If there is one message we hope you hear from this month’s Recharge it is this: in 2018 diversity is not just a “nice to have” quality for schools, but rather it is an essential condition for any school preparing students to thrive in a global economy and rapidly accelerating world. The social, political, and environmental challenges of the future will require diverse teams of problem solvers who can leverage the skills, talents and perspectives within their groups in order to develop impactful solutions. While diversity is partly about who has a seat at the table, it is increasingly about how each individual at the table is valued, given an authentic voice and how their motivations, values and perspectives are incorporated into the conversation. The diversity conversation is no longer about numbers or achieving critical mass - its about harnessing the diversity that already exists in your community and leveraging it. And the ability to work collaborative with people of different backgrounds, cultures and values is increasingly essential, highly effective, and ultimately, more joyful.
In our year-long exploration of Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeffrey Howe, we have reached the seventh principle - Diversity Over Ability. (Click here
to heck out all our newsletters to read about the other six principles.)
The articles in this month’s newsletter reflect on how this theme of diversity plays out in the author’s schools and organizations and in their experiences leading diversity work. The authors share how, in their experiences, the richness of diversity enables breakthrough thinking and better ideas. I loved these articles so much and struggled with what I could contribute to the dialogue. So I am adding “three things” to the conversation which I hope will “Yes And” these authors who have teed up this topic so thoughtfully. So here are three thoughts about to move your school community beyond conversations of critical mass and more towards conversations (and actions) around critical impact.
1) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Anyone who thinks group life of any kind is easy and should be free of conflict should look no further than their own family gatherings to know even homogenous groups are fraught with tension and discomfort. Group life is “messy” as our collaborator Ryan Burke often reminds us. Add to the mix a diverse set of cultures - which might mean different core values and ethics. As caring communities, we too often look for ways to bring comfort and ease into conversations that are not simple or easy. When you are dealing with divergent cultural values, motivations and perspectives, there is bound to be friction and tension, which may never be resolved but rather understood and respected. Sometimes the temptation is to resort to our own corners and our “affinity groups” because that is where we can feel safe and comfortable. Adopting a posture of curiosity and wonder about our peers and colleagues is much more helpful in moving us closer to equitable communities where everyone feels like they have equal membership and authentic voice. It’s okay to get messy and not get it right all the time. In our cultures of “being right” we miss out on how sometimes being wrong or always just being curious gets us further and makes us better.
2) Beware the diverse school with a monoculture. We often share our diversity statistics on our websites in a well-intentioned effort to welcome and attract even more families of diverse backgrounds. “We have 41% students of color.” “Our families come from 12 different zip codes.” “25% of our families receive financial aid.” But sometimes that data only tells a very small part of the story. I routinely see schools that have achieve a very high level of racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity but still display a “monoculture” where it feels much more like the dominant culture has invited other cultures over as dinner guests. There are insiders and outsiders and this can play out in very subtle ways and can be made even more invisible when minority cultures use code switching and covering in order to fit into that mainstream or dominant culture. Doing a holistic “culture audit” can be a place to start identifying ways to transform your school from a mono-cultural community to a truly multicultural community. What do you audit? Space (Are your classrooms and spaces reflective of one culture? What hangs on the walls in public spaces?) Time (How do you use time in your school to consider students and faculty who come from far away? Is there regular time in your daily or weekly schedule dedicated to conversations about race, identity, sexuality?) Curriculum and Pedagogy (How are many cultures represented in the curriculum? Whose stories are being told? Who are the heroes that students are learning about? Are they represented in these stories?) Community events (Who comes to events? What time are these events being held? What’s the theme of the event? How much does it cost to attend?) It’s no fun to be a “partial” member of a community or to have to cover in order to pass for the mainstream culture. It’s so much better for everyone and so much richer when everyone brings their “uncovered” selves to the dinner party that is more of a potluck than a hosted event.
3) Strive for “pluralism” not “diversity.” My colleague, friend and collaborator Christian Talbot, the founder of Basecamp (and definitely sign up for his newsletter), believes we may be striving for the wrong goal in our communities when we use the word “diversity.” Instead, he suggests that striving for pluralism in our communities will ultimate result in greater equity and a collective culture rather than a monoculture. E Pluribus Unum literally translates to “out of many, one” and offers a more integrative approach to building a unified community from many different cultures. There are schools that are grounded in pluralism like Pluralistic School One (PS1) in Los Angeles and this philosophy is deeply ingrained in the design of every aspect of the school. But for the rest of us who have been using the term diversity and have actually made some progress on the numbers, shifting the narrative from diverse to pluralistic, might be a more accurate representation for what we are really trying to accomplish as a community.
Once again, if one of the primary goals of school is to prepare our students to be contributing members of society, then we need to be providing opportunities for students to be part of hard conversations, to get curious about cultures other than their own, and to work collaboratively with people who have different stories, values, and perspectives than they do. If we want our democracy to survive, we need future leaders and citizens who value pluralism - a founding principal of this country. While diversity is a lovely thing to have in a community, it’s what you do with it that actually matters.
PS - Despite rain and snow around the country, we have actually reached spring which means summer is around the corner! We're offering Wonder Women!, a chance for women leaders to actively discover and experiment with their own signature leadership presence. And registration is open for the November 2018 Santa Fe Seminar, which provides an introspective and supportive space for school leaders to examine their own practice and plot a course for experimentation in their lives and careers.