Less Common Ground in Tomorrow's America?

Article excerpt

As America enters a new millennium, the problem of how to educate students from different ethnic backgrounds - many with widely different language skills and some with values different from those that have long been considered national norms - has become acute. Parents, educators, and politicians are struggling with questions such as:

* Must every educated U.S. citizen be fluent in English?

* How far should textbooks go to stress the accomplishments of non-white, non-male, non-Europeans in U.S. history?

* Should supposedly "objective" subjects like math and science be taught in different ways to students with different cultural backgrounds?

The authors of three recent books on multiculturalism offer a good introduction to the topic from three radically different perspectives.

Sociology professor Alvin J. Schmidt of Illinois College sees multiculturalism as a threat to the nation's future. In his book, The Menace of Multiculturalism, Schmidt views attempts to redesign the school curriculum not as responses to social injustice, but as veiled attempts to undermine Western civilization - particularly Judeo-Christian ethics.

Schmidt decries rigid standards of "political correctness" in academia and the media, arguing that the "hidden agenda" is really "to impose multiculturalist values that relativize all knowledge and standards of truth, except their own [italics added]; and . . . to dismantle the Euro-American culture."

As a warning example, Schmidt points to Canada, where efforts to promote multicultural values while maintaining a unified national identity have failed. Despite Canada's official bilingualism, adopted in recognition of the 25% of Canadian citizens who consider French their native tongue, many French-speaking citizens (most of whom live in Quebec) oppose any use of English in that province. A 1995 national survey found that many Canadians believed their country would break apart before the year 2000 in response to such stress.

Schmidt proposes that, to escape Canada's fate, the United States return as promptly and thoroughly as possible to "Judeo-Christian morality and its corresponding values." He offers no agenda of government actions to accomplish this, but relies on the common sense and traditional conservatism of American voters to turn the tide.

At the other end of the political spectrum, UCLA education professor Peter McLaren argues in Revolutionary Multiculturalism that multiculturalism is America's last chance to preserve democracy. Beyond merely seeking fair representation for minorities, McLaren foresees a future of "noisy democracy" in which fundamentally opposed groups argue heatedly for their competing programs. In his opinion, civility implies a tolerance for, and patience with, the status quo that can no longer be expected. McLaren applauds teachers who lead their students in acts of protest, who openly work beside them to promote economic leveling, and who fight attempts like California's Proposition 187 to repeal minority preference considerations in academic hiring and school admissions. …