The issue of multiculturalism is fiercely debated in American politics. Conservatives tend to be against multiculturalism being taught to young children in elementary and middle school, while Liberals tend to support it. In order to fully understand the issues at hand we must first be sure of what we mean when we talk about multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism is generally thought of as the teaching that no culture is inherently superior to another. It is meant to teach tolerance and understanding of people who share different views, and participate in different traditions, whether cultural or religious. This is generally done in school in many ways:
The first way a school can teach multiculturalism is through designated "culture days". These are days that focus on teaching and celebrating different cultures. Some schools do this through multiple days(or weeks) dedicated to specific cultures. MLK Jr. Day can fit into a "culture day" because it focuses on the acceptance of others, especially African-Americans who fit into a different racial and generally into a different cultural group(there is a "black culture") than the majority. There are also events that broaden the topic of multiculturalism. Most schools have a "multiculturalism week" or "diversity week" where class time is spent on learning and celebrating a multitude of different cultures. This way is usually done once a year on designated holidays.
The second way a school can teach multiculturalism is more subtle. This is done through teachers assigning reading materials written by people of different cultures and having students discuss and write about them. It also discusses other points of view of major events in class without actually changing curriculum. An examples of this would be reading about the Native American perspective of Thanksgiving. The goal of this is to get students to put themselves in the shoes of people who are not necessarily similar to themselves, and hopefully increase tolerance and understanding for these people.
A third way, and the final one I am going to write about, is changing daily curriculum for a student to incorporate culture learning. This is something I have actual firsthand experience with. In 1st grade, our curriculum consisted of about a month of learning about Mexico. An hour or two a day was given to us to learn some Spanish, do projects on Mexican culture, and read Mexican folk stories. The Three Javelinas was an example of a folk story we learned, which is a Mexican version of The Three Pigs. In 2nd grade we had the same thing, except we learned about Swahili culture, and learned some of the Swahili language. This way is more overt, by actually telling children that they should accept these cultures and that they are great and worth celebrating.
Now what are the arguments for and against this type of learning?
Pros for multicultural learning
A main argument for multicultural learning is that it teaches tolerance of other cultures. It is meant to relieve racial tensions, especially in a country like the USA where there are a whole lot of cultures living in close proximity. It is meant to "transform" children into tolerant, accepting, human beings. They say that because every day is "white history day", that Africans, Latinos, Asians, Arabs, Native Americans, and Indians should get their own days of learning. They argue that whites have persecuted and oppressed many of these cultures in the past, so history tends to have a bias against them, and they are often overlooked in normal history classes.
Another argument is that simply learning other cultures is good for expanding a child's mind. People say Gandhi, Buddha, Confucius, and Crazy Horse have a whole lot of wisdom that can be given to children and young adults. These sorts of people also say learning about "white" heroes like Jesus Christ and Christopher Columbus are taught as normal history so no special time is needed for them, and that people like Christopher Columbus were also incredibly racist and oppressive to other cultures that they encountered.
Cons for multicultural learning
Some groups, however, are not completely on board the multiculturalism train of thought. These groups tend to think that the way multiculturalism is taught in schools tends to elevate other cultures above white culture. They say that schools put too much emphasis on white persecution of others in the past, and that teaches intolerance and animosity towards whites. It also teaches a culture of self hatred and what they feel is undeserved guilt among white people. They claim that this sort of teaching only deepens the racial and cultural divide, and encourages violence against whites. A quote from Bennett, "to dwell on cultural differences is to foster negative prejudices and stereotypes, and that is human nature to view those who are different as inferior". They often try advocate teaching similarities between cultures, instead of differences. The slogan is "We are more alike than different".
Opponents to multiculturalism also say that it is taught instead of subjects that need to be taught to children. They claim that while Americans becomes worse and worse at math, reading, and science, that less time is allotted to teaching these subjects in favor of multiculturalism. Some feel it is a complete waste of time and is detrimental to the student, because less time is focused on necessary skills.
So multiculturalism is far from a simple issue. In fact, it tends to be an issue few are on the fence about. It seems that everyone has a strong opinion on it. There are groups of people who feel that is is necessary to foster cooperation and tolerance among different cultures, while some believe that it further divides cultures.
So what are you opinions on this lovely issue that seems to divide more and more people each day?
References I used & stuff:
http://www.intime.uni.edu/multicultu.../approachs.htm Four Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum Reform
http://www.edchange.org/multicultura...th.html#whatis Multicultural Education