“Should diversity affect what is taught?” That was the question posed to me by a colleague, after we read an article written by a college professor who said his curriculum would not change if he had more or less diversity in his classroom; instead, he would continue to teach the history of specific time periods using the exact same syllabus and resources.
Being the Director of Diversity, my response was obvious. After years of working in this field, I have found substantial research to demonstrate that diversity should affect the resources, materials, and presentation of not only curriculum, but all areas of function in a Christian school—no matter the actual amount of demographic diversity represented in the school or community.
Diversity and the Christian School
Diversity as whole is an area that has generally been greatly overlooked in Christian schools. In fact, in some places Christian schools were started as a reaction to desegregation, or as part of “White flight” from public schools, or simply by a board of well-intentioned and well-motivated professionals who are demographically homogenous. But, just like the question posed to me by my colleague, when it comes to Christian schools, should diversity affect who we are and what we do?
With this question in mind, Joel Hazard (Mount Paran Christian School, Kennesaw, GA), David Robinson (Grace Community School, Tyler, TX) and I decided to develop a network of schools to discuss the importance of diversity in our communities. Collectively, we have over 20 years of experience working in the diversity field in Christian schools. Through our work and research, we firmly believe that diversity, or the lack thereof, does and should affect our schools.
When looking at diversity, there are three main areas to consider in terms of importance to schools: financial sustainability; student learning; and spiritual formation.
If schools are primarily interested in addressing the bottom line—meaning their revenue in the form of tuition, in order to keep their doors open—it would benefit them to look at the national demographic trends of private school enrollment and the racial and cultural diversity representation among all school-age children in the United States, such as:
- According to the United States Census Bureau’s findings from 2011, “the proportion of students who are non-Hispanic, white students has decreased while the proportion who are Hispanic students has been on the rise. In the 2000 Census, non-Hispanic whites were 62 percent of students at all grade levels. This fell to 55 percent in the 2011 ACS. During the same period the proportion of Hispanics enrolled in school grew from 15 percent to 20 percent total” (Davis and Bauman 2013, 9).
- At the same time, while private schools continue to educate 10% of all students K-12 in the U.S., private school enrollment has recently fallen from 4.8 million in 2005, to 4.1 million in 2011 (Davis and Bauman 2013, 6). According to the Council for American Private Education (CAPE), of that 10% of all school-age children in the United States in private schools, Christian primary and secondary schools educate roughly 17% (http://www.capenet.org//facts.html).
- Projecting forward, Richard Schaefer, in his book Racial and Ethnic Groups, states that “between 2010 and 2060, the Black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab and Native American population along with those identifying as biracial and multiracial in the United States are expected to increase to about 63 percent” (Schaefer 2015, 3).
In view of the national trends of increasing racial and culture demographics as well as the diminishing private Christian school enrollment, Christian schools should reassess the necessity for not only adjusting their strategic plan in regard to student enrollment but to evaluate the need for a school office that focuses on this area.
The benefits of diversity do not solely lie in the fiscal domain, but also apply to the overall education of students. In an article in Scientific American, Katherine Phillips asserts that “decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and demographers show that socially diverse groups… are more innovative than a homogenous group” (Phillips 2014). There are many sociological theories as to how people develop their personal sense of morals, values, and identity. However there is no doubt that part of this development is derived from the cultural context—both society at large and as well as the smaller social groups with whom the individual directly associates. These cultural factors affect how a person thinks and experiences life. While it is oftentimes most comfortable to surround oneself with those who seem similar, this results in little diversity to thought processes. Diversity allows people to step outside their personal “self” and see things through different lenses. It forces them to think differently and to consider alternative possibilities.
As students learn history, read textbooks, and work collaboratively on research projects, a diverse group of classmates will not only increase their social learning ability, but also allow their academic learning to deepen as well. Imagine learning about civil rights alongside a classmate whose relative was jailed for participating in a march during the civil rights movement, versus learning about civil rights in a homogenous classroom environment where the students and teacher not only look the same but also come from similar backgrounds. And a diverse classroom doesn’t solely help the learning in history classrooms but in every classroom: as students problem solve together in math class, learn a new language, or study great works for literature, diversity in the classroom will allow students to broaden their understanding by means of a full consideration of different perspectives.
Not only are students able to better grow in their understanding of the world at large in diverse environments, they are also able to grow in their understanding of the God who created them. Christian schools have as central to their mission the goal of training students in a Christian worldview as they learn about who God is. There is little argument that an appreciation of God’s attributes and purposes do not come solely in the classroom through curriculum, but additionally through mentorship, extra-curricular activities such as local, national and international trips, and simply doing life together as a community.
Centrally, it is important to recognize that God is the Creator of diversity. Genesis 1:27 (ESV) states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” If Christian schools uphold the foundation to the validity of the Bible, they must simultaneously believe that diversity is part of God’s purposes in creation. If school communities remain homogenous communities, questions arise as to how well they can truly reflect God’s purposes and plans for diversity in creation.
God’s initial creation is not the only place where diversity is shown as part of God’s purpose; indeed there are references throughout the Bible, up to and including the final book. Revelation 7:9 (ESV) says, “after this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Since the beginning of time, God has woven diversity into everything created. He made the universe it to reflect Himself and His glory, and diversity will be on full display throughout eternity.
Learning About Diversity Together
The aforementioned are only some of the ways in which diversity affects Christian schools. Diversity in God’s creation is much greater than that which we visibly see, things such as gender, race, culture, age. It is found even in the unique ways in which God created each of us. In order to grow in our understanding of God’s concept of diversity, it is important that we put on the lens of Christ. While not always easy to achieve, we firmly believe that diversity positively benefits Christian schools in a multitude of ways, from the strengthening of the school’s demographic base, to preparing students with academic excellence to venture forth into the diverse world and influence it for Christ.
In that regard, Joel, David and I developed the Christian School Diversity Symposium to help us all better understand the impact of diversity on our schools. This year we will be meeting at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy April 29th—May 1st. With presentations regarding the “why” of diversity, to panels on the race dialogue, to discussions of how to support diverse families, we invite you to join us as we learn together!
CAPE Benefits of Private Education. http://www.capenet.org/facts.html
Davis, Jessica and Kurt Bauman. 2013. “School Enrollment in the United States: 2011.” U.S. Department of Commerce. United States Census Bureau.
Phillips, Katherine W. 2014. “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.” Scientific American. 311(4)
Schaefer, Richard T. 2015. Racial and Ethnic Groups. 14th ed. New Jersey: Pearson.
About the Author
Jenny Brady serves as the Director of Diversity at Prestonwood Christian Academy, a position created for the passion and personal experiences she brings to the diversity discussion. Jenny grew up on the mission field in Honduras and returned to the US for college graduating with a BA in Spanish from Stephen F. Austin State University. She is completing her Masters in Sociology while working at PCA as a teacher and administrator. Jenny has a passion for missions and mentoring— taking the gospel to the ends of the earth while training up the next generation of godly young men and women. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.