The benefits of diversity

Anybody who studies genetics will tell you that when the gene pool of a given population becomes too uniform, stagnant or (dare I say it?) standardized, the results are not favorable.   The health of the population suffers, as does the aesthetic appeal and overall intelligence.   This is true of animals (as any farmer or vet knows) and of people as well.     Only with an influx of new dna, new genes, will the population be re-vitalized and strengthened.

It seems to me that an analogy can be made here between genetic diversity and compulsory education, which has become a stagnant gene pool.   Schools being all about uniformity and standardization, is it any wonder that the general population has become less and not more educated as a result?

Why do we all need to be the same when it comes to education?   Why should education be ‘standard’?    Wouldn’t a unique or diverse education be better, yielding better results?  In no other realm of life are we expected to be just like everyone else.   In Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, which is his version of a dystopian future, diversity in looks has come to be considered a bad thing, so at the age of 16 everyone is made uniformly “pretty” through a surgery that alters not only their appearance but their brains in order to ensure a less confrontational (but also less independent) society.   And we readers are horrified.   How awful to take away any knowledge of inner beauty; to focus only on physical looks and to change people’s brains so they no longer have the desire to be unique!

Here in the “real world” such a thing could never, ever happen.

But every kid needs to have exactly the same knowledge of English, History, Geography, Science and of course Math or they will be outcasts.    They won’t fit in.  They won’t succeed.   They’ll be “Uglies” forever.

On Saturday I had breakfast with a bunch of friends, most of whom I’ve known since high school.   In our group there sat a graphic designer, hospice manager, business owner, teacher, dental assistant and two engineers.    Except for Joshua, we all had exactly the same high school education with little or no diversity.   And yet, guess who were the only two people at the table who knew how to calculate the amount of energy needed to heat a certain liquid from one temperature to another?  (This was a chemistry question found in my high school notebook, which I referenced in this blog a few days ago.)    If you guessed the engineers, you would be right.   The rest of us hadn’t a clue.

Is that a bad thing?   I don’t think so.

What I do think is that for the five of us who had no interest in chemistry beyond passing the tests, time spent in that class was pretty much wasted.  The attempt to standardize us failed, and continues to fail in schools today.   What schools succeed in doing is convincing kids that if they all aren’t equally great at every subject, they are the failures, doomed to low level, low paying jobs.    Schools succeed in making kids believe that being standardized is a good thing, and that diversity in thought and interest is bad.   If a child would rather spend all day drawing cartoons, they are seen as lesser than their peers who continually ace the standardized tests, providing all the right answers on cue.

If diversity is the key to a healthy, vibrant population, then compulsory schooling is anathema to diversity.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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