MANUFACTURING INCLUSION: PROGRESSIVE STYLE
Inclusion is one of the main issues on the progressive agenda. Progressives argue that conflicts and strife rampant in America today are due to systemic exclusion and pervasive inequity. They propose policies designed to eliminate these problems.
Education is one of the venues that progressives intend to use in pursuing their agenda of inclusion and equity. They want the educational system to shape the next generation of leaders who will make America more inclusive and more just. These efforts include inter alia changes in teaching practice, curriculum, and faculty hiring and training. A critical analysis of such efforts in one school may help to better understand some critical issues regarding these policies and to draw fact-based conclusions regarding the efficacy of these efforts.
The school in question is Bard College. Bard is avowedly one of the most progressive educational institutions in America. It works very closely with the Open Society Foundations led by George Soros that is perhaps the most vigorous proponent of the progressive ideology. Bard now is in the process of implementing changes that are to promote the equity agenda. It has adopted “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”—a general program guides college in pursuing progressive policies toward inclusion.
A review of these documents suggests several important conclusions. For one, these documents do not discuss any general theoretical or methodological issues related to inclusion. They regard these issues as unproblematic and self-evident. Communications from Kahan Sablo, Dean of Inclusive Excellence, and Deirdre d’Albertis, Dean of the College, clearly convey this impression. Yet inclusion is anything but unproblematic.
The success in achieving inclusion depends to a very large degree on how one defines inclusion. So the discussion of the meaning of inclusion is not an idle and redundant subject.
As revealed in Bard documents, the leadership of the college does not see inclusion in terms of organic unity, but rather in terms of aggregation of various views and opinions. In other words, Bard sees inclusion in pluralistic terms. It is indicative that in the formulation of its program “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” its framers put diversity before equity and inclusion. In stating their creed, they write: “We embrace plurality, respect divergent viewpoints, and are committed to understanding the rich spectrum of experiences that comprise our community.”
This formulation of inclusion is highly problematic. There is another common understanding of inclusion as organic, rather than mechanistic unity. Organic inclusion involves creation of a broad frame that includes all entities or points of view as its particular cases. Such understanding of inclusion finds support in empirical evidence we find in nature. Parts of an organism do not simply coexist in one body. They are not separate entities that only happen to be in one space.
A bacterium is not an aggregation of molecules and the body is not an aggregation of organs or cells. The parts of an organic entity are intimately related to each other. They cooperate with each other. They constitute one organism of which they are parts. In other words, inclusion necessarily involves the creation of the comprehensive common frame that includes all entities—ideas, points of view, opinions, etc.–as its particular cases.
This kind of inclusion is not mere pluralism. It is an organic unity. Bard’s position on this issue represents a purely mechanistic approach—a formal inclusion without real integration.
Secondly, the approach toward inclusion as formulated in Bard’s documents—statements, newsletters, course descriptions, hiring proposals, and various events—shows that it pursues the inclusion of individuals into what is essentially the progressive ideology. This ideology has its roots in the tradition of the European Enlightenment that is elitist, exclusive, and, one can say, even racist. The inclusion of representatives of different races and communities into this ideology cannot and does not eliminate exclusion that is the basis for racism and other forms of discrimination.
Progressives, for example, define the black community in terms of slavery. Indeed, slavery is an important part of the experience of the black community, but it most certainly does not define it. Over the centuries of its existence, the black community of America has developed its culture, its values, and norms. These achievements define the black community, not one aspect of its experience. Such a limiting approach is in itself exclusive and racist.
The approach toward inclusion used at Bard is not new. In fact, progressives have practiced this approach for several decades. They have succeeded, for example, in creating the black elite. This elite—black politicians, black economic elites, leaders of black organizations, etc.—are still in evidence today, but they are objects of derision and criticism of the rising black elites. The policy of creating black elites has not eliminated racial differences and divisions; on the contrary, one may even say that it made them deeper. There is no reason to believe that the creation of the new black elite will produce different results.
The approach and policies applied at Bard College cannot and will not lead to the empowerment of minorities. It will only contribute to the perpetuation of divisions and produce more conflicts similar to the ones that currently rip America apart. The only way to eliminate exclusion is to create a comprehensive and all-inclusive common frame that includes all groups, views, and opinions as to its particular cases. The elimination of exclusion requires a genuine act of creation, not a mechanistic, bureaucratic, top-down approach.
Gennady Shkliarevsky is a Professor Emeritus of history at Bard College in New York.