The current face of American education has undergone a major facelift. Years ago, Martin Luther King had a dream that all men and women would be equal and all students would be equal. Our laws and progression of civil rights and immigration has changed the United States Public Education System. Racial inequality and color prejudice has affected the American education system through legislation that was meant to help students. Educational theories and classroom practices have taken new forms in order to conform and meet the educational needs of the global societies. Educators and teachers are being expected to share views and recognize values from different cultures, races, societies and ethnic groups. They are expected to move outside the system and custom of the dominant society and incorporate beliefs other than those they are accustomed with. Our laws and progression of Civil Rights and immigration has changed the United States public education system. The challenges that face our nation’s children relates to the civil right movements and immigration laws that have guided us to a direction of multicultural education.
Diversity and inclusion in the United States is very much apparent at schools and universities. However, though the school population is becomingly more diverse, most of the schoolteachers and educators are white and female. Record shows that 87% of the teacher population is white (Banks, 2001). This is why adding multi-cultural education to the curriculum is so important. Schools are struggling to teach English to both African and Latino students because the first evident reason was that Latino students spoke Spanish at home. Multiculturalism was proposed to expand culture for American schoolchildren. Educators wanted students to respect racial and ethnic minority groups and they wanted the self-image of the minority children to be changed (Stotsky, 1999).
In 2001, President George Bush signed into law his No Child left Behind Law, which consolidated the US Department of Education’s bilingual and immigrant education programs. The plan focuses on teaching English to student as quickly and effectively as possible. Senators from Utah and Illinois Orrin Hatch, a republican and Richard Durbin, a democrat, proposed the DREAM Act in July 2003. Under the Senate’s proposed DREAM, which stands for Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, students who graduate from high school would be eligible for a green card. There are those who want to reform the way we educate illegal immigrants, saying that the total K-12 school expenditure for illegal immigrants costs the states enough to buy a computer for every junior high student nationwide. The tax dollars that it is costing Americans to pay for educating illegal immigrants is costing American students academically.
Immigrant children have the right to an education, as do all children. The links between illiteracy and illegal immigration is astounding. Hispanic immigrants come to the United States without having the basic literacy skills needed. Teachers in Texas are finding that their classes are mostly English language learners. Bilingual assistants are there to translate to students and teacher regarding teaching information and notes; they are also there to translate during parent teacher conferences. The state of Texas requires that each local school district establish a “language proficiency assessment committee” to review the proficiency and achievement-level for each student whose primary language is not English. The committee classifies the student and recommends placement and help to benefit the student (Stewart, 1993).
Because education focus has become multi-cultural teachers use literature to teach about other cultures. Multi-cultural literature develops values and self-concept for students. On the other hand, some say American-born students reading and writing scores are declining and achievement gaps are closing. Some believe that many linguists and educators focus on the multicultural aspect, degrading the English Language (Stotsky, 1999). As of 1992, many states require teachers to have a certification to teach English as a Second Language, also called ESL. Teacher’s must have the appropriate academic background is ESL theory and methodology (Stewart, 1993). While there are some educators who back bilingual education, which is where students learn basic skills in their own language while they are learning to speak English (Barrero, 2004). Barrero (2004) argues that English-speaking students will have a chance to learn Spanish. However, we are facing political efforts to make English the United States official language. Senator Pete Domenci of New Mexico states, “The inherent shallowness behind ‘English Only’ would deny the United States the opportunity to meet is full market potential.” Therefore, he introduces an approach called “English Plus.” English-plus, adopted in New Mexico’s constitution requiring those public school teachers must be trained in both English and Spanish so that Spanish-speaking students will be taught English properly (http://domenci.senate.gov/legislation/record.cfm accessed on June 18, 2007). On the other hand, many believe there is no need to make English the official language of the United States because it limits us from having a “world –view.” Author, Neil Postman, writes in his book, The End of Education, about the English Language being the most multi-cultural language, and it celebrates diversity because of the multi-cultural influences from the French, Germans, and African’s, which continually make it powerful and diverse (Postman, 1995).
It is noticeable that one main agenda of the proposed multi-cultural education agenda is to unite the diverse American population. The important goal is to help people achieve and acquire the much needed skills, confidence, and knowledge to function effectively in the pluralistic society (Gay, 2000). It should help students to be armed with respect and dignity, whatever his or her background, in facing a moral community that is striving for a common good. It should give student’s equal rights and sense of security.
Inclusion to state public schools curriculum are viewed by some as a great way to bridge the gap among ethnic groups, different cultural societies and the dominant American culture that eventually they would function as one. It is a simple way to reflect ideas and shared minority experiences. Furthermore, people believed that it would be a good single step to eradicate racism. Students would have a chance to understand why their fellow classmates behave in certain ways and hopefully then they can set aside differences, and act accordingly. Members of the minority groups can then assert and share their feelings by explaining lessons that are somehow foreign to the dominant class. By doing this the minority class can develop self-esteem.
Multi-cultural education does not only relate and draw contents, concepts, and special theories from interdisciplinary fields such as history, ethnic studies, and philosophical sciences; it challenges, reinforces and interprets concepts from the established theories. It was designed to supposedly increase the educational equity among students. It was proposed to provide a competitive and racism free environment for students (Banks, 2001). It was formed to integrate various viewpoints and a new perspective to a curriculum, which then will be culture based.
Multi-cultural education is a program seeking to revise and reform both schooling and the political and cultural context of formal schooling and studying. It was designed to have a better impact to society by reducing racial tolerance brought about because of immigration and civil right problems that has plagued our nation. Several categories of programs that are designed encompass not only to restructure and reform subjects and curriculums at school but also to generate and increase contact among races. They are designed primarily to bridge the gap among races.
Multicultural education is intended to decrease if not totally abolish race, ethnic and gender divisions. By helping students achieve the necessary skills and by guiding them they are being prepared in facing the challenges they would soon be encountering. Students are trained to equip themselves with the attitudes needed in order to survive in the real world. However, before such programs can be implemented, a thorough understanding of the real issue at hand must first be achieved. Factors such as demography, social class, funding, quality of educators, student’s cultural backgrounds and public interest should be carefully considered and taken in to account.
Immigration laws and civil right issues have changed the United States Public Education System. Our children’s challenges are related to the civil right movements and immigration laws put in to effect causing us to rely on multicultural education. Culture and traditions are important values; they should be preserved and treasured. They’re the heritage that reveals the beauty of a society. However, including them to public curriculum poses many questions. The debate has gone on for years and will continue for the years to come. It may take some time before the public becomes accustomed to such changes, just as it was when they began sending both black and white students to the same schools.
Banks, J.A.B. (2001). Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (4th Edition). New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Barrero, Rebeca Maria (2004). A Case for Bilingual Education. Scholastic Parent & Child, 72- 73.
Gay, G. (2000). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Postman, N. & Weingartner, C. (1969). Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York, NY: Dell Publishing Company.
Stewart, David W (1993). Immigration and Education: The Crisis and the Opportunities New York, NY: Lexington Books.
Stotsky, Sandra (1999). Losing Our Language. New York, NY: The Free Press.