I’ve got butterflies – not our vibrant Ancona butterflies — but the excited kind you get when you’re planning a wonderful event for a crowd of people. This weekend’s 50th Anniversary Symposium — 50 Years of Diversity: Teaching and Learning at The Ancona School — is a major milestone for Ancona. This is an outstanding opportunity for our parents and educators from around Chicago to learn more about Ancona’s history and our educational practice today.
Given our country’s racial history, we commonly think about diversity in terms of access, equity and justice, all of which are critically important for our school community, our children and our society. Creating a diverse environment is the right thing to do, but simply creating the environment is not enough. The work of learning from each other and honing our sensitivities is continual. Through our social justice teaching, we inspire children to want to move the world. This is the work our teachers will share on Saturday.
Diversity is not only a remedy for the injustices of the past, it is also a tremendous educational asset for our children’s future. I had the good fortune recently to hear scholar and educator Yong Zhao* speak about education and America’s place in the global economy. “Globalization,” he said, “is about being able to handle diversity…The challenge is to equip our students with the ability, attitude and perspective to work across different perspectives.” This has been the goal of Ancona’s multicultural curriculum for many years. We are local and global!
Too often, schools, particularly those with high stakes entrance exams, are looking for children (and teachers) who are similar to each other. At Ancona, we have always been interested in a broadly diverse student body, precisely because it is through engagement with difference that children develop what Zhao calls the CQ – the cultural intelligence — that will enable them to operate successfully on a global stage. We want children to learn to view the ‘other’ not as problem but rather, as potential. And as we all know, kids will learn from friends more than they can ever learn from us.
Diversity is also a tremendous asset for problem solving and policy development. Economist Scott E. Page** claims that in many collaborative situations diversity trumps ability. Moving past the politics, Page demonstrates with economic models that diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individualities, “outperform groups of like-minded experts.” This is because novel solutions often come from new perspectives; it’s the reason that crowdsourcing works.
But diverse work groups have to know how to work together, and that’s where understanding our history combined with experience in diverse, collaborative settings makes a difference. This is what we work to accomplish at Ancona. And for this reason, dear reader, I hope to see you on Saturday!
*Yong Zhao is Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon, where he is also Weinman Professor of Technology and Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership. He is the author of World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.
**Scott E Page is the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.