We are a nation of immigrants, and cultural diversity has always been a vital aspect of our society. “Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,” proclaimed the great poet of American democracy, Walt Whitman. Even in these contentious times, the moral correctness of tolerance retains a grip on our thinking.
This consensus continues to be reflected in what we teach. Over the past three decades, schools have significantly increased their efforts to foster tolerance and celebrate cultural diversity. History, literature, as well as other subjects, now offer vastly more inclusive curriculums than they did in the past.
This outcome was not easy to achieve and the debate still rages, reflected in the current conflict between the new isolationists and their critics. In these discussions, the former usually assert that immigrants are taking away jobs from the native-born and are hurting the economy. Advocates of openness, meanwhile, frame the issue primarily as a moral one.
A slew of recent and influential studies, however, have shed new light on the topic, demonstrating that immigration and cultural diversity actually deliver powerful economic benefits. Last fall, a report by the National Academy of Sciences determined that immigrant labor and talent are essential to the overall health of the economy. Moreover, despite myths to the contrary, immigrant families quickly produce net revenues for local and state governments.
Additional studies have found that diversity itself brings lasting economic payoffs. Societies that are open and culturally diverse typically experience significantly more economic growth than isolationist ones. The evidence is clear: diversity and openness accelerate growth; uniformity and isolation puts the brakes on.
It is also becoming increasingly apparent that diversity in schools produces positive educational outcomes. Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, tracks 100 school districts around the country that are using a variety of strategies to achieve socioeconomic integration and push back against segregation. The findings show that poor students attending integrated schools perform significantly better than those attending segregated institutions. Moreover, middle-class students in these schools perform as well as their peers in segregated settings. In short, all students are better prepared to succeed and contribute. RBR is an excellent example of how diversity benefits everyone in a public school. Our diversity enriches us and we are consistently ranked as one of New Jersey’s best high schools.
The ability to thrive, collaborate, and create in a diverse society will be essential in our own state. New Jersey already boasts the third highest population of foreign-born residents in the United States and estimates predict that the Garden State will be majority non-white in less than 15 years. Considering this reality, the persistence of intensive segregation in New Jersey public schools is not only immoral but also educationally and economically unsound.
For educators and everyone, the challenge is to accelerate – not retreat from – efforts to prepare young people to thrive in a culturally diverse society. It turns out that Walt Whitman was an insightful economist as well as our nation’s greatest poet.
Louis Moore, Superintendent
Red Bank Regional High School
This article was first published in the March 30-April 6, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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