Program Outcomes for Youth
Social Competencies

Valuing Diversity
Susan J. Barkman and Hannah L. Speaker


Diversity is defined in the dictionary as "the condition of being different." A crucial mistake many people make is to equate diversity with "race" and "culture". They think diversity is about "what Hispanics are like" or "what Europeans are like". This approach is inherently flawed because it reinforces stereotypes and promotes an "us versus them" mentality. Diversity extends far beyond race and culture to include a number of dimensions of differences. Loden and Rosener (1991) describe two major dimensions of diversity: primary and secondary. Primary dimensions are things that we cannot change. They include age, race, ethnicity, gender, physical qualities and sexual orientation. Secondary dimensions include topics such as income, education, religious beliefs, military experience, geographic location, parental status and marital status. People are usually less sensitive about the secondary dimensions, because they are elements which we have some power to change. This model vividly demonstrates that we are all similar and different on an infinite number of dimensions. By positioning diversity as something that applies to everyone, it becomes something that everyone can care about and support. Rasmussen (1996).

Throughout history, America has been referred to as a "melting pot", "salad bowl" and a "kaleidoscope." The melting pot metaphor emerged from the idea that customs and traditions of people of different races and ethnicities would blend and lose their own distinctions after close contact over time, just like ingredients mix in a pot. Later the salad bowl metaphor was used to describe this blending of ethnic characteristics much like salad ingredients tossed in a bowl. Salad ingredients do not change even when they are mixed together. Although popular, this metaphor fails to acknowledge the tendency for cultural patterns to change through cultural encounters. Currently the kaleidoscope metaphor seems to more accurately reflect what is happening in a diverse society. When a kaleidoscope is in motion, new possibilities emerge at every turn, just like the interaction between cultural groups. This metaphor acknowledges that cultures keep changing through their interaction and yet maintain their basic characteristics. Fuchs (1990)

Valuing diversity recognizes differences between people and acknowledges that these differences are a valued asset. Multicultural education is an important component of valuing diversity . It respects diversity while teaching all children and youth to become effective and participating members of a democracy. It respects individuality while promoting respect for others. It emphasizes the contributions of the various groups (e.g. ethnic, gender, income, sexual orientation, etc.) that make up the population of the world. It emphasizes the importance of people sharing their stories and learning from the stories of others. It acknowledges that different children have different learning styles. This approach seeks to increase diversity awareness, sensitivities, and skills so that young people are prepared to take positive action with their peers. By building positive peer influence, young people begin to change negative attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors about diversity.


Valuing diversity can be measured at three levels:

cognitive: knowledge and understanding of the concepts and issues related to diversity
affective: appreciation and respect of the similarities and differences among people
behavioral: building positive relationships with "different people"
decision making is a complex, non-linear process; skills develop as one matures and with experience.


Difference in skin color are first notices at about two or three years of age. Even then, young children are considered "color blind" because they do not attach meaning to the color differences but merely perceive it as a difference. Young children often play together and form friendships regardless of cultural, racial, and social backgrounds. Unfortunately, prejudice is learned and by the fourth or fifth grade, these same children often separate along traditional racial/cultural lines. Prejudices in this subtle form are dangerous because if people are not aware of it and if steps are not taken to correct it, it can lead to discrimination. Robinson and Bowman (1997)

Just as infants are not born with prejudices, no one is born automatically knowing the best way to communicate with people. We must learn to talk, read and communicate in other ways by observing the people around us, who teach through their examples and instruction. Incorporating the valuing of diversity as a central theme in education programs is important. When you value diversity, you maximize the positive impacts of your program for all children and youth by:

building positive self-esteem
affirming their identifies with regard to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, handicapped condition, class, etc.
helping them learn to work and play together
helping them communicate across their differences and value what each contributes
value just and fair treatment for all
preparing them for citizenship.


Fuch, L.H.(1990). The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity and the Civic Culture. Wesleyan University Press.

Loden, M, & Rosener, J. (1991). Workforce America!: Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. Homewood , IL: Business One Irwin.

Rasmussen, Tina. (1996). ASTD Trainer's Sourcebook: Diversity. Alexamdria, VA: America Society for Training and Development.

Robinson, J.S., Bowman, R.P., Ewing, T., Hanna, J., & Lopez-De Fede, A. (1997). Building Cultural Bridges, Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.

Wittmer, J. (1992). Valuing Diversity and similarity: Bridging the Gap Through Interpersonal Skills. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media Corporation.




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