Over 60 years ago, on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools, established by state law, were unconstitutional. Since then, integration and diversity in our school system has increased, though that isn’t for a lack of difficulty along the way.
People have opposed teaching about different cultures, religions, etc in schools. Having diversity in the classroom not only helps children learn and think differently, but also prepares them for the real world and interacting with those of different cultures in the workplace and in daily life.
So what is the obstacle to classroom diversity? Why are some parents and schools resisting if integrating schools with those of different races, cultures, or socioeconomic backgrounds helps students learn?
Integration Isn’t Easy
One of the driving factors to moving into a certain area, for many people, is to find a quality school system to send their children to. So some parents may move a little farther away from work, or pay a little bit more for a house in a specific area to be able to send their child to a better school. This kind of sacrifice is often where some hostility comes into play when schools change districting to pull students from different areas.
The goal of this is not to rob anyone of a quality education, but instead to be able to improve the education for everyone there. But parents who have given up something for their child to attend this school may feel that this is an unfair adjustment.
One great example of this is Eden Prairie. A growing community in Minnesota that recently got attention for trying to be inclusive of its increasing immigrant population. According to USA Today, “about 1,800 Eden Prairie residents claimed Somali ancestry on the latest U.S. Census survey, but city officials peg the number closer to 4,500 in a city of about 81,000.”
This changing in demographics is not only felt in Minnesota, but all over the U.S. White students, according to the Department of Education as of the 2014-2015 school year, are now a minority. And it is projected that their numbers will steadily continue to decrease, while the number non-white students, such as those of Hispanic background are rapidly increasing.
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So for those in areas like Eden Prairie there is a growing need to readjust and include some of their fastest growing populations. But this wasn’t some small task. Superintendent Kerr, in Eden Prairie, faced a lot of backlash when attempting to redraw school boundaries. Community meetings were filled with harsh and often racial remarks. Police officers were asked to be present at each meeting to make sure the hostility didn’t move beyond words.
In the end the plan was approved by a narrow margin and “nearly three years later, the new boundaries remain in effect. The district says achievement has risen and that the achievement gap has shrunk.”
If diversity in the classroom is so beneficial, why is it so difficult to initiate? What can we do be more inclusive of others?
Classroom Diversity Benefits All
Recently Patrick Kelly, a teacher at Blythewood High School in South Carolina, wrote on The U.S. Department of Education’s blog, “of course the value of classroom diversity is not a new concept. Next week, my students will read Brown v. Board of Education, where the Supreme Court noted, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life,” without a quality education.”
Kelly points out that all students should have the right to a quality education and that, “both research and my experience show the link between quality and diversity in schools.”
An article in The Edvocate, points out a few reasons why classrooms need diversity, such as, “the idea of “diversity” is not even that straightforward.” This means that just because Chinese and Japanese students share a common Asian heritage, doesn’t make their cultures are any less different that that of a student from Germany. Being able to understand that race, nationality, culture etc. are all a part of who we are and that we can learn from those differences.
It is not only important for the children to understand these differences, but the teachers as well. This way they are able to better facilitate learning in the classroom for all the students.
When we begin to understand that diversity is important and to celebrate our differences, we will be able to do much greater things and our children will be much better off.
Changing for the Future
While there is still a lot of hardship in diversifying our classrooms, people are beginning to change and be more open to working with those that are different.
According to an article by The Century Foundation, “New policies—emphasizing choice and socioeconomic status—are proving popular among a new generation of parents. Wells, Fox and Cordova-Cobo point, for example, to a remarkable change in attitudes in Louisville, Kentucky. In the early 1970s, compulsory busing for racial desegregation was opposed by 98 percent of parent. By 2011, a choice-based system emphasizing socioeconomic alongside racial integration was supported by 89 percent of parents.”
Parents are beginning to see the benefits of educating their children alongside children from different countries, with different cultures, races, etc. As stories, like that of Louisville, Kentucky, begin to spread, more and more people will see the importance of diversity.
Now it is up to the policy makers, like Kerr in Eden Prairie to step up and make the changes. This may not be easy and will mostly likely come with some resistance, but the only way to move forward and improve our schools for the future is to take big steps toward diversity and inclusion. So parents, educators and anyone that understands the value of classroom diversity should make sure those policy makers hear you and work to do something about it.
When whole classrooms, communities, and cities begin to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, our children have better educations, we have better workplaces, and everyone benefits from it.
The Society for Diversity is the largest organization for diversity and inclusion in the US. With members in 43 states, The Society for Diversity represents a highly specialized association of Fortune 500, nonprofit, government and education professionals throughout the U.S. The Society for Diversity is also the parent company of the Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC), which designates qualification credentials to diversity experts through their professional diversity certification program. By teaching diversity professionals and executives how to drive real-world results, the IDC helps individuals advance their careers as well as have a greater overall impact on diversity & inclusion within their organizations. Together, we can standardize and elevate the field.