Everyone benefits from classroom diversity. That’s the message U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. delivered on Friday to parents and teachers at the National PTA Convention in Orlando.
Yes, students of color and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic households would clearly benefit from the opportunity to attend high achieving schools. But King told teachers and parents that integration makes everyone better off.
“And so, what I’m asking you today is to act not only in the interest of someone else’s kids, but also to act boldly in the interest of your own,” he said.
King placed diversity among the essential elements of a well-rounded education:
“Like math and reading, like science, social studies, and the arts, diversity is no longer a luxury. It’s essential for helping our students get ready for the world they will encounter after high school and, increasingly, throughout their lives.”
Chances are that students in predominately White, affluent schools will encounter diverse workplaces later in life. Learning and interacting with peers from different backgrounds will prepare them for having a boss, coworker, or project teammates who don’t look, worship, or speak the same language they do, King said.
At the same time, the secretary stated that businesses with diverse employees tend to outperform their less diverse competitors. So, there’s a clear benefit to the economy as well.
There are no plans on the table to promote another round of forced school busing, Secretary King told NewsOne. He said President Barack Obama’s Stronger Together initiative seeks to “incentivize and accelerate locally developed voluntary efforts to increase socioeconomic diversity.”
There’s a growing interest in classroom diversification, King said. He added that a number of school districts are currently pursuing diversity initiatives on their own. He also pointed to a growing conversation nationwide about classroom diversity.
Often, when the subject of school diversity comes up, there’s an element in the Black community that resists that idea. There’s a fear that scores of students will be left behind in failing schools.
“This is not a situation where there’s an either or strategy,” King stated to NewsOne. He said this is an opportunity for school districts to address diversity while also improving schools. “They don’t have to choose between those two things because they could work on both,” he explained.
Looking ahead to implementation, there is often very little meaningful interaction at school between students of different backgrounds, beyond passing each other in hallways. That’s a problem.
King said it’s not enough to have diversity in the school building alone. He emphasized that teachers and administrators have to be “intentional” about creating a climate that values and celebrates diversity. King, a former social studies teacher, said educators must create opportunities for meaningful interaction and discussions about diverse cultures and experiences.
King said the biggest obstacle to achieving classroom diversity is that people believe racial and socioeconomic isolation are inevitable. Segregation, he added, is the result of policy decisions.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Twitter