The View From 1776

Multi-cultural Education Revisited

When the State of New York officially adopted multi-cultural education in 1991 it was a bad idea.  It still is.

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Lawrence Auster’s website, The View From the Right, has a re-run of his 1989 article The Curriculum of Inclusion opposing the prospective adoption of multi-cultural education by the New York State Board of Regents.

The article below is my op-ed piece to the same end that was published July 7, 1991, in the Gannett Westchester Newspapers, just before the state’s official adoption of this disastrous educational concept. 

New York’s Commissioner of Education was Thomas Sobol, who had been superintendent of education in Scarsdale, New York, where I lived at that time.  It was Commissioner Sobol who pushed multi-cultural education into being.

Coincidentally, last year it was parents in Scarsdale who gained national attention by refusing to permit their children to be tested under the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind school competence program.  Scarsdale parents said that they didn’t want their children to be able to pass tests; they wanted them to learn how to think. 

No one has yet demonstrated, of course, that there is a divergence between the two.

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Gannett Westchester Newspapers Op-ed Page July 7, 1991

Every concerned citizen should oppose adoption of the recommendations of the One Nation, Many Peoples: A Declaration of Cultural Interdependence report recently delivered to the State Commissioner of Education.  We do not need and can not afford this expensive and misguided new program that aims to spotlight the cultural values of other societies and to question those of the United States.  Its basic thrust is to emphasize the ethnic differences of our citizens, rather than the common values that historically have united us.

The report does not address the need for better quality education, a goal that has little connection with ethnic consciousness?raising instruction.  Students presently are insufficiently grounded in the essence of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence ? respect for the rights and responsibilities of individuals, within a framework of English common law affirming the sanctity of contracts that protect everything from property rights to civil rights.  Nor are they given any sense of the two thousand six hundred year history of western humanity’s struggle to conceptualize and to gain the rights we today take for granted.

In reality, the report is a political program that will be useful to special interest groups as recruitment propaganda.  And it is an economic program that will benefit publishing companies by mandating new text books, videos, and revised maps, and teachers unions by adding to administrative and teaching staffs.

? No society can survive if its citizens do not understand and support its fundamental cultural values.  Teaching that the political philosophy underlying the Constitution is but one of many competing and equally valid sets of cultural values is, at the least, mischievous.  One has to look no further than the breakdown of traditional German cultural values in the nihilistic chaos of the Weimar Republic during the 1920’s and 30’s and the Nazi “solution” to fear for our future.  Contemporary strife in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia demonstrate the destructive impact of cultural diversity.  When the 1950’s winds of change swept western colonial powers out of Africa and India, stable political order was replaced with savage tribal and religious butchery that killed hundreds of thousands.  Societies and their values are far more fragile than the distinguished special educational panel appear to recognize.

? Multicultural relativism has absolutely no sustainable claim to equal treatment with this nation’s western European cultural traditions.  Blacks who are descendents of slaves did not come to this country by choice.  But every other group, including West Indian blacks, have come here of their own free will, precisely to enjoy the benefits of our culture.  Only in a western democracy like the United States could the idea of cultural relativism even be discussed seriously without endangering the advocates’ lives.  Other cultures believe that their values have an exclusive claim to truth, and their rulers back that claim with brutal force.  Eastern Europe’s experiences under Soviet domination and recent suppression of students in China are examples.  Blacks within Nelson Mandela’s territory suspected of favoring the Inkatha’s political and social views have been burned to death with rubber necklaces or hacked to bits with machetes.

? Using public schools to teach the multicultural heritage of minority citizens will not achieve the implicit goal of minority self?respect.  Real self?respect is earned by individuals through personal effort and accomplishment.  Were it otherwise, the New York Jets would again be Super Bowl champions, using playbooks sprinkled with reminders of Joe Namath’s long?ago exploits.  Emphasizing ethnic conflicts without a thorough understanding of historical and cultural specifics of each society will simply embitter black and hispanic students.  Rather than giving them an educational framework for self-development to reap society’s economic fruits, the public schools will have taught them that the system has unfairly deprived them of their share of entitlements.

? The proposed program will not even be effective in teaching students about other cultures.  A few glancing references to aspects of other cultures that have influenced our traditions will produce about the same real level of comprehension as a grade school survey course on nuclear particle physics.  The culture of any one people, let alone all those affecting the United States, is a major specialty at the university level.  Taking bits and pieces of cultural references out of context, as a critique of our society, will be confusing and as little enlightening as 10?second political commercials.  In the 1960’s, under the sway of well?intentioned but disastrous “maximum feasible political participation” community action programs, Black Panthers combined elements of socialist philosophy with artifacts of West African culture.  One result was Huey Newton’s notorious paraphrase of Lenin that social justice emanates from a gun barrel.  Spike Lee’s movie, Do the Right Thing, reflects the dilemma of today’s students who will be taught that there may be no “right” or “wrong,” because different cultures give different answers to the same situation.  With the official sanction of the public school system, students will draw the appropriate conclusion that the only “wrong” is getting caught breaking the law.

? The proposed additions to the curriculum and manifold changes in existing courses will be very costly.  Our political system gives minorities the right to maintain their cultural traditions through private social and religious organizations, but not at public expense.  It is irresponsible, when students perform poorly in basic English, literature, mathematics, and the physical sciences, to divert scarce funds to new textbooks, videos, and other paraphernalia for a purpose so little relevant to their welfare.  And we know from sad experience that once we embark on this tangent expenditures will balloon every year far into the future.

? The sensible and responsible course is to revert to consideration of the 1987 report of the State Regents’ committee headed by Adelaide L. Sanford, a distinguished black educator.  That report, issued shortly after State Education Commissioner, Thomas Sobol, assumed his office, focused on aspects of black and hispanic culture that ill-prepare minority students for school and ways to make teaching more effective.  When the report was publicly attacked as racist by black and hispanic “leaders,” Commissioner Sobol immediately disowned it.

Four years later, after continuing deterioration of educational standards, we are offered the One Nation, Many Peoples: A Declaration of Cultural Interdependence report, a pandering to the political clout of minority politicians who are ignorant or uncaring of the real interests of their constituents.  This report is true racism in a virulent form.  It offers no real help to minority students.  It mires them further in the victim mentality that diverts them from the only effective path to a better life ? individual dedication to the hard work necessary to master the tools and rules of the game of our western civilization.  Our so?called educational and minority leaders should hang their heads in abject shame.

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