Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Why Justice Requires Educational Diversity
By Peter Mitchell
October 6, 2014
Principled pluralism reminds us that humanity thrives when it embraces God-given difference rather than when it seeks to impose uniformity. Families and their children are different and diverse; we come from different cultures and countries, different neighborhoods, and different socio-economic backgrounds. We practice different religions and have different views of how children thrive in learning; all these, and more, are important dimensions of diversity.
Therefore, an essential part of justice in the education system lies in its ability to promote the flourishing of the diversity that exists, rather than conformity with any one view of education, one language, one religion or one approach to education. Educational diversity is not only something governments should allow, but something they should pursue. Indeed, to fail to pursue flourishing through diversity is to fail to recognize and affirm the diversity of humanity.
Yet, promoting flourishing through diversity is hard work. It requires understanding differences and being willing to accept that other people do things differently -- sometimes very differently. More than that, it means affirming that everyone, ourselves included, has a “right to be wrong.” Diversity is also challenging because uniformity is always attractive to whoever is the majority; it is easier to pretend that everyone is identical than to make space for people who are different. But conformity is not better simply because it is easier to do.
Diversity matters because to diminish diversity is to diminish human dignity.
So what does flourishing through educational diversity look like?
Educational Diversity Begins with Affirming Parental Responsibilities and Children’s Diverse Needs.
A just political community recognizes that parents, families, and children are not one identical group of people, but rather a multitude of people with many dimensions of diversity. This inherent diversity of families is part of why a just political community affirms and encourages the primary role and responsibility of parents in directing the education of their children.
Further, justice affirms that every child is unique and has diverse needs. Children learn differently, have different home backgrounds, learn different content at different speeds, and require different types of supports and resources for their learning. In a one-size-fits-all approach, this multi-dimensional diversity is very hard to address because it goes against the grain of the uniform system.
Educational Diversity Requires Equity of Opportunity.
True educational diversity requires the opportunity to express and fulfill that multi-dimensional diversity. Why? Because diversity without opportunity is difference without dignity.
Therefore, government should promote educational opportunity alongside educational diversity. Government must ensure that educational diversity and opportunity are not diminished by, for example, racial discrimination, a family’s zip code, or by poverty. Government falls short of its responsibility to promote educational diversity when it doesn’t provide equity of opportunity, enabling all children to attend any school -- whether a state school or independent -- because of the child’s race, where he or she lives, or lack of financial resources.
Educational Diversity Needs Diversity of Provision
Because families and children are diverse in the many ways we have seen -- whether culture, religion, race, or background – diversity must also shape our provision of education. Government rightly requires children be educated, and has an important role in creating standards, providing funding, and ensuring this educational diversity of provision. Why? Because while diversity should be promoted, it can also be misused. Government has a legitimate and necessary role in both promoting multi-dimensional diversity and in protecting it from misuse. For example, while parents are primarily responsible for their children’s education, they cannot choose not to have their children educated. Government has a right role in requiring education and in enforcing it.
Currently, government recognizes educational diversity by recognizing numerous models of education as valid, including state schools, independent schools, and home schooling. So in terms of fulfilling its responsibilities, government does allow a diversity of provision. However, government generally only supports one type of provision – the schools it runs. While government recognizes that educational diversity exists, it does not encourage it with equity of opportunity. To act justly, government must also support a diversity of provision through a diversity of schools, so that both educational diversity and educational opportunity can be fulfilled. All parents and children should be able to access all forms of education.
Justice requires that if government supports any type of school, it should support every type of school. Therefore, while multi-dimensional diversity should flourish, it must do so in a way that remains just. Government must then uphold this justice in diversity, as well as justice through diversity.
A version of this article appeared as part of CPJ’s Christians Investing in Education initiative.
- Peter Mitchell is the Director of Communications at the Center for Public Justice.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”