Multiculturalism - Education for the Nineties an Overview
Pyszkowski, Irene S., Education
As we know, America's school population is marked by diversity and multiculturism. Students attending schools in the United States come from many different kinds of families; single parent, teen-age parent, extended family and traditional nuclear family. Moreover a wide array of cultural differences reflected in racial and ethnic diversity exist in many classrooms today. The "melting pot" concept has been replaced by cultural pluralism. How can the needs of a pluralistic society best be met and how can stereotyped opinions of any culture be countered in our classrooms today?
In the first half of the 20th century educators tried to give students a national identity through the melting pot approach; a concept promoted in a play written by Israel Zangwill in 1908. Zangwill advanced the idea that the entire U.S. population would assimilate and form a unique American character. This ideology, so widespread at the time, became an integral part of the American educational system.
The aim of the schools was to "melt" ethnically different children into the American culture as quickly as possible (Banks). To expedite assimilation children were forced to forget their native customs, languages and heritages and to adopt the culture and language of a new nation of people (Berry).
Education for all students centered on Western culture, a "Eurocentric" view of the world and its culture. The bulk of immigrants coming to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were from European countries; particularly southern and eastern Europe.
Textbooks used by children of these immigrants contained ideas of western civilization with emphasis on Anglo-Saxon history and literature. A curriculum incorporating these concepts was developed over the years establishing a singular American culture and identity. Indeed ethnicity was suppressed. But the fact was that racial and ethnic stereotypes were perpetuated in the core curriculum and its accompanying texts while students were rapidly assimilated into the American mainstream.
Yet ethnic identity could not be easily dismissed. Most ethic groups still clung to their language, customs and culture. Glazer and Moynihan wrote, "Individuals, in very considerable numbers to be sure, broke out of their mold, but the groups remained." (Glazer and Moynihan). The notion of an American persona; the "Americanization" of all ethnics became less appealing as the century wore on.
Hannah Arendt, the great intellectual of the mid-twentieth century is reported to have described the United States as "an a-national republic ---." She conceived of the United States as a place where the melting pot was not even an ideal, and that is what she liked about it (Shweder).
The diversity movement is a phenomenon resulting from the pronounced shift in the ethnic makeup of America's population. Auster writers, "Christmas has been replaced in many schools by a non-denominational Winterfest or by a new African-American holiday Kwanza, while schools in areas with large Hispanic populations celebrate Cinco de Mayo" (Auster). Ethnic groups revitalized their heritage as cultural identity and ethnic pride gained respectability.
The momentum of the "Black Movement" of the 1950's when Afro-americans fought for equality in the social, economic TABULAR DATA OMITTED and political arenas fueled the sparks for cultural pluralism. Impressed by the gains made by Afro-Americans; Puerto-Ricans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans and other minority groups worked to bring about change in mainstream America.
As the twentieth century draws to a close, America's immigrant population has shifted from white European to non-white Asian and other minority groups. "It is estimated that by the year 2000, 33 percent of the U.S. student population will be from so-called minority groups," reports Francis Roberts. According to the 1990 census figures, Asian-Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing minority, accounting for 2.91 percent of the population. Hispanics grew to 9 percent while Black Americans increased to 12.1 percent of the population. A listing of census figures for minority groups reveals population patterns as reported in the 1990 and 1980 showing a significant growth of the major ethnic groups in the United States.
Population of ethnic groups in the U.S. (1980 compared to 1990) Source - Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C. 1990.
The Role of Textbooks
Multi-cultural education has been defined as an educational program dealing with and giving opportunities for encouragement, leadership and understanding of cultural differences and the worth and dignity of all people (Berry). Are our schools meeting this criterion and in what manner? What is needed is a bias-free curriculum and accompanying textbooks to provide different perspectives - perspectives which reflect the diversity of contemporary life in America.
