“The real death of America will come when everyone is alike.” –Ralf Ellison
As a matter of principle, I think that cultural differences should definitely be recognized and taken into account in schools. There is this concept of using schools and other institutions to turn people into “good Americans.” It is a cookie-cutter formula of the past, and educators of today and tomorrow must abandon this idea. Not only does it conflict with the founding of our nation, but it also denies basic human rights.
To talk about this, first we must define culture. The article we read for class, Culture Clash, made some very good points about culture and how it relates to people. Viadero writes, “Culture is the lens through which everyone sees the world.” (1997, para 56). Not only do we need to recognize cultural differences, we need to embrace them.
Our nation is founded on this very idea. We are a country of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom to pursue happiness. We also acknowledge the basic rights of humankind. In the Bill of Rights, Americans assert that the government may not deprive any person of life. One could argue that suppressing a person’s culture and forcing another culture on them is depriving them of life.
Why is it, then, that schools are passing “English only” laws? Why do we ignore obvious differences between ethnic and cultural groups, and instead insist on educating people the “white way?” Why are educators forcing people into cookie-cutter molds of the past?
The idea that schools should turn students into “good Americans” is one of the past. And yet it continues to show up in educational systems all across America. A “good American” is someone who goes to school, is respectful, learns the things the teachers/state determine is important, attend college, and get a middle/upper-middle class job, and live happily ever after. Many people call this the “American Dream,” which basically consists of getting married, having two kids (a boy and a girl), a yard, a dog, two+ cars, a fairly high-paying job, and a white picket fence. It is very materialistic and monetary-driven.
Instead, educators should embrace the cultural (and other) differences their students bring to the classroom. Our system of education has to adapt to the way the world is changing. Globalization affects everyone. Society is diverse. We are no longer a Caucasian society with a few minorities. People of differing ethnicities, religions, cultures, and races are coming together and living in a nation as one people. Our school systems should recognize this and implement reality into the education systems. We need to change the way we educate students, and we also need to change the way we educate our teachers. As Viadero asserts, we need to teach teachers how to learn about their students. (1997, para 42). More harm is certainly done by ignorance. (Viadero, 1997, para 40).
Teachers need to be trained to incorporate multicultural education into their curriculum. This is a multi-step process. Some ideas/steps include using a variety of strategies that “actively and regularly involve parents, including provisions for languages other than English,” make sure to “actively incorporating students’ life experiences and interests and tailor curriculum to meet the cultural, developments, and individual needs of the children,’ and training that “challenges students to uncover, face, and change their own biases, discomforts, and misinformation and identify and alter educational practices that collude with racism and other institutionalized discrimination and prejudice.” (Lee, Enid, Menkart, Deborah, Okazawa-Rey, Margo, 1998, p. 3-4). This is the type of educational reform America needs. Culture is not something that can be ignored, even if the classroom does not seem to be culturally diverse.
This is because even people of the same racial background have different cultures. For instance, my cultural identity is very different from a male, white, upper-middle class student who sits in front of me in class. We disagree on many things, especially relating to education and multicultural education/making people into “good Americans.” In fact, one day after our class discussion about cultural differences and multicultural education, I wrote a poem in response to some of the things that were said.
Poem to the Boy in my Cultural Diversity Class
Your ignorance is not my bliss
nor is it your bliss, though you think so
"As long as it's not harming me"
those words slash me
they are daggers from your upper middle-class white male mouth
in college, people are supposed to be open-minded
we are the new generation,
ushering in tolerance
You open your mouth, and we're back in the '50's
I am boiling and bleeding
and can do nothing but talk of human dignity
the basic rights of mankind
and wonder aloud
if you'd say the same thing if you were in different shoes
But my anger falls on deaf ears
which were lucky enough to be born white, and well-off.
The education system needs to be reformed to meet the true needs of the students and the society. This cookie-cutter approach can no longer be accepted. What works for Sue may not work for Joe. As educators, it is our job to educate all people, and that includes different cultures. Education is a huge form of validation for children. If a students’ own culture is ignored or deemed “less important,” what are we telling them about their identity? We must strive to implement the necessary changes to build a better society, educate people of all backgrounds and cultures, and affirm the basic rights of humankind.
Lee, Enid, Menkart, Deborah, Okazawa-Rey, Margo (eds.), 1988. “Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Peractical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development”. Washington D.C.: Network of Educators on the Americas, p. 4.
Viadero. 1977. “Culture Clash.”