Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Should We Always Affirm Diversity?

Affirming Diversity, Sonia Nieto's 1992 celebration of multicultural education, has become an educational classic. Yet her bold prescription for public education is based on a false assumption. Namely, that cultural values are mutually inclusive and will support tolerance.

What, specifically, is Professor Nieto prescribing for our schools? She advocates "Affirming Diversity." What does that imply? She says it, "... implies that cultural, linguistic, and other differences can and should be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching."

But the values of other cultures are sometimes completely at odds with the very tolerance Nieto's prescription requires. Consider, for example, the dogmatism of the Wahhabi Islamic sect that dominates Saudi Arabia. These chaps divide the world into good guy true believers — those who subscribe to their version of the Sunni school of Islam — and bad guy unbelievers whose beliefs must be suppressed or, preferably, eliminated.

Think this is an exaggeration? Well the Saudi's themselves don't think so. In 2004 a Saudi royal study group found that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum "encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.' Embarrassed when in enlightened company, Saudi education authorities promised to extirpate this intolerant dogmatism from their curriculum. But when the Washington Post analyzed recent Saudi religion texts they found them to be as hate filled and intolerant as ever.

How is this pertinent to Professor Nieto's recommendation that we affirm diversity? Well let's imagine her teaching in Saudi Arabia. And lets further imagine that as she does so she not only accepts and respects other religious points of view, but makes them a basis for learning and teaching. What do you think her fate would be? But before you decide consider that in 2005, a Saudi teacher who merely suggested Jews and the New Testament could be viewed positively was fired, sentenced to 750 lashes and given a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned, but only following international protests.)

Since Professor Nieto doubled down on this Saudi teacher's minor league tolerance, it seems reasonable to conclude that she would suffer a far worse fate. Would she still "affirm diversity" when her own neck was on the chopping block?


Then there is the little matter of cultures defining themselves in part by their hatred for and aggression against others. Shall we affirm a culture that hates homosexuals and sometimes puts them to death? How about cultures that condone selling one's daughters into prostitution, throwing battery acid in the face of girls who want to go to school, sexually mutilating baby girls with dirty razor blades, cutting girls out of wills and otherwise inflicting them with second rate legal standing? Then there is the Iranian couple caught in unapproved copulation. They were sentenced to death, buried to their necks and stoned to death by eager participants. Shall we affirm that sort of diversity?


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