I attended one of the premier educational institutions in the United States in the nineteen fifties: P.S. 104 on the corner of 95th Street and Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It's still there. But as Dr. Thomas Sowell said about one he attended in those years, it might be the "same building" but it's not the "same school."
Despite the fact that my wonderful grandmother was a native Swedish speaker P.S. 104 didn't feel compelled to celebrate my "heritage" the way it would today. They taught me where Sweden was because we studied geography (and don't we wish our children still did) but not to put too fine a point on it, they knew I wasn't growing up in Stockholm. I had a friend whose father was a senior NCO at the Fort Hamilton Army Base a few blocks away and nobody went lyrical about how he, just by being black and therefore "different", enriched our educational experience either. I had another friend whose father had flown a Focke-Wulf 200 multi-engine bomber for the Luftwaffe during WWII and it goes without saying that there wasn't a chance in hell of anybody applauding his antecedents. Or for that matter the fact that another's father was deputy something-or-other at the Yugoslav mission to the United Nations, another's a survivor of the Holocaust or maybe just up from Puerto Rico with the family hoping to start a better life.
None of that mattered.
Instead the school simply thought it should do its job. Shape every kind of child white, black, brown, short, tall, skinny, kids with Coke-bottle glasses, kids dragging one leg behind them into useful citizens by teaching them how to read and write English well while at the same time having them master eight years of arithmetic, penmanship, history, and civics. And boy weren't they lucky if they got to do just half that because most of us, the boys at least, would much rather be playing stickball or dangling a crab net off the sea wall in Shore Road Park.
Of course, in looking back I see that that principal (there were no administrators then) and those teachers did themselves proud, and that I loved them.
Flash forward fifty years. A long pieceappears in The New York Daily Newsentitled: "We're ready for real diversity." It's author is Shino Tanikawa a mother of two in public schools in Manhattan who has a completely different, but now very popular take on things. Below is an excerpt:
I also wanted my daughters, who are mixed race, to recognize and embrace their Japanese heritage, and not be ashamed of it as I was in my 20s (a rather stereotypical Asian response to a white-dominant society). For this to happen, I knew they needed to be in a racially diverse environment where they were not the only ones who are "different."
I knew that public schools are where my children could meet and befriend people who are not like them; there aren't many other places like that, even in a city known as a melting pot. So I sought out schools with diverse student bodies, and that's what I got - though in this city, where kids tend to cluster by background, it wasn't easy to find.
Mixing works. Both my daughters learned a great deal from attending elementary schools where classes had two grades or students with and without disabilities learning together.
What they learned does not show up in their test scores. Rather, they have the ability to see strengths in all people, particularly the ones society might label "difficult." And they have humility about their status in this society.
By the time my younger daughter started the middle school application process in 2012, I was consciously looking for schools with racial diversity.
My spreadsheet of schools (yes, I am one of those moms) had columns for racial demographics. She was offered a seat at a middle school with a student body that is representative of the whole district racially and socioeconomically, as well as in proportions of English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.
The school also had a diverse faculty. Her eighth-grade academic teachers were all women of color (a magical year that was!). Being a parent in this middle school deepened my awareness and understanding of racial issues as well as my own racial identity as a woman of color.
First of all, I have a real problem with her expecting readers to believe that (with a fist in the eye and a little sob) she "wanted [her] daughters, who are mixed race, to recognize and embrace their Japanese heritage, and not be ashamed of it as I was in my 20s..."
Because I have six children, four of who are married, three of whom are married to either Vietnamese or Japanese partners. My wife and I, Irish/Irish and Irish/Swedish, are card-carrying members of that (I assume oppressive) "white-dominant society" and we couldn't be happier with those marriages or imagine life without them and most particularly without the grandchildren of those marriages. But that's not my point. I spent a year in Japan. I've worked with both Japanese immigrants and sojourners, I've read Japanese history, my youngest grandson is growing up bilingual and spends a month every year with his blood relatives in Japan and if there's a Japanese soul somewhere besides this woman Tanikawa on the planet who is "ashamed" of Japanese society or culture I haven't yet encountered them.
Okay, nonsense aside, what lessons can we draw from her passionate advocacy? One is that we've heard it all before. Liberals have, in a very childlike fashion, conflated the sometimes widely different origins immigrants have with the economic and cultural success of America. America is the most successful nation on the planet, America is a nation of immigrants, ipso facto the secret of even more achievement is even more diversity.
Our strength is our diversity as the saying goes.
The nation made a big mistake forty or fifty years ago when it allowed liberals to give up teaching history, because if they hadn't maybe most of us would remember that America was never about diversity at all. Instead, it was about what happened to me as a child. About being processed by an immensely powerful social and cultural machine operating from get-go in order to root out the diversity from among us and after stigmatizing it, strangle the thing dead.
A machine that taught us only one language, the English language, one non-denominational evangelistic Christianity (big exception carved out for Jews), one history that begins with the Pilgrims and Captain John Smith and ended with America saving the world, one system of English weights and measures, one reference to one common law, one Constitution ordained by one God -- and speaking of God, he taught us at every possible opportunity that he not only made America good but better than any other place in the world.
And so, in point of fact, there wasn't much diversity about it at all.
Which is why Alexis De Tocqueville opened his Book Two with the observation that "…in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy (today we might say ideology) than in the United States."
Because there was only one tolerated.
Listen to Israel Zangwill's famous 1904 play The Melting Pot in which he greeted new arrivals to this amazing nation of ours:
…here you stand in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won't be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you've come to -- these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians -- into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.
And that was and is America's historic strength, not diversity but an enforced commonality of value.
Diversity doesn't get you to the Moon.
Diversity is bunk.
The creed of someone who doesn't know -- either who they are or who they put here to be.
Richard F. Miniter lives and writes in the Colonial era hamlet of Stone Ridge New York and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The acclaimed author of The Things I Want Most his most recent book What Sort Of Parents Should We Be?: A Man's Guide To Raising Exceptional Children is now available Here.