"Coping" with diversity
Administrators at Northview Public Schools are figuring out ways to cope with the district's increasingly diverse population. Superintendent Michael Stearns is working with Aquinas College's Woodrick Institute for the Healing of Racism in finding ways to deal with diversification. Oscar Perry, an institute project manager and training specialist, is working with students from Northview High School's and Crossroads Middle School's diversity committees. Also, administrative staff have taken two-day workshops on healing racism. Stearns wants to see the Board of Education, students and other staff gain similar experiences. "We don't have an option but to be serious about this," he said.
"Figuring out ways to cope with diversity." What an unfortunate choice of words. As if diversity is an unwelcome and embarrassing "country" relative sitting in our living rooms.
Which I guess it is.
The Northview school district is one of the many outcomes of "white flight" out of the city of Grand Rapids from the early sixties. It is on the northeastern edge of the city and happens to be the closest districts to the city. When schools of choice started three years ago, it became the most convenient school district for city parents concerned about the quality of their children's education in an urban setting.
The school, thankfully, is becoming more diverse. And it does indeed cause problems in a school population where I've seen many a young man fly a confedrate flag on his pickup.
But to call diversity something to cope with, rather than something to capitalize on and celebrate only highlights the existence of very deep seated prejudices here -- so deep-seated as to not realize the difference between the two attitudes: coping and embracing.
I have daughters at Northview High and my son is a grad. We left the city schools in 1996, not because they were "diverse" but because two of my three students were marginal achievers -- the kind that get lost in the cracks in a system set up to deal with extremes on either end of the learning spectrum.
Now many other parents are doing what we did -- parents of all races and backgrounds -- as they have every right to do. But the district is having a problem knowing just how to deal with the influx of nonwhite students. I'm glad they're trying. But they need to open up their horizons -- and attitudes -- just a bit more.