The Impact of Multiculturalism in the American classroom: An analysis of the last 30 years

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USA

 

The Impact of Multiculturalism in America’s Mind, Politics, and Education: The

 

last 30  years

 

Introduction to the Analysis

 

     This comparative analysis intends to offer evidence of the changes in which the American society as has incurred as a result of the influx of multicultural ethnic groups in the country. This study aims to define the terms, “culture”, “ethnicity”, and “diversity” as the main components of the concept of multiculturalism. As these terms are defined, compared, and contrasted, we will take a look at the history of cultural diversity in the United States parting from the formation of the thirteen colonies, analyzing the reasons why migrant groups are drawn to the United States.  The history of cultural diversity in the United States will be combined with the different mentalities that the last five Presidents of the nation have had regarding our multicultural reality. Finally, the changes that have occurred as a result of multiculturalism will be analyzed in the areas of public education, and teacher education.

     Concisely, this analysis will pose the question: Are we really intellectually, psychologically, or even culturally prepared to educate our youth about multiculturalism without bias, and with the highest level of objectivity?  A conclusion will be drawn from recent research on the curricular debates concerning the implementation of multicultural education programs in the higher education institutions of the nation, and the American view of ethnic diversity and acceptance.

 

What is Multicultural, and What is Not?

 

     Multiculturalism is a composite of different factors. George and Yancy (2004) cite that, among an ensemble of elements that make up the concept, there must be “equal-respect” and the “recognition of the contributions of all racial and ethnic groups” (p. 1).      

     Multiculturalism can then be described as the combination of diverse ethnic idiosyncrasies that cause changes in their environment. Despite of its seemingly simple definition, there is current debate regarding what exactly is considered multiculturalism, and what are the goals that a society must aim to achieve as more ethnically diverse groups make their way into different territories (Hartmann, Gerteis 2005).

     There are three main words associated with the term “multiculturalism”. One of these terms is “culture.”  Culture has a myriad of interpretations based on the perspective from which it is viewed.  Naylor (1997) offers that culture has been defined from historical, behavioral, social, and economical perspectives.

 Historical conceptualizations of culture emphasize it as a social heritage or tradition, something passed on from generation to generation. Behavioral constructs stress culture as consisting of learned behavior and shared way of life. Normative definitions portray culture as ideals, values, or rules for living, while functional characterizations see it as the way people solve environmental problems. Mental constructs see culture as a complex of ideas that distinguish humans from other animals, and structural definitions focus on patterned ideas, symbols, or behaviors (p.6-7).

     Yet, as Naylor also offers later on, most of these definitions have been created not so much because the term needs to be defined, but mostly because it needs not to be confused (p.7). For the purpose of this analysis, the term “culture” will be used as the combination of diverse emotional, physical, and emotional characteristics that build the composite of a particular group. These characteristics are not physical, because culture is not visible in the color of one’s skin. Culture is perceived from the behaviors and mannerisms of all individuals that abide by the social rules of their group.

     The other term to be defined is “ethnicity.” Ethnicity has often been confused with “race”. The similarity in the usage of the terms ethnicity and race is that their definitions are as loosely quoted as the definition of “culture.” Most people refer to ethnicity as if it was a consequence of biological factors that define an individual (Weeramanthri, 2000). Yet, for a group to be considered “ethnic” there must already be a defined culture that makes them unique. This group can also inhabit in a particular region, share a language, a religion, values, and every other aspect of their everyday life (Polednak, 1989). However, with ethnicity there is an underlying political resonance that has to do with social identity. Polednak offers, that “.. like race, the concept of ethnicity can be mobilized for political purposes (as we have seen in the former Yugoslavia), and the development of shared political values and traditions can, in turn, shape ethnic identification” (Polednak, 1989 p. 11). For the purpose of this analysis, race and ethnicity are similar in that they encompass the sharing of many common identifiers. Yet, ethnicity can be shaped, changed, diversified, and altogether dissolved due to adaptation, assimilation, or crisis. There is a deep cultural base attached to the meaning of ethnicity, given the fact that the idiosyncrasies of a group are big markers of their uniqueness. Yet, the biological variable that has anything to do with it, would be what we define often as “race” (Witzig, 1996). However, the reason why the two have been confused is because there is a new trend in academia, particularly for medical research purposes, where the term “race” has been substituted for “ethnicity”. The reason for the substitution is twofold: the first reason is the many similarities in concept of both terms. The second reason is that, according to Weeramanthri (2000), the medical community has decided that the word “race” implies an “immutable biological variable”(p. 1). Hence, to avoid confusion and debate in new medical research findings that involve a particular group, the term “ethnicity” provides a more semantically malleable option.

