Where do you keep your ketchup? If you run out, what do you reach for? Chances are, if you keep your ketchup in the fridge, you are white or northern, and if you are not white or from the south (of America, to be clear), you keep it in the cupboard. This Reply All podcast begins with a “Yes, Yes, No” segment on the “Manosphere,” which is throw-up-in-your-mouth worthy, as concepts go. Listen, or skip ahead until the Leslie Miley story about diversity – or the lack thereof – at Twitter.
The point about ketchup is this: if you keep your ketchup in the fridge and run out, you are likely to reach for other condiments you keep in the fridge, like mayonnaise or mustard. If you keep ketchup in the cupboard and run out, you are likely to reach for a condiment that you keep in the cupboard, like malt vinegar (or mustard, I suppose). Diversity offers ways of problem solving in ways that we can’t anticipate in monocultural or monolithic organizational cultures. Even a diverse culture may lose out on problem solving options native to someone with a background not represented in the decision making space.
Diversity is a moral imperative in schools not just for obvious reasons, but also because diverse learning environments are necessary to prepare students for life in a broad, diverse world! This podcast makes the argument better than I can, so give a listen.
In this brilliant podcast episode of “On Being“, Krista Tippett interviews Brother David Steindl-Rast on gratitude. Brother Steindl-Rast is eloquent on gratitude, but also on all that we may not be grateful for, like violence and environmental destruction, and his thoughts on being born as the beginning of our struggle with anxiety, to go forward is to live, to retreat from fear is to die – indeed before ever living, struck me. He says for this purpose we must validate our anxiety, recognize it as real, and as based on reality. In a humanity that is choosing to destroy our own ecosystems of survival and networks of connection that, as Brother Steindl-Rast points out, put food on our plate, this anxiety is valid.
Such resonance – our anxieties are valid. In the context of a school, imagine all of the anxieties on offer every day for each member of the community. Will my daughter reach a competitive university like her father and I did? Is my child being bullied? A bully? What if they find out I am here on scholarship? Will the principal observe this lesson today, and will she understand what she sees here? Nobody else in this room is dressed like me. I’ve been away on business too long and missed another play. I don’t have anything for show and tell.
Obviously, that list could go on.
A colleague recently described the anxiety high school/upper school parents in affluent schools feel about university entrances as “guarding the family jewels,” and it helped me to conceptualize that anxiety as one of preserving capital – cultural or otherwise. I recognize that parents in high poverty areas like those in which I have previously taught have many different anxieties – will the child return home if she attends university? Is that a reasonable fear? And what Brother Steindl-Rast shares is that yes, this is a valid anxiety, and that acknowledging this should protect against reactions from fear, like pressuring a child until he cracks and has a real psychological break before reaching majority age, or blowing up a relationship with a child to protect oneself against the pain of another brilliant kid leaving the reservation forever.
I wonder how many schools open conversations about these anxieties and validate them? How many ameliorate the problem at hand with platitudes and then roll eyes in the office after 5 pm? That’s a hard conversation, even just the easy bit about Penn State being a great place to be educated, even though it’s not in Princeton, NJ. Honoring anxiety about an ever crowded and seemingly chaotic world that could strip a standard of living from our children acknowledges how little control we actually have. I wonder: Would that reduce fear and stress in the long run?
I think it’s worth a try.