Trans-National America

Going to School: The African-American Experience

edited by Kofi Lomotey
State University of New York Press, 242 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Ethnic Identity: The Transformation of White America

by Richard D. Alba
Yale University Press, 374 pp., $35.00

A Curriculum of Inclusion: Report of the Commissioner’s Task Force on Minorities

New York State Department of Education, 76 pp.

From Gatekeeper to Gateway: Transforming Testing in America

National Commission on Testing and Public Policy, Boston College, 59 pp., $6.00 (paper)

Campus Ethnoviolence and the Policy Options

by Howard J. Ehrlich
National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence, 72 pp., $10.00 (paper)

The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity, and the Civic Culture

by Lawrence H. Fuchs
Wesleyan University Press, 640 pp., $45.00

Each year, this country becomes less white, less “European,” and less tightly bound by a single language. The United States now has a greater variety of cultures than at any time in its history. This has resulted largely from the recent rise in immigration, for the most part from Latin America and Asia, but also from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In addition, some Americans who were born in the United States are saying they can no longer identify with its prevailing culture.

One reaction has been to call for the recognition of heritages outside the Western world. Much of the debate has centered on classrooms and campuses, and particularly on curriculum and the composition of their faculties. However, it has also affected legislation, employment, and public policy. As with all such issues, advocates often claim they represent ignored and inarticulate constituencies.

Last year, the commissioner of education for New York State released a report entitled “A Curriculum of Inclusion,” and designed to address the changing ethnic composition in the public schools. The document was prepared by a “task force” most of whose members were minorities. It gave scant attention to reading, mathematics, or scientific skills, but instead advanced the view that minority pupils have “been the victims of an intellectual and educational oppression,” owing to the “Euro-American monocultural perspective” that dominates the current curriculum. This insensitivity, it asserted, has had a “terribly damaging effect on the psyches of young people” whose native “cultures are alienated and devalued.”

It is easy to question epithets like “monocultural” and “educational oppression.” One need only reply that Europe is a large and varied continent, stretching from Inverness to Istanbul, just as the “Euro-American” emigration ran from Spitsbergen to Salonika. Even so, it is not difficult to argue that Europe and many of its emigrants shared a common culture, tradition, and civilization. Moreover, this country’s schools have reflected the literary and scientific side of that tradition, which came with the first English settlers and has essentially endured.

Indeed, when immigrants arrived from rural Ireland and Sicily, the schools felt no obligation to adapt to their customs. Nor did educators devise special curriculums when they set up separate schools for liberated slaves or the country’s indigenous inhabitants. The schools were to act as the proverbial melting pot, which meant that the society was to be accepted as shaped by those who preceded. Few thought to ask whether this might have, as the New York report now claims, “a terribly damaging effect on the psyche of young people,” whose cultures were “distorted, marginalized, or omitted.” Still, the United States cannot be accused of false labeling so far as immigrants were concerned; they came here voluntarily, willing to abide by the rules.

Ours is much more an age of psychology and social science, of professional compassion and expressly ethnic politics. We also have a minor industry of writers eager to tell of injuries they suffered from having to conform to the dominant culture. Along …

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Letters

Race & Violence in the Schools January 17, 1991

Race & Violence in the Schools January 17, 1991