by Christopher Paslay
Last spring, as part of my master’s degree in education at Eastern University, I took a course called Multicultural Education. I enrolled because I wanted to learn new methodologies that would broaden my teaching repertoire and help me better educate students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. Granted, I grew up in Philadelphia (and still currently live in the city), but I hoped a course on diversity would fill in some of the gaps.
In particular, I hoped to learn about the various learning styles of different cultures—which groups prefer cooperative over independent work; which groups are kinesthetic learners as opposed to auditory learners; etc. I also wanted a crash course on world culture, and some supplementary materials I could use to help diversify my lesson plans.
Surprisingly, I received almost none of this. What I did get was politics—one-sided, left-leaning ideologies that had little to do with education or teaching strategies.
Here was the required reading for the course:
1. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum. The underlying premise of this book is that all whites in America have a “privilege” that is systematically denied all blacks. In addition, the text talks about “Institutional Racism,” and how ALL whites are guilty of this simply because they exist inside a “privileged” society. The book also lobbies for Affirmative Action, and suggests that anyone who opposes it is a racist by default.
2. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki. This book was quite interesting, but was also quite selective. The author chooses only to include information that exposes America’s sinful past—all the ways society and government mistreated immigrants and people of color.
3. We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multicultural Schools by Gary R. Howard. This book is all about “Western White Dominance” and how to put an end to it through education. It suggests, among other things, that the racial achievement gap in America is the fault of white teachers who don’t embrace or strive to understand their students of color.
4. Cultural Diversity and Education: Foundations, Curriculum, and Teaching by James A. Banks. This book is the most objective of the four. It gives a history of multicultural education and thoroughly explains the movement’s principles, ideologies and foundations.
Needless to say, I was taken aback when I began the reading. What disappointed me wasn’t that the course was dripping in politics and had little to do with practical, hands-on teaching strategies or methodologies. The frustrating part was that the course was so one-sided.
Once during class, after watching the PBS documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion, I questioned the idea that the G.I. Bill was the primary reason why so many of America’s big cities are filled with poor blacks. I admitted that the G.I. Bill was part of the problem, but tried to explore other causes in an effort to find a solution.
“What percentage of the problem has to do with personal responsibility?” I asked the professor, who was an African American woman. “I agree that the G.I. Bill had an impact, but what about trying to find solutions from within the community? What percentage of urban blight is brought on by bad personal decisions?”
The professor looked at me like I had five heads. “What are you saying, Chris?”
I repeated my question in a very respectful manner, and explained that I was simply trying to look at all sides of the issue and think outside the box.
“We’re not going to talk about that, Chris,” she said with a tone. “We’re focusing on the G.I. Bill.” And that was it. End of conversation. She moved to the next topic, never bothering to answer my question.
Unfortunately, my experience at Eastern is not an isolated case. After talking to fellow educators and graduate students—and after researching reading lists at other universities—I’ve come to realize that multicultural education courses are often more about politics than education. There is real indoctrination going on in America’s colleges—professors are forcing their personal politics on their students (while holding them hostage with their grade) and pawning it off as free thought.
Tragically, this indoctrination disguised as “free thinking” is starting to trickle down into America’s K to 12 public school system. Recently I read an article in Teacher Magazine headlined Miss. Making Civil Rights Part of K-12 Instruction that I found rather curious.
So far, four school systems have asked to be part of a pilot effort to test the curriculum in high schools, the article explained. In September, the Mississippi Department of Education will name the systems that have been approved for the pilot. By the 2010-2011 school year, the program should be in place at all grade levels as part of social studies courses.
Advocacy groups such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Washington-based Teaching for Change are preparing to train Mississippi teachers to tell the “untold story” of the civil rights struggle to the nearly half million students in the state’s public schools.
I took a closer look at Mississippi’s effort to teach its public school children the “untold story” of the civil rights struggle and found something very interesting. The Washington-based Teaching for Change, one of the advocacy groups that will be training Mississippi public school teachers, is a lot like the multicultural education course I took at Eastern University. On the surface, the group claims to provide “teachers and parents with the tools to transform schools into centers of justice where students learn to read, write and change the world.”
But upon further inspection of their website, I found Teaching for Change promotes a very controversial individual named William Ayers. It’s ironic that an organization dedicated to training educators how to denounce the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church promotes the work of a domestic terrorist who bombed New York City’s Police Headquarters in 1970, the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972. It’s true. Go check their website. What kind of “untold story” will Teaching for Change train Mississippi educators to tell our children?
Teaching for Change also endorses Ronald Takaki, author of the glass-is-half-empty, victim-centered multicultural historical text A Different Mirror, which I came in contact with during my class at Eastern and summarized above.
As free-thinking Americans, we must scrutinize the curriculum being taught to our children. We must strive to analyze all sides of an issue, and make sure our education system is truly a platform for free discussion.
We must also be aware of trendy buzz words such as “change” and “social justice”. Sometimes “social justice” isn’t justice at all, and sometimes “change” isn’t about equal rights but rather a shift in power, where the victim becomes the perpetrator and vise-versa.