiences. We love seeing the photos of this little girl because she grew up in the jungle.
She connected with the animals in an unexpected way, but most importantly, she had to learn to manage the bridge between the culture of her photographer parents and the culture of the jungle community.
Diversity is something that’s so difficult it makes us marvel, whether in corporate life, in jungle life, or in school.