Multicultural Education in America

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 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 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 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