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Diversity in education is the answer to adversity

ELINOR TATUM Publisher and Editor in Chief | 5/30/2013, 1:36 p.m.
When guidance counselors need to care

Recently, my family began the search for a preschool program for our 2-year-old daughter. We knew the process would be taxing. We knew we would not like everything that we saw, and we knew the diversity in most preschools would not be that great, but we did not expect it to be as bad as it is.

In one preschool we visited, there were some teachers of color. There were a lot of international students and a few kids who were of color. The school said that diversity was important and that they were making a concerted effort to achieve it.

The second school we went to had a bit less diversity, but when approached with the question they said yes, they are not very diverse, and they are trying change that. "We realize that we need to do better," they continued.

And then there was the third school. Out of over 100 students, there was only one Black child in the entire school, and no Black teachers. In fact, according to the director, not one Black teacher had ever applied for a position there. They said it is an issue for all the schools but assured us that their lack of children of color was not because they had not been admitted; they just chose to go elsewhere.

But where is that elsewhere? Where are our youngest going to get educated? Where are the programs for the 2- and 3-year-olds who need it most? These preschools say they want diversity, yet in most cases are not reaching out to the communities that need it most. While there is a hefty price tag on these schools, it is not impossible to get children of color to go there, and it is certainly not impossible to find teachers of color; you just have to look in the right places.

I say all this as a parent who sees that the early years of education set the basis for the future. How will my child learn? What will she need? Are there learning issues?

Addressing these concerns early helps to set the course for the future and prepares these young people for their next step in life: kindergarten. But what if there is no early childhood education for them, or if he or she is the only child of color in an entire school?

These issues are real, and from the beginning it is an uphill battle. How do you balance your child's education and the real effects of being the only one? Is it a choice you make, or is it one of those times you just hold your nose and jump, hoping everything will turn out OK?

We have to do better. If the playing field is not level when these children are 2, the hill becomes Mount Everest by age 16. Diversity at every level of education is important. Diversity in those that children see teaching them is also paramount.

If we do not insist on having diversity in the present, all of our children are at a disadvantage. The world is no longer Black or white. We need equity, equality, parity among many other things, and the only way to get that is through diversity.