Multicultural Education in America

America has long been called "The Melting Pot" due to the fact

that it is made up of a varied mix of races, cultures, and

ethnicities. As more and more immigrants come to America searching

for a better life, the population naturally becomes more diverse.

This has, in turn, spun a great debate over multiculturalism. Some of

the issues under fire are who is benefiting from the education, and

how to present the material in a way so as to offend the least amount

of people. There are many variations on these themes as will be

discussed later in this paper.

In the 1930's several educators called for programs of

cultural diversity that encouraged ethnic and minority students to

study their respective heritages. This is not a simple feat due to

the fact that there is much diversity within individual cultures. A

look at a 1990 census shows that the American population has changed

more noticeably in the last ten years than in any other time in the

twentieth century, with one out of every four Americans identifying

themselves as black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or

American Indian (Gould 198). The number of foreign born residents

also reached an all time high of twenty million, easily passing the

1980 record of fourteen million. Most people, from educators to

philosophers, agree that an important first step in successfully

joining multiple cultures is to develop an underezding of each

others background. However, the similarities stop there. One problem

is in defining the term "multiculturalism". When it is looked at

simply as meaning the existence of a culturally integrated society,

many people have no problems. However, when you go beyond that and

try to suggest a different way of arriving at that culturally

integrated society, Everyone seems to have a different opinion on what

will work. Since education is at the root of the problem, it might be

appropriate to use an example in that context. Although the debate at

Stanford University ran much deeper than I can hope to touch in this

paper, the root of the problem was as follows: In 1980, Stanford

University came up with a program - later known as the "Stanford-style

multicultural curriculum" which aimed to familiarize students with

traditions, philosophy, literature, and history of the West. The

program consisted of 15 required books by writers such as Plato,

Aristotle, Homer, Aquinas, Marx, and Freud. By 1987, a group called

the Rainbow Coalition argued the fact that the books were all written

by DWEM's or Dead White European Males. They felt that this type of

teaching denied students the knowledge of contributions by people of

color, women, and other oppressed groups. In 1987, the faculty voted

39 to 4 to change the curriculum and do away with the fifteen book

requirement and the term "Western" for the study of at least one

non-European culture and proper attention to be given to the issues of

race and gender (Gould 199). This debate was very important because

its publicity provided the grounds for the argument that America is a

pluralistic society and to study only one people would not accurately

portray what really makes up this country.

Proponents of multicultural education argue that it offers

students a balanced appreciation and critique of other cultures as

well as our own (Stotsky 64). While it is common sense that one could

not have a true underezding of a subject by only possessing

knowledge of one side of it, this brings up the fact that there would

never be enough time in our current school year to equally cover the

contributions of each individual nationality. This leaves teachers

with two options. The first would be to lengthen the school year,

which is highly unlikely because of the political aspects of the

situation. The other choice is to modify the curriculum to only

include what the instructor (or school) feels are the most important

contributions, which again leaves them open to criticism from groups

that feel they are not being equally treated. A national ezdard is

out of the question because of the fact that different parts of the

country contain certain concentrations of nationalities. An example

of this is the high concentration of Cubans in Florida or Latinos in

the west. Nonetheless, teachers are at the top of the agenda when it

comes to multiculturalism. They can do the most for children during

the early