Here’s what I was trying to say about diversity, Jews, and education

I hate the feeling of realizing that I’ve been unclear, but it happens. Here’s what I was trying to say about diversity, Jews, and education in this post and the comments.

Q: Why should educational spaces worry about being diverse?

A: I think because Black students currently are not served (even abused) by the school system. I think things would be better for these students if there were more Black educators in the system.

Q: Why? 

A: Because, one way or another, a lot of the problem is a systematic lack of empathy for Black students from non-Black people in education.

Q: Wait, but this is just about Black educators. I asked about diversity…

A: I know.

Q: So what about everyone else. If we care about diversity, we should care about other groups being present too.

A: Which other groups?

Q: All other groups.

A: Well I don’t think that we need that kind of diversity. I don’t think we need to work hard to include every group.

Q: But surely we do!

A: I don’t think so. For example, I’m (more or less) an Orthodox Jew, and I definitely don’t think that we need to work hard to increase the presence of Orthodox Jews in educational spaces.

Q: But isn’t that entirely different? It’s not like Orthodox Jews are systematically excluded from conferences or keynotes or panels?

A: Actually, I think that we are. It’s very hard to travel to conferences because of the religious restrictions. These conferences are not designed with Orthodox Jews in mind, and as a result it’s just hard to be at them. That’s one thing that explains why Orthodox Jews aren’t at these things.

Likewise, a lot of Orthodox Jewish teachers prefer to avoid getting involved with public schools, because of the difficulty of managing the holiday calendar and kosher food.

So I think that there is a sense of exclusion, but that this doesn’t matter.

Q: You’re saying that a group can be excluded, but that it shouldn’t bother us?

A: That’s right. Just because you’re excluding a group doesn’t, by itself, matter very much. Nobody should be worried about whether they are excluding Orthodox Jews, redheads, people who don’t like hot weather, etc. Just because a group is excluded doesn’t mean that it’s a problem.

It’s only a problem when it hurts people. As in the case of the exclusion of Black educators, and the way that ends up harming Black children. That’s why it’s important to be inclusive concerning Black educators.

Q: So you don’t want conferences to give you kosher food or whatever?

A: I mean I would gladly accept it, but I don’t think that anyone should worry about this. There is no moral issue with not being maximally inclusive to Orthodox Jews. I mean if you can do it, terrific, why not. But it just doesn’t rise to the level of an issue that anyone should worry about.

Q: Why do you keep talking about Orthodox Jews? Who cares?

A: I want to make talk of “diversity” somewhat problematic. Exclusion of a group is not necessarily something that should trouble us — that’s what I’m arguing. But I don’t want to pick on someone else’s group, so I focused on my own identity.

Diversity claims that all groups should be included, and that it’s a problem when any group is excluded. But, thinking aloud about my own case, I think that’s not true.

So instead I’m saying that it’s a problem only when there are bad results from the exclusion and lack of “diversity.” I believe this is the case for the exclusion of Black educators.

Q: Only Black educators?

A: No, but that’s all I’m going to talk about here.

Q: Why do you care about all this?

A: Because I think “diversity” is a problematic concept. I’ve never heard a fully satisfying answer as to why it’s important for a group to be diverse, in the sense of being varied in general. (This is something that Marian has done a tremendous job pushing at.)

Diversity tries to talk about difference in general, but I think diversity doesn’t get off the ground unless it’s specific. There is a specific case for why we should aim to increase the number of Black educators in education. For some other groups — such as Orthodox Jews –there is no such case, even though they are excluded from various educational spaces.

I think “diversity” as a concept lets us off the hook of talking about these specifics. But I think it’s important to talk about the specifics.

Q: I feel like you could have said that without the confusing stuff about Orthodox Jews.

A: I think you’re right. It’s just how my mind was working and I couldn’t snap out of it.

Q: But isn’t this still different? Orthodox Jews aren’t really targeted by society in the way others groups are.

A: That’s why I brought up the story about some guy on the subway yelling at me yesterday. I get this kind of abuse just from walking around NYC with my yarmulke on. It happens once or twice a year, but it’s enough to keep me on edge a lot of the time. It’s the sort of thing you don’t usually have to worry about if you’re just a person sitting reading your book on the subway.

