Over the years, government agencies have imposed stringent regulations on our nation’s schools and colleges, affecting their admissions and employment policies and procedures. Internal Revenue Service attempts to revoke the tax-exempt status of private schools not meeting these regulations indicates how far the federal government will go to regulate such policies and procedures. Moved by the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, government officials are critical of private institutions which fail to represent the racial—and perhaps, implicitly, the social and economic—mix in the society in which they are located. In attempting to comply with these regulations, schools have adjusted the racial mix of their student bodies. Some have done so because of external pressure only, others out of a conviction that a balanced, broadly representative student body is good for their school.
The National Association of Episcopal Schools holds that in addition to external mandates there are compellingly pedagogical, moral, and theological reasons for proceeding in this way. We maintain that our schools should seek to be inclusive rather than exclusive, that our schools should be broadly representative of the social, economic, and racial groups which reside within their reachable communities. (By “reachable community” we refer to those families living within geographic reach of a school, whose children could attend if a strong outreach policy constituted a persuasive invitation for them to apply.) Schools benefit when their teachers and trustees, as well as student bodies, represent the racial, social, and economic mix of American society as a whole.
The most profound reason that impels us as church schools to effect an authentic social, economic, and racial mix in our school communities is that it is central to the message of the Gospel. At its heart is Jesus, bidding us to seek and to serve those without the means in part or in whole to serve themselves. If we hear the Good News, our response as Episcopal schools will include reaching out to those who can benefit most from the education we offer. Our Lord was clear about the short-term “gains” of Dives who, rejecting Lazarus, kept to his own. Equally clear is the long-term loss he suffers by avoiding the one who needs him most. Jesus bids us, the leaders of our schools, to serve those who lack the power, wealth, and social prestige to serve themselves.
A second reason to seek diversity is that a school can introduce children to the way society actually is. It does the child a disservice to educate him or her in a community which replicates only an isolated portion of society. The result is apt to be social myopia, with potentially grave implications for the healthy moral and social development of such students.
Third, the diverse school community nurtures a child’s tolerance for those who are different. Much research data supports the thesis that children learn from one another and that the more they learn of one another the more tolerant they are apt to be. The school’s responsibility is to bring children of diverse backgrounds together in order to foster this educational process.
Fourth, no matter what the content of education may be, the process of education is enhanced through the diversity that students and teachers bring to it. Dialogue, not monologue, fosters learning. Varying points of view—thesis and antithesis—bring about compromise and synthesis, important milestones on the road to truth. A myopic citizenry, supportive only of the means and ends of its own class, is not an educated citizenry. The process of education involves give and take, concession and compromise, argument and debate: all products of the dialectic resulting from the differing backgrounds and opinions of participants.
Schools themselves may reflect some of the tensions which exist between and among diverse social classes in American society. Many independent schools are, for example, almost of necessity designed for children of affluent families, whereas faculty members and staff people frequently come from lower socio-economic levels. We recommend that trustees and administrators candidly consider the implications of such disparities for the well-being of the school. Often, in somewhat cavalier fashion, we assume that this “fact of life” does not matter. Just as often, in subtle and pervasive ways, it does.
A certain attitude of noblesse oblige may exist on the part of faculty, parents, and students towards bus drivers, clerical personnel, custodians, and food service people, and, in boarding schools, toward dormitory supervisors and their aides as well. All segments of a school community need to be reminded about the dignity of all people and the worth of all labor, and to be instructed interpersonally as well as intellectually to act in ways that support this principle.
Teachers can deal unthreateningly with the sensitive topics of social class by being open and available to their students. Frankness and honesty are the criteria for positive discussions on the subject of differences between student and teacher, student and student. A teacher’s personal vignette about his or her own childhood can often be the entree which a student needs to reflect on the topic.
