The Mutant Elephant in the Room

I just finished watching “X-Men: First Class,” and it was probably one of my favorite prequels. As with good back stories, audiences are often given a vehicle to empathize with villains. In the X-Men franchise, Marvel Comics has used the idea of mutants to show, as metaphor, the difficulties associated with diversity.

Dealing with diversity is tough in independent schools, and Pat Bassett, president of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) shares his current examination of the landscape of diversity in independent schools at the NAIS website. He gives strategies for change and “names the elephants in the room.” You can download the slide deck at the website.

First of all, the mixed emotions that are felt related to diversity are many. A few examples include, optimism and exasperation. The strongest emotions call into play Daniel Pink’s 3 forces in his book on motivation, Drive: Mastery, Purpose, and Autonomy.

According to Robert Keegan’s book Immunity to Change, Bassett mentions the following:

First, the well-intentioned goal of being a change agent is undermined by failing to align resources and incentives. The invisible competing factor is that keeping peace is more important than effecting change. And, the big, untested assumptions behind that are that no one wants to much to change too fast.

His second well-intentioned goal is to lead the change agenda.

With the case being made for the rider instead of the elephant undermining this goal. The invisible competing factor here is that the change won’t work, and that we are seen as failures. And, we assume that failure will be punished instead of trying to be rewarded.

Then Bassett goes on to name some elephants in the room regarding diversity in independent schools, including the following:

Diversity and inclusion is what we do least well at schools.

To hold self to same standard aw others in terms of becoming educated about diversity.

Diversity is messy, time-consuming, disquieting, destabilizing, and unpopular

We assume too much

Heads are unsure about taking risks.

When people of color fail (students, faculty, administrators, etc.) who really failed?

Bassett then pulls quotes from Howard Stevenson, UPenn:

  • Avoiding the conversation around race is malpractice.
  • Without engaging in the conversation, fear drives the narrative.
There’s plenty more in Bassett’s slide, but I’ll let you navigate your way there through the link above. In short, we have a lot of work to do, and we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. Unlike the X-Men, where the fear of the unknown creates an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality, diversity is about creating a culture where everyone is part of the us. ¬†We still have a long way to go.
I can’t believe that I’ve reached post number 300. I thought I’d change the look of the blog just a little and leave you with the movie trailer to celebrate.
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2 thoughts on “The Mutant Elephant in the Room

  1. My two daughters went to an independent school that made a commitment to diversity by putting up the money to get a more balanced student body. It worked “looks” wise but the inclusion key was missing. For the first group of girls added to the mix this was not easy going. They struggled in nearly every way and as a parent I’m sorry I put my daughters in that situation. I thought the educational benefits out wieghted their discomfort. But it was deeper than discomfort and no matter how much we as a family tried to provide a balance to their lives both of my daughters suffered during a critical time in their development. You really can’t take avantage of a great education if you don’t ever feel like you are a part of the community.

    • Schools have to invest in Professional Development/Growth over the long haul to match the funds. Professional development should be sustained for 30 to 80 hours over at least 3 to 6 months. I also think it should involve parents and administrators. Sending teachers to one-day workshops or investing 1 hour faculty meetings here and there to diversity is a start, but change requires more.

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