Posted on November 21, 2011

To Promote Diversity, Schools Should Make Students Sit Together

Elizabeth Laferriere, Policymic, November 21, 2011

This month’s Teacher Diversity Matters report by the Center for American Progress has added to the growing belief that a racially diverse student body and faculty have positive effects on various educational outcomes for students. Children need to learn how to adapt and interact within a diverse environment. They benefit from broad perspectives and new opinions.

A more pressing concern for policymakers and teachers alike is how to effectively capture and channel the positive influences from diversity. Primarily, does enforcing intermingling and cross-ethnic communication help, hinder, or bring no net change to diversification efforts?

Some argue that encouraging intermingling like forcing primary schoolers of different ethnicities to sit together might do more harm than good. {snip}


One serious hindrance to performance for certain groups of individuals, from women to minorities, is what social psychologists like Harvard’s Claude Steele deem the stereotype threat: a quantifiable devaluation in performance of some task due to pressure from the belief that others have prejudged us and will make future judgments based on these beliefs and not on individual capabilities.


By encouraging young, multi-ethnic students to sit together every day, to team them up, to have assigned seating at lunch, and give them joint projects, this generation of teachers may potentially issue a fatal blow to the threat before it has materialized as an actual and long-lasting hindrance to performance. If impressionable young students are constantly forced into interactions with others, they will be more likely to see similarities and less likely to unquestioningly internalize otherwise common prejudices. This in turn could help ensure their own fully-realized performance if they believe others are less likely to harbor such prejudice towards them.


The implications going forward are clear: the education system faces serious, albeit unavoidable, challenges in addressing diversity. Yet, encouraging and channeling the benefits of such bountiful diversity may be the source of one of the American school system’s greatest untapped strengths.