     Race is the last term to be clarified for the purpose of this analysis. The concept has the same characteristics as ethnicity: a common group, sharing a common territory, and abiding by common goals. Academia shows that the word has been used so much for all kinds of purposes, that its meaning began to be termed loosely. The term race appears in the media more time than it appears in legislation (Pettman, 1992).

Pettman also offers:

     The English word [race] is derived from the Latin word `generare’, which means `to beget’. It is defined in Last’s Dictionary of Epidemiology (1988) as `persons who are relatively homogenous with respect to biologic inheritance’. The implication is that members are biologically similar to each other and different from the members of other racial groups (p. 65).

     The problem with this definition is that the expectations that often come from society include the belief that members of the same racial group are “biologically meant” to act, decide, belief and behave in one set way (Wolf, 1994). Hence, it would be easier for the research community to employ the term “ethnicity” instead, since its underlying meaning does not bring in the strictness that comes with the idea of race that we have developed today. This research will use the term “race” as the biological heritage of an individual. The word “ethnicity” will be used as the socio-political group where the individual belongs. The word “culture” will be used as the combination of behaviors, traditions, religion, customs, and courtesies that have been passed down within an individual’s line of heritage, and which have to do with the individual’s environment.

     Yet, the study of people and their peculiarities has permeated the fields of biology, genetics, psychology, and sociology (Mitchell, 2004). History has become the main discipline where anthropologists have tied the missing links that explain the diverse make up of many countries. Scholars have found within their studies that no one culture is simple: All nation-states since the beginning of times have been at some point visited, attacked, intruded, ravaged, or ambushed by either a rival tribe, or an enemy nation. Hence, the chances of combining cultures has always been present at some point in time, in some shape or form (Mitchell, 2004).

The Multicultural Nature of the United States of America : The Beginnings of the Melting Pot

     For the purpose of this study, multiculturalism in America will be analyzed from the advent of the Europeans from the seventeenth century until today.  Despite of the fact that the Native American population is among the groups to be discussed, their role as the primary inhabitants in the American continent will be taken for granted. The slow decline of the Native American population had taken place since the first European visitors from Spain, the Conquistadors, entered the continent through the lands that are today Mexico, and Peru in the early 1500’s. The consequences of European-borne diseases, warfare, famine, and abuse were the leading causes of the staggering decline of the Native American population in South and Central America. Those effects were not as strong in the North American continent, yet, that would change by the time the Englishmen came to establish colonies in the United States. A second wave of decrease in the Native American population caused by warfare, disease and, abuse from the part of the English colonists led to the minority status of this ethnic group. Hence, we will discuss multiculturalism from the 17th century and on.

     Before the Europeans had crossed the Atlantic to make colonies in America, they already knew that there were Native Americans in the continent. They referred to them as the “savages” or the “savage others” (Smedley, 1993). This view of the Native Americans was one of the reasons the genocide and abuse that occurred shortly after their arrival was considered justifiable to them. The Europeans used the Native Americans to gather territorial knowledge and create profits from the land. They needed slaves to work on the lands, therefore the same concept of the “savage” was used to justify the slave trade of Africans (Ramsey, Williams, Vold, Routledge, 2005).

