My Convertible Life

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Soapbox: The Myth of Rubbing Shoulders

Today I'm stealing a guest post written earlier this week by a 2007 graduate of Enloe High School regarding the significance of Wake County's diversity policy. For those less familiar with Raleigh, Enloe is a magnet high school that offers the International Baccalaureate program and is focused on humanities, sciences and the arts. Enloe, which regularly makes Newsweek's list of the top 100 high schools, opened in 1962 as the first integrated secondary school in Raleigh.

I love this post for several reasons...
  1. This student learned more than the standard curriculum in high school -- he learned about the world, about people, and about the kind of person he wants to be.
  2. This student recognized that his high school experience had significance beyond simply getting him a diploma and into college.
  3. This student is still connected to his community and paying attention to current events, even though he has graduated and moved away for college.
  4. This student took the time to share his experiences in an effort to make a difference for others.
Without further ado, here's Abhiram in his own words:

The Myth of Rubbing Shoulders

[There is a] myth that kids in magnet schools are merely rubbing shoulders and don't learn anything from diversity. I would like to debunk this right here and now with a few examples.

I understand very well that the following examples concern sensitive topics, and my intention is not to inflame emotions about these particular topics, but to address the impact that a diverse environment can bring to discussions concerning these topics.

Having participated in class debates about affirmative action in a diverse classroom, I understand very well the palpable tension that hovered in the air. Looking across the room, I could see very clearly the real impact this debate was having on each person as it related to their academic, social, and racial identity. Being in that diverse environment reminds you that you're not just talking about demographics, but real people on whom your advocated policy impacts. In a diverse classroom, you as a student can no longer ignore that elephant in the room and live in your ideological cave, but must absolutely step out into the open and see the world and the truth that it offers from many different perspectives.

Another example: As religion can be a personal and sensitive topic, it is often avoided as a topic of conversation among peers in ordinary life. However not too long ago, this peaceable state of affairs came to a crashing halt when one Wake County teacher invited a controversial speaker to talk to Enloe students. This speaker crossed the line and attacked and spread falsehoods about a particular minority. Had there not been a diverse enough community to recognize the blatant lies that had been propagated, it is not clear whether the appropriate authorities would have been contacted. In fact, no member of this particular minority was at the talk; the diverse student body confronted the issue and discussed it with their peers and it was only because of that diverse discussion that subsequently a responsible student (who belonged to that minority) alerted the appropriate authorities. [For more background on this incident, click here.]

Also, we take a course on World History in the 10th grade and part of this course includes a discussion of Holocaust and a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Can you even imagine how much more poignant each moment becomes when you look at the expression on your Jewish friend’s face who’s family had suffered at Nazi hands?

Another topic we discuss in our World History Class is the Hindu Caste System. Once again the elephant in the room could not be ignored. There are Hindus in the classroom. I can still remember the looks on people’s faces as they glanced at us, perhaps wondering, “Do they really believe that?”, “Does their religion really say that?”, “How could they be so blatantly insensitive?”

And then we have a class discussion; nobody defends the anti-egalitarianism, but we point out mankind’s long tradition of misusing and misinterpreting religion to justify evil, with examples of anti-egalitarianism from other religions and from our own country’s history, when slave-owners would justify “keeping one’s place in society” to their slaves through biblical stories. What diversity brought was not mere, “shoulder rubbing,” rather it functioned as a check and balance on our collective arrogance. It reminded us that we are all human and all come from equally legitimate backgrounds which have all had their fair share of unfairness.

Suddenly, it begins to all tie together. We no longer see only through our own eyes, but through those of our peers as well. We begin to understand not only the men and women with whom we interact, but also what drives them, and why they see the world the way they do.

What diversity brings is not merely the “rubbing of shoulders” between the rich and the poor, or even the one-way transfer of knowledge from one party to another. It brings an understanding between people and of the motivations that drive them. It is an understanding to which “F&R” kids contribute and receive, and one that they deserve as well. It enlightens ALL of us with multiple perspectives on issues so that when we deal with the diverse conflict present on the increasingly international daily theatre, we will not blindly rush forward with single-minded and ignorant views.

If you're a registered voter in Wake County and you'd like to sign a petition (started by Enloe students) in support of the district's commitment to ensuring diverse and healthy schools, click here.

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