March 2, 2001


The Value of Diversity

written by
Lynn Trenning

























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE, March 2, 2001

The colorblind ivory tower where I've had such a comfortable residence burned down the day my child entered the public school system, where color, and money, and the lack of money are both personal and institutional. It is a land where test scores are broken into black and white, where the living and breathing become statistics I want to ignore, but responsibly can't. My heart has long embraced the liberal platitudes honoring the importance of diversity. My brain is challenged to embrace the reality of my child being surrounded by poor, minority children whose reading and math comprehension lag behind their grade level. Of course not every black child underachieves, and not every white child tests on level, but the achievement gap in Mecklenburg County is significant, and well publicized.

I could avoid underachievement by sending my daughter to a private school, where most kids are white, and almost all the parents are middle class or richer, and where kids who underachieve are sent elsewhere. Since like seeks like, it would be a comfortable place for her. But this denies the importance of diversity as an advantage, a theory to which I prescribe. So my daughter is this generation's contribution to the great social experiment of integration. While day to day life in Charlotte remains largely segregated, the public school system offers an opportunity for racial integration that is not immediately available to adults.

Socially, I've sent my child where I've never gone before. I went to a combination of all white public schools and mostly white Catholic Schools. My daughter is immersed in a cultural and economically diverse melting pot where she will learn many lessons her teacher cannot teach. She now knows about divorce, and that three brothers can have three different fathers, and that a child can have a black mother and a white father and still be brown. She knows that African American moms know how to do things to their children's hair that astonish her own mom, and that some children pronounce ask "ax," but that it is not okay with me for her to do the same. She knows some kids never have anyone join them for lunch at school, that some parents never come to class parties, and that one boy always smells bad.

I'd hoped her exposure to cultural diversity would seep into my own life, but it hasn't been the case. After school, kids either walk home, take the bus, are picked up by day care vans, stay for the after school program, go to tutoring, or special language programs, or are picked up at carpool. The only parents who ever hang out on the playground live in the neighborhood, which is almost exclusively white. Diversity doesn't extend beyond the classroom.

The gap between the haves and have-nots is glaringly evident. It is easy to resent having my child surrounded by other children who are not behaving appropriately. I want her to be pulled up by the masses, not down. But I don't want her to only know children who were born to wealth, who will get cars for their 16th birthdays, and tour Europe before they reach college. I wish the value of diversity was quantifiable. Perhaps it isn't an advantage at all. Does the value of cultural and economic diversity in the classroom outweigh the effect that poor performing classmates will have on my children's education? I believe in my heart that the answer is yes, and I hope I am right.

~ Lynn Trenning

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