At a time in which we increasingly sort ourselves by class in this country, there is no starker example of this than the make-up of our children’s classrooms. Otherwise open-minded and justice-seeking people of all persuasions all of a sudden get downright neurotic when it comes to finding a suitable environment for their precious juniors, even if it means shelling out big bucks, moving, or working every possible political connection.
Race is an unmistakable and yet seldom spoken component of this sorting. We cannot easily delve into the annual incomes, work ethics, and moral characters of our fellow parents, so instead we use skin color as a proxy, and have become learned in our use of race-blurring code words like “density” to excuse ourselves from situations in which our kids will mingle with other kids who might bring them down.
My wife and I have been incredibly fortunate, first as kids ourselves to have received good to great educations in our childhood public schools, and then to luck into schooling environments for our kids that have proven to be wonderfully beneficial in light of their respective delays and challenges. God has been good and it is no effort at all to give Him the credit here.
What I pray and hope and strive for as it relates to our kids’ education is that they are exposed to lots of subjects in lots of different ways, for who knows what will capture them and by what learning style. Diversity, in other words, is inherently a good thing from a pedagogical standpoint, for it maximizes the chance that a student will be inspired. And, it broadens their ability to process information in a multitude of ways.
Diversity as it relates to who they learn with and from, therefore, would also seem to be an important component to a strong childhood education. Say what you want about how curricula have changed since I was a kid – and to be sure I have my own complaints to register – but one nice improvement, in my opinion, has been the intentional exposure to a range of life perspectives.
To give but two examples, my son’s “Raising a Reader” book bag from last week included, out of three stories, one from an African-American viewpoint and one from a Native American viewpoint. Meanwhile, my daughter’s take-home book was in Spanish! She insisted I read it word for word, even though I had no idea what I was saying. (Nor would have any Spanish speaker who had heard me, given that I was likely mangling every other word.)
One of the ways I feel fortunate about our kids’ schooling so far is that it has been really good, for the most part, and they have been exposed to a fairly diverse mix of teachers and fellow students. I realize that in some parts of the country, there aren’t many avenues that are relatively high in quality and high in diversity. So other parents may have to make tougher choices than we have. But I would hope that diversity would rank higher as a criteria, given its fundamental usefulness in a good childhood education.
For what it’s worth, here’s a breakdown of the racial composition of my kids’ teachers and classmates. For teachers, I simply offer a count, and for classmates, I offer very rough percentages (not including my kids themselves). All numbers are Asian/black/white, with teachers first and then classmates.
Age 1 – 0/1/1, 10%/40%/50%
Age 2 – 0/2/0, 10%/80%/10%
Age 3 – 0/2/0, 0%/95%/5%
Age 4 – 0/3/0, 20%/40%/40%
Age 5 – 0/0/2, 30%/20%/50%
Age 1 – 0/2/0, 10%/80%/10%
Age 2 – 0/2/0, 0%/95%/5%
Age 3 – 1/2/0, 10%/40%/50%