Events over the last year have us at the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition feeling a bit like the Roy Scheider character in Jaws, only instead of needing a bigger boat we need a bigger tent.
Raising that bigger tent begins with public education. We believe that our public school system is itself a big tent because it is open to all citizens, from all backgrounds, and it includes traditional public schools and charter schools and other school choice options within the public school system—magnet schools, specialty schools, vocational schools and others.
We need a tent the size of America that comfortably fits all Americans without cramping or confining or limiting or rejecting any. For that to happen we must have a well educated citizenry that understands the principles of our republic, the complexity of our past, and the demands of creating “a more perfect union.” It demands a true understanding of the positive role diversity has played throughout our history and that the historic betrayals of our principles—from slavery to Jim Crow, from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese-American Internment, from the refusal to take in German-Jewish refugees in the late 1930s to restrictions on Muslim immigrants fleeing war and dictatorship today—are rooted in selfishness, ignorance, and bigotry.
We can tackle these challenges through America’s public schools. Through great schools we can teach students to know and to understand; we can teach them to think critically so they can use understanding to build empathy and challenge bigotry, and become successful problem-solvers.
We further believe that public school choice is helping to address the achievement gap between affluent and poor Americans, largely but far from exclusively People of Color; but a) it is only a beginning and b) it is only part of the challenge. The issue of the big tent, of diversity, is an equal part. But even more than being part of the challenge, it is part of the solution. We are a national coalition of public charter schools, independent and network-supported, that are committed to academic excellence through diversity.
Our mission is to catalyze and support the creation and expansion of high-quality, racially and economically diverse public charter schools; to support research and analysis of the academic and social impact of diverse (in administration, staff, and students) schools; to advocate policy recommendations at the local, state and federal level to support diverse schools; and to serve as a conduit for connection and best practice sharing among our members and across our diverse national public school system.
As Stephen Covey observed, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” From the strength of diversity comes respect, understanding, innovation, and unity. Diversity is a resource we cannot neglect in our schools and one we must build more firmly into the fabric of our society. It is the fabric that expands our national tent to fit our future.