The Problem with Multicultural Education
By Michael Kleen
March 23, 2011
If your child is studying for teacher certification anywhere in the United States, chances are he or she will be required to attend classes on “multicultural education.” Since the 1990s, multicultural education has permeated institutions of higher learning, claiming to bring enlightenment and diversity to the classroom. But all is not what it seems.
I am currently enrolled in an education master’s program at a mid-sized public university somewhere in America. A multicultural education course is required for all students in our teacher certification program, and a similar course, on “social change” in addition to multiculturalism, is offered at the graduate level.
Multicultural education is ostensibly about preparing teachers to enter a profession in which a growing number of their pupils will not be of the same ethnic or national background. Thanks to post-1965 immigration policy, this is a very real concern—in 2005 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 45 percent of American children under the age of five belonged to minority groups.
But the sad reality is that rather than address the demographic change in American youth and its impact on the public school system, academics have played a shell game—they spout this reasonable- sounding goal while using it to mask their own political and social agenda.
Indeed, as Athena Kerry has previously pointed out in her 2006 article on multicultural education, some educators, such as Paul C. Gorski of EdChange, have openly expressed a more social and political goal. Gorski wrote frankly: “Multiculturalism isn’t about everyone agreeing and getting along, it is about naming and eliminating the inequalities in education”.
As someone with current firsthand knowledge of these classes, I can confidently attest to that.
In the first few weeks of our graduate course in multicultural education, we discussed how Rush Limbaugh is a seething racist, watched a video espousing an Afrocentric (and almost totally fictional) view of history, and saw an interview with Maulana Karenga (aka Ronald McKinley Everett) the creator of Kwanzaa, who our professor described as being “one of the smartest men alive,” despite having been convicted in 1971 of torturing two women with an electric cord and a baton after forcing them to remove their clothes. (This incident that was strangely omitted from the discussion).
Our only two required textbooks were Building Racial and Cultural Competence in the Classroom, edited by Karen Manheim Teel and Jennifer E. Obidah, and Teachers as Cultural Workers by Paulo Freire. Freire was a Brazilian Democratic Socialist who, needless to say, conceived of society as being divided between oppressor and oppressed. Echoing that theme, Teel and Obidah urged teachers to become cultural workers by “addressing inequities distinguished by… race, language, culture, socioeconomics, family structures, and gender”.
Their argument: the first step on the road to becoming a culturally competent educator is to realize that you are part of an institutionally racist society filled with both conscious and unconscious racism. You may, in fact, be a racist and not even know it. This “cultural competence” is just as important, according to Teel and Obidah, as classroom management, curriculum, lesson planning, and assessment—in other words, it is just as important as everything traditionally associated with teaching.
The textbook for our undergraduate course on multicultural education (required, remember, for all students seeking a teaching certificate at this university) is Critical Pedagogy by J. Wink.
“Critical Pedagogy” was developed out of the work of Paulo Freire and other Marxist educators. According to Douglas Kellner, author of the article “Multiple Literacies and Critical Pedagogies,” Critical Pedagogy “considers how education can provide individuals with the tools to better themselves and strengthen democracy, to create a more egalitarian and just society, and thus to deploy education in a process of progressive social change”. In his review “The Storm Over the University,” John Searle, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, described the true goal of critical pedagogy as “to create political radicals”.
Additional reading selected by the professor includes Teaching Toward Freedom by self-described communist revolutionary William Ayers; Teaching Critical Thinking by left-wing feminist and postmodern critic Bell Hooks (aka Gloria Jean Watkins); and Between Barrack and a Hard Place by anti-racist activist Tim Wise.
Wise, in an heartfelt blog post titled “An Open Letter to the White Right” responding to the recent 2010 midterm elections (since censored on his own website), wrote to white Americans:
“We just have to be patient. And wait for your hearts to stop beating… Do you hear it? The sound of your empire dying? Your nation, as you knew it, ending, permanently? Because I do, and the sound of its demise is beautiful.”
Educators who promote multicultural education in this manner are practicing one of the worst kinds of academic dishonesty. By emphasizing politics and social activism over the basic skills of teaching, they will of course only hurt the very students they claim to be helping.
Unfortunately, most undergraduate students react enthusiastically to this material, because they are not encouraged to contradict it. Anyone who speaks out against multicultural education is afraid to be called a “racist” and be ostracized. Future teachers, many of whom have never been exposed to these ideas before and are therefore unequipped to contradict them, will enter the field of education convinced that their primary goal as educators is to redress social wrongs, and not to educate. That does not bode well for the intellectual future of America.