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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The benefits of diversity

An abbreviated version of a story that appeared on Yahoo News yesterday: 

White House wary of new affirmative action Supreme Court case
By Oliver Knox | The Ticket

The White House reacted cautiously to word Tuesday that the Supreme Court will take up an affirmative action case -- may potentially hear arguments on the volatile issue in the waning months of the presidential campaign.

President Barack Obama's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters at his daily briefing that he would not comment "on the Supreme Court's decision to take up a case, or not take up a case."

It's not uncommon for an administration to beg off when asked about the high court's doings, especially when it is not a party to the case, in order to avoid the appearance that it is improperly putting its thumb on the scales of justice.

But Carney then waded into the issue in general terms, saying, "I think, as the Supreme Court has recognized in the past, diversity in the classroom has learning benefits for students, campuses and schools."

Everyone talks about the benefits of diversity, but no one ever spells out exactly what they are. It's one of those things that no one seems to want to look at too closely.

Let's analyze Carney's last sentence. Ignore for the moment his poor syntax (campuses and schools are inanimate, and can't learn), and focus on diversity's "learning benefits" for students. How exactly does that work?

Let's say you're a ninth grader trying to master algebra. You're given the following problem: Solve for x if 2x + 5 =  5x - 13. You rack your brains, but you're stymied. Then you look over to the other side of the classroom and see Jose, a recent immigrant, puzzling over the same question. Suddenly the answer hits you -- because Jose was in the classroom!

Is that how it works?

You're attending a majority Hispanic high school in Laredo, Texas. You're trying to remember the date of the Norman Conquest, but you're drawing a blank. Then you look up and see the back of Billy Bob Hardison's head, and you remember -- 1066!

If you're a recent immigrant from Asia, will continual exposure to Ebonics help you score higher on the verbal portion of the SAT?

Frankly, I don't understand how being in the presence of someone of a different ethnicity helps you learn better. 

Perhaps at a future press conference someone could ask Jay Carney to explain exactly how those "learning benefits" are achieved.