     The founding fathers of the United States even framed the U.S. Constitution built on ideologies that would subtlety allow for the freedoms of some, but not all individuals. Throughout the years, with the advent of the Age of Reason in the 18th and 19th centuries, the theories of Darwin, for example, clearly differentiated races and even set Africans as a separate race (Ramsey, Williams, Vold, Routledge, 2005). These were ways for the scholars and scientists of the time to justify the manners in which diverse groups were treated. This attitude also harbored a policy of Euro-centric tendencies in education, religion, language, and sociology (Ramsey, Williams, Vold, Routledge, 2005).

                The European population in America began with low numbers. Nugent (1981) reports that “by 1700, the total colonial population from Maine to Georgia was a mere 250,000” (p. 41).  He also adds, “demographically, the European-derived population of the entire future United States was smaller than present-day Winnipeg, Wyoming, or Wichita” (p.41).  The increase in migration and expansion in the United States happened as a result of the Westward expansion after the frontier lands became available. The discovery of gold in California proliferated the influx of diverse ethnic populations even further. The slave trade was at its all-time high, the transcontinental railroad brought in a migrant influx of Asians, and the population of the lands in the Mexican borders moved North in search of riches and gold mines. In addition to this, there was an advent of even more Europeans looking for riches and land away from England, and the shift from the Eastern colonials, now Americans, to the West in search of California gold. These elements made the population rise all the way to over 3 million in the 1860’ s (Nugent, 1981 p. 54)

     The period we live in now, known as the “Metropolitan Period” (Nugent, 1981 p.122) is also a symptom of the change in societal availability. The 18th and 19th centuries saw a decrease in fertility among women, and a high mortality rate due, in part, to malnutrition, and new diseases. Part of this was because these periods still did not count on the medical advances that appeared in the 20th century. After the germ theory was accepted and sanitation began to be mandated in hospitals, the American population rose with an increase in fertility among women.  Yet, the immigration of diverse cultures did not stop even at times when the European-descent population hit its all time low. Nugent offers that the southern blacks migrated to the north in large numbers: “almost half a million in 1910-20, 750,000 in 1920-30, and over 400,000 even in the depressed 1930s” (p.121), pointing out that their migration was nearly as abundant as the migration of Europeans coming to the United States. By the end of the first World War, society again encountered a significant increase of immigrants to include “Europeans, east European Jews, Poles, and Italians” (p. 122). These latter immigrants were mostly women, children and men under 40. Yet, immigration laws changed with the big depression of 1929, drawing a set back in immigration that shortened the high hundred thousands form the early 1900’s to “71,000 in the late 1920s” (p. 123) as the restriction laws took hold.  “Eighty years of mass immigration from Europe ended in the 1920s, as Japanese and Chinese immigration had done twenty or forty years before” (p. 123). Nuggent finally offers that the only population whose migration is comparable to that of the early European groups is the ongoing migration of Hispanics that has transformed them into the second largest minority group of the United States by 12.6% as of the year 2006. (U.S. Census, 2006).

Multiculturalism in the American Mind

     One of the biggest arguments in the study of multiculturalism is the validity of the resources from which social scientists draw their conclusion. The consensus that continues to be reached is that, unfortunately, all research conducted about the American attitude towards multiculturalism continues to be based on the personal narratives, experiences and points of view of those whom initiate research, making this field open to debates over policies and ideals (George; Yancey, 2004).

