Multiculturalism - A More Truly Diverse Notion of Excellence
Many advocates of multiculturalism do not see the situation as simply being Politically Correct or combating racism. Instead what educators such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. See, "is a more truly diverse notion of excellence."* Gates desires to see the best of all cultures represented. This is not dismantling the traditional core, but permeating it with the great Indian, Chinese, and African cultures.
This view can be simplistically states as ‘everyone learning about everyone else, and themselves.’ As the legal historian Robert J. Cottrol has written, "It should not simply be a program designed for minority students."** On the contrary, the thrust of multicultural education should be majority students and minority students learning about as many diverse populations as possible. Students should also learn to appreciate their own cultures and how to live together. This cannot be knowledge built on sand. Cottrol warns:
Multicultural education should not be the occasion for building up false ethnic pride or for substituting myths about people of African, Asian, or Latin American descent for myths concerning people of European descent.**
This is not an empty warning. Mary Lefkowitz, a professor of humanities at Wellesley College, wrote a book entitled Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became An Excuse to Teach Myth as History. It is an attack on false research and scholarship. When Lefkowitz attended the Martin Luther King memorial lecture at Wellesley she was shocked when erroneous history was presented as fact.
During the question period, she asked him why he had said Aristotle came to Egypt with Alexander and had stole books from the library in Alexandria…Aristotle died two decades before that library was built she pointed out.***
The lecturer and students accused Lefkowitz of being racist. Her book has also been attacked and scorned as racist diatribe. Is it bigoted to expect scholars to found their conclusions on documented research and scholarship? Is not the attempt to bolster the egos of minorities hurt in the long run by erroneous theories? By failing to present an accurate portrayal of minority cultures, critics of multicultural education are given tools that can dismantle the good that may be brought about.
Much remains to be done before the promise and potential of multicultural education are fully realized. Its theory and practice must be brought together to revitalize multiculturalism. We must build a new vision of multicultural education that marginalizes no one in our society. It must include belief in the worth and dignity of all persons. The bedrock of this multiculturalism must be honesty and sound research.
We need to bond together as multicultural peoples, as fellow citizens who care for and are committed to the well being of each other. This will come about only as we learn about each other. This includes our commonalities as well as our differences.
Our vision of the future must be well grounded in the past. The "Founding Fathers" of the United States did not always live up to the ideals that they professed in the Constitution and its Amendments. That does not denigrate those ideals. It points to our humanity and the need for those documents in our society.
Multicultural education has its roots in the ideal that everyone should be treated fairly and with dignity. When James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights he did not just look to the European heritage of the colonies. He also recalled the inequities which settlers had imposed upon each other. For this reason he included protections not just for the majority of our citizens, but for the minority as well.
Our approach to multicultural education needs to be the same. Multiculturalism must work to protect and educate all citizens of the United States. It is imperative that the history of the majority and the minority be treated with the same respect and value for the truth.
As Cottrol concludes:
Perhaps our most important contribution to the twenty-first century will be to demonstrate that people from different races, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds can live side by side; retain their uniqueness; and, yet, over time form a new common culture. That has been the American story. It is a history that has much to tell the world. It must be told by American educators.**
*--Brena Clark, "A ‘Race Man’ Argues for a Broader Curriculum," Time (April 22, 1991).
**--Robert J. Cottrol, "America the Multicultural," Multicultural Education (94/95).
***--Joan Beck, "Afrocentrism Treats Myth as History," Huntsville Times (March 6, 1996).
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