As we move into August, schools will be readying for the arrival of their students. While there’s still a little time and energy to reflect before the whirlwind begins, consider how you would rate your school on a continuum from promoting sameness to settling for acceptance to truly valuing of differences.

ethnocentrism photoThere is a great cartoon once that perfectly illustrated the concept of ethnocentrism or subtly promoting sameness. It pictured a 50-ish, balding, plump man sitting behind a desk.

Over his head was a sign that read “Personnel”. He was the man who did the hiring for his workplace.

Sitting across from this Personnel man was the exact same plump, balding, 50-ish man. The Personnel man was leaning across his desk saying to this duplicate man who had come to apply for a job, “You are exactly the kind of person we’re looking for.”

That’s ethnocentrism: I relate to people who look like me, sound like me and act like me. Of course, people never promote sameness in so many words. They are more likely to talk about whether a student is a “good fit”.

There was a program in one of the white neighborhoods to bus some Black students in to spend time in this upper middle class neighborhood. Notice this wasn’t an exchange. The white kids didn’t go into the black neighborhoods. It’s astounding to think of it now, but the hidden agenda was: we will show ‘them’ how we live and they will want to be like us and then ‘they’ will change.

Ethnocentrism has a patronizing edge to it. It says, “We will let you in, but don’t worry. In awhile, we will have you in shape – you will be just like us.”

When people say, “I treat everyone the same” or “I don’t see differences”, they mean well. They are trying to express that they do their best to treat everyone with respect. But, all of us need to be on the alert for when this good intention can unwittingly spill into treating someone as “less than” if they are different in any way.

This is never about lowering standards. We always strive for the same high quality education and respectful behaviors. We just need to open our minds to the idea that there is more than “my way” to those high standards.