David Brooks On How Cultural Homogeneity Stifles Students

David Brooks, in his column for the New York Times, argues that the American school system is failing its students, especially its boys, by failing to ensure cultural diversity in schools. While almost all schools espouse diversity on a surface level, their concept of diversity seems to be including people from diverse backgrounds and then forcing them into a culturally homogenous subculture where they adapt to the norms or get treated as problem children. Brooks illustrates his point by examining what would happen to the Shakespearean character of Henry V were he a modern child attending a US school.

Brooks contends that the rambunctious Henry V would, by the end of nursery school, have been placed on medication for his hyperactive attention deficit disorder like many of his male classmates. During elementary school he would likely be in trouble for breaking playground safety rules and probably suspended for such outrageous activities as wrestling with a friend.

First, Henry would withdraw. He’d decide that the official school culture is for wimps and softies and he’d just disengage. In kindergarten, he’d wonder why he just couldn’t be good. By junior high, he’d lose interest in trying and his grades would plummet.

At which point Henry would rebel against the official high school culture. For those who think Brooks melodramatic, he could surely go to any high school in the country today and find such a boy. The academic results of current policy are equally obvious. The psychologist Michael Thompson has noted that 11th grade boys are now writing at the same level as 8th grade girls and the traditional male advantage in math and science is all but completely eroded.

But the big story here is cultural and moral. If schools want to re-engage Henry, they can’t pretend they can turn him into a reflective Hamlet just by feeding him his meds and hoping he’ll sit quietly at story time. If schools want to educate a fiercely rambunctious girl, they can’t pretend they will successfully tame her by assigning some of those exquisitely sensitive Newbery award-winning novellas. Social engineering is just not that easy.

‘Henry’ can only rebel against this culture because it exists in isolation. If schools were more truly inclusive then there would many diverse cultures within the school and Henry could find like-minded fellows with which to exercise his high spirits and exuberance and, through competition, fulfill his academic potential.

Essentially, schools should stop seeking to force conformity from students and instead engage the student as they are.

That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose.

Thursday
07 12, 2012
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