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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.


Order custom research paper on Multicultural Education in America


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 10s 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 10 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 18). The number of foreign born residents


also reached an all time high of twenty million, easily passing the


180 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 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 180, 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 187, a group called


the Rainbow Coalition argued the fact that the books were all written


by DWEMs 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 187, the faculty voted


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 1). 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 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 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 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. 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 understanding (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 understand 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 instance, 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 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 isnt 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 17). 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 Gannons 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 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 DWEMs 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 DWEMs, 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 17). 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 dont


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 6). 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 havent, 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 4). 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.





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