America has long been called “The Melting Pot” due to the fact that it is made up of a varied mix of races, cultures, and ethnicity’s. As more and more immigrants come to America searching for a better life, the population naturally becomes more diverse. This has, in turn, spun a great debate over multiculturalism. Some of the issues at stake are: who is benefiting from education, and how to present material in a way so not to offend a large number of people. In the 1930’s several educators called for programs of cultural diversity that encouraged ethnic and minority students to study their own heritages.
This is not a simple feat due to the act that there is a lot of diversity within individual cultures. A look at a 1990 census shows that the American population has changed noticeably in the last ten years, with one out of every four Americans identifying themselves as black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or American Indian (Gould 198). The number of foreign born residents also reached an all time high of twenty million, easily passing the 1980 record of fourteen million.
Most people, from educators to philosophers, agree that an important first step in successfully joining multiple cultures is to develop an understanding of each others ackground. In 1980, Stanford University came up with a program – later known as the “Stanford-style multicultural curriculum” which aimed to familiarize students with traditions, philosophy, literature, and history of the West. The program consisted of 15 required books by writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Aquinas, Marx, and Freud. By 1987, a group called the Rainbow Coalition argued the fact that the books were all written by DWEM’s (Dead White European Males).
They felt that this type of teaching denied students the knowledge of contributions by people of color, women and other oppressed roups. In 1987, the faculty voted 39 to 4 to change the curriculum and do away with the fifteen book requirement and the term “Western” for the study of at least one non-European culture and proper attention to be given to the issues of race and gender (Gould 199). This debate was very important because its publicity provided the grounds for the argument that America is a racist society and to study only one culture would not accurately portray what really makes up this country.
Defenders of multicultural education argue that it offers students a balanced appreciation and critique of other ultures as well as our own (Stotsky 64). While it is common sense that one could not have a true understanding of a subject by only possessing knowledge of one side of it, this brings up the fact that there would never be enough time in the current school year to equally cover the contributions of each individual nationality. This leaves teachers with two options. The first would be to lengthen the school year, which is highly unlikely because of the political aspects of the situation.
The other choice is to modify the curriculum to only include what the instructor (or school) feels are the most important ontributions, which again leaves them open to criticism from groups that feel they are not being equally treated. A national standard is out of the question because of the fact that different parts of the country contain certain concentrations of nationalities. An example of this is the high concentration of Cubans in Florida or Latinos in the west. Neverless, teachers are at the top of the agenda when it comes to multiculturalism.
They can do the most for children during the early years of learning, when kids are most impressionable. By engaging students in activities that follow the lines of their multicultural urriculum, they can open up young minds while making learning fun (Pyszkowski 154). Students are not the only ones who can benefit from this type of learning. Teachers certainly will pick up on educational aspects from other countries. If, for instance, a teacher has a minority student from a different country in their classroom every year, the teacher can develop a well rounded teaching style that would in turn benefit all of the class.
Teachers can also keep on top of things by regularly attending workshops and getting parents involved so they can reinforce what is being taught in the classroom at the child’s home. While generally opposed to the idea, Francis Ryan points out that “Multicultural education programs indeed may be helpful for all students in developing perspective-taking skills and an appreciation for how ethnic and minority traditions have evolved and changed as each came into contact with other groups” (Ryan 137).
It would certainly give people a sense of ethnic pride to know how their forefathers contributed to the building of the American society that we live in today. It is also a great feeling to know that the nation can change what is felt to be wrong, in order to build a better system for our hildren. Minorities would benefit from learning the evolution of their culture and realizing that the ups and downs along the way do not necessarily mean that their particular lifestyle is in danger of extinction. Some opponents feels that the idea of multiculturalism will, instead of uniting cultures, actually divide them.
They feel that Americans should try and think of themselves as a whole rather than people from different places all living together. They go even further to say that is actually goes against our democratic tradition, the cornerstone of American society (Stotsky 64). In Paul Gannon’s article “Balancing Multicultural and Civic Education Will Take More Than Social Stew”, he brings up an interesting point that “Education in the origins, evolution, advances and defeats of democracy must, by its nature, be heavily Western and also demand great attention to political history (Gannon 8).
Since both modern democracy and its alternatives are derived mostly from European past, and since most of participants were white males who are now dead, the choices are naturally limited. If we try to avoid these truths or sidestep them in any way, we cannot honestly say we are giving an accurate description of our history. Robert Hassinger agrees with Gannon and adds that we cannot ignore the contributions of DWEM’s for the simple fact that they are just that.
He thinks that we should study such things as the rise of capitalism or ongoing nationalism in other countries, but should not be swayed in our critical thinking by the fact the some people will not feel equally treated or even disrespected (Hassinger 11). There certainly must be reasons why many influential people in our history have been DWEM’s, and we should explore these reasons without using race and sex alone as reasons for excluding them from our curriculum. When conflicts arise with the way we do things, we should explore why rather than compromise in order to protect a certain group’s feelings.
Francis Ryan warns that trying to push the subject of multiculturalism too far would actually be a hindrance it interferes with a student’s participation in other groups, or worse yet, holds the child back from expressing his or her own individuality. He gives a first hand example of one of his African-American students who was afraid to publicly admit his dislike for rap music because he felt ethnically obligated as part of his black heritage (Ryan 137). While a teacher can be a reat help in providing information about other cultures, by the same note, that information can be just has harmful if it is incomplete.
In order for students to be in control of their own identity, they must have some idea of how other look at these same qualities. Children must be taught to resolve inner-conflicts about their identity, so that these features that make us unique will be brought out in the open where they can be enjoyed by all instead of being hidden in fear of facing rejection from their peers (Ryan 136). Teachers need to spend an equal amount of time developing each students individuality so hat they don’t end up feeling obligated to their racial group more than they feel necessary to express the diversity that makes America unique.
Most immigrant come to America for a better way of life, willing to leave behind the values of their mother countries. Instead of trying to move the country that they came from into America, immigrants need to be willing to accept the fact that America is shared by all who live here, and it is impossible to give every citizen an equal amount of attention. If we are not willing to forget some parts of our heritage in favor of a set of well rounded values, then a fully integrated America will never be possible. There certainly is no easy answer to the problem of multicultural education.
Proponents will continue to argue the benefits that unfortunately seem to be too far out of reach for our imperfect society. The hard truth is that it is impossible for our public school system to fairly cater to the hundreds of nationalities that already exist, let alone the hundreds more that are projected to arrive during the next century. In order for us to live together in the same society, ewe must sometime be willing to overlook parts of our distant past in exchange for a new hope n the future. Our only chance is to continue to debate the issue in order to hope for a “middle of the road” compromise.
One particularly interesting solution is that we could study the basics of how America came about in the most non-biased way possible, not concentrating on the race and sex of our forefathers as much as what they made happen, at least during the elementary and high school years. This would leave the study of individual nationalities, which are themselves major contributing factors, for people to do at home or further down the line in their education, where they can focus on tradition nd beliefs to any extent the want without fear of anyone feeling segregated.
In order for us to function as a whole, we need to start thinking of America in terms of a whole. With just a basic understanding of other cultures, and most importantly, the tools and background to think critically and make our own decisions not based on color, sex, religion, or national origin, but on information that we were able to accurately attain through the critical thinking skills we were taught in school, we would be better equipped to work at achieving harmony in a racially varied country.