     According to George and Yancey (2004), a good way to accurately examine the actual views on multiculturalism in America is to explore the point of view of citizens over the topic of intermarriage.  Intermarriage, according to George and Yancey, is an “engine of social change” because it not only creates multicultural families, but also expands the views of the members of the family, creating new perspectives for the new generations.  The authors examined a group of multicultural families, analyzed their backgrounds, and their exposure to other cultures. They concluded that, although further research should continue in the areas of American attitudes toward multiculturalism, it is notable to mention that nearly all the people whom have engaged in interracial marriages has had a consistent exposure to the culture into whom they married, regardless of socioeconomical, or educational backgrounds.  Furthermore, George and Yancy concluded that the American West has the highest intermarriage rates, partly due to the higher percentage of Mexicans and Native Americans in those regions. Hence, it is likely to conclude that the primary aspect to enhance a multicultural relationship that will lead to acceptance is through open exposure to the culture, and through mutual interaction (George; Yancey, 2004 p. 12).  Yet, it is interesting to note that George’s and Yancey’s study had debatable information regarding the answers of the respondents. Although there was a high percentage of respondents whom answered not to be upset about their family member’s intermarriages, the majority of the same respondents also claimed that they had never dated someone of another race, or culture (p. 14). George and Yancey claim that this particular response denotes a tendency to cultural pluralism that is evident still in the United States. Cultural pluralism, as described by the authors, is a behavioral tendency that delineates one culture from another (p. 10). Though the cultures might be interacting they still continue a trend to separation. This does not constitute discrimination, but a state of mind where one group wants to remain unattached to another (p. 14).  One interesting aspect about multicultural marriages is another tendency: assimilation. According to George and Yancey, the bonding of two cultures in marriage promotes that they both assimilate to each other, and create a common culture (p. 15). The majority of the individuals interviewed by George and Yancey declared themselves as “moderate conservative or moderate liberals”, the vast majority lived in integrated neighborhoods, and only 20% of the interviewees voiced against interracial marriage. Yet, these same 20% of individuals also responded that they believed that people should conserve their cultural uniqueness and they seemed against the idea of a common culture (p. 15).

     George and Yancy agreed that the American mentality has indeed improved from the segregation mentality it used to have back in the years of the Civil Rights movement. Americans have changed mentalities about multiculturalism within their own families due to the exposure to other cultural groups in their schools and neighborhoods. This exposure is a result of the multicultural influx of populations that continues to infiltrate in the United States the same way it did back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Furthermore, their study also proves that despite of the advances, there is still a strata of the American population that is conservative and prefers to maintain the cultural boundaries within their family off limits to “cultural melting” (p. 16). Concisely, the research shows that the psychology of the white American is unknown in terms of its apprehensiveness or acceptance of multiculturalism. In their conclusion, the study of the American multicultural attitudes is best understood through the eyes of those whom have experienced it in their lives: interracial couples and multiethnic families.

Multiculturalism and the American Presidents

     As stated before, the American mentality has yet not clearly defined an acceptance or a rejection of cultural commonality.  Studies show that the best way to predict multicultural acceptance is proportional to the amount of exposure that once racial group has had with another (George, Yancy 2004).  But one predictor of the American mentality is the personality of American leaders. One of the most influential symbols of the United States is represented by the President. American history is particular about placing the idiosyncrasy of each  President’s policies as the embodiment of the psyche of the society that they are ruling. The picture of the American leader often goes hand in hand with the changes of the times, and the psyche of the community. According to research from Baptiste, Kamenski and Kameski (2005), America has a tendency to select leaders who represent the symptoms of the changing generations. Conversely, the American President’s own personality and leadership approach also feeds, or starves, the feelings of national pride in the country. It can also feed, or starve, the openness of the population in the acceptance of other cultural groups (Baptiste, Kamenski and Kameski 2005 p. 2)

     In the case of multiculturalism, Baptiste, Kamenski and Kamenski concluded that the past 30 years have been significant in the rate of societal changes and social policy- making, particularly in lieu of the new migrant populations. Baptiste, Kamenski and Kamenski analyzed, compared, and contrasted the social impact of the American presidents that have led the nation for the past 30 years: Ronald Wilson Reagan, George Herbert Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George WH. Bush (Baptiste, Kamenski, Kamenski, 2005). According to their research the policies, laws, and reforms that these Presidents implemented for the diverse and multicultural populations in the United States were significant and unique in American politics. Most of the political agendas in the last 30 years have mirrored the changing American demographics; they are a result of the social change taking place due to constant immigrant groups. However, these policies are also reflections of the President whom has implemented them, and show each Presidents’ own ideas about cultural diversity. The impact of their reforms at times empowered, and many times discouraged, any sort of integration between race groups. Furthermore, during the times that the least diverse-oriented Presidents were in term, the more racial disturbances seem to have taken place (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005 p. 5-6).

