Diversity Toolkit Introduction
Diversity can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. The dimensions of diversity include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, and immigration status. The field of education includes diverse professional job categories ranging from classroom teachers to education support professionals to higher education faculty to retired professionals. While diversity itself is not a value-laden term, the way that people react to diversity is driven by values, attitudes, beliefs, and so on. Full acceptance of diversity is a major principle of social justice.
The concept of diversity presents both extraordinary promise and daunting challenges for education employees. On the one hand, educators and students have more opportunities than ever to learn about different experiences, languages, and cultures, whether through classroom curriculum, the Internet, or a conversation with a peer or a neighbor. This learning enriches us and prepares us for life in our 21st century, global society.
On the other hand, the education community faces growing challenges related to diversity, such as the academic achievement gaps between students of diverse backgrounds; racial segregation and resegregation in our schools; gender inequalities and sex discrimination; bullying and harassment of students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; educating students with disabilities; staggering disparities in educational resources based on class or income; access to education for immigrants; respecting students of all religious backgrounds; and so forth. Institutional hurdles such as high-stakes testing and the lack of resources for "nonessential" subjects make addressing the issue of diversity even more challenging
- The NEA position on diversity was spelled out by the NEA Representative Assembly:
- The National Education Association believes that a diverse society enriches all individuals. Similarities and differences among race, ethnicity, color, national origin, language, geographic location, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, physical ability, size, occupation, and marital, parental or economic status form the fabric of a society.
- The Association also believes that education should foster the values of appreciation and acceptance of the various qualities that pertain to people as individuals and as members of diverse populations.
- The Association further believes in the importance of observances, programs, and curricula that accurately portray and recognize the roles, contributions, cultures, and history of these diverse groups and individuals.
- The Association encourages affiliates and members to become part of programs and observances that may include cultural and heritage celebrations and/or history months. (1995, 2002)
Here are some basic strategies for your exploration of diversity:
- Seize opportunities to learn about people of different backgrounds, cultures and experiences—whether through a book, a film, or a conversation
- Examine your own attitudes and beliefs about people who are different from you
- Foster discussion in your workplace about diversity
- Assess the diversity in your school and how students of different backgrounds are faring
- Pursue ways to create diversity awareness or to celebrate diversity in your school community.
We hope that you will gain useful information, inspiration, and energy from this resource. Please don't hesitate to give us feedback on any part of the Diversity Toolkit.
For more information, contact the NEA National Diversity Training Cadre.