The Down Side of Diversity
course I'm for schools that are integrated, both in terms of race and of income
and other demographic categories. But sometimes I wonder what is the academic
cost of so much diversity. Isn't it true that the more alike a group of
students are, the more they tend to learn?
Isn't it highly ironic? But you're
right. Schools in which there is less diversity among students and teachers in
their skin color, ethnicity and income level tend to do better than schools
with a lot of diversity in those factors, at all levels of academic
achievement. In some ways, it was bad for African-American students to
desegregate schools, even though of course no one wants to go back to that day.
The thing is, diversity has a down
side. And even the most liberal fans of multicultural education know this.
Left-wing Harvard University
professor and social scientist Robert Putnam says that the more
multiculturalism and diversity are fostered in a society, the LESS civic
engagement and community cohesion there tends to be. It has to do with personal
feelings of belonging and security, which are even more pronounced among young
children than the adult world as a whole.
Based on interviews with a
half-million people, Putname came up with the finding that the more diversity
there is in a community, the fewer people vote, the less people volunteer, the
less they give to charity, and the less they work on mutually-beneficial
community projects. They withdraw even from their own neighbors and friends, and
tend to "huddle unhappily in front of the television."
Putnam concluded that in the most
diverse communities, neighbors trust each other only half as much as they do in
communities that are more homogenous - where people are more like each other in
factors such as race, religion and income level. He said "virtually all
measures of social health" were less in a diverse community, than in a more
With less unifying forces at work
in a society, schools become hotbeds of conflict rather than places where
people can come together and learn. And the isolation and mistrust that a
splintered society breed tend to increase crime and social isolation among its
citizens, and that includes schools as a key institution in any community.
In his book, Bowling Alone, published in 2000, Putnam described the American
propensity for individualism and our tendency to "go it alone" instead of
gathering with others to work on civic projects and so forth. But he also
acknowledged that forced multiculturalism can backfire, too.
diversity and welcoming immigration were all supposed to increase the social
capital of traditionally isolated population groups. But instead,
unfortunately, they reduce social contact between diverse ethnic groups, and
also within each individual ethnic group itself, he found.
The findings signal the wisdom of
ash-canning "Political Correctness," and returning to the American slogan, E pluribus unum - "out of many, one" -
as a better description of the tolerance and acceptance that we should all
practice toward those of different races, ethnicities and income groups, while
not forcing anyone to pretend to be in the same "tribe" as all others.
Putnam also puts out great hope
that Christian churches are the one place where diversity can transcend the
natural human tendencies to self-isolate and mistrust others. He pointed to
large evangelical congregations that are diverse and integrated, but active and
engaged all across their communities. The Christian ethic inspires people to
celebrate where they are the same - where it counts, in their spirits - whereas
in secular societies such as public-school settings, the common spiritual
threads are denied and submerged in Political Correctness.
Schools might consider doing some of
the 150 things Putnam recommends to re-start social engagement in their
communities on his website, www.BetterTogether.org
National Association for Multicultural
Education offers the opposite point of view, that diversity is a good thing