Education and Neo-Multiculturalism:
giving gesellschaft the gemeinschaft
©1999 Edward G. Rozycki. Ed. D.
The author has striven mightily in this paper to overcome decades, years, months, even, of ethnocentric conditioning. Anything in the following that resembles Truth, purports Accuracy or other hegemonic 1 cultural imperialisms is purely accidental, maybe. Who's to say?
Prefatory Address to Teachers of Multicultural Studies
I wish to share with you some observations gleaned from my almost thirty years involved in multicultural education. Times have changed. You can't go home again. You can't step in the same river twice. and even if you put both feet in the river, the water that washes over your left foot..., unless of course you put your right foot upstream... but I digress. (Or do I? Am I merely succumbing to a compulsion to linear thinking?)
Many teachers accustomed to an ethnocentric conception of order and clarity may look with jaundiced eye at the exciting developments in recent multicultural theory. Older multicultural studies aimed at creating appreciation for differences, hopefully reducing conflict in schools2, and helping people get along. But Neo-Multiculturalism is much more than that. You may ask, "What does it mean?" "How do we teach it?" I say to you, it is hope! It is mission! That messianic fire quenched when some cynical professor had you read Perkinson's Imperfect Panacea 3 -- that fire may once again burn brightly!
Those cultural imperialists who apparently really believe that the rights of a democracy are something to be accorded to all and any - some of them call themselves "critical theorists"4 -- must be abashed when confronted with incommensurable epistemologies or the nonexistence of supra-ethnic moral concerns.
Feminism, too, is given its comeuppance. The feminist program to have human beings treated as individuals with equal rights, as something more than perambulatory genitalia, is exposed as hegemonic. Under Neo-Multiculturalism, ethnicity defines the roles of the sexes, not some would-be meta-cultural ethical generalization.5
But as classroom teachers in a pluralistic society, we carry a heavy burden. Not every idiosyncrasy may be condoned as an expression of legitimate ethnic difference. Schools require order. The author of a widely used teacher training book, Comprehensive Multicultural Education, puts it,
In a pluralistic society members of ethnic minority groups are permitted to retain many of their cultural ways, as long as they conform to those practices deemed necessary for harmonious coexistence within the society as a whole."6But who is it that "permits"? Who is it that "deems"? Who judges what is "harmonious"? Who speaks for society? Who should? A heavy burden, indeed! (As usual, we will be left to do as it suits us -- provided no boats are rocked.)
Attitudinal Diversity in Neo-Multicultural Theory
Neo-Multiculturalism recommends itself because it permits a wide variety of comfortable, legitimate attitudes towards human differences. The more frequently encountered of these attitudes are Neo-Chauvinism, Lapidarianism and Ameliorism. Let us examine the differences among them by means of a confrontation with a cultural artifact. The artifact is the interlude lyric from the Mexican song, Cielito Lindo. It begins:
A las morenas quiero
Desde que supe que
Morena es la Virgen
I love brown-skinned women
Ever since I found out
The Virgen of Guadalupe
We could interpret this verse as expressing that brown-skinned women are not as good as others. And here we see the power of Neo-Multiculturalism. It can support two kinds of ethnic pride, previously deprecated as "chauvinism." Let this ethnic pride be called Neo-Chauvinism. Neo-Multiculturalism redeems it.
Neo-Chauvinism, type A. This perspective on the lyric understands that the devaluation of brown-skinned women is a transcultural phenomenon and that one's own devaluation is supported by that of Mexican culture. One is no worse, if bad at all, than the Mexicans. (Of course, in devaluating brown-skinned women as individuals, we are not devaluing the ethnic groups they belong to.)Some of us are fortunate enough that we can ward off accusations of racism with the claim that as members of an oppressed minority we cannot be racist.8 However, for the sake of (a hopefully soon to be superseded sense of) consistency, we must avoid calling various folk militias `'racist' because they are (as Hitler was in 1923) relatively powerless and claim themselves to be oppressed minorities. This is highly useful theory in the struggle for moral legitimation. It enables us to forgive within our own group what we find useful to condemn in those outside of it. (The emotion of self-righteous indignation is one of the many comforts of our crusade.)
