My friend and colleague posted on his blog about the lack of diversity in the background of our current Supreme Court justices. In response to his second question, what constitutes diversity, he points to a strong commonality of educational backgrounds and closes with a plea for some diversity in background (for Supremes) as we go forward.
I applaud his open-mindedness about the acceptability of the President's candidate for the Supreme Court and concur that the educational background of the sitting justices is more similar than dissimilar. But I would argue that educational background diversity is a red herring.
Being of the age where one’s children are active in the college selection process, it is clear to my why Supremes would have a similar educational background. Driven, smart, ambitious high-schoolers tend to apply, and get accepted, to the most prestigious (whatever that means in their mind, but the Princeton Review and others do a nice job of ranking the nation’s bastions of higher learning) universities they can. It takes a smart, driven, and ambitious person to rise to the top of their chosen profession. While we may not be personal fans of these character traits, it is undeniable that organizations reward these individuals with increasingly more complex and challenging assignments, leading to advancement and greater opportunities yet.
So that the cream of the crop rises to the top is no surprise to me. The diversity in educational outcomes is representative of the diversity of the student body that enrolls in these institutions. Students are critical thinkers, not brainwashed sponges that blindly absorb anything the institution throws their way. It can be argued that diversity of the student body in colleges is mostly lip-service, but I don’t believe that was The Right Side of Lowell’s point. I believe colleges, and the elite colleges in particular, very much try to create a vibrant and diverse student body, given their constraints on admission and minimum acceptable standards (a very high bar!!).
So I would argue that the true diversity comes from the accumulated experiences of a lifetime. I like President Obama’s tongue-in-cheek comments delivered during his commencement speech at ASU - -a body of work is never complete. Experiences gathered over a lifetime are important influences on decisions and points-of-view. But if psychologists are correct, a person’s character is formed at a very early age; Freud (I know, he was not a psychologist) put it a 5 years. The point I am making is that early childhood experiences are widely considered to be formative for a person’s path in life. I haven’t done the due diligence in comparing the early childhood environments of the current or future Supremes; my guess and sense is that these are not very similar at all. Other than that they were influenced in some form or fashion to exploit their abilities, escape their perceived confines, and be all they could be!
And that is what Americans are all about – so where is the diversity in that?
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