In my last column I argued the promotion of “diversity” on campuses and throughout the culture is, at root, a rejection of standards. It is the attempt to erase the distinction between essential differences and non-essential ones — between values and non-values.
For example, attempting to achieve a student body composed of a certain racial makeup gives credence to something that has no actual value in an academic environment: race. Race is irrelevant to one’s ideas, character or ability to learn.
But the idea of “diversity” is much broader than race and sex. It acts to destroy essential differences across the board by putting over the idea that difference as such is a value. But is diversity a value?
If a student attends class naked and threatens to smash people in the face, that would be different, but should we embrace it? Inviting panhandlers from State Street to bring their change cups to class would be different, but is this a value? Not if education is the standard.
And this is precisely the problem. Diversity, per se, cannot be a value because the term has no meaning apart from a standard to which it is applied.
A diversity of investments or a diversity of talent, for example, can be a value only because these things prescribe a standard by which to evaluate them. Adding sand to one’s portfolio would be different, but it would not count as a diversification because it fails to meet the standard by which investments are judged: return on investment. Enshrining “diversity” as an unqualified good would be a disaster if applied to investment strategies and it is equally harmful when applied to education.
Recent lawsuits brought against universities for their use of the Kindle electronic reader is a good example of the destructive effects of diversity. The president of the National Federation of the Blind states their position as follows:
“American higher education institutions that are subject to federal laws requiring that they not discriminate against students with disabilities plan to deploy this device (Kindle), even though they know that it cannot be used by blind students. The National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate this unconscionable discrimination against and callous indifference to the right of blind students to receive an equal education.”
It is wrong, says the federation, to adopt technologies that are only useful to sighted students. Why? Because this is discrimination. And it is discrimination — the Kindle is designed for people who can see, and not for people who cannot see. But is this kind of discrimination bad?
Unlike race, which is irrelevant to a student’s academic abilities, being able to see is an essential asset. This means that, unlike racially different students, blind students and sighted students should not be treated the same. They should not receive an equal education, but the best education given their actual abilities. And the best education for a sighted student will often be different than that of a blind student.
Yet, in the same way that diversity proponents urge us to embrace difference as good without regard to the nature of those differences, anti-discrimination proponents treat discrimination as universally bad regardless of what is being discriminated. Missing from both is any notion of a standard for evaluating the differences or discriminations.
If, instead of “diversity” and “non-discrimination” we adopt a standard of for making discriminations and diversifying, we will see that many of the policies being adopted are wrong.
For example, if providing the best education for individuals is the standard, then it becomes readily apparent that race is irrelevant to an individual’s education and technology that takes advantage of his sight is a tremendous boon. One should therefore reject the idea of seeking more racial diversity and the shunning of a valuable technology because it does not benefit the blind.
In cases where a particular technology satisfies the needs of both blind and sighted students, it may make sense to adopt such a technology. It’s also valuable to offer technologies that assist the blind. But these are values only by the standard of educating individuals. To sacrifice the sighted to the blind and the qualified to the ethnically underrepresented is to drop the standard of education.
Jim Allard ([email protected]) is a graduate student in biological sciences.