Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Diversity and education

This is a modified version of the post I submitted for my Current Trends in English Education course. I've been reading my third book from my list--The Passion of the Western Mind--and I thought it was pertinent to the purposes to this blog.

I still find the idea of “diversity” to be a poorly worded concept with which to indoctrinate (critical perspective indeed!) future/current teachers. My inner sophist argues that what is diverse is what provides the most freedom, pleasure, stainless-steel appliances for the most people. In other words, be nice, be tolerant, be open-minded—except to those who are not. Then my inner Socrates (who’s the pompous one, not me for claiming I have an inner Socrates, honest!) screams back, How dare you teach diversity and tolerance when you do not also proclaim an ideal of truth, beauty, and the American/UN/trans-national-corporate way! Though Socrates and the sophist each have valid points, I find it obvious that we live in the sophist’s world. 

We use a common-sense language to communicate and outline what the world is—but heaven forbid anyone challenge us in our assumptions. Try it out: Ask “but why should we tolerate, or embrace, every kind of person? Even the stupid? How about the fascist?” See if you get a blank-faced “huh?” look, like you're from another planet.  

In many ways it seems that we maintain a shallow understanding, a tenuous grasp of reality (lower case ‘r’), which we use as we plod along. When faced with the question of telos, of goal, of meaning, of transcendent, in-your-face, Capital ‘R’ reality—as in “you’re telling me all this stuff about all these different viewpoints, but what’s The Truth?”—we blink hard. Our eyes hurt. Our pride hurts. We glimpse a giant sucking void overpowering in its depth and in its normally unbeknownst proximity. 

We, in the year 2012, live in the world of the sophist. Thus the surface, the oblique lines of thought and perception that keep one out of the singularity of One Final Truth, of even thinking about it seriously, is where we, working within the discourses of our society, are comfortable.

So let’s wed Socrates and the sophist (as the sophist was most likely male—patriarchal Greek society and all—the wedding will have to take place in Massachusetts). Let’s make a compelling argument for the goals of “diversity” while also stepping back and finding a logically defensible core. Wrapping together our awareness of media and our context as educators in a post-critical world, we can say it this way:

We've taught a dozen different viewpoints, now let us now construct a viewpoint to rule them all.

And what is the fulcrum of this one viewpoint? Ironically, the postmodern position regarding diversity might best put the focus back on the individual. Sure he's crated/created in a cultural context, sure language determines some of his thoughts, sure others around him wield political, economic, and social power, but by the very essence of being an individual, he has a quiet place within himself from which he can contemplate and consider before he acts. Let us not forget that he has a viewpoint upon the world no one else can utilize, no one else can see.

Isn't the larger goal of all of this "education" to shoot for a better future? (Whatever that might mean...) And doesn't that mean freeing the individual from determinism, from laughing at what his tribe has always laughed at, and from expressing himself only in the ways of his tribe? To do this, he must be made aware he is part of a tribe, and that he has a choice as to whether or not to stay. He must be shown the edges of his world and taught how to move beyond them--if he wishes to. Only when the individual comes to see the disconnect between the ways his tribe views reality, the ways other tribes have viewed reality, and the ways in which one could view reality, is he truly free to choose how he will see reality.

Diversity is choice writ large. The individual is free-ish to pick and choose his concepts, feelings, and outlook from the world around him. After all, the Latin root of intelligence is 'to choose'. True diversity, a singular, contextually relevant and contextually informed viewpoint comes only to the individual, not to groups of people. All useful progress comes form individuals dismissing the status quo. Even when they band together and form a group, by the very fact of disagreeing with how it's always been, they are outlining new boundaries and new ways of being.

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