The debate over multicultural education in America has been ongoing. America has long been called The Melting Pot” due to its varied mix of races, cultures, and ethnicities. As more immigrants come to America searching for a better life, the population naturally becomes more diverse.
This has 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 that offends the least amount of people. There are many variations on these themes, as will be discussed later in this paper. In the 1930s, 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 the 1990 census shows that the American population has changed noticeably in the last ten years, 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 other’s 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 a 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 on 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 the 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 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 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. Proper attention was to be given to the issues of race and gender (Gould 199). This debate was important because its publicity provided the grounds for the argument that America is a pluralistic society. 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 option 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. However, this leaves them open to criticism from groups that feel they are not being equally treated. A national standard is out of the question because different parts of the country contain certain concentrations of nationalities. For example, there is a 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.