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Diversity R Us

When our school school search began last November, I realized early on that diversity was a criterion for me. Much as our neighborhood school was a beautiful and charming choice, it’s homogeneity got to me. Nearly every class I visited was comprised of 20-21 white kids from the Highlands, most of whom looked like they walked out of a Hanna Andersson catalog, and 4-5 African American kids, most of whom clearly arrived from poorer households closer to downtown or from Louisville’s west end as part of the district’s mandatory desegregation plan.

It’s not that Louisville doesn’t have an African American middle class; it’s that compared to cities like Chicago or Atlanta our African-American middle class is undersized. What’s more, the majority of black professionals we do have don’t live in my neighborhood. I didn’t know it when I moved, but the Highlands, with its mixed-income housing, small lots, and older homes attracts a hippy-dippy demographic that is overwhelmingly white.

I wanted Simon to understand that the whole world isn’t like our neighborhood and get used to the multi-everything society he’s likely to encounter wherever his educational and career pursuits take him. So I traded in a preschool full of Isabellas, Olivias, Brians, and Elliots for an elementary school full of Ayokunies, Nimishas, Meneliks, and Rohans.* And if you can’t pronounce or place all those names let me explain that (1) neither can I; and (2) that was the point.

Simon’s class this year is over 60% non-white, with students coming from African, African-American, South Asian, East Asian, and Central and South American backgrounds. I was—and am—ridiculously happy with all the diversity he will encounter at his school. I also was—but no longer am—looking at things from an insultingly simplistic perspective.

While I was busy being pleased at what a heterogeneous class could do for Simon (how educational! how worldly! how enriching!), I somehow forgot that diversity is not something you take in passively. These kids aren’t museum pieces designed for my own aesthetic pleasure. They’re just kids, and diversity is a two-way street.

I learned this when Simon came home after discussing his “All About Me” sheet with his class. Of course Simon was the only kid to list “A Hard Day’s Night” as his favorite movie or “indigo” as his favorite color. I was a little more surprised that no one else said they wanted to be a computer programmer when they grew up, but that’s hardly significant. No, what got my attention was that Simon was also the only kid who listed Chanukah as his or her favorite holiday. In fact, he’s the only kid in his class who knew what Chanukah was.

Whoa. I don’t think we’re at Keneseth Israel Preschool any more.

Mr. Sowder told the class that they’d learn more about Chanukah later, no doubt when they cover other non-Christmas holidays ahead of their winter diversity fair. I told a confused Simon to wait a few days. Surely a few of his classmates would name holidays like Diwali or Eid as their favorite. With all those Africans and Indians, it was inevitable, right?

Nope. They all said Christmas except for the two who said Halloween. And so it would appear that one of the children contributing to Brandeis’s diversity is my own, and instead of marveling at all the “differences” around us, we’re going to be one of them. I guess this All About Me thing happened just in time, because in two weeks Simon will miss school for Rosh Hashanah, another holiday I can assume no one else in his class has ever heard of.

*In all fairness to KIP and its director, it is an amazingly diverse school for what it is (Jewish, expensive, private) and where it is (the Highlands). At its peak, Simon’s class last year had 14 kids in it (one moved), five of whom were non-white, largely owing to the outreach and openness of it’s director. In this regard, KIP far outpaced our neighborhood public school.

One Response to “Diversity R Us”

  1. blg says:

    The older Simon gets, the more interesting your blog posts get. I love what you are seeing and that you comment on it so articulately.

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