18 Dec The Right to Exist is Fundamental
Multicultural Dimension of American Society
In signing into law legislation regarding the teaching of American history, the state of Florida inadvertently (or perhaps purposefully) mandated a focus on political history rooted in an ideology that views history as factual and not socially constructed.
The result was a law that “obscures the true diversity of American history and prevents young citizens from understanding the multicultural dimension of their nation’s past (Kornblith & Lasser, p. 12).”
The Right to Exist is Fundamental
Understanding the multicultural dimension of American society is one of the most important issue facing educators in the twenty-first century, particularly since America is becoming more diverse, not less.
In its most basic form, Manifest Destiny is the belief that one group has been ordained as superior to all others in every aspect of life. Manifest destiny is the original model of exclusion that evolved into institutionalized domination and systemic racism in America (Feagin, 2006). Post-Revolutionary leaders rejected the idea of a multicultural society, advocating instead the creation of a single, unified American culture based on Anglo-American male ideology, principles, and values.
In doing so these leaders were also rejecting the idea that every human being has the fundamental right to exist in the skin in which they were born and in the country in which they were born. The very idea of not recognizing this fundamental right to exist is personally and intellectually insulting.
Noah Webster led efforts to create a dominant Anglo-American culture through education.
Webster believed creating a single, unified culture would require loyal citizens and patriotism, which he believed could be achieved through common education. Webster produced textbooks that focused on (1) teaching reading and writing, (2) producing good, patriotic citizens, and (3) creating a unified national spirit. Webster states, “Good republicans…are formed by a singular machinery in the body politic, which takes the child as soon as he can speak, checks his natural independence and passions, makes him subordinate to superior age, to the laws of the state, to town and parochial institutions (Spring, p. 52).”
Eventually the belief that institutional structures could perfect the good citizen and create the good society began to emerge.
Leaders envisioned children being educated in a single common school, providing the tools to function in social role while the institutional environment taught children how to use the tools morally. Against the backdrop of the desire for a single, unified Anglo-American culture was a major crisis—the presence of a diverse population: European Americans (Anglos-Saxons, French, German, and Dutch), Native Americans, and African Americans. Ultimately, lofty moral goals intersected racial, cultural, and religious reality; and conflict is the outcome.
Education Is a Vehicle to Understand Diversity Not Eliminate It
As time progresses the notion of single, dominant culture is challenged by many as American society becomes more and more diverse. Today, education is now being used as a vehicle to understand diversity rather than eliminate it.
12 Major Findings
One such example is the work conducted by an interdisciplinary panel of scholars to determine what is known from research and experience about education and diversity. Twelve major findings (defined as essential principles) were categorized into four major themes: teacher learning; student learning; intergroup relations, school governance, organization, and equity; and, assessment. In 2001 an executive summary of the work, Diversity within Unity: Essential Principles for Teaching and Learning in a Multicultural Society, was published by the Center for Multicultural Education, College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle. The panel describes multicultural education in this way:
Multicultural education is an idea, an educational reform movement, and a process.
As an idea, multicultural education seeks to create equitable educational opportunities for all students, including those from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Multicultural education creates equitable educational opportunities for all students by changing the total school environment so that it will reflect the diverse cultures and groups within society and within the nation’s classrooms. Multicultural education is a process because its goals are ideals that teachers and administrators should constantly strive to achieve. It’s the journey towards diversity within unity rather than a single culture that compromises the fundamental right to exist.
“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power—not because they don’t see it, but because they do see it and they don’t want it to exist.”—bell hooks
Banks, J. A., Cookson, P., Gay, G., Hawley, W.D., Irvine, J.J., Nieto, S., & et al. (2001). Diversity Within unity: Essential Principles for Teaching and Learning in a Multicultural Society.
Kornblith, G.J, & Lasser, C. (2007). “More Than Great White Men: A Century of Scholarship on American Social History”. Magazine of History, 21(2), 8–13. Retrieved January 17, 2011, from ProQuest Education Journals. (Document ID: 1247230191).
Spring, J. (2008). The American School: From the Puritans to No Child Left Behind.
Feagin, J. (2006). Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression.