Why DEI in a Nutshell
Ready or not, the 2023-2024 school year has begun! Across the country, kids, teachers, and parents are returning to reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and an increasingly roiling conflict about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As the new school year starts, I’m offering an answer to a big question, perhaps THE big question about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I hope this offering might in some way help make navigation at the intersection of education and DEI safe and successful (and at any intersection where DEI is involved - which, by the way, is EVERYWHERE).
More and more is being professed about DEI - what it is, what it isn’t, why it’s important, why some people question and object to it… From content to controversy, a person could spend a lot of time taking in all things DEI to try to get answers to their questions.
In this age of information overload and overloaded schedules, it’s important if challenging to provide clear, concise, and correct answers to pressing questions. A good principle (which I’m not always so good at following) about communication is that we should always strive to keep things as simple as possible without oversimplifying and thereby failing to communicate accurately and sufficiently.
With that in mind, I thought I’d offer an attempt at a clear and concise answer to the question I hear a lot about DEI - from parents, from educators, and from students. Most recently, it was articulated this way by an educator at a school I’m currently supporting: “Why do we want to do this work?”
I love this construction of the “Why DEI?” question for a few reasons. It’s a question and not an assertion. As such it invites (or at least appears to invite) a conversation versus an argument. It highlights motivation (why do we want to) versus compulsion (why do we have to). And it refers to DEI as “work,” which it most certainly is.
To my mind (and I’m a psychotherapist so my mind is always wondering about everything in terms of surface and subsurface, text, context, and subtext) there’s a kind of challenge in the way the question is constructed: “Tell me then, what’s my motivation to take on this work in addition to the too-much-work you already demand of me?” The motivation factor highlights that culture eats policy for breakfast. “Sure, you can tell me that our school, our mission, accrediting bodies, and even the law tell me that I HAVE TO do this, but then I’m going to go into my classroom, shut the door, and do what I’m motivated to do.”
There’s also an assumption in the question that we all know and agree on what “this work” is. Do we all know? Do we all agree? (Nope.)
OK, that’s a lot, unpacked and waiting to be addressed. If you give me a day-long workshop, I promise I’ll take us a good distance toward answering the Why DEI question in meaningful ways. But I said I’d try to offer something clear and concise here. So here are four statements (five sentences in total) that answer the Why DEI question.
Each statement is firmly and deeply rooted in as much evidence as anyone could need to be satisfied that nothing fake or tendentious is going on. And each could be expanded to a chapter or more of explication and elaboration. I encourage you to do as much fact-checking and research as you’d like regarding each statement.
As a bonus, the fourth statement provides an answer to the question that often lurks within the question; the one that goes something like this: “Why would I want to and/or why should I be made to do something that goes against my beliefs?” This question animates the concerns of folks who see DEI as anathema to their convictions and values.
Without further ado then, I offer what I hope will be a useful set of clear and concise answers to the Why DEI question. If you end up making use of them, please feel encouraged to let me know how it goes.
Best of luck keeping education safe, civil, open, child-centered, outside and in the dirt, connective of people, animals, and plants, exhilarating, generative, empowering, liberating, hilarious, joyful, and inclusive this year!
Why DEI in a Nutshell
1. We actively pursue diversity in our community, recognizing the abundant evidence that diverse groups, when harmoniously integrated, yield a wealth of positive outcomes, both for individuals and the collective.
2. We prioritize education about human similarities and differences to cultivate a nurturing and understanding environment and prevent harm that may arise from uninformed assumptions or biases.
3. We implement policies and practices rooted in equity and inclusion/belonging to activate the full potential of diversity to strengthen our unity and outcomes rather than becoming divisive.
4. We acknowledge the tension that some may feel between personal beliefs and public/pluralistic tolerance. While we respect everyone’s right to their personal beliefs and values, we operate on the logic that intolerance towards safe and civil expressions of human diversity cannot be condoned or accommodated in an inclusive community.