Diversity as a Core Requirement

“Education is a weapon whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” — Joseph Stalin, 1934.

Wit has it that good students drive out bad teaching. Bright and enthusiastic students, especially at the college level, will generally avoid mediocre teachers, pedestrian courses, and unserious notions. The principle that quality attracts quality and repels incompetence protects American post-secondary education from becoming totally awash in politically correct indoctrination.Ever creative universities and colleges have responded by buoying enrollment in “diversity” courses by requiring them for graduation. Diversity Digest happily reports that 63% of colleges and universities either require diversity courses or are considering the institution of such core requirements.

If diversity really referred to the diversity of ideas, the consideration of broad areas of intellectual thought and human experience, then such requirements would enrich the curriculum. The titles of such “diversity” courses might be: World History, Philosophy from Antiquity to the Present, or Comparative Religion. These courses would be broad in scope, introducing students to the incredible variety of accumulated human knowledge and wisdom. When the National Assessment of Education Progress reports that “Fewer than half the grade-12 students in the assessment were able to reach the Basic level [in US History]” much less the “Proficient” or “Advanced” levels, it is clear that time needs to be devoted to broadening rather than narrowing educational exposure.

Instead such “diversity” courses tend to focus on the usually narrow grievances of one group or another. For example, according to the University of Maryland Schedule of Classes for Fall 2001, courses that meet the diversity requirement, “focus primarily on…the history, status, treatment, or accomplishment of women or minority groups and subcultures…” While a few of these courses may be gems, it seems doubtful that anything but a single narrow perspective is considered. Rather than offering a mountain of jewels to students, the world is portrayed through but one facet of a single gem.

It would be humorous, if it were not so sad, that all courses of study feel the necessity to pay rhetorical homage to the diversity curriculum. In describing a course cluster of Calculus I and Introduction to C Programming, in the College of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Maryland, the college apparently felt compelled to begin the description with the sentence, ”The science and technology leaders of the future will include large numbers of traditionally underrepresented groups.” The statement may be true, but it hardly constitutes the reason to study Calculus I and C Programming.

It is not that many groups do not have legitimate grievances or do not offer unique, interesting or enlightening contributions. It is not that serious study of different cultures is not important or fruitful. Rather, it is that the focus on one or a few such groups as part of a “diverse” undergraduate curriculum cheats students out the breath of exposure we expect from a liberal (small L) education.

The majority of undergraduates do not go on to graduate school and many of those that do specialize so narrowly that it can be said that for many the majority of a lifetime of intellectual capital is amassed by the end of the undergraduate years. It is truly foolhardy to squander any of this time on any but the broadest and most intellectually serious courses of study.

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