A Comparative View of Diversity in the United States and Canada

By Banks, Cherry A. McGee | Social Education, October 2008 | Go to article overview

A Comparative View of Diversity in the United States and Canada


Banks, Cherry A. McGee, Social Education


As immigration continues to rise, Canada and the United States are faced with the challenge of maintaining national cohesion while creating inclusive societies that allow people of all groups to fully participate in the social, economic and political spheres of their societies. (1) In this article, readers will learn about some of the ways that the United States and Canada have responded to the challenges and opportunities of diversity.

Diversity issues can be examined within multiple contexts. This paper looks at political, legal, and historical contexts, with the purpose of providing a template for identifying issues that might frame further comparative analysis of diversity in Canada and the United States.

When carrying out a comparative analysis of diversity, it is important to note specific terms and language used. For example, while "multicultural education" is used in Canada and the United States to describe efforts to address diversity, other terms are also used. (2) In Canada, the term "anti-racism" is used, in some ways in opposition to "multicultural education," to convey a stronger statement on culture as well as methods and perspectives for reducing racism and promoting tolerance. This term is rarely used in the United States where terms like "diversity" and "inclusion" are more often used as synonyms for multicultural education.

Political Context

That political context can influence public policy on diversity is evident by the divergent responses of Canada and the United States to linguistic diversity within their borders. While there were Native American languages as well as a variety of European languages spoken during the early settlement of colonies in North America, English eventually became the dominant language in modern day Canada and the United States. However, Canada, unlike the United States, developed an official language education policy that includes self-contained, withdrawal, transitional, and mainstream programs that enable students to maintain their mother tongue. (3) Canada also has an official bilingual policy that requires all official documents to be made available in both English and French. The United States has a very different official response to language diversity. Many U.S. politicians fiercely defend speaking English as a marker of an individual's commitment to the United States and the legitimacy of his or her residence in the country. (4)

On the surface it would appear that there are stark differences between language policies in the United States and Canada. A close analysis, however, reveals a more complex picture. Students could investigate the extent to which what is happening on the ground in the United States reveals a much more accepting climate for language diversity than statements by politicians suggest. After all, economic as well as political power can influence a nation's response to language diversity. Students could look at the ways in which economic factors are driving businesses in California, the southwest part of the United States, and Florida to print signs and provide brochures in Spanish, as well as to hire bilingual staff. Students could also research the extent to which businesses in Hawaii are providing services in Asian languages.

When the political context of language policies is implicit, its connection to larger societal issues such as economic realities remain unexamined. Examining both the political context and economic dimensions of language policies can deepen students' understanding of all aspects of the issue.

Legal Context

The Japanese internment in the United States and Canada is an example of the extent to which laws exist within a sociopolitical context. Students can learn how two nations that pride themselves on being nations of laws, failed to protect the rights of individuals within their borders.

After the Japanese government bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, both the U. …

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