Halloween Spirit

Halloween SpiritI have always approached Halloween with a hint of skepticism and apathy. As a child, I was very clear about the reason—I DON’T LIKE BEING SCARED. Sure, like most kids, I enjoyed gorging myself on Pixy Stix, Big League Chew, Nerds, Sugar Babies, Dum Dums, Sweeties, and Zagnut bars after my parents inspected them.

As I grew older, and candy became less of an attraction, my friends turned to silly pranks and ghoulish stunts meant to frighten our peers and wreak havoc on our neighborhood.  Again, this seemed to me to be destructive and SCARY, albeit for different reasons. Now, Halloween seems to give some adults license to publicly engage in silly or even debauched behavior. This can be a whole different kind of frightening.

The Halloween practice of trick or treating derives from the medieval tradition of “souling,” in which children would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. It is interesting how customs and practices morph (especially in culturally heterogeneous societies like ours) and take on new rituals and interpretations.

We are often uncomfortable with acknowledging death; it brings up memories of painful losses and reminds us of our own mortality. For many cultures, including the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos, remembering loved ones publicly and being confronted with the inevitability of death also offers the opportunity to be grateful.

Like you, I read about the tragic deaths of two Marysville high school students at the hands of a fourteen year-old boy with feelings of dismay, anger, and helplessness. Each time I hear about a school shooting, I am reminded how precious and fleeting life is. Perhaps this Halloween we can spend a few minutes with our own version of “souling,” giving our heartfelt thoughts (if not prayers and song) for those who lost their lives last Friday.

Although I have never been much of a fan of Halloween, this year as I roam the streets amidst the costumed children I will be reminded of those innocent victims and generous souls who are no longer among us, and I will hug my children in gratitude before they head off to collect their treats.

Percy

How Diversity Works

In the September 16 issue of Scientific American (http://bit.ly/1qLZR2E), Katherine Phillips discusses how diversity makes us smarter, or more specifically, “more creative, diligent, and harder working.”  While acknowledging that creating diverse work environments and promoting inclusive dialogue among individuals is difficult, research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and economists suggest that these efforts not only support altruistic social aims, but actually make institutions more effective, innovative, and more productive.

Phillips’ article discusses two areas, in particular, in which diversity supports institutional learning and growth—informational diversity and anticipatory planning. When we surround ourselves with people from similar backgrounds, we tend to believe that we share the same perspectives. Research confirms what many of us have experienced throughout our educational and professional careers, namely that “people who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand.” The studies cited in the article demonstrate that diversity leads to improved organizational performance.

It is not just different perspectives, experiences, and information that matter in helping groups to function more productively. Group diversity also affects individual members’ planning. When placed in a context where group members realize that there will be others from different social, racial, gender (or even political) backgrounds, they anticipate the different perspectives and realize they will need to work harder to reach consensus. As Phillips notes, “this logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.”

Last month I attended a symposium in Washington D.C. entitled “The Future of Diversity” with board member Tracy Stanton and Director of Intercultural Affairs Jabali Stewart. The hosts invited independent school heads, board members, and diversity practitioners from around the country to discuss how to create more inclusive communities for students, parents, faculty, and staff from different backgrounds.  When I began working in independent schools over 20 years ago, schools often explained their outreach efforts to communities of color (there was much less emphasis on outreach to and support of LGBTQ communities) in terms of its social and moral value. They tended to emphasize the opportunities “we” (the schools) were providing for “them” (families of color).

It was nice to participate in a conference in which independent school educators were focusing on how inclusive communities not only supported our school missions, but how this work made for more robust and innovative learning environments. In fact, if our schools want to improve, then diversity and inclusivity will be a necessary part of our future.  I believe that The Bush School has been working on this for quite some time, and I appreciate that science supports our efforts.