Since the days of the Declaration of Independence, part of the American vision has been a fundamental sense of an equality grounded in our common birth as children of God. Although we may differ in one capacity or other, yet by virtue of our common humanity we possess the right to develop the potential which lies within. These insights, of course, have sources deep within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Many Episcopal schools’ mission of striving for excellence while maintaining this sense of equality may appear to involve mutually exclusive, even contradictory goals. We can only reiterate, however, that as church schools committed to academic excellence, we have at the same time an absolute responsibility to reinforce among ourselves a sense of this vision and of the common brotherhood and sisterhood it implies.
Social Mix and Sexism
Sexual discrimination also has been a reality in school life. The federal government has thrown its weight behind efforts to end it through Title IX and other policies. Quite apart from the law, however, we have unequivocal moral reasons for ending it. In the very act of creation, according to Genesis, God created both male and female “in his own image,” rendering sexism a betrayal of our common humanity and therefore fundamentally sinful.
Educationally, young people are vitally influenced by the manner in which they see adults exercising their capacities, responsibilities, and authority. Sexism among their elders authenticates and inculcates similar beliefs and behavior among them. The results affect their understanding of themselves as well, so that development and enjoyment of the feminine and masculine attributes which are theirs as human beings may be lost. That loss, in turn, reinforces a distorted view of the world so that a vicious circle of sexism is perpetuated. The following are some questions we might ask concerning our schools and this issue.
- How do we grant responsibility to women and men in operating our schools? Are administrative positions open to both on the basis of competence? Do our boards include both women and men on more than a token basis?
- Do we allow economics to perpetuate the sexist cycle? We should recognize that faculty salary scales relate directly to sexism when, for example, they require our day-school teachers to be second wage earners in a family. Similarly, what does it say to our boarding school students if we hire men to teach and assume the availability of their wives as volunteer surrogate mothers, nurses and seamstresses?
- The issue of sexuality is increasingly in the mass media and hence in the public consciousness. Our students unavoidably are part of that public. Given this reality, how are our schools facing the issue in employment policies, in pastoral care of our teachers, in counseling students about others and themselves? Are we dealing as best we can, for example, with cohabitation, divorce, homosexuality, pregnancy, and single parenting? To what extent is our role modeling consistent with our Church’s position on these issues? Do we know these positions and the debate presently surrounding them? Have we tested them as operating guidelines for ourselves?
- Research suggests that the response of male and female teachers to girls often does not enhance the learning environment for them. It is important for Episcopal schools to pay close attention as this research continues. Likewise, we should explore possible workshops for teachers in order to be sure that sexism in the classroom is not taking place.
Economic Diversity and Financial Aid
If social, economic, and racial diversity within our school communities is an end to which we aspire, then financial assistance programs are a means to that end. We recommend that each NAES member school strive to designate an amount equal to 10% of its gross tuition income for financial aid. The following strategies have been found helpful by some schools, already at or close to the 10% mark.
- The school community needs to understand the essential role of financial aid in providing diversity of economic background. The most positive way to communicate this message is to emphasize the educational, social, and theological rationale for assistance. Financial aid awards, if perceived to be a forced sharing of the wealth (with the head a latter-day Robin Hood), will be given or utilized only grudgingly. If made central to the very existence of the school, financial aid goals will be attained without debate.
- Heads need to involve their boards in setting financial aid policies and levels in as active a way as parent confidentiality permits. A financial aid committee of the board is a good idea when practicable, since active engagement in the distribution of aid leads to a better understanding of its significance. That is to say, a trustee who must argue the case of student “X,” a worthy recipient of financial aid, is apt to find herself or himself committed more strongly to the whole idea of need-base financial aid.
- Where a school has not yet achieved at least the 10% gross tuition income goal, it is urged that the head and trustees establish a spending level for financial aid early in budget planning sessions, not after the parameters of faculty salaries, tuition levels, and fixed costs have been first laid out. The financial aid line item can be the last to be set and the first to be cut in the budget development process. If financial aid is indeed central to the mission of your school, then it deserves to be one of the first and most salient of the expenditure levels established. One of the first questions to be asked is: Does our budgetary commitment to financial aid adequately represent what our school can and should be doing?
