It is the ability to think beyond the boundaries of one’s community that constitutes a real-world education for students, something parents expect from independent school education. Outstanding independent schools provide students with an awareness of global issues and a perspective that challenges them to examine stereotypes, develop empathy for others, and grow into their future role as global citizens and leaders.
The mission of virtually every independent school includes a commitment to the holistic development of students as a preparation for success in their future; both academically and as citizens. Therefore, independent schools are expected to provide a well-rounded exposure to cultural experiences as a part of their educational program. Given the inability of any school to provide within the school an environment that represents the true diversity of the real world, school leaders must be intentional in pursuing educational outcomes that include experiences and skill development necessary for students to achieve global competence and cultural empathy.
Diversity within a student body is highly desirable and can provide an excellent learning opportunity for students. However, even in diverse populations, the natural human tendency is to cluster within homogeneous groups around culture, ethnicity, religion, or other interests. In very large schools, this tends to occur regardless of the school or community’s diversity, and therefore can be counterproductive. It is the intentional focus on inclusivity and the development of cultural empathy which distinguishes a school that is truly preparing students to be global citizens. However great the diversity within a given school, it rarely represents the diversity of the real world.
One of the strengths of independent schools is their small community of students; a community where every student is known and the ‘student group’ is the entire class. Independent schools regularly engage their students in educational activities such as domestic and international travel, international school partnerships and collaborations, and curricular projects intent on helping students understand the world within and beyond the boundaries of their community. Additionally, virtually every student in independent schools is involved annually in student service projects occurring in their local communities and throughout the world.
The real world does not exist within the walls of a school, regardless of the diversity present therein. Students are only prepared for the real world when they obtain the ability to function in a global economy, understand how the various cultures and systems of the world interact and relate, and can understand the perspective of others through a genuinely empathic perspective.
If we understand the real world to be not only the world within our neighborhood or city but also the world beyond the city limits and the nation’s borders, it is very clear that independent schools are educational leaders. If we understand the real world to be the world in which current students will work and live, independent schools offer a superior approach. If we understand the real world to be a world in which critical thought and creativity are honored, independent schools excel. Despite the common misperception that independent schools do not represent the real world, independent schools more often represent the real world best.