WASHINGTON - The public schools, colleges and universities of this nation are revising their student activities, publications, assembly programs and scholastic curricula again, this year. This time the theme is Multiculturalism and it has gained wide spread prominence. However, conservative teachers, professors, and community members say it is a plague that will destroy knowledge based instruction and standards.
Professor, Edwin J. Delattre, of Boston University says the
trend toward multiculturalism is "... disgraceful."
"A good deal of what passes under the name of multiculturalism is intellectually dishonest - it has a political agenda, not an academic one," he told reporters, this week. "People will get on a bandwagon when a word seems to have positive connotations."
Dr. Delattre also said campus programming designed to celebrate
diversity betrays the true purpose of education. "It supposes that encouragement of the cheerleading sort is a substitute for intellectual seriousness," he said.
"That's how propaganda and demagoguery work. That's not what
education is about. In order to find out about your cultural heritage, you have to study very hard. It's as though you could get a quick fix on cultural heritage, and you can't."
Most critics of multiculturalism say it forces students
to suspend their ability to make qualified judgements. Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, says he does not
believe all life styles are "... morally equivalent."
"It would be one thing if people were teaching them how to be critical, but the message seems to be, `Don't judge.' Or when somebody has judged wrong, to teach them how to judge right ... these poor benighted, intellectually deprived people, filled with narrow views, have to be introduced to a higher consciousness. It's more of what one would expect from a religious sect..." not from the public schools, college, or university environment.
Glenn C. Loury, professor of political economy at Harvard
University, also doubted the honesty of multiculturalism and dais he is "... very skeptical because it creates an environment quite
different from that of the real world."
The underlying premise is that the schools and colleges are white, elite, dominant culture institutions "... that are hostile or oblivious of the needs of the various diverse students, and that the problem is one of changing the attitudes of the majority so that they are tolerant," says Dr. Loury.
Dr Loury was at the center of controversy recently because as a black professor he is critical of so called affirmative action programs in public education. "... my sense is that [multiculturalism] has become disproportionate. To a certain extent, I don't think it serves minority students well."
"In multicultural programs," says professor Chester E. Finn,
Jr., at Vanderbilt University, "... people fundamentally identify with their subgroup, are steeped in consciousness of the group, and are told implicitly that their group is superior because they have been a victim of other groups."
"That's ... a recipe for discord," says Dr. Finn. "It's somewhere between a crime and a catastrophe." In a June Op_Ed Column for the Chronicle of Higher Education Dr. Finn wrote, "... White student unions lately have sprung up in half a dozen universities. Men's studies programs
are spreading, too, as this new field gains academic legitimacy and adherents. On two Massachusetts campuses, students held straight pride rallies this Spring ... Many institutions of higher education
already boast departments of Women's studies, Chicano studies, Native-American studies, Afro-American studies, and sometimes gay studies, not to mention clubs and associations for every imaginable racial, ethnic, cultural, and political subgroup or sexual preference."
These are the ties that blind. They are lines that divide the "pluribus" from the "unum" in American society. The question is whether
public schools and higher educational institutions should be helping to dig deeper trenches in the American landscape.
For the past quarter-century, there has been a virtual tidal wave of correction to the tendency to see boyhood as emblematic of childhood.
Bolstered by widely held feminist assumptions, an altogether revised popular view of sex and sex roles has come to prominence in the public schools from nursery to graduate schools of education.
Public education has become a battleground where, if ideological vigilance is relaxed, the little boys will establish a violent regime in which the privileges and prizes will be hoarded by the them at the expense of the little girls.
Some of the honest confusion visited on child rearing and schooling over the past three decades is the result of an ill-considered tendency to impose valid concerns about sexual inequity in various arenas of adult life, especially the workplace, onto the public school curricula and the developing children.
This is in large measure, the product of the mind of New York pediatrician Benjamin Spock. His influence on the child-rearing patterns of middle-class American parents and in American public schools in the past four decades is unquestioned. Spock's ideas, however, were a product of his preoccupation with Freud's psychoanalytic writings. Spock was not a trained psychologist and had no clinical training in psychiatry. Yet, he managed, without invoking Freud's name and without raising questions of his own competence, Spock began to impose his own ideas about the nature and meaning of childhood and learning derived from reading secondary summaries of Freud's writing on religion and morality.
As a result, American childhood, early childhood education, and the public schools and colleges began to be slowly deconstructed along the lines of Spock's public discourse on pseudo Freudian childhood learning and development theory. The result has been the creation of a hostile learning environment in public schools and colleges. It is so intense, that even in the Primary Grades, it has become increasingly difficult for the American boy to find himself in storybooks, or on the playground.
It is not an overstatement to suggest that the contemporary American public classroom is promoting a childhood curricula which has been clouded by a political agenda. The undisputedly right assumption of the equal worth of every child has been mistranslated as a mandate for treating boys and girls the same.
By contrast, the work of professor Erik Erikson deserves to be emphasized in public schools and in schools of education. His work stands out as a guide through the wilderness of today's public school sensitivities.
Unlike, Spock, Erickson's normative observations of childhood were derived from clinical studies in childhood psychiatry and were focused primarily on boys. He uses the metaphoer of the difficulties of cultural assimilation by South Dakota Indian children as he points out the disjunction between a pattern of nurturance by their families that once prepared young buffalo hunters and the statutory mandate to enroll South Dakota children in American public schools.
[Editor's Note: Howard Hobbs is the chief economist at the Washington D.C. based, Economics Institute.]