Books used in school, particularly Social Studies texts, have inherently emphasized and reflected western values, culture and tradition. The heroes, predominantly white male figures of American history, steeped in traditional European concepts, have been the role models, while the role of minority groups in shaping history for the United States has been largely ignored. Indeed, minorities have often been accorded a demeaning and negative image in the growth of the republic. John Leo writes that in A Pocket History of the United States by historians Nevins and Commager, the following entry appears. The native (Indians) were "a warlike, cruel and treacherous people still in the Stone Age of culture" (Leo, John).
In the literature on Afro-Americans, Herbert Kohl reports; Our American, a text written by Herbert Townsend, portrays slavery as follows - "Most Southern people treated their slaves kindly. It was true that most slaves were happy. They did not want to be free. The people of the North did not understand this" (Kohl, Herbert).
Branon and Gayney in their Social Geography series offer this insight on Latinos, "Nicaragua and Guatemala are very much alike in that about 85 percent of the population is Indian or lower-class Spanish of mixed race. These people are quarrelsome and therefore lacking in progress." Elsewhere these same authors write, "Uruguay is a progressive country. Most of its people are white" (Kohl).
Textbooks used in the instruction of reading in primary grades have portrayed characters as mostly white and middle-class - a concept alien to many of the children attending public school today. Critics have attacked the use of basal readers which focus on the supposedly middle-class values to which the culturally disadvantaged cannot relate (Joyce & Banks).
In the 1965 Nancy Larrick, former president of the International Reading Association, pointed out in an article entitled "The All-White World of Children's Books", that although more than half of the children in major American cities were black -- the characters in the books these children were using to learn to read were overwhelmingly white (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights). Textbooks need to confront to the disparity between fact and fiction.
The movement to rewrite textbooks and revise curriculum along broader racial and ethnic lines is growing even as the debate continues. When Frances Fitzgerald studied American history school books used the twentieth century, she found that most of the texts in the 1920's praised the racist national-origins quota system in our immigration law (Fuchs). And a report by the American Council on Education found in texts of 1949, the depiction of minority characters to be "distressingly inadequate, inappropriate and even damaging to intergroup relations" (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).
The portrayal of ethnics in textbooks changed in the 1970's and 1980's when the treatment of ethnicity was revised "from one with a single and simple national perspective to one that incorporates a variety of group perspectives" (Glazer and Ueda).
Ample material on non-western societies now appears in school texts while more extended changes are being proposed. Minority groups continue to press textbook publisher and education officials for more inclusive minority contributions and for the elimination of misleading stereotypes.
The Focus of Curriculum
Traditional curriculum dealing solely with Western culture are no longer applicable in most schools across America. They are being replaces with curriculums designed to present a more realistic and accurate account of the history and achievement of our nation's diverse population.
California's public schools adopted changes in history and social studies guidelines in 1987. While in Portland, Oregon, elementary school teachers can opt for African-American examples for history, science or music lessons prepared by experts in each field (Tifft).
A Social Studies and Development Committee appointed in 1990 by the New York State Commissioner of Education, Thomas Sobel issued a report entitled, "One Nation, Many People: A Declaration of Cultural Interdependence." This 97 page document proposed a reform of high school education to include a multi-cultural approach to the social sciences. The curriculum means to address the story of America with the inclusion of contributions by America's multiethnic population.
Classroom teachers are in the forefront where multi-cultural education is concerned. It is their responsibility to engage students in activities compatible with curriculum goals and textbook materials to implement a new consciousness. Many instances of effective teaching techniques which can easily be integrated in the classroom are available.
The spoken language, a primary means of communication, contributes greatly in establishing awareness of cultural difference and values. Teaching young children a foreign language increases their perspective and appreciation of diverse cultural heritages.
A television program presented by CBS, on Sept. 4, 1992, "Age 7 in America", interviewed a cross-section of nineteen children in America. Julio who lives in Los Angeles but was born in El Salvador spoke only Spanish. The interviewer asked him if it was necessary to speak English in order to live in the United States. His response was no because everyone around him spoke Spanish in his Latino community. His greatest difficulty was learning English in his ESL (English as a Second Language) class.
