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STANFORD -- America's ethnic diversity can be both a negative and positive force for the nation, a panel of speakers from different ethnic backgrounds said at Stanford on Monday, Sept. 30.
It can be negative if groups turn against each other and lose concern for the whole.
To make it a positive force, the nation needs to create "a level playing field" that begins with improving the schools of poor minority children, most said.
But even if city public schools aren't improved, poor ethnic minorities need to push their children to learn more of what is offered in their lower-quality schools, said Shelby Steele, the author of the controversial bestseller, The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America.
Each speaker on the panel offered the 1,200 members of the audience one suggestion for how they, as individuals, could employ the power of diversity more positively in their communities.
American Indians expect to be part of the American society but they also wish to have their cultural uniqueness appreciated as a resource for others to learn from, West said. "We want to come out of the museum of history where we are set up next to the dinosaurs and into the museum of the American Indian."
Without equal schools, there is not equal opportunity for minority children to come to institutions like Stanford, she said. White Americans, older as a group than Americans from other ethnic groups, show more interest in issues facing older Americans and not enough in schools for the young, Martinez said.
Takaki said Stanford needs an American cultures course requirement similar to that at Berkeley, where all students must study the history of American ethnic groups, including European Americans, in a comparative way.
"Diversity can be the basis of our American commonality. It is a different diversity than in the Soviet Union," Takaki said.
As Stanford faces budget cuts, Carson said it is especially important for alumni to let administrators and faculty know they do not consider a multicultural curriculum "one of the frills."
A trustee of the Cleveland Education Fund, Madar also agreed with Martinez that "rebuilding and reinventing" the system of public education in cities where minorities are educated should be the top priority for the nation.
Belva Davis, an urban affairs specialist for KRON-TV in San Francisco, moderated the discussion.
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