     If we begin analyzing the change in policies, we would arguably see a dramatic myriad of opinions, mentalities and ideals among each of these Presidents’ tenures.  Ronald Reagan’s presidency was one of conflict, gaps, and idealistic views of America as a country that was essentially doing better than ever (Schaller, 1994). Reagan’s charismatic nature gained him the vote in near 49 out of the 50 American states, making him one of the most impacting Presidents ever (Schaller, 1994).  Yet, his policies were one of the most hurtful in terms of cultural acceptance and diversity in modern times (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005 p. 10-11). 

     Reagan’s aloof leadership created a disorganized budget, and gaps in American economy. Reagan developed an economic plan geared mostly toward the increase of business and consumerism. To be able to favor businesses and business owners, Reagan made the unlikely decision of establishing a social reform based on budget cuts in government agencies. In other words, businesses might boom U.S. economy, therefore, agencies which do the opposite of selling (in this case giving services away for free), will be underfunded (Baptiste, Kamenski, Kamenski, 2005).  These agencies that would get the budget cuts served most of the minority populations and diverse cultural groups in the United States (Baptiste, Kamenski, Kamenski, 2005).    

     Reagan’s first budget cut went to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which supported housing for the poor. This monetary cut weakened the agency, and led to a rise in the percentage of people living in and under poverty standards from nearly 25 million in the 1970’s to a rising 33 million in 1988. There were also cutbacks in food stamps, student loans, welfare, unemployment compensation, Medicaid, and urban mass transit (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005). These changes set the gap among minority and cultural groups even farther, making people delineate their social status more strongly than before. The rich were getting richer, as they were mostly the business owners whom Reagan favored. These changes were also known as  “Reaganomics”. The name “Reaganomics” has a double entendre: It is mostly linked to the idea that, under Reagan’s government and economic strategy, “the rich got richer and the poor got poorer” (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005 p. 29).  Meanwhile, as the rich got richer, stronger divisions occurred among the high, middle, and lower economical sectors, making individuals resentful (Schaller, 1994).  The 80’s became known as the “me” generation.n Schaller (1994) offers,

 

Not since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century or the Roaring Twenties had the acquisition and flaunting of wealth been so publicly celebrated as during the 1980s. Income became the accepted measure of one’s value to society. Professional athletes earned immense sums as teams scrambled to recruit basketball, football, and baseball players from colleges. Congressman Kemp, economist Laffer, and writers Jude Wanniski and George Gilder celebrated financiers and deal makers as secular saints, enriching society (p. 72)

     In conclusion, when a society is this divided, only resentment can occur. This type of resentment makes the community question their own value within the system. It also leads to question their worth within a society that gives to some more than others, while others would have to work twice for the government to turn around and betray them with cuts that only benefit some, and not others. In societal change, making changes that only benefit one side of society automatically makes that group a target. In the eighties, the rich were too powerful to be bothered with. Hence, the middle class and white Americans only had one other way to turn to express their frustration with the systems: Minorities, and the poor.

     Reagan’s administration is also historically famous for its racist undertones. During his tenure Reagan cut funding for civil rights enforcement and even opposed the implementation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005 p. 14). Affirmative action was one of the programs that became most neglected during Reagan. He named Clarence Thomas to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, while ignoring the programs that sponsored school desegregation (Wickham, 2002). Yet he defended those who practiced it (Rein, 2002). In the latter case, Rein (2002) reports that Reagan sided with Bob Jones University to sue the IRS for not giving the institution a tax exemption. The reason why the IRS did not give a tax exemption to Bob Jones University was because it was a private school that still practiced racial discrimination (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005 p.3).  Even the U.S. Supreme court called Reagan “dead wrong” for trying to take powers away from the IRS and Bob Jones University lost its tax exemption (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005 p.3). Basically that was Reagan’s way of operating: He did not blatantly underscore, or openly dissolve government programs that funded the poor; he simply decided not to make those programs his priority, make someone in charge of them, and ignore them completely afterwards (Baptiste; Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005 p. 7).

