I’ve been thinking more about this concept of “biodiversity” since my last post, and I agree with Will that if we are to discuss the concept of “diversity,” we must necessarily tackle the disturbing reality of the increasing segregation of our schools since Brown vs. Board of Ed. I also think we should discuss providing inclusive and supportive environments for students receiving special education services in this conversation, and that in fact those two necessities go hand in hand under the umbrella of equity. Cultivating biodiversity in a school community, therefore, could be translated directly into the concepts of integration and inclusion. The greater the diversity, the stronger the community.
However, it’s important to clarify a point in regards to that last statement. Bill Mollison, one of the founders of Permaculture, states a fundamental principle of ecological stability in Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual that has bearing on this matter:
“It is not the number of diverse things in a design that leads to stability, it is the number of beneficial connections between these components.”
In an earlier post (Relationships Matter), I discussed the ecological principles of redundancy and interconnectedness, and I think those principles are important to return to here. The question is not simply “How do we increase diversity in our public schools?” but more fundamentally “How do we build, cultivate, and strengthen relationships between diverse individuals and groups in our communities?”
It is the lack of such relationships (social capital) that many students raised in poverty face (as well as students with disabilities), and they are thus less resilient in the face of stress. I believe that students raised in affluence face the converse of this issue: they lack diverse experiences and relationships, and thus demonstrate a lack of empathy. Our primary focus in a school must be to build essential relationships within and without the school community so that students can not only make academic gains, but establish a sustainable foundation of character and social and emotional skills that will enable them to be successful in life.
While we are on the idea of stress, Mollison has some more interesting ecological insight on this:
“Some disturbance or ‘moderate stress’ such as we achieve in gardens provides the richest environment. We can actively design to allow some undisturbed (low stress) islands of vegetation, while mowing or digging in other areas (high stress), thus getting the best of both worlds in terms of a stress mosaic.”
In developing a rich environment for all students, we can deliberately design for an admixture of niches for learning and social interaction in our curriculum and physical environment, with some areas more heavily managed, while leaving other areas less managed and open to creative possibility and risk-taking.
At the heart of education reform, we must adopt a relentless focus on fomenting interconnectedness in our communities and schools, through the pursuance of policies and systems that explicitly “target” the integration and inclusion of diverse individuals and groups. And the only way we can do that is by cultivating positive communities founded on trust, empathy, and mutual respect.