Tuesday, December 9, 2014

micro-communities of sameness

In the op-ed piece "A Pox upon Campus Life," Frank Bruni writes about college fraternities:  "They contrive micro-communities of sameness in a world of difference. They favor contact with like-minded individuals over communication with a spectrum of individuals. There’s an understandable draw to these enclaves. People are tribal, ineluctably so....But ... such comfort strangles curiosity and binds a person to a single crowd, a blinkered viewpoint. Not letting that kind of tribalism get out of hand is one of the central obligations of a country like ours."

Bruni opines that our nation has an obligation to oppose tribalism, the urge to associate with like-minded people.  But why? Does the Statue of Liberty whisper, "It's the right thing to do?" 

Scott Page has a more pragmatic perspective on the matter.  Page is a professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan. 

In his book, The Difference, Page "reveals that progress and innovation may depend less on lone thinkers with enormous IQs than on diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality. Page shows how groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity yields superior outcomes, and Page proves it using his own cutting-edge research. Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, he explains why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you're talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory."

I heard Scott Page speak to the heads and board chairs of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) two years ago. What are the implications of his work for private schools?  Too many private schools are enclaves of tribalism. Page presents a compelling case for diversity of background and of thinking in our schools -- if we want to prepare students to contribute to progress and innovation in the 21st century.

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