American Presidents and Their Attitudes, Beliefs, and Actions Surrounding Education and Multiculturalism

By Baptiste, H. Prentice; Sanchez, Rebecca | Multicultural Education, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

American Presidents and Their Attitudes, Beliefs, and Actions Surrounding Education and Multiculturalism


Baptiste, H. Prentice, Sanchez, Rebecca, Multicultural Education


A Series of Research Studies in Educational Policy

First Installment:

Examining Presidents James Madison, Rutherford B. Hayes, and John F. Kennedy

Introduction

In the role as Chief Executive, the President of the United States has a great deal of power in shaping the political, social, and economic developments of the nation. In the United States, the President has historically taken the 'Initiative" to lead the other two, equal branches of government into action (Schlesinger, 2002). Every aspect of American life has been influenced by the 43 Presidents of the nation (Schlesinger, 2002), education and multicultural education are examples of areas that have been impacted in different ways by the Presidents.

Multicultural Education

Multicultural education is the progressive yet reactionary result of years of racial tensions and inequalities in the United States (Leistyna, 2002). The goal of critical multicultural education is to analyze oppression and its structural sources, and at the same time develop students who can transform society into one that is culturally relativistic, where, "all cultures are valued equally," rather than focusing on assimilation (Leistyna, 2002). Furthermore, multicultural education promotes and exemplifies, "multiculturalism as a way of life" (Chavez-Chavez, 1998). Ultimately a goal of multicultural education is for equity to become "a characteristic of American mentality" so that the "practices of discrimination" can be eliminated (Boyer & Baptiste, 1996).

Presidents throughout our history have handled the complexities of diversity, education, and multiculturalism in different ways and the continuum of Presidential thought, philosophy, and action over more than two centuries has been and continues to be a contributing force in the current situation in America today. We tend to itemize and oversimplify historical periods by the major events of the time (Chavez-Chavez, 1998). Chavez-Chavez describes how behind the major events such as war or the Great Depression, to provide a couple of examples, social activism, oppression, and discrimination have also existed and are worthy of examination (1998). To embark on the noble effort of historical reclamation, Presidents, their respective administrations, and their impact on equality should be considered.

It is also important to note however, from a multiculturalists perspective, that the targeted group of this study, the American Presidents, are perhaps one of the most privileged and elite groups in existence. Therefore it should be noted that the nature of the presidency itself is entrenched in the very real system of white privilege. In spite of this system of white privilege, some presidents have philosophically or publicly supported a more equal society for all.

For example, at the Constitutional Convention, James Madison wrote portions of the Constitution dealing with freedom and liberty (Wills, 2002, Wilkins, 2000). In his diaries, Rutherford B. Hayes wrote extensively about equality, education, and the just distribution of power, money, and resources (Williams, 1964). In televised speeches, John F. Kennedy reflected on the need to respect and enforce the Constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality to all. He also publicly supported the Civil Rights movement (Dallek, 2003).

Thus, Presidents Madison, Hayes, and Kennedy made profound contributions in the area of equality for the citizenry (Wills, 2002, Trefousse, 2002, Giglio, 1991). They also had strong views about the importance of education in a democratic society (Hoogenboom, 1988, Rutland, 1990, Giglio, 2002). In their treatment of issues surrounding equality, each of them deferred heavily to the Constitution of the United States (Wills, 2002, Trefousse, 2002, Schlesinger, 1965). In this way, the powerful words, and the guaranteed rights and freedoms described in the Constitution of the United States served as a guiding force for each of these Presidents. …

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