Monday, January 21, 2008

The perils of multiculturalism in schools

The National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth concluded that not even one study showed that culture-based education improved achievement in reading and writing. Some, in an article about this in the January 8th issue of Education Week, say the lack of evidence is due to the inherent difficulty of measuring when the student’s culture has been properly integrated and the limits of standardized tests. Only one study has ever shown math increases. It was performed on Yup’ik second graders in consultation with the tribal elders. But this study’s uncorroborated results are strange in light of the lack of evidence that language achievement is enhanced; you would think language would be more sensitive to culture-based education than math. Furthermore one would have to ask if isolated Alaskan communities have the same dynamics of urban youth. Even without any evidence, California and Florida mandate teachers training in multicultural understanding. One researcher said nonchalantly, “If . . . there’s no evidence it does harm, then let them do it.”

The problem is that cultural-based multicultural education is not only about achievement. It is political. Much of the reasoning (the word “research” does not apply) in this area goes as follows: The theorists note that there is an achievement gap. As groups, Asians and whites do better than Hispanics and blacks in all areas of academics. They then correctly note that this cannot be due to racial differences. The significant fraction of Hispanic and black students who do excel disproves that race is important. But whereas culturists would now suggest that culture is important, these researchers do not take culture seriously. Culturists note that some cultures do more homework and are more gung ho about education. Culture-based education proponents hold to the multicultural view that all cultures are to be celebrated and do not account for much more than food, fiestas and fashion. And once they exclude racial ability and cultural diversity as explanations, they assert that the achievement gap results from systematic institutional racism.

We then go off the deep end of education theory. We look for obvious signs of racism in the system and do not find them; laws specifically prohibit this. We then have to look for subtle racism to find the source of the achievement gap. Ultimately, these multicultural educators conclude, it is not individual acts, but the fact that the entire system uses “white” culture to teach that alienates the youth of color. For example, if “white” English is the standard by which proficiency is to be judged minority students are viewed as deficient. Their self-esteem goes down. This is the basis of “whiteness” studies. Being aware about how Standard English "privileges" "white culture" is said to be crucial to equalizing power relations. Books such as the widely popular, “the Skin That We Speak” do correct our tendency to only see non-standard cultural styles in terms of deficits. But the assumption that white culture equals racist oppression that social justice requires challenging, teaches a dangerous lesson.

If culture-based education is measured by its ability to help children learn, the evidence is inconclusive to negative. But when cultural-based education is promoted as a way to challenge "privilege" and bring "social justice" it becomes destructive. It teaches children that society is unfair. It undermines individual responsibility. When it teaches minority victimization it primes entire groups of people to be angry and that their cultural habits should have no impact. It calls failure noble as it is justifiable "resistance." It contributes to the commonly noted complaint from black students that doing homework is “acting white.” To the extent that it labels confrontation a cultural mode of expression it undermines addressing discipline problems for fear of being called racist. When it emphasizes Ebonics, culture-based education causes the school to fail to teach the skills needed to get ahead. Whether right or wrong, American – not to mention Chinese and European – businessmen do not respect reports written in Ebonics. It is certainly not the case that no negative consequences can come from culture-based education.

The worst result of multicultural, culture-based education is that when we teach all cultures are inherently equal – sans the oppressive “whiteness” – we cut youth off from inspiration. This multicultural notion fails to distinguish the unique moral contributions of the West. For studying the Aztecs to give you pride, you would have to embrace human sacrifice and endless war for victims. Contrary to popular belief,in terms of percent dead, the prior century was the most peaceful in the history of the world. We are the culture that came up with freedom of speech, separation of church and state, democracy, due process and the idea of fighting irrational discrimination. Non-Western nations do not embrace these concepts. Western culture has invented nearly every modern convenience the students enjoy. When we fail to teach the inspirational achievements of Western culture, contributing to society loses its nobility. No one wants to contribute to an oppressive racist white society. All of our students, regardless of background, should be proud to contribute, know they have a duty to contribute, to the Western project of rational self-governance.

Ultimately, however, student achievement is not the only issue at stake. If our students fail to achieve, our economy can flounder. If our schools fail to create a connection between our students, balkanization can emerge. Poverty, balkanization and a culture of blame are dangerous for society. No cultures are more concerned with fairness and equal opportunity than Western ones. If the West falls behind or falls completely, we may be forced to find out just how culturally barbaric and insensitive life can be in the school of hard knocks.

7 comments:

Lexcen said...

