Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential components to learning at Park. This has been true ever since Park’s founding in 1912, and, at the time of our Centennial, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on this topic as it pertains to Park today and our next century.
First, we all know that broadening our ideas and challenging our assumptions are essential components of learning. If we want our children to develop into creative and flexible problem-solvers, they must open themselves to learning from everyone and everything around them. Thus, we seek to create a diverse community at Park – diverse in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and many of the other cultural identifiers we now understand to be significant. And we work diligently at creating a curriculum where all our students see themselves and experience the larger world. Only through our commitment to building and promoting such a community and such a curriculum can our children experience a truly excellent education. The work we do at Park to promote diversity, and the work we do to make all members of our community feel welcome and included, is essential not simply because it is the right thing to do but because it is the educationally sound thing to do.
Second, Park was founded at a time when religious diversity was not welcome in Baltimore private schools. The founders of Park wanted to create a school where students of any religious affiliation could learn together, without barriers and without quotas. Later, Park’s students challenged the school to integrate racially, and we were the first independent school in Baltimore to make the decision to do so. As a school with a proud history of having made change in Baltimore, how do we challenge ourselves today to continue to effect change? And what does effecting change look like as we recognize new dimensions to the concept of difference in our society and in our world? We understand the world to be increasingly connected and increasingly complex, yet, sadly, division and strife still exist even as we build relationships and understandings that would not have been possible a century ago. I take encouragement from Park’s founding commitment – a Progressive mandate – to promote active and engaged citizenship: citizenship in the school community and citizenship in the larger world. Learning must ultimately lead to action and to change, and never has this belief seemed more relevant to the work we do with our students.
Third, just as the world outside of Park is complex, so is the work we do around diversity issues here at school. We still struggle at times to name our own misconceptions and fears around race and class and any number of differences. We worry about speaking openly and honestly for fear of offending or alienating. And yet, how can we move forward without open, honest, and respectful communication, risking a certain level of comfort and safety as we broaden our conversations and broaden our own thinking? I’m proud of the many ways in which our students are willing to lean into difficult conversations, knowing that their teachers will be open and supportive, even as we navigate the difficult emotional as well as intellectual landscapes of particularly sensitive or controversial issues. At Park, we know there is more to this work than merely celebrating difference, and we’re committed to creating an environment where everyone’s voice is encouraged, everyone’s ideas are taken seriously, and everyone’s viewpoint is challenged and respected. Only by welcoming and honoring the voices of all can we create the kind of learning environment we all wish for our children.
As we begin Park’s second century, I look forward to continuing Park's tradition of discovering the best in individuals and collaborating as citizens of not only our immediate community, but the world at large.