Same Opportunities Means Differences, Creativity, and Change

Our society talks a lot about diversity, but we talk about diversity as multi-colored or multi-gendered sameness. On the one hand, we want the same opportunities for everyone regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, economic status…..etc….On the other hand, we get stuck on what we mean by the same opportunities. Too often we focus on the sameness rather than on the opportunities.

The last couple of generations has seen a revolution in civil rights, and access to education and jobs. Millennials have been more color blind than their predecessors, partially because they grew up exposed to more racial and cultural diversity than their parents and grandparents did. They also grew up in a culture of gender equality (or as some would attest, post -Feminism).  This is not to suggest that racism and sexism and other bigotry does not exist; it does, but the culture at large has wandered through the desert for 40 years, and has transitioned to a new normal that is much more fully integrated by race and gender than at any previous time in history. There are still some firsts yet to come, and more diversity is necessary, but the idea that schools and workplaces, much less any place, should look the way they did a couple of generations ago, is anachronistic and stunting our progress. Millennials  have also shown their distinction as civil birth-rights with their ease and support of marriage equality. They schooled their elders on both sides of the political divide, that marriage equality is a civil right. We’ll see when the elders on the Supreme Court ultimately get it. Millennials seem to be most entrenched in same opportunities.

One of the (fairly recent, historically speaking) civil rights laws that many Millennials may not have been aware of was the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA 1990). Like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion or sex illegal, the ADA of 1990 protects against discrimination, in this case, based on disability. The power of these civil rights laws is the inclusion of so many who were previously excluded (and worse). The cultural impact is even greater: We have access to so many more gifts and gifted individuals who are different from us! It is equal opportunity for variety–not sameness. The more difference the better!

One of the cultural remnants of the ADA however, has been the seeming pathologization of so many previously “normal”, if unpleasant, phases of life and dispositions. It became beneficial for many parents to have their struggling kids tested and identified as having some sort of disability in order to get an IEP (Individualized Education Plan).   The IEPs are a reasonable first step, but are often not adhered to, and are difficult for teachers (and parents) to manage. The upsurge in disabilities is partially due to a new recognition of disability. At the same time, school systems have been decreasing arts and recess, and adding testing and uniforms, and earlier school times–all counter to enhancing individual academic, intellectual,social and emotional growth. Being more aware of disabilities and ways to manage them has been a great leap forward; but we must be careful not to create a culture of disability/pathology where everything is a problem that needs medicating in an environment that doesn’t allow for different rates of development, and uses inappropriate measures of assessment and  notions of success.   I spent years parenting and teaching in a culture that on the one hand suggested pathology was everywhere, but where there was also little interest in creativity or in diverse kinds of education. Perhaps there would be less pathology if more diversity of human nature were encouraged and nurtured. Diversity is more than skin deep. It is more than racial and gender orientation. To assume that everyone can be educated the same is small minded, at best. Sometimes, the real opportunities lie in diverse learning institutions and workplaces.

For Millennials who have grown up to expect opportunities for all, they are discovering a cruel economic situation that demands creativity. Creative thinking (and work) is not merely for artists.    Any strides that we have made in Civil Rights and educating, and having people become more included and productive, has come from a break from the status quo; from sameness to opportunity. Learning institutions and workplaces must continue to evolve to include more diversity of individuals (inside and out). Perhaps that will mean a shift in scheduling and organization from one that no longer supports what is truly a more diverse population and a creative culture.

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