Joey Vento, Multicultural Ideology, and the ‘Speak English’ Sign

by Christopher Paslay

(In memory of the recent passing of Joey Vento, I am re-posting this article which originally appeared on Chalk & Talk on 2/14/09.)

“This is America.  When ordering, please speak English.”

By now we know the story.  Joey Vento, owner of the famous Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia, placed a small sign in the window of his restaurant asking customers to order in English.  Although the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations filed a discrimination complaint against Geno’s (which the commission eventually lost), Vento said the sign was never meant to be offensive.

“This country is a melting pot, but what makes it work is the English language,” Vento told members of the commission.

How we react to this “speak English” sign says a lot about who we are and what we believe in.  Those who find it offensive are probably cultural pluralists.  Those who agree with its message are most likely assimilationists.

If you’re not familiar with these concepts, allow me to elaborate on their meanings.

According to James A. Banks, author of Cultural Diversity and Education, “It is extremely important, argues the pluralist, for individuals to develop a commitment to their culture and ethnic group, especially if that group is oppressed by more powerful groups within society. . . . each member of a culture or ethnic group has a moral obligation to join the liberation struggle.”

In other words, cultural pluralists believe you should not only be permitted to speak in your native tongue, but you should do it with pride, and resist anyone or anything that tells you otherwise.

On the other hand, according to Banks, assimilationists believe the following: “. . . strong ethnic attachments are dysfunctional in a modernized civic community.  The assimilationist sees integration as a societal goal in a modernized state, not ethnic segregation or separation.  The assimilationist thinks that the best way to promote the goals of society and to develop commitments to democratic ideals is to promote the full socialization of all individuals and groups into the shared national civic culture.”

In other words, This is America.  When ordering, speak English. 

Today, the debate between cultural pluralism and assimilation isn’t limited to chessesteak shops in South Philly.  America’s schools are jumping into the fray as well.  Educational policy makers and those interested in school reform are battling over ideas and curriculum in regards to multicultural education.  And like the heated debate over Vento’s sign, each camp has a set agenda and interprets research very differently.

When it comes to education, the pluralist believes that the cultures of ethnic groups are not deviant or deficient in any way, but are well ordered and highly structured—although different from the dominant culture.   To quote Banks, pluralists believe “curriculum should be revised to reflect the cognitive styles, cultural history, and experiences of cultural groups, especially students of color.”

Educational assimilationists believe that learning characteristics are universal across cultures, and that the socialization practices of the dominant culture enhances learning, while the socialization styles of ethnic groups hold their members back from succeeding in school.  “Emphasis should be on the shared culture within the nation-state because all citizens must learn to participate in a civic culture that requires universal skills and competencies,” Banks writes of the beliefs of assimilationists.

Both the cultural pluralist and assimilationist concepts have their drawbacks.  The pluralist theory is lacking because it often fails to prepare students to cope adequately with the real world beyond their ethnic or cultural community.  And because learning characteristics are not always universalistic, but to some extent, cultural-specific, the assimilationist theory is not completely foolproof.

The answer to curriculum reform is what Banks calls Multicultural Ideology.  Banks states, “. . . educational policy can best be guided by an eclectic ideology that reflects both the cultural pluralist position and the assimilation position, but avoids their extremes.”

In other words, we need educational policies that promote social cohesion and a minimum of mainstream socialization, but at the same time, take into consideration a student’s learning style based on his or her culture or ethnic background.

Advocacy group that promotes terrorist William Ayers will train Miss. school teachers on Civil Rights Movement

 

 

 

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.