I’m not saying it’s the same sort of abuse — anti-Semitism is just totally different in its nature than racism — but I think it’s fair to say that we are targeted, just for who we are and how we appear.

And that was the contrast I was trying to set up. You have two groups. Both experience prejudice, both are de facto excluded from many educational spaces, but in one case it matters and in the other case (my own) I strongly believe that it doesn’t. This flies in the face of the rhetoric surrounding diversity — that we need to be inclusive to all groups at all times. I want to make the case that we need to talk about specific groups and the specific costs of excluding them if we want diversity to make any sense at all.

And I suggest this is why there are so few good explanations of why diversity matters.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Here’s what I was trying to say about diversity, Jews, and education

  1. If you’re being explicit rather than just saying historically underserved populations I think you probably don’t get a pass on why focus on black students and teachers. I think you owe it to the reader to explore that a little more. Here on the west coast, for instance Hispanic students are usually a larger group. And what do you do with multi racial / ethnic populations? Do you focus on recruiting for the largest minority?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s interesting to hear you work this out. It’s hard to talk about racial diversity because it is directly related to power in America, and it also varies widely. There isn’t a general educational space that should have a certain orientation towards racial diversity because they are all different. In thinking about Jews and Black people, if you were talking about the educational needs of certain parts of New York city, it would make sense to probably not over-include Black people, and to over-include the view points of orthodox Jews. In some parts of Williamsburg, I imagine there could be a place where Orthodox Jews are not in the majority, and the educational systems might be harming them, and who ever is organizing the space to work to include those people who may be harmed by the system in order to mitigate the negative consequences of the inequal power structure. This is a hyper-local example, but one of the same type that you’re describing. Your example describes a national/global educational space, which looks like it has certain trends, but it is made up of lots of little spaces, which all have their own power dynamics that play across racial lines.

    So in this paragraph:

    You have two groups. Both experience prejudice, both are de facto excluded from many educational spaces, but in one case it matters and in the other case (my own) I strongly believe that it doesn’t. This flies in the face of the rhetoric surrounding diversity — that we need to be inclusive to all groups at all times. I want to make the case that we need to talk about specific groups and the specific costs of excluding them if we want diversity to make any sense at all.

    You’re describing a certain educational context, national-level math conferences, and the groups that need to be over-included or under-included. As we go to talk about specific groups, and the costs of excluding them, the idea of groups would not be universal across the country. It would be different at different levels of localities, it would be different on the west coast vs the east coast. If diversity is a goal, it has to be informed by the realities of that population and decisions around the groups to be included/excluded should be directly related to who is most harmed by the current system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!

      And in some cases, I can imagine that increasing representation might not help the intended population. Increased representation is one idea about how to improve a situation for a group of students, but it’s not the only idea and it won’t necessarily be useful in other contexts.

      (This might be the situation with Williamsburg, but I don’t really know the context so well. It’s a different world from my own.)

      Like

      1. (Some of the community who raised me (in a Conservative shul) is also excluded by events that require working or going out on Friday night/Saturday.)

        I’m trying to figure out the best way to explain why not that is clear and not too long. I also think it would be a problem if redheads were systematically excluded. Because I believe access is fundamentally important and also we would randomly be missing out on good contributions and ideas.

        Also, as you’ve illustrated, anti-semitism is a real thing in this country both interpersonally and systemically. I’m sorry you had that subway experience and others like it. In terms of what’s ‘good for the Jews’ I’m not thrilled that we’re incentivized to ghettoize by the secular world being so generally unaccommodating.

        With that said, I agree with what I understand to be your main point that some axes of diversity and access are a higher priority than others because of power and context. In the case of our schooling system, racism is baked in at every layer and excluding black teachers actively harms our black students. I agree that this is an important factor but I don’t agree that it’s the only factor.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Followup question: do you think it’s a problem when people with physical disabilities are structurally excluded?

        After drafting and redrafting this comment a few times, I realized why I was having a hard time answering this. My whole tendency (I tried to articulate it above) is to get into the specific consequences, the bad things that happen as a result of structural exclusion. And since I don’t know very well the situation for people with physical disabilities, I find myself making guesses for myself. I don’t really know how to articulate myself on this.

