The Debate Over 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 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