As Mitchell points out however, this criterion can overlook the major differences between the cultures that form the Hispanic group, and the multicultural curriculum should ensure the recognition of these basic differences. (Mitchell, 102)
However, this emphasis on difference that is characteristic of the contemporary ethnic studies is not to be taken as a form of absolute belonging or encapsulation of an individual in a certain culture. Multicultural education aims at teaching the differences between cultures and at equipping the individual with the necessary skills for the culturally plural environment. This means that the student learns to understand his own culture and the other cultures, but at the same time to detach himself from the unique identification with a nation or an ethnic identity:
Individuals are capable of having multiple identifications and attachments, including attachments to their cultural community, their nation, and to 'the worldwide community of human beings' (Nussbaum, 2002, p. 4). Gutmann (2002) contends, however, that democratic education should help students to develop their primary moral allegiance to justice -- not to any human community. She writes, 'Doing what is right cannot be reduced to loyalty to, or identification with, any existing group of human beings.'"("Diversity and Citizenship," 6)
The detachment from national identity means actually the implication in the overall, global context. As James Banks remarks, this is can help reduce the risk of terrorism and other such actions that are associated with strong religious or ethnic identification with a certain group.
In the United States, the ethnic minority groups such as the Afro-Americans, the Hispanics and the Native Americans have suffered from discrimination for a long time, in spite of the fact that they are a living part of the history. The Afro-Americans for example are present in the American history since the time of Columbus, through Diego el Negro who sailed with Columbus on his voyage to the continent (Mitchell, 4) Besides the well-known historical discrimination against these groups, many of the cultural critics comment on the poor conditions of life in which they live at present as well. As Andreas Torres shows, the Latinos and African-Americans in New York are still part of the proletariat class in their majority. This proves that the integration of these groups in society has failed to a great extent. The language barriers and the cultural ones are the most probable reason for the conditions in which the minority groups are likely to live in the United States:
To a degree that cannot fail to startle anyone who encounters the reality for the first time, the overwhelming portion of both groups constitutes a submerged, exploited, and very possibly permanent proletariat. The marked debility of their position relative to the citywide standard is clearly reflected in several indicators. Patterns of labor force participation, unemployment rates, and median family incomes indicate that the gaps between native minorities and whites have persisted for decades."(Torres, 61)
The problems that the minorities face on the territory of the United States are related, if not to discrimination, to the lack of cultural dialogue. This is why the proposition for a multicultural education that would prepare the individual beforehand for the multiethnic context is imperative. James Banks shows that the main teaching strategies that could help integrating the cultural backgrounds in the academic curriculum are crucial to the modern democratic society. As he points out, the multicultural education is an education for freedom, that is, an education that promotes the construction of democracy. The skills and strategies that can ensure optimal cultural dialogue are multiple.
Thus, in the second chapter of Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies, Banks describes the way in which the formulation of precise concepts can be extremely useful in articulating and understanding cultural facts and phenomena. His recommendation is for example that a comparative ethnic studies class should require the students to analyze some of the attributes of one or another ethnic group that lives on the territory of a certain nation, such as Filipino Americans, British Pakistanis and so on. The criteria for analysis should be...
(Banks, 89) This will allow a more effective understanding of the way in which the cultures interact in binary formulas on the territory of different states, and thus show the pattern of influences that one civilization is likely to have on another.
Therefore, multiculturalism should be analyzed according to the significance of the pattern of influences as well. Conceptualizing is crucial for the understanding of the meaning of these cultural facts. Instead of working with fuzzy notions, the true understanding of cultural diversity presupposes a careful analysis of the abstract concepts as well. The importance of the school curriculum is therefore very great, as it can help achieve the great step to a democratic and balanced society:
School curriculum helps place children in one world or another, normalizing them in its vocabulary and skills, its relations of power and production, and its us/them calculation. It includes the intentional nurturing of subjects who feel and express allegiance to one imagined community or another -- solidarity with one's "own" ethnic group or race, city or nation-state, the human family, or some combination of these. Meanwhile, the struggle for civic equality, freedom, toleration, and recognition is primarily (though certainly not solely) a local (national and subnational) affair. Its activity nexus generally is confined to nation-states where the politics of law making, law changing, and law enforcement reside."("Diversity and Citizenship," 455)
Multicultural education is considered by many as a superfluous practice that only cumbers the general curriculum in school. However, it should be noted that the curriculum in itself is, as Walter Parker emphasized a social practice that helps embed the children in the world. Therefore, the children should not be embedded and prepared only academically for their professions, but should also be competent citizens, that can manage very well in a plural context:
Curriculum work is a unique social practice. It is thoroughly embedded in the world, and it is highly practical work. Its primary activity is decision making, and these decisions are needed in relation to actual problems involving teaching and learning. Probably no one reading this book believes today that the school curriculum routinely lifts children out of the world, liberating them from it. Rather, it fixes them in it and its relations of power, production, culture, and regard. It places a few students in express elevators that take them to the upper rungs of occupational hierarchies and sends others to the shop floor. Some are groomed for the legislature, others for the voting booth, others for neither."("Diversity and Citizenship," 433)
Minority groups such as the Native Americans, the blacks or the Latinos are often treated as cultural minorities as well, that is as exotic deviations from the mainstream culture that are not part of the whole in any effective way. The multicultural education is trying to correct this attitude by proving that these cultures have contributed to and influenced the main culture in a state to a very great extent. The traditions of the Africans or the main ideologies of the Latinos and the Asians are reflected in the culture of the United States for example. The African-Americans have played important roles both in history and in the cultural context, through their music and traditions. The Latinos have also brought their distinctive traditions and beliefs and incorporated them in the American culture. The cultural movements and protests, like "The United Race" movement of the Latinos show the way in which the minorities struggle to be acknowledged as a part of the mainstream culture: " 'La Raza Unida', meaning the United Race, was formed in hopes of electing more Latinos to public office and providing a pressure group to help pass legislation that would benefit Latinos."(Mitchell, 123) This is why multicultural education can help building the general awareness of the people with respect to their understanding of the role of the global citizen. Thus, multiculturalism should be tackled as a problem and taken seriously from the beginning, that is from the school years, to ensure the harmonious functioning of the future society.
Banks, James a, ed. Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004
Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies, 7th…
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