- Look carefully at the administrative process by which financial aid is distributed. Is it really equitable? Does it achieve the ends you are seeking? Does it help effect the social and economic mix existing within the reachable boundaries of your school? In some schools racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity may be enhanced by financial aid, while other members of such minority groups may be among the school’s most affluent families. In any event, school communications should never state or infer that financial aid creates racial or ethnic diversity, or that it is intended, in general, for the exclusive benefit of such groups. If awards are all partial, are the amounts adequate to attract and retain qualifying families? If they are mostly full awards, are they serving enough students? These questions explore the effectiveness of the financial aid program you administer, not just the quantity of the aid; for financial aid is a tool, which, like any tool, can be used to best or least advantage.
- In some cases, heads and trustees can seek to establish (endowed) financial aid funds earmarked for specific social or racial groups. There are three advantages here. First, identifying populations. Just setting up such funds will help you decide if the school is attracting representatives of diverse groups in your community. Second, recruiting students. A school located within a reachable community containing a significant Native American population, for instance, may need to establish a scholarship for members of that group in order for them to recognize that the school is serious about their participation. And third, fund-raising. Foundations, clubs, fraternal organizations, and civic groups are often willing to earmark grants for scholarships if the recipients meet given criteria which they support.
- Work with the advancement committee of your board and the parent association to help them understand the essential and critical nature of financial aid. Those who are raising funds for the school, if committed to the idea of financial aid, can help raise new dollars for this purpose. They can make strategic and prophectic decisions about where gift dollars go that can change an Episcopal school: to the inevitable bricks-and-mortar and improvements, or instead to endowed financial aid programs? This is the level at which priority decisions are made, where a school decides what is most important. It is at this point that a school chooses between a social and economic status quo and true, sustained outreach.
These suggestions are only a few of the ones which can help a school head and board increase their commitment to financial aid programs and their effectiveness in implementing them. Other questions may be germane: Could a loan program support your school’s use of financial aid? Are any of your aid programs based on merit as well as need? If merit is a factor, does it affect your ability to broaden diversity? Does merit become a factor in reviewing continuing awards or scholarships year to year?
As leaders of church schools, recognizing that our responsibilities are expressions of our commitment to Episcopal identity and governance, we have a special obligation to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. By creating as broad an economic range of students as possible, a strong financial aid program can be an expression of our faithfulness to that stewardship and the proper exercise of oversight by the board and administration by the head.
Our schools without exception profess non-discrimination on the basis of race in admissions and employment policies. We thereby commit ourselves to the absence of inhibiting policies and practices. The thrust of this section, however, is to urge the active presence of positive policies and practices. In other words, our schools should be models of proactivity in our communities in pursuit of broad racial representation in our student bodies, faculties, and boards.
There is a multiplier effect at work in achieving racial representation. Such representation in our student bodies will encourage and advance it in our faculties and boards. In turn, such representation in our faculties and boards will help attract further representation in our student bodies.
This work can and should begin in all three areas. Our admissions staffs need to be active in their reachable communities seeking contacts and candidates. Boards and heads should equip the admissions staff with time and budget for this work. If there is no admissions office, then it may be up to the head and members of the board to take on the responsibility. Heads should be equally industrious in recruiting qualified minority candidates for existing or new vacancies on the faculty. The experience of many has shown that this remains an urgent necessity. Boards should have racial representation embedded in their consciousness so that fiscal and personnel decisions and direction can be made and given accordingly. Student leadership should be developed in such a way as to make racial representation and justice an important ingredient and guideline in community life. Effective student handbooks, for example, identify racism as a disciplinary offense on a par with stealing and drug abuse.
This commitment should permeate our schools regardless of the prevailing feeling in the community. We are not meant to “go with flow” but to lead the way in what we believe to be our mission.
Enabling the Mix to Mix
Schools which are achieving a social, economic, and racial mix are generally discovering the difficulty of bridging the gaps among the various groups brought together.
