June 17, 2014
During this past year, Fort Morgan made the Denver news as a result of vandalism to cars owned by Somali residents. The media labeled this vandalism as a hate crime. The resultant notoriety for our small community prompted some dialogue among a number of citizens in Fort Morgan to answer two primary questions: 1) “How could this happen in our town?” and 2) “What can we do to prevent this from happening again?” As an educator, I started contemplating what types of things could be done in our schools to foster an appreciation for diversity and help children (who will one day be citizens and leaders) learn to treat others the way they would like to be treated. In my search for answers, I came to the realization that we may be sending mixed subtle messages that segregate us – notwithstanding the rhetoric we espouse for the advocacy of diversity.
Arguably, understanding and appreciating diversity is one of the most important character traits that we can teach our children as the cornerstone of serving humanity. It is a trait that can and should be nurtured whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself. In the larger scheme of things, we may inadvertently inhibit experiences that would help children develop this vital part of their character. However, we have opportunities to lead by example and make choices on a daily basis that will foster diversity and inclusion.
Inherently, every educational environment is a positive and good environment. And we can make choices in favor of inclusion and diversity within those environments. For example, when children are grouped by ability in the classroom, the high achievers and those with capacity for certain academic disciplines learn that academic achievement and developing a competitive edge is more important than serving those who are less fortunate. The children that are placed in the slow group also learn an important lesson about their self-worth and their station in the academic world.
On a larger scale, we teach our children about how we value diversity when we choose the schools our children attend. For example, if we choose a homogenous private school environment simply to shelter our children from other children who come from a different race, ethnic, or socio-economic background, we teach our children an important lesson about how we prioritize the value of diversity. While there are always varying circumstances for the choices we make, our intent for our choices is what our children understand and learn as values.
One of the most profound examples I have seen with parents teaching the value of diversity was by homeschooling their children for a year while sailing around the world. The intent was to balance academic rigor in the homeschool environment with providing their children first-hand experiences through interaction with the multitude of ethnic and cultural diversity around the globe. These children were given a hands-on educational experience in appreciating diversity.
If we believe that a valuable learning outcome is knowing how to build relationships and get along with people from all walks of life, then we need to be willing to make some sacrifices and concessions in order to help our children appreciate and get along in an environment that more realistically reflects the world they will need to function in as adults. In the end, I believe a reasonable balance of teaching academic knowledge with providing experiences to foster diversity and inclusion will allow students to acquire the knowledge, technical skills, and also the soft (human relation) skills to be productive contributors in the workplace.
I put great value on academic excellence. But I put greater value on service to humanity. Albert Einstein said it best: “It is high time that the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service.” We can’t afford sacrificing our children’s learning experiences about diversity and inclusion when we have the opportunity to make choices.