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Clultural Assimilation in the United States - The Melting Pot

Guest Author - Paula Laurita

What are our expectations for assimilation in the United States?

Educators claim that their top priority is to treat all children like human beings, regardless of ethnic identity, cultural background, or economic status. This is a paradox. A personís humanity cannot be isolated or divorced from his or her culture and ethnicity.

Until the past few decades schools presented a monocultural, and monochromatic, view of the United States. It ignored minorities such as African Americans and Asians, but also treated Europeans as if they were all of one culture. This was often done with the best of intentions.

If America was the great "melting pot" then the ideal would be for everyone to be part of that pot. In the sixties and seventies with the rise of the civil rights movements and women's movement that view of America changed. Textbooks no longer proffered the melting pot as the goal for all Americans. Instead the "salad bowl" was set forth as a new metaphor. All members of the society bring their unique gifts and culture to the bowl. Together they blend together to create the unique flavor that is America.

The salad bowl approach caused a dilemma throughout the educational system. If we abandon how various disciplines have been taught then how do we teach? One of the primary and persistent ideals of multicultural education in school programs is to correct what advocates call "sins of omission and commission." First, we must provide students with information about history and contributions of ethnic groups traditionally excluded from instructional materials. We must also replace distorted and biased images of those groups that were included in the curricula with more accurate and significant information. This is where many of the arguments about multicultural education come into play.

"Whose culture do we teach?" "What happens when cultures collide?" These are questions being asked frequently in today's educational systems. Such a collision took place at an academic library in Utah:

A male student from a Middle Eastern country walks up to the reference desk and is greeted by a female librarian. The student explains to her that in his homeland, men deal with other men in business situations, and that he, therefore, would prefer sharing his information needs with a mail reference librarian. What should the reference librarian do? Should she respect customs, practices, and ethical norms of the Middle Eastern man and refer him to a male colleague, or should she stand up for her rights as an American woman and refuse to cooperate with the patron's sexist and discriminatory request? When our professional commitment to cultural diversity clashes with our commitment to social justice, which value takes precedence?

These, and other, questions are being asked in schools across the United States.

Have you read Multiculturalism and The First Amendment?

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Content copyright © 2014 by Paula Laurita. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Paula Laurita. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Christine Sharbrough for details.

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