The Debate Over Multicultural Education In America

.. to Alaskans, the west was actually the south, they can realize the bearings of how the elite in society determine what is learned. By not falling victim to these same misconceptions, students can better make unprejudiced decisions about those around them. Another important aspect students need to realize is that knowledge alone isn’t enough to shape a society. The members themselves have to be willing to put forth the time and effort and show an interest in shaping their society in order for it to benefit all people. 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 we can change what we feel is wrong to build a better system for our children. 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 feel 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 it 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).

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Since both modern democracy and its alternatives are derived mostly from European past, and since most of the participants were white males who are now dead, the choices are certainly 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 that 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 groups feelings.

Francis Ryan warns that trying to push the subject of multiculturalism too far would actually be a hindrance if it interferes with a students 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 great help in providing information about other cultures, by the same note, that information can be just as harmful if it is incomplete. In order for students to be in control of their own identity, they must have some idea of how others 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. Teachers need to spend an equal amount of time developing each students individuality so they don’t end up feeling obligated to their racial group more than they feel necessary to express the diversity that makes America unique.

As Harlan Cleveland points out, many countries still feel that the predominant race must be the one in power. For instance, try to imagine a Turkish leader in Germany, or anyone but a Japanese in control of Japan (Cleveland 26). Only in America is there such a diverse array of people in power from county officials all the way up to the make up of people in our Supreme Court. However, although we have made many advances culturally that other countries haven’t, we still have yet to see an African-American, Latino, or for that matter, a woman as head of our country. With increasing awareness of other cultures though, these once unheard of suggestions are making their way even closer to reality.

Another way to look at the issue is that most non-Western cultures have few achievements equal to Western culture either in the past or present (Duignan 492). The modern achievements that put America ahead of other countries are unique to America because they were developed here. Many third-world countries still practice things that we have evolved from many years ago, such as slavery, wife beatings, and planned marriages. We are also given many freedoms that are unheard of in other countries. Homosexuality is punished severely in other lands, while we have grown to realize that it is part of the genetic makeup of many people and they cannot control it. Most immigrants come to America for a better way of life, willing to leave behind the uncivilized 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, we must sometimes be willing to overlook parts of our distant past in exchange for a new hope in the future. Our only chance is to continue to debate the topic 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 not themselves major contributing factors, for people to do at home or further down the line in their education, where they can focus on tradition and beliefs to any extent they want without fear of anyone feeling segregated. In conclusion, 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 varied racial country. Works Cited Banks, James A. “Multicultural Literacy and Curriculum Reform.” The Education Digest 13 Dec.

1991: 10-13. Cleveland, Harlan. “The Limits To Cultural Diversity.” The Futurist March – April 1995 : 23-6. Duignan, Peter. “The Dangers of Multiculturalism.” Vital Speeches of the Day 22 Mar. 1995 : 492-493.

Gagnon, Paul. “Balancing Multicultural and Civic Education Will Take More Than “Social Stew”.” The Education Digest Dec. 1991 : 7-9. Gould, Ketayun H. “The Misconstruing of Multiculturalism : The Stanford Debate and Social Work” Social Work Mar. 1995 : 198-204. Hassinger, Robert.

“True Multiculturalism.” Commonweal 10 April 1992 : 10- 11. New York State Social Studies Review and Development Committee “Multicultural Education Benefits All Students.” Education in America – Opposing Viewpoints. CA : Greenhaven, 1992. 144-150. Pyszkowski, Irene S. “Multiculturalism – Education For The Nineties; An Overview.” Education Vol.

114 No. 1 : 151-157. Ryan, Francis J. “The Perils of Multiculturalism : Schooling for theGroup.” Educational Horizons 7 Spring 1993 : 134-8. Stotsky, Sandra. “Acedemic vs.

Ideological Education in the Classroom.” The Education Digest Mar. 1992 : 64-6.