For the next next nine months I have the unspeakable privilege of participating in the Leadership Grand Rapids class of 2014. It’s hard to describe how I feel about this opportunity. I’m excited for the journey ahead, I’m more than a little proud to have been chosen, and at the same time I look around this town and wonder why me. One thing is certain though, I will not be the same person when I come out on the other end of this thing. It’s simply not possible while sharing this journey with such a diverse, thoughtful and challenging group of fellow travelers.
This past weekend was our opening retreat for our class where we learned each others names, hit each other with foam noodles and shared some intimate moments of personal growth together. Also woven into the retreat was our introduction to the ‘four platforms’ which the programming for LGR is based on: community connections, diversity, leadership skills, and systems thinking.
During the session on diversity, I was struck once again by how hard this can be for those of us who have inherited the virus of cultural bias. Each one of us experiences the world so differently based on any one of dozens of traits that might make us the subject of a bias against different. It’s hard work and takes a lot of intentional effort to beat this virus into remission. I work hard to fight the virus and make sure I’m aware of when a bias is influencing my thoughts and actions, but what if there was a vaccine? What if there was a way to ensure that the next generation of humans under our care had an immunity to this virus? What sort of value would you place on that immunity?
Well, I think there is a vaccine of sorts. I think growing up and going to school everyday and interacting everyday with different leads to an immunity of sorts. In a future filled with an ever increasing variety of different, I think those among us who have the inherent ability to encounter those differences and still see human, will possess a valuable gift. Just imagine if we didn’t have to spend time and resources trying to beat the disease of cultural bias and discrimination?
This is why our kids attend Grand Rapids Public Schools. Not because we don’t have a choice, because clearly we do. Not because we don’t care about my children’s education, because we certainly do. GRPS has lower overall test scores, older buildings, higher class sizes, a perception of safety concerns, and a whole host of other challenges, but none of those things matter to us as much as some other things that GRPS has in abundance. One of those things is diversity, and it’s not merely about race or ethnicity. In just about any way imaginable the families that make up our children’s school community are full of different.
My friend Erin Wilson (I feel so lucky to be able to say those four words) wrote a whole post about this very subject and words are his gift, so I encourage you to click over and give it a read. Near the end of his post he sums up our feelings on the subject so very nicely:
Maybe SAT scores are 45 points higher at a school in the suburbs, and maybe the Debate Club has its own van with air conditioning. But maybe, of all those things, and all the things you could learn at school, maybe the most important thing is what you don’t learn.
For this reason, and many more, I truly believe that we need to change the way we perceive the value of GRPS to our community. For too long it has been treated as if it is a boat anchor dragging the whole city down, when in reality I suggest it is a shiny gem quietly giving the future of our community the greatest eduction available to us. Those of you who give your lives everyday to what so many others see as a losing battle, I salute you! You make a difference in this community, and many of us are extremely grateful!