     Reagan’s attitude toward multicultural and minority groups was a result and a symptom of the times. In the 1980’s the white working class of America had reportedly drawn their boundaries against blacks much strongly than ever before in modern times (Leham, 1998). Racial tensions were vivid in the 1980’s. Even attacks from members of the Ku Klux Klan began to be reported in the early 80’s. The memories of the Civil rights movement’s fights in the 60’s and 70’s were still fresh in the memory of white Americans. The implementation of government programs that helped minorities and poor people created a stigma among those who received the programs, and white America felt resentment, and a sense of abandonment from part of the government. The white middle class was stuck in between the rich and the poor who were getting government help. All these elements made white Americans reject minorities (Leham, 1998). Reagan’s government was doing the same thing; it was responding to the voice of the majority.  It embodied the feelings of society. Reagan’s policies and terms of government sent out a message to white America, which mainly stated “I am avenging you” (Laham, 1998).

     Yet, the programs that Reagan supported hurt everyone equally regardless of whom was affected first. Reagan made a budget cut by removing mental health care programs from the federal government, and turning them to the states (Thomas, 1998). This caused a peak in mentally-ill populations in prisons due to the lack of mental health care institutions at the time.  Amazingly, Reagan was still at the top of his popularity. Apparently, his oblivious state of mind, and his turning away from things “one rather not think about”, permeated in the American mentality. Suddenly, America was also oblivious to the social injustice and racial tensions of the time. The phrases “Not in My Backyard”, and “None of my Business” were heard more than ever in the American jargon, demonstrating that the lack of care that came from the American leadership toward social problems was imitated by the constituents in middle and upper class white America.  Reagan was now more than just a president; he was a state of mind. And this state of mind covered all areas (Goldstein, 1993).

     Reagan was a master actor, whom also created a theatrical scenario for all Americans to watch, and believe to be real  (Schellman, 1994). Reagan’s 1980s’ theater of  patriotism came complete with his personal campaign of eating the All-American jellybean, and personal interviews where he glorified blue collar America (Feurer, 1995). The 80’s airwaves sounded the proud songs of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A” and John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Ain’t that America”. Television shows were mostly family sitcoms such as Family Ties, Who’s the Boss, Growing Pains, Silver Spoons, Knots Landing, Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Cheers. All these shows had one thing in common: They showed average, middle-class white Americans doing everyday things, providing an underlying message that “this is what America should look like” (Torres, 1998). During the eighties, only one television show based its storyline on one black American upper-class family: The Cosby show (Torres, 1998) Yet, in an assimilistic way, The Cosbys acted more like yet another white American family with the exception of their skin color (Torres, 1998). 

AIDS comes to America: It’s Impact in Multicultural Acceptance

     A monster lurked beneath the times of white American mania, loud patriotic songs, eighties excess from the rich, and a jolly-red nosed President eating Jelly Bellies: The AIDS virus. (Goldstein, 1993). Deaths caused by AIDS reached gargantuan proportions in the 1980’s, and the world was in panic.  Conservative Americans blamed the lifestyle of gays, blacks and other minorities for the advent and spread of the AIDS virus. Suddenly, AIDS became a “bad people” disease (Lazarus, 2004). Like most conservative white American families did at home, Reagan did not even acknowledge AIDS as an equal opportunity disease. In fact, Reagan “did not even utter the word ‘AIDS’ until 1987” (Lazarus, 2004).  The spread of AIDS could have been more proactive if the disease had been de-tabooed and understood. Instead, the President’s attitude toward it reinforced the idea that this disease was not worthy of mention, because “it happened to other people” (Lazarus, 2004).

