America has long been called “The Melting Pot” due to the factthat 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, orAmerican 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. Theprogram consisted of 15 required books by writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Aquinas, Marx, and Freud.Order now
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 thesituation. 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 .