Reports Robert's that in one first-grade class he visited, there were a number of children whose primary language was Spanish. The teacher, sensitive to the needs of the Spanish-speaking students, made them her helpers as she taught the entire class some simple Spanish words. This newly acquired vocabulary formed a common bond among the children in their formative years; an appropriate time for learning respect and understanding.
Japanese is being taught in the primary grades in an increasing number of elementary schools. At the Brooklyn Friends School in Brooklyn, New York, students in grades Kindergarten through fourth are required to study Japanese as James Hadlin, Headmaster, feels that children learn about cultural values through language studies. Students, seated in Japanese-style tatami rooms, sing in Japanese while they sample Japanese food and learn origami, the art of paper folding (Harlan).
A kindergarten class in a predominantly, white Anglo-Savon, small college town in Massachusetts celebrated "Cinco de Mayo". Students were encouraged to wear Mexican type clothing, ate corn bread and tacos while singing and dancing to Mexican rhythms. The teacher, here, made use of a prototypical cultural component, a national holiday, to introduce students to the value of other cultures. Cultural elements include prominent historical figures, historical events and literature could be used for processing multi-cultural education and augmenting diversity awareness.
Family practices and customs are ideas to which young children can readily relate. The names children are given and the rituals attached to the event vary widely along ethnic and religious lines. Students in one primary grade engaged in a "Naming Ceremony" unit. They were asked to relate family practices involved in their naming ritual and how the family celebrated the occasion. Through drawings and written stories they shared their unique cultural experiences with the class. While all societies value their children, their traditions differ and primary-grade students can view and appreciate these differences on their own consciousness level.
As the number of racial and ethnic - diverse students increase, tensions also mount. When a racial disturbance shook Newton North in Newton, Massachusetts, Roseanne Perlmutter, a teacher of sociology embarked on a program to educate students on diversity and multi-culturalism. She did not preach but rather allowed students to speak out on matters of stereotyping and ethnic pride which she recorded on a series of videotapes titled, "We, They and Us: Learning About Ourselves Through Others". Adolescents, extremely sensitive to misleading stereotyping and ethnic and racial slurs recalled similar experiences vividly dramatized on tape. Seeing the tapes changed student behavior claims Mrs. Perlmutter (Goodheart).
Experiences in school are helpful in raising children's awareness to cultural differences. But teachers and school personnel must themselves be ready to accept differences in children. In her first encounter in a multi-cultural education experience, Judith Berry was filled with apprehension about her mostly Latino students to prepare a debate on the topic: The Melting Pot Theory is Appropriate for American Youth Today. Berry reports" --- they (the students) conducted their research and debated the issue from the viewpoint of Mexican and Puerto Rican students who immigrated to America and faced problems of acceptance into a strange culture." The debate succeeded twofold; making the students come alive as they took charge of their educational process and in making the teacher more sensitive to cultural differences and contributions (Berry).
Teachers need help to focus adequately on multi-culturalism in the classroom if they are to meet the challenges of a pluralistic society. Many schools offer in-service programs for teachers to develop understanding and to increase sensitivity. Workshops involving parents and teachers, working in unison, are needed to acquaint teachers with teaching methods best suited for different cultures and with ways to communicate effectively with parents.
In the Southwest region of the United States where the presence of American Indians and Hispanics is a major factor, multi-cultural education is an integral part of the curriculum. Teachers in New Mexico attend in-service courses to heighten their awareness of the value system and language of the Indian tribes of the state. The purpose? An increase understanding of Indian culture together with educational considerations for the classroom.
Outreach programs, under the leadership of the school principal are viable channels for dealing with the concerns of a multi-ethnic, multi-racial school population. Problems arising in such a school setting might be successfully diffused by the formation of human-relations committees that can be utilized to sponsor discussion groups, arrange multi-cultural school festivities, formulate plans to welcome newcomers and plan for family visits.
While schools can play a vital role in helping children learn respect for all races, religions and ethnic groups, the home and community must foster tolerance and understanding of multi-cultural society. The early years in a child's life are crucial in cognitive and social development. Intimacy between parent and child is established early on in life, setting the stage for acquisition of skills and perception of the environment. Indeed, how the child perceives the world is colored by conditions prevailing at home.
