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Paul Grobstein's picture

diversity: turning things around

Discussions of diversity in an educational context (and otherwise?) seem to me frequently to start from a presumption, conscious or unconscious, that there is a particular place one wants everyone to get to ("knowledge that is to be utilized to successfully tackle challenges in the real world", some "useful skill to have", and the like). And it strikes me that that presumption creates a whole series of ills ("teaching to the test", difference between classroom and "real world" skills/environments) and problems (what is diversity?, is diversity productive/efficient? ) that collectively suggest it may be worth reconsidering the presumption itself. Its further my sense that taking diversity itself seriously gives us a perhaps more productive way to think about where we want people to get to.

There is clearly still work to be done in getting everyone comfortable with the idea that students are different from one another in all sorts of ways that are relevant to the classroom, but we seem to be moving toward a recognition that "neurodiversity" is, at least, a classroom phenomenon that can't be ignored. The next question is what to do with/about it, and that in turn necessarily relates to what one is trying to achieve. IF the objective is, in one way or another, to get everyone to the same particular place, then one might think of diversity as a problem that needs to be overcome, or as a tool that can potentially be employed to further the objective. In either case, though, one's objective is, to one degree or another, to reduce neurodiversity.

Maybe though that is itself the core of the problem? Maybe educational systems should both start and end with the premise that diversity is not only inevitable but desireable? Maybe

"The more I learn, the more I realize more and more that how I think and feel is different"

ought to be regarded as not a surprise but rather as an indication of educational success? Start with a recognition of individual differences, use those as a tool to nurture further individual differences? That would not only ensure that "programs like Kaplan would be obsolete" but, more importantly, make classrooms more interesting not only for students but for teachers as well?

Classrooms not so much to give "increased awareness of themselves and their environment" but rather to enhance distinctive abilities and perspectives? THAT might help to give a more coherent understanding of what education is all about, one that would perhaps allow one to more productively thread one's way among what are at the moment uncertainties about a lot of issues of curriculum, pedagogical practice, and institutional organization.

Addendum ("more productively thread one's way ....")

  • students at the end of a course should not be evaluated on whether they can state/make use of a particular way of thinking about things, but rather on whether they can describe and use a way of thinking about things (one of many possible ones) that is for them new and "less wrong" than the one they started the course with, and can imagine and describe ways that in turn might prove to be an inadequate understanding
  • courses should begin and end by encouraging students to describe their current ways of thinking about whatever the material of the course is, with particular encouragement to express what is idiosyncratic to one's own understanding as well as what is similar to the understandings of others
  • commonalities in understandings and skills should to the extent possible be allowed to evolve from the interactions of different inquirers rather than being as a needed foundation without which individual inquiry can't proceed

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