Neo-Chauvinism, type B. On the other hand, if one's ethnic pride brings one to see Mexicans as inferi...,-whoops!7 ...happily different from oneself - one can accuse Mexicans of "ethnic" or "racial" bias, - whatever language one uses to muddle hegemonic phenotypical and genotypical distinctions.
Lapidarianism finds in any difference a sufficient reason for its nurture. That something is, means that it should be allowed to be. If the subjugation of individuals, child slavery, or cliterodectomy help define an ethnic group, then our personal, necessarily ethnocentric moral concerns must give way to a policy of non-interference with these cultural gemstones.9
It is interesting that one does not often encounter a very strong form of Lapidarianism, which I wil1 call Moral Ecology. The Moral Ecologist understands that what people call evils play as essential a role in social life as what they recognize as goods. Societies require laws. Laws require criminals who break them in order to be punished to allow legitimation of espoused values. The most reviled behavior is perhaps only the most slandered.10
Moral ecology would most likely be repugnant to Ameliorism, for unless the Ameliorist is careful to avoid Aristotle's vice -- Bivalent Logic -- Moral Ecology can be understood to undercut the motive for the Ameliorist's crusade: the reduction of Evil. (Well, ... not Evil; better put, badness. Or sickness. Better still, undesirable options.)
Ameliorism, the crusading Faith of many, if not most, American educators, sees NeoMulticulturalism as a means of reducing undesirable social options. The Ameliorist would most likely point out that our lyric from Cielito Lindo represents the redemption of Mexican culture from the mistreatment of brown-skinned women through a counterbalancing figure of respect, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
At this point, however, the Ameliorist teacher had better be careful not to reveal the final line of the lyric until his or her students have been liberated from experiencing serendipitous inconsistency in moral judgment as hypocrisy:
An Apparent Dilemma (Who's to say what's real?)Es bien sabido que el amor de morena nunca es virginal
It is well known that a brownskinned woman's love is never virginal 11
Ethnologist Fredrik Barth 12 specifies three conditions under which ethnic groups in cosmopolitan societies develop and define themselves:
a dominant culture is present with the power to maintain conditions whereby other groups of peopleBarth argues that ethnic distinctions are born out of conflict. the conditions of domination, stereotypy and complementarity 13 are necessary for their maintenance.
-- are stereotyped
-- are constrained to certain roles that function complementarily in the general culture.
In US public schools it is now considered desirable to celebrate and maintain ethnic diversity. But traditionally, the public schools have at least given lip service to the very conditions that undermine the maintenance of ethnic distinctions as understood by Barth. That is, the long-time mission of the schools has been to promote
In other words, the pursuit in our schools of neo-multiculturalism conflicts with the traditional missions of the schools as most teachers have been taught to understand it: to promote a democratic society! Again the hobgoblin of "inconsistency" appears to threaten our well-deserved complacency. Research indicates, however, that the situation is well-inhand. Not only do the public schools not fulfill the traditional mission well, they are not very effective with multiculturalism, either.14
- the non-exclusive distribution of power, i.e. "democracy."
- the reduction of stereotyping, i.e. destroying prejudice,
- an equal opportunity for all persons to any role in society.
The Most Important Functions of Neo-Multicultural Theory
Neo-Multiculturalism is invoked by many who struggle for resources to support claims against superior power. Thus it is that philosophers burdened with hegemonic concepts of consistency will misperceive as self-contradiction the politically effective rhetorical flexibility of multicultural discourses.
