Friday, December 19, 2008

How Multi-Cultural a Teacher Are You Prepared to Be?

Immigrant children are flooding into our schools in record numbers. And since they herald from every niche and cranny of the globe, they bring with them a bewildering, and often conflicting, variety of cultural beliefs and practices.

Teachers are heavily impacted by this development. The world’s first world culture is struggling to life in their classrooms; and this generates many new and very difficult problems.

What help do besieged front-line teachers get in the face of this assault? Chiefly warm, fuzzy slogans issued by pedagogical staff officers safe in the rear. While those in the trenches agonize over extremely challenging questions, these rear echelon commandos crank out simple-minded slogans in which schools become rainbows where “You can be you and I can be me.” Would that it were that simple.

Why can’t our public schools become one big happy family where everyone just gets along? Because the various cultural values and behaviors brought into the schoolhouse often are at odds with one another. And because these same values and behaviors can also be incompatible with core American values — such as the very tolerance that makes multiculturalism possible in the first place.

Consider, for example, that some cultures define themselves in terms of their animosity for other cultures — Afghanistan's Hazzara and Pashtun come to mind. School children from such antagonistic cultures sometimes refuse to even sit together, much less work together. Then what should an educator do?

It’s pretty clear that even the most ardent multi-culturalists don’t want the teacher to deal with problems such as this by saying, “See how these kids hate one another? They’re expressing their respective cultures. Isn’t that great!” And what’s equally clear is that many advocates of multicultural education haven’t even thought about difficulties such as this. In fact, they haven’t thought about the whole multicultural thing very much at all. For them it is not a topic for thinking, but emoting.

Certainly aspects of an immigrant child’s native culture can be valuable for America as a nation. Nevertheless, many cultural practices must be regarded as anathema to a tolerant, democratic way of life. If, for example, we value free and unfettered expression or think that women’s rights should equal those of men, the native culture of many children stands in opposition.

Besides, many children do not want to be defined by their parent’s cultural practices and affiliations. In fact, many long to escape those confines and join mainstream America. Should educators nevertheless join forces with their parents to keep these kids in the old-world fold? For instance, suppose a 17 or 18 year-old young lady confides to her teacher that she is going to run away with the American boyfriend she loves, rather than fly home to, let’s say India, and enter into an arranged marriage with a middle aged man her parents picked for her. Should the teacher tell her parents?

The hard core reality in all this is that multicultural education is more problematic than it’s evangelicals would have us believe. Any careful consideration of multi-culturalism in light of how different cultures really are turns simple-minded tolerance into worried reflection.

To examine these and similar issues further, see articles at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am glad that the U.S., which some great U.S. converters miscall America, is not the only melting pot in this very earth. Is the Vietnamese culture antagonistic by nature? Do they disfavor the art of thinking and like bathing in the sea of emotions and feelings? Well, few true replies may be found merely by observing how immigrant children behave in Americanized classrooms. Many U.S. educators still cannot tell a Chinese year and a Vietnamese year, nor do they know which one, Confucius or Lao tzu, has more influence on the Viets. Most Vietnamese American students bring their personal stories about the Vietnam War (the American War, or the Ideology War) into their classrooms and were discouraged to ask who caused that brutal war. They do not learn how to think about the War; they were invited to share about the war experiences that many of them just heard from their elders. They were too exhausted to interpret the war and they did not care how their US teachers interpret it. They know they should not love war while some great US thinkers invest their friendly minds in how to make a worse war. The Viets and other ethnic groups within the land of Vietnam have been embracing peace as a very humane value for centuries. Fighting against foreign hostile bulls, Chinese bullies or cold-headed imperialists, did not make any Viets more enlightened. But some Viets who learned to think like "Westerners" or Khan-ers succeeded to introduce the idea of wargame into the mind of many Viets. I do not know when some Viets think they cannot sit or work together. But I am pretty sure that the idea was quite modern and subjective. What if Americanized educators look at the Viet-My students through the lens of the Ideology War? Would they be able to tell anything at all about the Vietnamese values and culture that true Viets agree with? What if Viets argue that the existentialist thoughts did not start with the most French, but with Viet thinkers? Though the Viets did not have many choices when the non-Viets wage dirty wars against the peace-loving Viet people, all losers had some time to rethink about the power of one consolidating people. If the Vietnam War was not driven by the Communist-Capitalist ideological conflict or the US Domino genius, there would not have Vietnamese American immigrants. One beauty of the U.S. educational system I think is that it has an enormously great potential to Americanize its immigrant students. In contrast, the Vietnamese educational schools tend to grow more global Viet thinkers, not Vietnamizers...