This issue, then, is how to assist the mix to mix. How are we to avoid de facto segregation and hostility in an officially integrated institution? We think a balanced policy is needed which neither pretends to force mixing nor simply “lets nature have her way.” There are both cognitive and affective aspects of the process to be considered. Schools should not shy away from allowing open discussion of differences of outlook and behavior within different segments of their own communities and should even encourage such discussion.
It seems clear that a faculty needs to be free to discuss these difficulties and search for ways to enable its own community to live out answers that work. In-service workshops, perhaps involving parents as well as students, may help identify the essential root problems. They may also assist the solution simply by creating an atmosphere of openness and honesty. A balanced faculty, ipso facto, will have resources within itself.
In day schools, at least, where parents are in daily contact with what is going on, there is a need to recognize their likely responses to the mixing process. Parents naturally bring their stereotypes with them to school. And they bring their fears as well. Here the head has a special educational and pastoral role to play. Here, too, teachers need to be clear about it and committed to the mix.
And inasmuch as one can expect misunderstanding and even protest from some parents, board members need to be committed to and educated about the ways the school is enabling the mix to mix. In thinking about board candidates from minority groups, a school must choose those who will not mere tokens. Articulate, thoughtful, and productive members, with a willingness to communicate and advance the school’s policies in their community groups, are needed.
As minority representation grows within a school, it is wise to consider initiating retention programs and support systems for minority students. For example, minority adults might make themselves available for counseling; courses or opportunities for consideration of minority history, culture, and literature can be provided; the head can take a visible leadership role in speaking to the school community about the important reasons for a racially and economically diverse student body; by admitting more than a token number of a given minority, a school can help create a supportive sense of presence among them in which students become themselves resources for others.
Episcopal Schools and Public Education
The problems facing public school systems in this country are increasingly difficult. It is important that the response of Episcopal schools to the problems of the public schools is not to capitalize on those problems but to offer ourselves as resources to the public schools. Simply entering into dialogue with public schools often has proven to be helpful. Programs in which teachers from the public and private schools engage in professional development together have proven to be worthwhile. Likewise, Episcopal schools have made available programs to the public schools that have been beneficial, and the reverse has happened as well. Episcopal schools should not see themselves in competition with the public school systems, and in fact a compelling reason for Episcopal schools to exist is to help public schools resolve the tremendous challenges that they face.
We recommend that all Episcopal schools seek an equitable mixture of social, economic, and racial representation on their governing boards and faculties and within their student bodies.
We recommend that all Episcopal schools in their policies and practices seek to exemplify their commitment to Episcopal identity and governance by adopting policies and practices which will assure the dignity and equal worth of every member of their student bodies, faculties, staffs, and boards; and that as part of this stance they seek an equitable mixture of social, economic, and racial representation in all these components of their life.
Racial and ethnic representation on governing boards and faculties ought to be reflective of the composition of their student bodies. This assumes that our schools, as a matter of their own choice and sense of mission, will seek racial diversity in the same mixture as the reachable community. Where for day schools that community necessarily will be geographically limited by reasonable commuting time, for boarding schools it may well be national in extent.
The economic representation of governing boards should be diverse, representing lower- and middle-income families as well as the more customary high-income ones. As Episcopal schools seek greater diversity among their faculties, every effort should be made to provide competitive salaries and benefits so that they are at least at middle-income levels. Likewise every effort should be made to procure, subsidize, and allocate financial assistance so that all economic levels are represented in the student body. While seeking racial and economic diversification, special care must be taken to see that middle-income families are included in financial aid programs, since they are easily overlooked, given the greater ease with which funds can be raised for low-income families.
Issues surrounding elitism and sexism in our schools should be dealt with in light of the same basic faith-based convictions that underlie everything else we do. Policies and practices should extend to boards, faculties, and staffs, as well as to student bodies.
We believe that these recommendations are reasonable norms by which all of us can measure our efforts, although we recognize that varying local circumstances require that individual implementation plans take their own shape in the framework of these foundational principles, policies, and practices. Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided should not be construed as legal advice nor should it be used as a substitute for consulting with legal counsel.