Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

A Human-Centric Alternative to Diversity and Multicultural Education

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

A Human-Centric Alternative to Diversity and Multicultural Education

Article excerpt

REPORTS OF INCREASING incidences of "hate crimes" and intolerance toward those deemed different, and ethnocentrism in the caring professions underlie: (1) the formation of human relations organizations addressing inter-group relations; (2) the call for multicultural education at all levels of schooling; and (3) an insistence on sensitivity to cultural differences in human services provision. (1) These trends derive from gender, racial, and ethnic theories of social relations that classify persons according to their anatomical and cultural attributes. (2) Such theories stand in contrast with a human relations theory, or a human-centric perspective on society that distinguishes species attributes and addresses the human experience. This human-centric perspective surfaces in Martin Luther King, Jr's untiring appeals for nonviolence, consideration of individual character, and recognition of mutual human dependency. As he wrote: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny." (3) Left undeveloped in King's speeches and writings, however, is the nature of human aspirations, interests, and destiny. The relatively underdeveloped nature of the human-centric perspective is partly responsible for the dominance of gender, racial and ethnic theories and the concomitant focus on multicultural education and cultural competency. Another reason for this underdevelopment is that advocates of gender, racial, and ethnic theories invariably stake claims on "reality," and these claims implicitly consign the human-centric perspective to realms of idealism and Utopia. Nevertheless, this perspective has as legitimate a place in social studies as any other. If social scientists can single out reproductive, anatomical, and cultural attributes to identify and study group experiences, why can they not focus on human species attributes and the human experience?

Toward A Human-centric Perspective

The identification of human species attributes and interests belongs to traditions of humanism and pacifism that remain marginalized in educational institutions. Five propositions are central to these traditions:

1. "Human" indicates a genetic capacity for symbol construction, language use, and rational, self-correcting action. Thus the human infant becomes able to realize this potential only through association with other human beings. Some sociological studies report that infants who were deprived of human contact did not acquire the faculty of speech, or learn to walk. (4)

2. Because society is a seamless web of interactive and interdependent actions and their consequences, every individual's action has ripple effects that could, ultimately, affect that same individual. It is, therefore, in one's interest to weigh the social consequences of one's choices and decisions. Individual problems--for example, violence and limited access to the means of life--are microcosms of issues facing the entire species. Hence their resolution requires macrocosmic considerations.

3. Human beings are neither naturally violent, nor nonviolent; rather, they possess the capacity for both behaviors. Their choice depends on educational experiences, in particular, the intellectual legacies transmitted through schooling. On the other hand, a particular human species attribute facilitates and even obligates nonviolence, for all conflicts among human beings are reached through reasoning about, and the construction of, interests. Therefore, they can be resolved through reasoning. Violence, then, is generated by the refusal to reason soundly and tolerance of fallacies, conditions that are traceable to intellectual legacies, conceptions of human nature, and formal educational inputs. Courses in critical thinking and pacifism are most significantly absent from all levels of education. (5)

4. A human sense of self contributes to the development of human civilization. It is forged through recognition of species similarities, the basic sameness of our aspirations, and our inescapable interdependence. …

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