Why Does Educational Diversity Matter?
[In a previous FAQ we looked at what constitutes a Christian view of education. Here we explore more specifically what a view of education informed by the principle of diversity might look like.]
What is Educational Diversity?
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. Diversity is multi-dimensional.
An essential part of justice in the education system then lies in its ability to promote the flourishing of the diversity that exists, not to encourage conformity with any one view or approach, whether it is one view of education, one language, one religion or one approach to education. We need an education system that affirms and encourages a flourishing through diversity.
Therefore, educational diversity is not only something governments should allow but something they should pursue. This includes for example the diversity in the way children learn. So, regarding education, the question should not be to whose view of education should everyone conform, but how does government encourage the flourishing of the diversity that already exists. Indeed, to fail to pursue flourishing through diversity is to fail to recognize and affirm the diversity of humanity.
Promoting flourishing through diversity is hard work. It requires efforts to 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 always seems easier to pretend everyone is identical than to make space for people who disagree with you. So yes, educational diversity is difficult, but we believe difficult is worth doing. 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 an Affirmation of Parental Responsibilities & Children’s Diverse Needs
First, a just political community should recognize that families and children are different, that parents, families and children are not one identical group of people but 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 reminds us that children are unique, have a diversity of needs, and that every child is different. 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 system, this multi-dimensional diversity is very hard to address because any diversity and difference “goes against the grain” of the uniform system.
Educational Diversity Requires Equity of Opportunity
Families and children are different. This is a good thing, and we should have an education system that encourages and enables this diversity, in all its different ways, to flourish. True educational diversity requires the opportunity to express and fulfill that multi-dimensional diversity. Why? Because diversity without opportunity is difference without dignity.
It is therefore crucial for government to 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.
Diversity of Provision is Needed to Fulfill Educational Diversity and Opportunity
Just as diversity is multi-dimensional, so too should be our provision of education if we truly want to encourage this diversity and ensure opportunity. Just as families are diverse in the many ways we have seen -- whether culture, religion, race or background -- so too must diversity shape our provision of education. Diverse children require diverse schools.
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 absolutely be promoted, it can also be misused. Multi-dimensional diversity is a core part of human dignity, but it is not the only part, and so government has a legitimate and needed role in both promoting multi-dimensional diversity and in protecting it from itself. So for example, while parents are primarily responsible for their child’s education, they cannot choose not to have their children educated. Government has a right role in requiring education and in enforcing it through truancy laws, for example.
Currently, government does in part recognize educational diversity by recognizing numerous models of education as valid, including state schools, independent schools, and home schooling. 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. Government recognizes that educational diversity exists but does not encourage it with equity of opportunity. To act justly government must also support a diversity of provision, 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.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- Humanity thrives when it embraces God-given differences rather than when it seeks to impose uniformity. Can you name an example of an experience in your own life, your family’s life, in the life of your community, and/or in your community schools when everyone thrived while embracing God given differences? Can you name an example of an experience in your own life, your family’s life, in your community schools, where imposed uniformity did not allow students to thrive?
- What are the implications of all families and children being able to access all forms of education?
- What are the implications of government providing both educational diversity and educational opportunity?