Language used in the home is critical in establishing attitudes toward others. Well-meaning parents may not be aware of using hackneyed stereotypical epithets in daily speech patterns. Parents need to make a conscious effort to rid their language of casual terms which promote prejudice and bigotry. And children need to be reminded that racial and ethnic slurs are unacceptable labels for people who are different.
Enrichment provided by the home can help children gain understanding and appreciation for diverse cultures. Trips to museums, visits to ethnic neighborhoods and attendance at multi-cultural festivals are useful experiences, providing opportunities for celebrating the worth of others. The socialization occurring at these encounters helps diminish apprehensions and misgivings in relationships with children of racial and ethnic diversity.
Eating foreign foods, foods which children do not normally eat at home, helps to introduce young people to other cultures and traditions. Understanding why these foods are consumed in other parts of the world and how they benefit the people of these areas increases perception and tolerance of differing societies. When possible prepare food as they would in other cultures, (i.e use work when cooking stirfry meals). Invite young friends share the meals and encourage children to sample cuisine from a diverse palate.
Children enjoy the company of their peers. Interaction in a play setting is advantageous for dispelling fears of people who are different. Children lack the inhibitions of adults; they ask, they probe and finally resolve their queries, getting on with their play. Encourage friendships with children of diverse backgrounds, (either in school or the neighborhood), invite them to the home and make them feel welcome.
Reading aloud to children is ideal for discussions of different life styles. Libraries stock books which deals with multi-culturalism and are good source for reading materials and videotapes dealing with this issue. Many libraries schedule story hours for young children and often librarians read books that narrate living practices of cultures. Parents need to request libraries to offer this service should it be lacking in their area.
Finally parents who belong to a so-called minority group need to affirm their children's self-esteem. Help them examine their heritage and explore contributions made to America's greatness. Ethnic pride give children a greater sense of self-worth.
Communities across America are becoming increasingly aware of the ethnic and racial mix of its people together with the issues and concerns of a culturally diverse society. It is critical to recognize and sustain the contributions of others and how they impact on our Western value system and on each other.
Ethnic fairs to celebrate differences and to promote multi-cultural harmony are now commonplace events. Parades featuring flags, dress, dance and music representative of the participants draw large audiences of community residents. Ethnic foods and drinks offered at these events reinforce the essence of a cultural potpourri. The folkloric nature of the festivals serve to highlight the existence of other groups in the community and to sensitize the citizenry to their existence.
Attending theaters and libraries which spotlight foreign films enables American audiences to view world-wide life style. Community groups need to sponsor foreign film festivals, providing audiences an opportunity for enhanced awareness of diverse global cultures. Following the patterns of the lives of others on film, increases sensitivity of differences and similarities in other cultures worthy of tolerance and esteem.
As the twentieth century draws to a close, a more varied curriculum which truly reflects the diversity of life in the United States, is emerging on the educational scene. With the information explosion produced by the new technology, a more global approach to learning is needed to prepare students for the challenges facing them.
Our nation, rich in the voices of a pluralistic society, needs to recognize the contributions of minorities, women and foreign cultures. Education based on Euro-Western culture together with non-western concepts is more realistic approach in preparing students for an upcoming global economy. Students living in the twenty-first century will be more exposed to a world-wide society, demanding mutual respect and tolerance. What better way to begin than in the classroom?
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Irene S. Pyszkowski, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education at Notre Dame College of St. John's University, Staten Island, New York. Former Principal in the New York City Public Schools. Organized, developed and supervised numerous innovated programs addressing the needs of children with handicapping conditions. Author of numerous articles and chapters in various educational publications. Presented 100 professional papers nationally and in Canada, Ireland, England, Austria, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Poland. Member of numerous local, national and international professional associations.…
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Publication information: Article title: Multiculturalism - Education for the Nineties an Overview. Contributors: Pyszkowski, Irene S. - Author. Journal title: Education. Volume: 114. Issue: 1 Publication date: Fall 1993. Page number: 151+. © 1999 Project Innovation. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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