The major importance of Neo-Multicultural theory is to legitimate ethnic leadership cadres. Such leaders can often be recognized via processes accessible only to members of their own groups. Sometimes their leadership qualities can be discerned, even within those groups, by processes accessible only through the leaders' personal epistemic privilege. If, as some Neo-Multicultural theorists proclaim, "All Americans are members of an ethnic group"15, how useful and important ethnic leaders must be to those benighted souls who find such an assertion highly ambiguous, false or nonsensical! 16
With Neo-Multiculturalism in place, crucial questions such as, "Who speaks for whom? or "Whose voice counts?" are easily settled. Gender, social class, occupational, or scholarly interests can be ethnically cleansed away as bases for group identity and common concern. Conflict will be avoided when ethnic leaders recognize each other and do not interfere with leadership action taken within the realm of its own ethnic space. Ethnic leaders will identify what for themselves -- and for their people -- is the Good, the Beautiful and the True.
1hegemonic, after the second of the three moieties of the Trio® brand islanders; rashomon, hegemon and hootmon.
2 Cf. Edward G. Rozycki, "Values, Rationality and Pluralism". Philosophy of Education 1979, Proceedings of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society. pp. 195-204.
3 Henry J. Perkinson, The Imperfect Panacea. American Faith in Education. Fourth Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill 1995).
4 E.G., Joel Spring. American Education. An Introduction to Social and Political Aspects, (New York: Longman, 1985).
5 The appearance in this last statement of a would-be meta-cultural ethical generalization is mitigated by its being otherwise understood by the Neo-Multiculturalist.
6 Christine I. Bennett Comprehensive Multicultural Education. Theory and Practice. Second Edition. Boston. Allyn and Bacon. 1990. p. 11.
7 Excuse my near lapse into hegemonic speech. I did not mean "the I-word" for we are no longer to see any other ethnic group as I------r. Let us say, "different in such a way that, secure in our own ethnic pride and identity, we would not want to be a Mexican, although there is nothing wrong with being Mexican. Indeed, we appreciate and admire, and not merely admire, but stand in dumbfounded adulation of all Mexicans and of anyone else, whomsoever, to the extent they are identified by legitimate ethnic categories.
8 Cf. Eleanor Harrington-Austin and Joseph DiBona, "Bringing Multiculturalism to the Historically Black University in the United States," in Educational Horizons vol. 71, No. 3 (Spring 1993) pp. 154.
9 In tolerating such a culture, we might even give it our approval. See Barry Schwartz, "Tolerance: Should We Approve of It, Put Up With It, or Tolerate It?" Academe May-June 1996 pp. 24-28.
10 A comment by Nietzsche: But see footnote below on Frederik Barth.
11 Hegemonists inclined to question my translations, should be aware of my unique Alsatian-Polacocentric perspective. My maternal grandmother, born in Alsace, invented the Spanish language in 1872 just in time for Mexican folk cultures to incorporate it into their music, updating previous Nahuatl versions of Cielito Lindo.
12 Fredrik Barth, "Ethnic Groups and Boundaries" pp. 198-227 in Adam Kuper (ed) Process and Form in Social Life: the Selected Essays of Fredrik Barth (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981): From the Neo-Multiculturalist perspective, however, Barth (as does Nietzsche -- see footnote 10 --) suffers from the following impediments:
1) maximal metabolic challenge;
3) locational infelicity; and
4) hypertestosteronality due to a defective X-gene.
13 For more on ethnic complementarity, see Thomas Sowell, Race and Economics (New York: Longman, 1975). However, from the Neo-Multiculturalist perspective Sowell, unfortunately, denies his heritage by writing conservative economic tracts.
14 Even focusing on the practical aspects of multiculturalism, it is difficult to train teachers to be effective: Cf. Maria Teresa Tatto, "Examining Values and Beliefs About Teaching Diverse Students: Understanding the Challenges for Teacher Education." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analvsis. Vol. 18, No. 2. pp. 155-180.
15 Cf. John A. Banks, Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies. 2nd ed. (Boston: Allyn Bacon, 1979) p. 10.
16 The ascriptions of ethnicity are not individually predictive, i.e. about what people may do, but rather about how they are to be treated. You may deny that you have an ethnic identity, but the Federal government already has you classified ethnically in one of at least four categories.