Re: A meeting on diversity in svs-model schools

anne romeyn pittman (romey@wam.umd.edu)
Mon, 2 Sep 1996 11:01:46 -0400 (EDT)


On Sun, 1 Sep 1996 Jbradford1@aol.com wrote:

> Is a group or school that happens to be comprised of a wide range of
> ethnic and
> socio-economic backgrounds somehow intrinsically more valuable or better than
> a group that is all white and middle class? If not, then what is the point?

I think it can be argued that such a group is, if not "better," at least
more representative than a white. middle class group, for two reasons.
First, it seems to me to
involve the same issues as, say, a school meeting at which only staff
people choose to attend. Of course, everyone is "welcome," but, to me, a
school meeting at which only adults are present, represents a dilemma.
While there is nothing "legally" wrong with it, do the rules it passes
carry the same community endorsement that a more representative group
might pass? Similarly, a Sudbury model school in a given community which
contains only a specific category of people from that community --
especially a category which, like adults over children, has
traditionally held more power or been exclusive of the other group -- will
not, for me, hold the same promise as a solution to wider educational
problems as one which is more representative of that community -- in all
ways. That's part of the reason that Danny, in his writings, makes such a
point of the political diversity of people attracted to SVS, unlike other
"alternative" schools.
The second reason relates to your assumption of "color-blindness" which
makes no sense to me. A black person cannot live in American society
without encountering certain experiences which will affect his or her
world view. Not that it will affect all black people in the same way, or
that it overrides other ways in which a person might be more similar to a
given white person, than some other randomly chosen black person. But
there is no escaping the fact that race is a big deal in our culture. It
is a theme running through much of the literature kids read; they see it
at the Mall, they watch it on TV. A mixed race school would provide (kids
and adults),
white, black hispanic, etc., with an opportunity to sort out the mixed
racial messages that our society gives them, to work out what equality of
rights means (its no simple concept), and to translate race relationships
into the language of free and democratic schools. That opportunity is
tremendously valuable, and can't happen if the school's population doesn't
include more than one racial group.

> I contend diversity (my definition) occurs naturally over time. To force it
> in to some type of preconceived framework is not democracy at all, it is
> simply coercion. History clearly illustrates that coercion does not work.
> And this type of coercion seems to me to conflict with the philosophy of a
> Sudbury model school.
> If we base diversity on demographics, then how does one define diversity as a
> goal? When have we reached the ideal level of diversity in our schools?
> Logic tells me that we must set an "ideal" numerical value (also known as a
> quota) of persons (students) of differing diverse populations.

All this is really distortion of what was said at the meeting. No one was
talking coercion or quotas of any kind, and to make the leap from wanting
to spread the idea of sudbury-type schooling beyond one's immediate
circle, including to groups of other racial, religious, ethnic, etc.,
backgrounds, to wanting quotas is absurd. None of us, except SVS and
Hadera are in any position to turn away anyone who can pay and is
sympathetic to the philosophy. What we are talking about is putting more
thought and effort into how to overcome the barriers which the historical
and social circumstances of our society have erected between certain
groups, in order to enrich ourselves, our schools, and ultimately the
expansion of the model.
> I feel strongly that democratic schools should not be the vehicles of social
> change. If an adult wants to promote a certain agenda, the democratic model
> is not the mechanism by which to do it.
Oh, really, now. What is the philosophy if not a dramatic attempt to
change, yes, permanently and radically alter, the relationship between
children and adults. If that is not social change then I am at a loss
as to what is. My understanding of the philosophy is that it stands
unequivically behind the notion that all people have equal rights,
regardless of age, race, gender, etc. We, as adults are quite willing
to spend endless hours thinking about how to ensure that we are not
walking over children, unduly influencing them to our way of thinking,
or disempowering them in any way. We put lots and lots of energy into
equalizing that historically imbalanced relationship. Why then is it
"coercion" to want to think also about other groups whose experience has
been less than equal? When a Black family comes to visit your school and
sees no other black students, they might react similarly to a child who
decides to attend that all-adult school meeting. "Well, the brochure/rule
book says I'm welcome here, but I can see that if I come I'll be alone,
and feel like an outsider." To me, and all white, middle-class school is a
problem -- nothing to shut a school down over, or to take away from the
tremendous value and importance of the philosophy -- but a problem
nonetheless. I, for one, will put a substantial amount of thought into
what can be done about it.