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Promoting sameness

Posted By: Lissa Howes on May 17, 2004
We carry a mindset that fairness means same treatment and that ignoring or putting more energy into converging individual differences somehow implies respecting them. I contend that a healthy multicultural society would not only attend to differences, but it would both nourish and learn from them.

The narrow conception of fairness is also inherent in our educational culture bent upon closing an achievement gap, but refusing to adjust its conception of achievement away from its classical academic roots. Implicit in this attitude is a perspective that says academia—and in today's technoscience age it increasingly prioritizes mathematics and the sciences—is the most important contributors to society. We cannot know this, because we cannot foresee the future, nor can we objectively see the present.
Since the Enlightenment, a certain brand of Western scientific reasoning has enjoyed an elite position over other forms of human genius—this, despite every indication that scientific progress relies on much more than reason. John Ralston Saul in his book, On Equilibrium, suggests five other human qualities that, together with reason, constitute the nature of human genius, and I would add (given the writing of Thomus Kuhn and others since) constitute equal contributors to the scientific enterprise: memory, common sense, intuition, imagination, and ethics. Further, in formulating his ideas on multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner looked to those elements & human abilities revered across cultures and rewarded either monetarily or through prestige. It turns out that mathematical reasoning and logic is but one of several notable forms of human cognition. Indeed our brains and our success as a species owes to more than the simply the capacity for linear thinking.

Despite evidence insisting we broaden our concept of human achievement, schools continue to minimize the value and development of, for example, crucial interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, termed emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Implicit in the small print of such rallying cries of No Child Left Behind and Closing the Achievement Gap is the attitude of same for all. And, short of extending the school day into the night, the school week through the weekend, and the school year across every break, it is logistically impossible to equally develop the gamut of valued human potentials in schools. If we consider the mandate for sameness in standardized achievement together with the logistic limitations in time and resources available to schools, we force a choice and definition, through schools, of those things that society most values—an unfortunate situation destined to promotes inequalities and to limit future human possibilities.

By holding to a narrow definition of excellence, we restrict ourselves to a bell curve distribution of propensities toward the attribute targeted as somehow more meritous than the rest. If we want to decrease the achievement gap, we should reexamine and redefine our conceptions of excellence, so as to equally value and nurture the diversity of humans across and within cultures. The objective of homogeneity of a hegemonically defined sense of excellence serves no purpose but frustration and continued marginalization of many to the detriment of all in diminished diversity, thwarted development of human potential, and lost opportunities for appreciating differences while learning from and with each other. In a way, not dissimilar to the problems associated with lost species' diversity, the melding and homogenizing of cultures may well be rendering extinct, certain cultural memes that are the seeds of solutions to current and future world social, political, and economic challenges. To continue to do so is to jeopardize our collective future and to contribute to the increased possibility of our own self-generated demise.
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 Promoting sameness by Lissa Howes on May 17, 2004
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