What are the pros and cons of making hiring decisions based on demographic needs (e.g., the shortage of males in elementary school, females in social studies)?
This is a tricky question.
As a society, we are correctly uncomfortable making decisions which place more importance on a demographic fact over the personal qualities embodied in an individual. I agree with Chief Justice Roberts that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” (Cato Institute, 2009) but I would change “race” to “impersonal demographics”. If we study the individual, we will have access to all the demographic information as well. Demographic information should not be lost or ignored but it should be placed in the context of a unique human being.
So, for example, I would not be in favor of establishing arbitrary ratios of teachers to students by demographic. However, it’s easy to see how teachers who share demographics can be more effective, all things being equal. There are cultural behaviors, beliefs and communication styles that can be more easily understood and integrated by a person of similar culture. There are experiences, impulses and characteristics that may well be best understood by a person of the same gender. For each category of demographics there are synergies. In each demographic, there is a corresponding possible benefit.
Likewise, merely providing solid role models in familiar demographic packages could be a more powerful example than one of dissimilar demographics.
There’s also no question that a mix of things is always educational. We learn more from our differences, from new things and in a comfortable environment. So demographic diversity amongst teachers is powerfully good.
So, the pros are that teachers of similar demographics can possibly reach students more effectively and provide more powerful role models. The cons are that it’s the person, not the demographic, that teaches. To be blind to the person behind the demographic is to potentially reduce the quality of the education and harm the cultural fabric by perpetuating discrimination.
In conclusion, a teacher’s (or student’s) demographic information is important and useful. But it needs to be consider integrally with the whole picture of that person; their strengths, weaknesses, experiences, skills, character and passions. Giving the children the teacher who will be most effective with them is the goal. Demographics is part, but only part, of that.
Cato Institute . (2009). The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race Is to stop discriminating on the Basis of Race. Retrieved January 28, 2010 from http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/04/22/ricci-v-destafano/