Critical thinking & Diversity

The best thing I’ve learned over the years is to be more critical about what I’m learning or what I’m taught. I ask myself these questions for example: “Who is my lecturer, what is his or her background and perspective, who wrote the book I’m reading, when was it written, what is the author’s perspective, what do I think about it and why?” I’m curious about this, because history is often written from the perspective of the victor. For example, in the Netherlands we’re taught in school about the very prosperous time period called ‘the Golden Age’. We learn about our entrepreneurship during that time, but we don’t learn (much) about our colonial history which greatly ensured our wealth. So I’d like to state that perspective is important and I think that our perspective will grow if we learn more about diversity.

First, let me clarify my own perspective: I’m a white male, blond hair, blue eyes, 28 years old, heterosexual, I’m healthy and I have no physical health issues. These are my privileges and all of these privileges are generally considered ‘normal’. With these privileges I don’t stand out. When you live within the norm, you have the possibility of being considered an individual: people probably won’t ask me to speak on behalf of heterosexual white males. That might be different if I were homosexual, or if I belonged to another group who is often stigmatized. I think that learning more about diversity is essential for human survival. More and more cities like Amsterdam have a minority majority and become super diversities. This means that there are more people living in Amsterdam with an ethnic origin than people who solely have Dutch roots for centuries of generations in their family. The diversity in Amsterdam is also becoming more diverse: there are multiple subgroups such as a Moroccan homosexual community.

In my opinion diversity already is the new norm, we’re just playing ‘catch up’. People are starting to feel the effects of globalization, cities are becoming more and more diverse and our society is sadly becoming more polarized. This phenomenon doesn’t surprise me. Fear has always been an easy ‘go-to’, it is in our nature to fear what we don’t know. Hermans and Dimaggio (2007) describe this fear as hunkering down and connect it to localization. Localization is the counterforce of globalization, as society changes people become more uncertain, they go into survival mode and stick to what they know. I don’t think that fear is the problem, it is more like a challenge that we have to overcome. It is easy to fear what you don’t know and really hard to embrace change. It takes effort and courage. But, aren’t all things worth having hard to get? I think the way we deal with fear is inadequate, it would be wrong to deny its existence and not enough if we’d only acknowledge it. Therefore we’d have to address it, say that it is ok that it’s there and that we can overcome it together. Self-reflection and critical thinking can help this process.

I recently read the following research paper: “Effects of Diversity Experiences on Critical Thinking Skills Over 4 Years of College” (Pascarella, Martin, Hanson, Trolian, 2014). In the paper is examined how exposure to a diverse environment can positively influence critical thinking. The authors explain how cognitive development is positively influenced when students encounter new situations, such as the challenges of diversity. Exposure to new situations that challenge their current mode of thinking, can spark complex and effortful thought structures, strengthening their critical thinking. The unpredictability of the new situation challenges the student to find new modes of conduct and dealing with the situation.

Also educational institutes in Amsterdam realize that they have to address the challenges of dealing with diversity, and even super diversity. The diversity commission of the University of Amsterdam (UVA) is very much involved in incorporating diversity into the general curriculum. In October 2016 they presented their final report in which they express the need for diversity and make a case on how diversity can enrich knowledge. The board of the University of Amsterdam stated that they are willing to make changes in order to make the university an educational facility where everyone feels welcome (UVA, 2016).

Our society is changing continuously, we have no choice but to change with it. Dealing with a diverse environment can be challenging, but can also be very rewarding. It challenges our ability to adapt and learn. Fear is a factor we cannot ignore or deny, it is one of the challenges we have to address. A more diverse environment will positively influence our critical thinking, if we accept the challenge! I believe there is a need for the topic of diversity in education. Whether you study Social Work or Economics there should be classes on diversity and critical thinking in the general curriculum to prepare students for today’s society.

References

Geldof, D. (2016). Super Diversity in the hearth of Europe. How migration changes our society. Leuven/ Den Haag: Acco.

Hermans, H. & G. Dimaggio (2007). Self, Identity, and Globalization in Times of Uncertainty: A Dialogical Analysis. Review of General Psychology, 2007, Vol. 11. No. 1, p. 31-61.

Pascarella, E., Martin, G., Hanson, J., Trolian, T. (2014). Effects of Diversity Experiences on Critical Thinking Skills Over 4 Years of College. JOURNAL OF COLLEGE STUDENT DEVELOPMENT, 55(1), 86-92. Consulted on 11 December 2016, http://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9211&context=fac_pubs

UVA (2016). Webcolleges. Let’s do diversity. Presentation final report Diversity Commission. Consulted on 11 December 2016, http://webcolleges.uva.nl/Mediasite/Play/34deeca7b8a849429de36482734485aa1d

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