March 15, 2008

Education in Crisis: Part II

Since I wrote the previous piece on the attack on home schools in California, Governor Schwartzenegger has promised to pursue legislation protecting home schools in his state. (Education in Crisis Part I) My concern, as I mentioned is not so much where the children are learning but the method by which that learning takes place and by extension what they are forced to learn.

By and large what goes on in that big brick neighborhood building we call a school goes largely ignored or unnoticed. If you told a parent that his child is undergoing a Multicultural Education most would not be aware of the term nor could they define it. Most would equate it with the idea that in our increasingly ethnically diverse society multicultural education is nothing more than diversity training for the very young. At its most innocuous level this part of multicultural education is probably true. Who’s child has not had to do a project on Martin Luther King during Black History Month. The problem is that it extends beyond the scope that we can all get along to potentially altering the basic fabric of American society.

What we now call multicultural education originated in the 1960s in the wake of the civil rights movement as a corrective to the long-standing de facto policy of assimilating minority groups into the "melting pot" of dominant American culture (Sobol, 1990). Multicultural education has captured almost daily headlines in recent years, as it has become an ever more contentious and politicized battleground. To cite just two instances, attempts to establish multicultural curricula in New York City and California were the subject of considerable public attention.

In the debate over New York's Children of the Rainbow curriculum, opponents such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1991) argued that multicultural education threatened to divide students along racial and cultural lines, rather than unite them as Americans. The public debate continues. As recently as May 1994, a school board in Lake County, Florida, voted that its schools could teach children about other cultures, but only as a way of teaching them that American culture was inherently "superior," a decision much discussed around the country ("School Board," 1994). (Burnett)

Multicultural Education as it is presented to budding young teachers in the college ranks builds on the idea that people of different cultures or socioeconomic strata may learn differently and as such it is unjust to force that student to learn in a style that may be contrary to that student’s cultural background, regardless if that learning style or behavior is inferior to the American system. It is a purely relativist perspective that forces the educator to formulate educational experiences for as many different “styles” of learning as may be found in their particular classroom without questioning the behaviors of the particular student. Taken to the extreme multiculturalsim works to eradicate the idea of “American Exceptionalism” and eliminate assimilation into American culture that has been the cornerstone of Americas successful integration of diverse peoples for over two centuries.

Of course the teaching profession is not a monolithic group and I don’t want to imply that teachers are marching in lockstep in some multicultural conspiracy. There are in fact several levels of commitment to this dogma.

1. The Human Relations approach students are taught about commonalities of all people through understanding their social and cultural differences but not their differences in institutional and economic power.
2. The Single Group Studies approach is about the histories and contemporary issues of oppression of people of color, women, low socioeconomic groups, and gays and lesbians.
3. The Multicultural Education approach promotes the transformation of the
educational process to reflect the ideals of democracy in a pluralistic society. Students are taught content using instructional methods that value cultural knowledge and differences.
4. The Social Reconstructionist approach to multicultural education goes a step
further to teach students about oppression and discrimination. Students learn about their roles as social change agents so that they may participate in the generation of a more equitable society. (Hanley)

This is just an introduction into the world of Multiculturalist educational thinking and for further information on the topic I suggest reading the works of Hanley and Bennet linked in this piece. Next time we will take a look at the extremist view of this dogma and the direction it is taking America.

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