Student body diversity promotes learning outcomes and 'better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society …'
— Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Grutter v. Bollinger
This past April, 24-hour news channels buzzed with debate over the Supreme Court's ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger. Some pundits championed the high court's conclusion that race-conscious admissions fulfill a valuable objective: campus diversity. Others balked at the Court's embrace of affirmative action in higher education.
Lost in all the talk was one obvious truth: the critical time for "diversity education" comes not after high school, but during and before it.
More than 30 percent of high school seniors don't go straight to college, if they go at all. For some students, the K-12 years are the only opportunity for diversity education.
K-12 educators spend 13 years preparing young people for participation in a diverse, democratic society. Multicultural education, the development of students' critical thinking, active listening and conflict resolution skills — these are tools classroom teachers offer to help prepare students for the future.
There is another truth we must remember: the same high court that affirmed the value of diversity in college admissions has issued a series of decisions resulting in the resegregation of K-12 schools.
A 2002 report from the Harvard Civil Rights Project concluded that today's schools are less racially and ethnically diverse than they were 15 years ago.
- Virtually all of the school districts analyzed suffered from decreasing levels of interracial exposure. In some districts, the declines were sharp.
- In almost every school district, Black and Latino students had become more segregated from Whites.
On the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger and on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, let us remember that the early and essential work of diversity education begins not in the ivory towers of higher education, but in the classrooms of teachers like you.