        I’ll say that I see two categories of harm that comes from structural exclusion. First, there is the potential harm to the person who is being excluded. All things being equal, you should try to remove these sources of harm — even when the sources of harm are these “structural” exclusions that are more about how our society is set up, and less about any individual’s active decision to exclude anybody.

        So e.g. if you’re literally picking days for your conference out of a hat, you shouldn’t pick Saturday or the week before Rosh HaShana, and your location should be accessible to people with physical disabilities, and likewise to any other group whose participation would be hampered by some factor you can address.

        The other source of harm is not about the act of de facto exclusion, but rather its consequences. That’s what I was describing in this piece — how we have good reason to think that the de facto exclusion of Black teachers has resulted in harm to Black children. My suggestion was that de facto exclusion doesn’t have costs like these (in an educational context) for observant Jews.

        But does de facto exclusion of people with physical disabilities have further costs that we can point to?

        That’s the way I’d think about this. I don’t have an answer — really due to my own ignorance on this — but that’s how I go about thinking this through.

        Like

  3. These are both interesting articles.

    “Why do I owe it to the reader? My purpose here is to clarify my issues with catch-all diversity. I can’t possibly catalog every situation for every group.”

    No, but you most assuredly seem to be falling into the New York Times trap, which is to see the world in black and white, with traditionally observant Jews being a sub-category of white. But as I imagine you know, New York City is more Hispanic than black and half as Asian, and moving up fast. Hispanics are a bigger chunk of the poor in NYC and a have a higher poverty rate, and the Asian poverty rate is almost as high as that of blacks. When you talk about underserved communities, you instantly move into haves or have nots. I don’t know if you’re conscious of the fact that you seem to be saying blacks are have nots, but traditionally observant Jews are basically haves, so it’s ok. That is how I interpreted it, though.

    But when you talk about making sure there are more black teachers, you are, like it or not, calling for fewer of some other category of teacher. I know you just chose blacks, but if you’d just chosen Hispanics, it would have had the same imbalance: you are, like the NY Times and much of the media, balancing the needs of one particular minority group against the whole, which is perceived as a white majority. Increasingly, those needs are in fact balanced against other groups with what they see as equal claims.

    The focus on diversity is basically a game pushed by various minority groups pushed on white progressives ready for guilt. We *are* diverse. We have removed huge barriers for every occupation. Like you, I’d like to see more black teachers and have ideas for how we could achieve this. I just think it’s important to understand the real balancing acts that are required, politically, and how these may increasingly hurt blacks even more than the lack of representation you see today.

    Like

    1. No, but you most assuredly seem to be falling into the New York Times trap, which is to see the world in black and white, with traditionally observant Jews being a sub-category of white.

      I don’t see why I’m falling into this trap, and I definitely don’t believe it. I think of traditionally observant Jews as their own category, and I don’t find it particularly helpful to force any minority into some sort of dichotomy.

      The case I’m making here has nothing to do with whether traditionally observant Jews should be tallied as Black, white, whatever. The case is simply that life for traditionally observant Jews wouldn’t be significantly better with increased representation.

      But when you talk about making sure there are more black teachers, you are, like it or not, calling for fewer of some other category of teacher.

      I mean, sure, yes, that is a necessary consequence of percentages. So what?

      If what you’re saying is “policies that aim to increase the percentage of Black (or whatever) teachers in the profession can only be judged when we consider how the overall distribution of teachers is changing” then I agree.

      Like

      1. “The case I’m making here has nothing to do with whether traditionally observant Jews should be tallied as Black, white, whatever. ”

        Oh, agreed. I never thought otherwise.

        “If what you’re saying is “policies that aim to increase the percentage of Black (or whatever) teachers in the profession can only be judged when we consider how the overall distribution of teachers is changing” ”

        I am indeed. Particularly when you consider why we have fewer black and Hispanic teachers, and what we would have to do in order to get more of them.

        Like

      2. I try to be cautious about this sort of stuff, and I haven’t dug into research and my experiences are severely limited. But I’m not scared off by having pathways into teaching that don’t depend on scoring well on a nonsense test that has nothing to do with how good of a teacher you’ll be.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s