Diversity education is a divisive education

Mike Jankanish teaches history at Wilson High School and is an occasional op-ed contributor to The News Tribune.
Mike Jankanish teaches history at Wilson High School and is an occasional op-ed contributor to The News Tribune.

The Great Seal of the United States proclaims the achievement of the American Revolutionary generation: “E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.”

Now comes a measure introduced into the Washington Legislature that, if adopted, will turn this achievement on its head, proclaiming the goal of mandating a public schools curriculum that emphasizes “diversity” and “global citizenship.”

House Bill 1314, supported by a host of the usual liberal suspects, would direct the state school superintendent’s office to develop an ethnic studies curriculum.

While not mandated as a graduation requirement, the bill’s sponsors hope schools choose to add the curriculum to their 7th through 12th grade course offerings.

Given the overall leftist influence in our state public schools, a great many districts are likely to expose students to this proposed curriculum.

HB 1314 is a bad idea and should not be approved. The great goal of the common neighborhood public schools was to provide an environment where children of immigrants would, over time, be welcomed into the common American culture.

Even immigrant adults would attend night schools to learn English as quickly as possible.

To become “American” did not mean immigrants had to forgo the language and ceremonial life of their country of origin. However, most made it their primary goal to enter into the common culture as quickly as possible.

Of course, this increasing emphasis on cultural diversity is not just about school curriculum but part of a larger agenda to implement the goals of identity politics.

This way of thinking is based on the assumption that certain groups of Americans are inherently marginalized in our society and are the victims of ongoing discrimination.

But the increasing emphasis on some identifying characteristic, such as race, gender, sexual orientation or nationality, undermines a historical American achievement:

Creating institutions, like broad-based political parties, has served to unite diverse groups around policy proposals that bond Americans to a common enterprise. Even if this goal has not always been realized, it was assumed the effort ought to always point toward its achievement.

The real problem is this: The proponents of measures like HB 1314 no longer support the American experiment. They don’t want to encourage new immigrants and new citizens to integrate. They think America is inherently racist and discriminatory at every turn.

In their view the best way to change the country is to call into question the common stories that serve to sustain a common American identity. In its place they will substitute alternative stories – those of diversity, which aim to divide and not unite.

What can be done, beyond saying no to HB 1314? This is not a call to ignore the real transgressions of justice in American history. It is, however, a reminder that this country was not created on the assumption that no injustices would occur, or that all existing injustices would be immediately eliminated.

As President Abraham Lincoln once observed, the right should always be looked to even if it could not be achieved all at once.

This is probably the worst result of the identity politics of those who want to push a diversity education agenda in our schools. The movement represents a loss of faith in the foundational institutions of the American experiment, and worse, undermines those institutions.

I can do no better than to end with the wisdom of Lincoln: “A House divided against itself cannot stand.” That’s exactly what will be accomplished by diversity education: a house divided.

Mike Jankanish is chair of the history department at Tacoma’s Wilson High School.