Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Racial ideology and education

Schools teach ideas. Systems of ideas are called ideologies. Teachers in their teaching decisions model either an ideology of racism or pluralism, an ideology of equality or inequality. The dominant ideology in our society supports the present social structure and the resulting stratification of opportunity. Most present school curricula reinforce ideas that legitimize the present distribution of power, money, and privilege. Because present U.S. society is stratified by race, gender, and class, schools tend to legitimize the present racial divisions as normal and natural, even logical and scientific (Feagin, 2000). Power and money—not logic, not science—determine that some students receive a quality education and others a poor education. Multicultural education is a school reform process that challenges the continuing domination of this inherited privilege.
Multicultural education offers an alternative worldview, an alternative ideology. It argues that schools, along with church and family, are potential sources of knowledge and thus sources of power in a democratic society. Schools should promote the growth and extension of democracy rather than sustain the current inequalities of opportunity. Advocates of multicultural education emphasize the values inherent and unique to democratic societies: citizenship participation, empowerment, liberty, and equality of opportunity. We recognize that developing a democratic worldview of mutual respect and shared opportunity is difficult in a society divided by race and class. Yet, we are hopeful. The school system is one of the few vehicles we presently have that permit us to work toward mutual respect and cooperation, as well as political, economic, social, and cultural democracy.
Our once resource-based economy is evolving into a knowledge-based economy increasingly dependent on international trade (and therefore rewarding bilingualism). Knowledge of diverse cultures has ever-increasing financial value. As economic changes accelerate, people who have knowledge will gain financial and political power. Children who acquire knowledge and skills, such as access to computer technology, in school will get ahead. Children who suffer in low-quality schools, have little access to technology, and receive a low-quality education will suffer persistent underemployment and limited economic opportunities.
The European American ideological bias, or Eurocentrism, in present curricula maintains inappropriate privileges for European American children significantly by avoiding issues of race in the public school curriculum. Children from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds deserve to see themselves and their families represented in the curriculum in order to see schooling as a path toward a prosperous future. Many young African American and Latino students experience failure and frustration in school; they fall behind in basic study skills. Omission from the curriculum and consistent school failure can lead to an erosion of students’ self-esteem. Thus, a cycle of failure begins. The persistent academic failure of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans leads some of these students to conclude that schools are negative, intrusive institutions rather than gateways out of poverty and discrimination.
As economic crises in urban areas continue to cause specific neighborhoods to decline and schools to deteriorate, some students turn to resistance. They respond to school failure with open hostility. Some Black, Latino, and alienated White youth have developed cultures and identities of resistance to school authority, rebelling against the school’s negative treatment. At times resistance is necessary and positive, such as in the development of a Chicano identity distinct from a Mexican identity. Unfortunately, with little adult support and guidance, many of these young people are choosing destructive forms of identity, such as gangs, violence, and drugs. Schools become war zones. Gangs and youth culture make instruction difficult in some urban schools, depriving even dedicated students of their future economic opportunities.
Each individual and family experience school domination or empowerment in their own manner. The ethnic and racial experiences of African Americans are substantially different from those of Latinos and Latinas. The experiences of racial minorities such as African Americans, Chicanos, and Puerto Ricans can be significantly different from the experiences of immigrant minorities from Latin America or Asia, such as the Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese (Almaguer, 1994; Feagin, 2000).
As a consequence of the increasing hostility, divisiveness, and racial conflict in our society, schools, when social justice and nonviolence are not promoted, can become cauldrons of individual and intergroup conflict. Figure 3.6 illustrates the complex interrelationships among race, class, gender, culture, and personal histories.
The struggle against racism and for multicultural education calls on teachers and schools to participate in the painful creation of a new, more democratic, society. Democratic teachers seek to claim the promise of the American dream of equal opportunity for all. In part, the struggle calls for a change in worldview. The view of cultural democracy and pluralism presented in this chapter replaces stereotypes of racial ideology and challenges Eurocentric views of history.
The United States is and has been an immigrant and pluralistic society. The current struggle for multicultural education is one more step in the 200-year-old effort to build a more democratic society. Multicultural education poses this challenge: Will teachers and schools recognize that we are a pluralistic, multilingual society in curriculum, testing, ability grouping, and hiring? Will teachers choose to empower children from all communities and races, and both sexes? Or will schools continue to deliver knowledge, power, and privilege primarily to members of the European American majority culture at the expense of students from other cultures?
When students study the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, they learn a worldview that includes a commitment to democratic opportunity. They are taught an ideology of the “American creed.” Multicultural education insists that schools serve as an arena where we achieve the promises of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self evident, That all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… .
Throughout the nation’s history, citizens have faced conflicts between our ideals and our national reality. Important battles have been won, such as the fight to end slavery and the campaign to recognize women’s right to vote. Some of the battles have been lost, such as the survival of several diverse Native American nations. But the struggle to create a democratic society continues, and the manner in which we instruct our young people is crucial to that struggle.
Achieving political change toward democracy has been a difficult process. After the advances made by the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and 1970s, including an emphasis on more equal educational opportunity and the development of multicultural education, the end of the Civil Rights Era brought attacks on these advances in the 1980s and 1990s. As conservatives gained national, state, and local political power by electing governors, legislators, and presidents, they began to advance their social agenda, which includes a particular view of history and schooling.
An ideology of conservative educational “reform” dominated public discussion since 1982, emphasizing excellence for a few students and pushing aside discussions of equality . Public support for funding education to advance equal opportunity declined. Budgets for vocational and career education were dramatically reduced. School segregation returned to many cities. Public education itself came under attack from the political right.
The victory of George W. Bush in the disputed election of 2000 brought educational conservatives back to power. The powerful reform strategies of standards and accountability included in the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind law of 2001, and originally favored by politicians in both political parties significantly marginalize efforts at multicultural curriculum reform .

The current efforts of multicultural school reform challenge conservatives’ hegemony of ideas and power.
From: Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education.
D Campbell
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