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

By Baptiste, H. Prentice; Araujo, Blanca | Multicultural Education, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

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


Baptiste, H. Prentice, Araujo, Blanca, Multicultural Education


A Series of Research Studies in Educational Policy

Second Installment: Examining Presidents Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, & Dwight D. Eisenhower

Introduction

The presidents of the United States have had a lasting impact on the history of the United States. From the founding of this nation to the new century, the presidents have set the tone of the nation in matters of race. For centuries, the ideology of the country has been one in which only one perspective that of the white, European man has been dominant. The presidents have had the power to change this perspective but have failed to do so for many reasons, such as greed, weakness, timidity (Brands, 2003; Steinfield, 1972).

This article focuses on three presidents - Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight D. Eisenhower-and their legacy to a nation still fighting towards racial equality.

The United States Presidents and Multiculturalism

For many years, certain groups in the United States have been fighting for equal rights. Many advances have been made due to the hard work, determination, and struggles of different individuals and groups. People have fought to have equal rights in the workplace as well as in the schools and communities. Groups have formed and together have changed laws that denied them the same rights given to others.

From slavery and civil rights, to the Chicano and women's movements, laws and political decisions have had a big influence on the power and advancement of these groups. Through the advancement of multiculturalism in United States society, the presidents have many times played a major role in its success or failure.

Presidents have served as inspirations as well as warnings. They have provided bad examples as well as good (Remini, 2002). And in their leading the country, they have also led a nation to become a more just and pluralistic society or have endorsed a society which values only one race, one color, and one perspective. They have led a nation to become richer by valuing other cultures or they have continued the legacy of racism that many of them have helped institutionalize. It is this role of the president that will be examined in this article, in particular the roles of Jackson, Wilson, and Eisenhower.

The Presidents

The presidents have almost always been portrayed as wonderful, brave, and honest human beings. We always hear about how good and moral these men are or have been. Rarely do we hear about their stance on racism and civil liberties. The media neglects to be honest with us or makes us believe that presidents have always done what is best for the nation. The media chooses selectively what is known about these men although their decisions as chief executives have had a lasting impact on the history of our nation.

Kenneth O'Reilly (1995) reveals that instead of being the agents of progress in racial relations, American presidents have a long and consistent history of supporting slavery, obstructing civil rights and deliberately fanning racism. Almost every president has been known to have sacrificed black votes for white votes. Through word as well as deed, over and over again, American Presidents have reflected the racism of the wider society from which they sprang. The victims have been white, red, brown, and yellow, as well as black (Steinfield, 1972). According to Steinfield (1972) virtually every American President has been racist and has shown his racism in many ways.

With few exceptions, the deeds and dreams of our presidents, and the choices they made and did not make on matters of race, deepened the racial rut, a rut that has existed in the United States since George Washington's administration (O'Reilly, 1995). From slavery to affirmative action, the presidents have had the choice to change the nation to a more just and free one. Unfortunately, most presidents have chosen to turn their back on racial matters and to continue the ingrained ideologies of a white, Eurocentric perspective. …

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