John, if I apply your ideas to the situation regarding Australian aborigines, then it seems to explain the dismal failure of all and every attempt to improve the lifestyle of aborigines who have been living in remote communities. At present, there is an emphasis on the importance of aboriginal culture that must be maintained while the reality is that a new culture has emerged within these remote communities of indolence,alcoholism, domestic violence and child abuse. The current culture I refer to is considered a "problem" rather than a culture whilst idealists and traditionalists within aboriginal communities talk about the nomadic culture and "dreamtime" traditions that no longer apply to aboriginals today. Those individuals that have embraced western values have indeed benefited from a western lifestyle while the majority (those who remain within the isolated communities) struggle to find a balance between their traditional culture and the western world.

Culturist John said...

Lexcen,

Good to hear from you. The same applies to some Native Americans here. They could identify with the U.S. and the large contribution they have made. But they have taken an adversarial position with the Western world which seeks to go back to a golden age. The golden age, as the anthropology chapter in culturism shows, wasn't that golden. I wish they'd take more pride in being the oldest Americans and American.

najistani said...

BLOG CENSORSHIP ALERT!

In order to preserve the crumbling credibility of THE BIG LIE , the British government, and probably other dhimmi governments, are working on ways to gag, censor and and shutdown the counter-Jihadist blogosphere.

There is currently a discusion of how to prepare for these attacks on freedom of expression at http://ibloga.blogspot.com/2008/01/najistani-on-why-britain-may-crack-down.html and http://commonsenseagainstislam.websanon.com/?p=113.

- Najistani

najistani said...

From http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7204635.stm

Three Little Pigs 'too offensive'
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News, education

A story based on the Three Little Pigs has been turned down from a government agency's annual awards because the subject matter could offend Muslims.

The digital book, re-telling the classic fairy tale, was rejected by judges who warned that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues".

The awards which rejected the book are run by Becta, the government's educational technology agency.

The judging panel also attacked the book's stereotyping of builders.

The book's creative director, Anne Curtis, said that the idea that including pigs in a story could be interpreted as racism was "like a slap in the face".

Anonymous said...

I’m not sure this tracks with your supposition, John . . . but it seems to me that while the study of math and science could be values-neutral, culture does have an impact in writing and literature. From my own experience, Black and Hispanic kids could care less about Gilgamesh, Shakespeare, Ivanhoe, El Cid, and Don Quixote, but they did respond to “Cholo Stories” and Maya Angelou. Time-period is more than likely a factor here — insofar as generating interest levels, but almost none of these same kids are interested in reading anything at all. Part of this is that their parents aren’t readers, and a sizeable percentage is that they simply cannot read at grade level. I think that culture is a factor — but no research group is willing to take on such a study because of the likely result, invariably one heavily influenced by race, ethnicity, and region. Learning deficiencies are probably similar among border-area Hispanic kids and their inner-city counterparts, as well as black kids from Harlem and Houston. Ergo, the expected result of such a study is a hot biscuit no one wants to touch. What say you?

Culturist John said...

Mustang,

Thanks for the post. I believe that you are quite correct. The achievement gap is often portrayed as having to do with race, but culture is the answer. Latino's background and attitude do not dispose them to study.

We aggravate the situation when we go values neutral. Our schools should teach people about the glories of the West and their involvement in it. When we prime people to not respect America's cutting edge role in the West, we undermine a source of enthusiasm. We also undermine our ability to justify discipline.

The irony is that schools in Mexico are very strict. When the kids come to America they are usually primed to obey. It does not take long for them to realize that status can be gained by mocking the system and nothing will be done about it.

Schools cannot be viewed as a hang-out place. As for teaching Cholo culture, it has not proven affective and, for reasons I won't repeat again, corrodes the authority and reason for school.

PS Cultural explanations of achievement put the onus on communities to prove themselves. This is good.

Anonymous said...

CULTURAL ENRICHMENT OR CHILD ABUSE?

Muslim fathers 'encourage' children to flagellate themselves with chains and knives.

An investigation by Cumbria Patriots

"It is illegal, yet the police are not keen to prosecute. (the report I have summarised below was from 2005)

In 2003 a routine doctor's appointment in north London a doctor asked 14-year-old to take off his shirt, he noticed something very worrying. Criss-crossed on the child's back were more than 50 lacerations. The doctor asked for an explanation and was told the boy "had inflicted the wounds himself during a religious ceremony; there was nothing to worry about. The doctor called in the child protection agency.

Through interviewing the family, a joint police and social services investigation team found that the child had made the lacerations by whipping himself with a zanjeer - a long chain with a set of curved knives attached at the end - as part of a flagellation ritual at the Idara-e-Jaaferiya mosque in Tooting, an area of Wandsworth, south London. The ritual, known as "zanjeer zani" or "zanjeer matam", was part of the Shia Muslim festival of Ashura, marked at the mosque every year."

Read the rest of the gory details of this sickening ritual at http://cumbrianpatriotbnp.blogspot.com/2008/01/scars-on-backs-of-young-children-as.html.