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Diversity as a Super Asset

middle school students posing

Ariana Proehl: “What has the zero sum thinking done to our schools and the way our children learn and develop?”

Heather McGhee: “[The most diverse schools] are still fighting for equitable resources to this day. It is so important for us to lift up these schools as the schools that are able to best prepare all of our children for the America that we are already living in, the America with no racial majority, where we have to figure out how to get the best out of the super asset that is diversity.”

For me, the interchange above between Ariana Proehl and Heather McGhee was the single most compelling moment of Matters of the Mind. The diverse schools Heather was describing and imploring us to lift up are ours: Gateway High School and Gateway Middle School. 

From the very beginning, Gateway has rejected zero sum racial thinking and has sought to create the conditions in which the life experiences, strengths and perspectives of all contribute meaningfully to our shared future. Both Gateway Middle School and Gateway High School are in the top one percent of most diverse schools in California, and our founding beliefs that all students can learn at high levels and that all students learn differently reinforce one of my favorite lines from Heather McGhee’s talk: “Diversity is a super asset.” 

When we ask our students what they love best about Gateway, they immediately describe the benefits and opportunities that come with being part of such a diverse community. They talk about the lessons they have learned about themselves and each other - the ways they have discovered what they have in common as well as the important differences among them. They talk about empathy, creativity, innovation, and constructive challenge. Let’s be clear - not every day is easy or smooth, but that’s the point. The harmful legacies of race and racism require constant work to unlearn and undo. They require trust that is built when people link arms across racial differences and stand up for each other. At Gateway, we are deep in this work, and we believe this work is essential in order to create a better and more equitable future for us all.

Unfortunately, education is often regarded as a zero-sum game and diversity as a liability. Schools function as societal sorters of winners and losers, of privilege and access, of power and opportunities. We all remember the old “bell curve grading,” which insisted that for every academic success there had to be one counterbalancing failure. Unequal funding, opportunity gaps, substandard facilities, segregation, institutional and personal racism - all these things serve to maintain and reinforce the status quo. 

But the first step to undoing these harms is having a clear-eyed, shared vision for what an alternative future might look like, one that works for every young person. Thanks to the research and insight of Heather's groundbreaking book, The Sum of Us, and the incredible things our students and teachers are accomplishing in Gateway classrooms every day, I've never been more certain that such a future is possible or more enthusiastic about what it will take to get there -- and am profoundly grateful for our supporters who are stepping up for this work and this journey alongside us. 

-- Sharon Olken, Executive Director
Gateway Public Schools