Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Celebrate Diversity? Bah!

eccentric chuck

From "SUNBREAK CITY: I don't..."
...understand the word diversity as it is used in the school system, higher ed. and legal circles. The goal of learning institutions is to make us the same not more diverse: delay gratification, study, take care of yourself, pursue attainable goals that lie yet in the future; in short, to make us middle class. The middle class is recognizable all over the world: get to bed at a reasonable hour, be on time for work or school, do your best, save, study, plan for the future, excercise some discipline in your life, try to make wise choices.

A quibble: I think he is just a bit off base on education. The goal is not to make us all the same; the goal is to make us all sensible, reasonable, well-educated and successful. Making us all more nearly the same is a by-product, not the goal.

Tolstoy wrote that "All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Similarly we can observe that there are only a few ways to be sensible but there are countless millions of ways to be a damn fool. Thus the tendency of good education to produce a degree of homogeneity in its students.

It is neither possible nor desirable for that homogeneity to be perfect. If everyone came out of school exactly the same then their experiences in life would be the result of random chance from which no conclusions could be drawn. No one could ever learn anything and no one could ever teach anything. Societal progress would stop.

On the other hand, in a society without a large degree of similarity between its members one also can't draw any conclusions from life experiences. There are too many variables in play. Again, no one could ever learn anything and no one could ever teach anything.

[Jeez, I'm being long-winded today. Zzzzzzzz. Sorry, I'll try to find my way to the end quickly...]

In theory, at least, the notion that diversity should be "celebrated" arose as a reaction to perceptions of intolerance. The problem is that the opposite of intolerance is tolerance, not celebration. There is another word I like much, much better than diversity to capture the need for a degree of experimentation in the way we lead our lives. This other word does not have the open-ended rejection of norms and standards that makes diversity so toxic. In fact it depends on them.

Celebrate eccentricity!


Anonymous said...

I'll quibble a bit with both of you... the goal of education is to give you a basic understanding of principles and the skills to apply them, so you can go into the world and learn on your own...

At least that is what I hope it is for...

BigLeeH said...

I don't think either of us would disagree with you here broadly speaking, but in an effort to add another term to the infinite series that will hopefully converge on an agreement, two lesser-order quibbles:

First: to principles and skills I would add "facts", "hypotheses" and "opinions". In 1772 an astonomer named Bode proposed a mathematical formula for the spacing of the orbits of the planets. While not perfect it does a surprizingly good job of predicting the actual values. Based on his formula Bode famously predicted that a planet would be found in the gap between Mars and Jupiter where the asteroid belt was subsequently found -- with Ceres, the largest asteroid, being almost exactly where Bode predicted. Bode's "Law" is a hypothesis that is not a currently accepted theory, none-the-less it is a historical fact. The actual spacing of the orbits of the planets are also facts as is their surprizingly good agreement with Bodes Law, especially when no principle has been suggested to explain the agreement. These are all good things to know but none of them are "principles" or "skills".

Of course, I don't carry around the orbital radii of the planets in my head. I had to Google for the name "Bode" because remembered his "Law" but had forgotten his name. (I found it all here, by the way) But I first learned about Bode's Law in highschool physics class, and besides, one's education doesn't stop when one leaves school. Which brings me to my second quibble:

Second, I consider the process of deliberate life-long learning to be "education" even when it is something on does oneself. Since I regard "education" and "learning" as the respective objective and subjective views of the same process then saying that "you should be educated so you can learn" becomes circular. I consider going "out into the world to learn on your own" to be to continue your education, so to say that it is goal of education is to beg the question.

Joel Haas said...

As an eccentric, I am pretty much in agreement with the original post. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go weld some more used spark plugs to old purple lawn chairs for a living. (Is it eccentric that I do so, or is more eccentric on the part of people to buy them?)

rocket-science said...

The opposite of intolerance is celebration, not tolerance. Tolerance is the midpoint between those opposites.

Rejection OR adoption of phrases like "celebrate diversity" are both just ways to "think" you have an opinion without the bother of actually thinking.

Animals learn by playing. Education is a system for keeping animals from playing. Therefore education is the prevention of learning.

BigLeeH said...

The opposite of intolerance is celebration, not tolerance. Tolerance is the midpoint between those opposites.

Rocket-Science: Hello Mr. P (assuming you are the rocket scientist who wandered by) it's good to hear from you.

Can't quite agree with you on this. I think the polar opposite of intolerance is "tolerance," or perhaps "acceptance" if you are looking for a stronger word. The opposite of "celebration," at least in the sense it is used with diversity, would be "derision".

It's an important distinction because I think that tolerance is perhaps the most important virtue in the citizens of a free society while an open-ended, uncritical "celebration" of anything and everything is a vice in any society. It's hard to take a near-absolutist position when you see it as finding just the right point in the middle of a bogus continuum formed by splicing one concept onto the end of another one.

As to your point about education and playing you are have identified one of the forces in the tension between the ideas that define the proper place for the concept of education. The word "docile" means "teachable" -- something worth bearing in mind. On the other hand, the best games do have a few rules...

Anonymous said...

It's hard to take a near-absolutist position when you see it as finding just the right point in the middle...

Yes, Lee, Mr. P is now a self-appointed Rocket Scientist. To me, making it hard for people to take near-absolutist positions is a goal, not a problem. The kind of frame you choose for the idea of tolerance is a choice, not a Truth. Absolutism is the root of most evil. And trying to suggest that I could ever be uncritical of anything, is just silly!