Let’s not talk about diversity as a ‘win-lose’ proposition

In a previous blog I wrote about win-win thinking and the need to look beyond the data and stereotypes (or generalizations if you prefer a less divisive term) on poverty and race to think critically about how socio-economically and racially diverse magnet or county wide schools could benefit children from both urban and suburban families. I want to return to this idea and specifically the term win-win as it relates to the need for more diverse school districts and magnet schools.

Stephen Covey coined the term win-win in his popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is habit #4. The term has become ubiquitous in our culture including education. But Covey writes that there are pre-requisites to getting to win-win solutions. The first two are maturity, which he defines as the balance between courage and consideration, and integrity. The third element, which is the most important and appears to be lacking in many of the discussions on equity in education, is an abundance mentality.

Jeff Linn is the chairman of the department of educational administration at the College at Brockport and a member of the GS4A steering committee.

This he defines as a way of thinking based on sharing. He contrasts this with a scarcity mentality such as a belief that if a group gains something—such as entry into a higher achieving school—it will mean fewer resources and opportunities for the children and families already associated with the school. A scarcity mentality is poison to seeking any win-win solutions and can only lead to win-lose results.

This concept is reflected in our current thinking on area schools. People who view life through a win-lose mentality believe that there is only so much to go around. They compare their schools’ “test scores” to those of city schools and declare themselves the winners because they got out or chose to live somewhere with good schools. They surround themselves with people like themselves, mostly white and middle class, and view those different from themselves with mixture of distrust, pity and disdain.

They could have gotten out like me, they think. They made their own breaks and others can too.

If urban kids mix with our kids we will create a lose-win. We lose our ranking as a top 100 school because we have diluted our student body.

This despite the fact that in many suburban districts 25-50 percent of the kids are “opting out” of the state assessments making that data  invalid. But they believe that other measures, like the number of kids enrolled in Advance Placement (AP) courses and the percentage accepted to 4-year colleges would drop and so would their coveted ranking and that would not be fair to them or their kids.

Win-lose thinking does have its place in our culture. Businesses, states and regions win and lose in their competitions for grants and contracts. Rooting for sports teams would be pretty boring without win-lose thinking. And not everyone can or should get into Harvard.

Still, the question is, do we want the social contract of our country and our region to be based on an abundance mentality, in which we share resources for the benefit of all? Or do we want to continue to embrace win-lose thinking that keeps the poor in their lane and crushes the American dream that should be built on cooperation and a level playing field for all children?

Building relationships between urban and suburban schools is win-win thinking. It is the third alternative that will benefit all parties and we can reach it if we embrace an abundance mentality. We are good enough for that. Aren’t we?