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 It’s outdated to assume that if you get a black kid and a white kid together and their parents have similar education and similar economic status that the racial difference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.

15 replies
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. I think I took an sort of unplanned vacation. But I’m coming back. Maybe today if the kids can make it until breakfast without fighting with each other… or maybe that’s my problem – that I tied my ability to write to the kids ability to get along for extended periods of time without fighting. I probably need to feel more in control of my writing time. Now that I think about it…

      Penelope

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I think I am most stuck when I keep planning my actions around other things happening. So if the sun and stars and the moon align I’ll do xyz.

        I’ve been experiencing breakthrough in areas where I am not waiting anymore for things to happen so I can take action.

  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Love this post! I also think it’s pretty much impossible to have diversity in a classroom when people are segregated by age. Interacting with people who are much older or younger than ourselves is important for so many reasons.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      This.
      Due to a solitary quirk of the student population growth, my fifth grade class was actually a mix of fourth and fifth graders.

      It was the best experience I had as a student. Reading about how Sudbury schools mix ages makes so much sense.

  2. Nell
    Nell says:

    Just commenting that there are pockets of diversity in public schools, especially in large cities — my kid goes to a program of choice at a Title I school, and it is indeed diverse both economically and racially. And there’s discomfort, not just for the kids but also among parents who have very different takes on class and race.

  3. Marie
    Marie says:

    You forgot age diversity. If there is one area where schools are clearly segregated, it’s age. Students spend all day with the same age group. No one ever learned good social skills from peers alone. Adults and older peers show children how to grow in social maturity. As a someone who was homeschooled, I found while growing up that my homeschooled peers were far more comfortable conversing with adults and were more likely to include kids of all ages in our play/activities than our public schooled peers.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s such a good point. Thanks.

      Also, I’ve found that a quick identifier for homeschooled kids is watching deference and comfort levels with adults.

      Homeschooled kids are not taught the enormous deference toward adults that kids have to learn in schools. The huge number of kids per teacher demands a huge amount of deference to adults.

      At first I was self-conscious of the fact that my kids don’t have that. But now I’m happy for them.

      Penelope

      • Weschool
        Weschool says:

        I spend a great deal of my mental energy trying to figure out if my kids are rude or not because they also do not have that deference to adults. They speak to adults the same way they speak to other kids, for the most part. They are more likely to try out a newfound “naughty” word in a conversation with other kids than they would be with an adult…. But pretty much they speak with the same tone and from the same place in their hearts to all the people they interact with (regardless of age)…. It’s a strange place to be as an adult who grew up calling all adults Mr or Mrs and seeing all adults as authorities… I actually don’t even know if that experience is mine alone? Anyway, kids who are not in a classroom for most of their waking hours (at least mine) seem to relate differently to adults and it is a strange thing to process, for me….

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I actually encourage my kids to speak to adults as if they are equals, they are not subordinates and I don’t allow adults to make them feel inferior. :) I actually worry less now about homeschool/unschool the longer I do it in fact, I just call it life.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Whenever I go to a family reunion I feel exposed to diversity…we may all have the same skin color but we’re all over the map when it comes to socioeconomics and politics. It makes for very loud conversation or arguments or banter… I like being a libertarian so I can help mediate the two groups…lol. Outside of that environment I gravitate towards like minded individuals…mostly to avoid causing hurt feelings or judgements from others.

    I never saw the pictures of that jungle girl till now, very cool! I wanted to see more so maybe I’ll have to get the book.

  5. Crimson Wife
    Crimson Wife says:

    This is so true! I could count the number of “diverse” kids at my public high school on a single hand (2 black kids, 2 Mormons, and a Jew, all of whom were from affluent families like everyone else). In contrast, our homeschool support group contains a wide variety of races, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic levels. My homeschooled kids are exposed to a FAR more diverse set of kids than I was attending public school.

  6. Bryce
    Bryce says:

    Perhaps a key reason why Catholic schools, Jewish yeshivas and secular private schools perform better than public schools is that, unlike public schools, their population is not determined by real estate. Another key reason is that kids at these schools tend to be financially better off.

  7. Kim
    Kim says:

    What a great post! I went to a very diverse high school where there was probably a handful of people from every part of the world. It actually worked quite the opposite of the quintessential integration experience that schools hope for.
    All that happened was there was a massive segregation. Because, while students may have wanted a diverse experience, schools don’t allow for it. Diverse experiences require open and free environments which is the antithesis of schools. Schools are not a healthy nor safe environment and they know this so their survival instincts tell them to attach themselves to what’s familiar, which is their own ethnic groups. School does not allow students to produce the confidence to explore, not when they are told what to do, think and study.

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