This essay has a total of 3103 words and 15 pages.
Multicultural Education in America
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
ethnicities. 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 under fire are who is benefiting from the education, and
how to present the material in a way so as to offend the least amount
of people. There are many variations on these themes as will be
discussed later in this paper.
In the 1930's several educators called for programs of
cultural diversity that encouraged ethnic and minority students to
study their respective heritages. This is not a simple feat due to
the fact that there is much diversity within individual cultures. A
look at a 1990 census shows that the American population has changed
more noticeably in the last ten years than in any other time in the
twentieth century, 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 underezding of each
others background. However, the similarities stop there. One problem
is in defining the term "multiculturalism". When it is looked at
simply as meaning the existence of a culturally integrated society,
many people have no problems. However, when you go beyond that and
try to suggest a different way of arriving at that culturally
integrated society, Everyone seems to have a different opinion on what
will work. Since education is at the root of the problem, it might be
appropriate to use an example in that context. Although the debate at
Stanford University ran much deeper than I can hope to touch in this
paper, the root of the problem was as follows: 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 or 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 groups. 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
pluralistic society and to study only one people would not accurately
portray what really makes up this country.
Proponents of multicultural education argue that it offers
students a balanced appreciation and critique of other cultures as
well as our own (Stotsky 64). While it is common sense that one could
not have a true underezding 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 our 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
contributions, which again leaves them open to criticism from groups
that feel they are not being equally treated. A national ezdard 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. Nonetheless, 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 curriculum, they can open up young minds while making
learning fun. in one first grade classroom, an inventive teacher used
the minority students to her advantage by making them her helpers as
she taught the rest of the class some simple Spanish words and
customs. This newly acquired vocabulary formed a common bond among
the children in their early years, an appropriate time for learning
respect and underezding (Pyszkowski 154).
Another exciting idea is to put children in the setting of the
culture they are learning about. By surrounding children in the ideas
and customs of other cultures, they can better underezd what it is
like to be removed from our society altogether, if only for a day.
Having kids dress up in foreign clothing, sample foods and sing songs
from abroad makes educating easier on the teacher by making it fun for
the students. A simple idea that helps teachers is to let students
speak for themselves. Ask students how they feel about each other and
why. This will help dispel stereotypes that might be created in the
home. By asking questions of each other, students can get firsthand
answers about the beliefs and customs of other cultures, along with
some insight as to why people feel the way they do, something that can
never be adequately accomplished through a textbook.
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 inezce, a teacher has a minority
student from a different country every year, he or she can develop a
well rounded teaching style that would in turn, benefit all students.
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 home.
The New York State Social Studies Review and Development
Committee has come up with six guidelines that they think teachers
should emphasize in order to help break down ethnic barriers. These
steps are as follows:
First, from the very beginning, social studies should be
taught from a global perspective. We are all equal owners of the
earth, none of us are more entitled than others to share in its many
wealths or misfortunes. The uniqueness of each individual is what
adds variety to our everyday life.
Second, social studies will continue to serve nation building
purposes. By pointing out the things we share in common, it will be
easier to examine the individual things that make us different.
Third, the curriculum must strive to be informed by the most
up to date scholarship. The administrators must know that in the
past, we have learned from our mistakes, and we will continue to do so
in the future. By keeping an open mind, we will take in new knowledge
and different viewpoints as they are brought up.
Fourth, students need to see themselves as active makers and
changers of culture and society. If given the skills to judge people
and their thoughts fairly, and the knowledge that they can make a
difference, students will take better control of life in the future.
Fifth, the program should be committed to the honoring and
continuing examination of democratic values as an essential basis for
social organization and nation building. Although the democratic
system is far from perfect, it has proven in the past that it can be
effective if we continue to put effort into maintaining it while
leaving it open for change.
Sixth, social studies should be taught not solely as
information, but rather through the critical examination of ideas and
events rooted in time and place and responding to social interests.
The subject needs to be taught with excitement that sparks kids
interest and motivates them to want to take place in the shaping of
the future of our country (NYSSSRADC 145-47).
In order to give a well rounded multicultural discussion, as
James Banks explains, teachers need to let students know how knowledge
reflects the social, political, and economic context in which it was
created. Knowledge explained by powerful groups in society differs
greatly from that of its less powerful counterparts (Banks 11). For
example, it should be pointed out how early Americans are most often
called "pioneers" or "settlers" in social studies texts, while
foreigners are called "immigrants". They should realize that to Native
Americans, pioneers were actually the immigrants, but since the
"pioneers" later went on to write the textbooks, it is not usually
described that way. By simply looking at the term "western culture"
it is obvious that this is a viewpoint of people from a certain area.
If students are aware that to Al
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