Taking Back Education: A Plea for Diversity

Pepper ZhangAs I have been working to finish a book manuscript, I have had a hiatus from blogging. But I do need to blog about something, if only briefly.

This morning I woke up and picked up my daily news (a.k.a. social media) and encountered FOUR items which reminded me of where the world is, where the world was, and where the world needs to go. They were:

Those are just the four items I encountered between getting my breakfast and traveling on the bus into work this morning. But what it really highlights, if I may borrow from Van Norden, is a need to take back education and plea for greater diversity. Here a few ramblings off the top of my head…

The story about the Kickstarter project reminded me of my upbringing and how I hated being Chinese (American). I remember growing up and seeing the ‘whiteness’ around me and on TV and feeling like it would have been so much better if I was born white. My mom will tell you the story of when she was trying to teach me something in Chinese and I responded saying, ‘I am American. I don’t need to learn Chinese.’ (She will also tell you how proud she is of me now that I research China!) While I am who I am because of that past, I want to offer more to my children and the children around me.

On the flip side, I realise that many who are in the ‘majority’ may not see this as so much of a problem. However, I think it is highly problematic when anybody feels
unsure about their self-worth based on the dominant images that are around them. What does an ideal girl do or look like? My daughter loves pink (yes, she really loves pink), but she also loves her older brother’s Rescue Bots and Ninjago story books. (Ok, perhaps we need to get her some of her own things… moving on.) I like that about her and I think I need to encourage her in the many things she is drawn to.

In fact, my suspicion is that if we all learned more about other _____ (fill in the blank: cultures, religions, languages, sexuality, etc.), we may not have the same kind of discrimination and immigration issues we have right now in the world. But it is not only about learning about the other, but learning from the other. I need more friends to teach me about my biases – and I have plenty. In fact, later in life, I realised that I have moved in an opposite direction, highlighting ‘Chineseness’ sometimes in excess. But when I came to work in Edinburgh, I learned more about my own biases. I have sinced learned so much more about theologians from outside the West and China – such as Kwame Bediako, George Tinker, and Marcella Althaus-Reid.1

Equity or EqualityAn additional note is that it is as much about equity as it is about equality. In Edinburgh in 1910 (technically, in the building I work in), there was a famous missionary conference in which over a thousand missionaries from around the world gathered to discuss Christian missions. There were a total of 18 non-Westerners (8 Indians; 4 Japanese; 3 Chinese; Korean; Burmese; 1 Turkish). How do we know this? My colleague Brian Stanley went through the records and counted them. Brian explains that they were given more time on the stage and their voices were ‘out of proportion to their numbers’ because John Mott, the chairman of the conference, laboured to highlight the need and the value of their participation.2 It seems like that is something we all can do.

Related to this, I think it is important to recognise that we all have an ability to bring equity. In terms of what I can do, I am actually an educator – professionally. I am an educator in a leading British University. I am also an educator in the home, with my kids. Moreover, the Internet age has offered all of us the potential to be educators in one way or another. This is one of the reasons why I felt it was important to introduce Wikipedia assignments into one of my classes – to encourage my students to address various disparities in the world through Wikipedia. But the fact that this guy is self-publishing his children’s books about this Chinese girl who is an ‘artist extraordinaire’ – this is just another example of how much we can do. We are all educators.

  1. This is, in fact, one of the great blessings about being in Edinburgh and part of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity
  2. Brian Stanley, The World Missionary Conference: Edinburgh 1910 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 91–5.