     Thus far, it can be concluded that Reagan’s attitudes toward minorities led to the changes in society that disabled minorities and poor people to achieve more. Because of Reagan’s idiosyncrasy and personal believes, minorities became delineated more within society. With their separation from other community members, they became targets for discrimination in lieu of the changes in the government that made them look like people who only wanted “hand me downs” from the government. This is an example of how politics, and an individual’s personal point of view can change society as a whole. Reagan changed the eighties, and the perception of minority groups. Societal changes continued after Reagan. His Vice-President, George H. Bush became President after Reagan’s time in office.  Compared to Reagan, Bush tried to establish changes that would include minorities and diverse populations. Like Reagan, bush was a right-wing conservative. His work for the multicultural populations were mostly the same as Reagan’s because he did not support Affirmative Action and the Equal Opportunity Employment Act. According to Baptiste, Kamenski and  Kamenski (1995), there were fice key Supreme Court decisions in 1989 that led to “the weakening of Title VII of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Law. The reason for this is because the law demanded specific evidence that will prove that either women or minorities were being discriminated against. The evidences required by law were complex, and made it very hard for these groups to prove discrimination.  When Congress responded with the Civil Rights Restoration act of 1991 (Walton, 1997), Bush vetoed it being the second president, after Reagan, that vetoed a policy for civil rights. Yet, under pressure, Bush signed the Civil Right Act of 1991, where he “altered all prior federal legislation regarding employment discrimination, which included the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Civil War Reconstruction-Era Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967” (Baptiste, Kamenski and Kamenski, 2005 p. 33).  The reason why he had to sign the act after all was because prior to it, his government had met a record of racial and sexual discrimination cases that had not previously been seen before (Baptiste, Kamenski; Kamenski, 2005). Yet, besides the signing of this act, not more can be said about Bush’s influence in multicultural populations. He did not work any more further in domestic affairs as he did in the foreign affairs regarding Iraq, Operation Desert Storm, and other foreign policies (Baptiste, Kamenski, Kamenski, 2005). Bush , however, takes credit for signing the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. The purpose of the act was to avoid and prohibit any type of discrimination against people with disabilities. It is similar in its protections as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Middleton; Rollins; Harley, 1999). The act protects against discrimination in the areas of employment, public services and transportation, accommodations in public places, telecommunications and many more. The impact of this act in a multicultural society relies on its inclusion of Americans with disabilities to the list of multicultural groups (Middleton; Rollins; Harley, 1999). The culture of the disabled America implies that this population, just like any other different cultural group, has needs that should be met.

     We can conclude that George H. Bush’s policies were mostly beneficial for Americans with disabilities. Never before had anyone taken Americans with disabilities as seriously as they did in the early 1990’s (Middleton; Rollins; Harley, 1999). This act was the beginning of what we could deem as “a more compassionate America”. George H. Bush would call it, “a gentler, kinder America” in his own words. The impact in the social systems due to the ADA act made all public buildings revisit their ability to include disabled individuals within their premises. This made America more tolerant; because of ADA, people with disabilities will be, for the first time in history, seen as equals (Middleton; Rollins; Harley, 1999). The Americans with Disabilities act  ensured equal treatment and opportunities. This is a milestone in a quest for equality, tolerance, and compassion. Perhaps President Bush would never know it, but his act was responsible for a whole new perspective in the eyes of every American: People with disabilities are not disabled people.

The effects of George H. Bush’s signing of the ADA act are still influential today. Schools have inclusion and mainstreaming programs that require that students with disabilities participate in as many activities as regular education students, under the least restrictive environment possible. Hence, the impact of ADA not only serve our psyche as individuals, but also made it clear to all programs and systems in place that discrimination will not be tolerated.

     The end of twenty years of Republican and conservative rule came with the election of William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton as President of the United States.  Clinton is the president whom had made the most significant social changes regarding multiculturalism in the history of American politics (Baptiste, Kamenski, Kamenski, 2005).  The first social change that occurred under Clinton’s presidency was his appointing of people of color to high positions within the cabinet (Kunhardt, Kunhardt and Kunhardt , 1999).  The influence of this decision in the society of America is that, for the first time since Reagan, Americans get to experience inclusion in the highest office. The attitude of Bill Clinton toward racial integration was clear: He wanted a diverse cabinet. Blumenthal (2003) writes that Clinton had worked so hard in identifying the problems with social equality, race, gender and class, that he seemed “to be associated to the movements and causes of the 1960’s” (p.51).

     Contrary to Reagan and Bush, Clinton’s economic package helped the small business owner in allowing them to place bids for big contracts. This was particularly helpful to minority groups who were also business owners. It contributed to their economic development and allowed to place them in a clear and defined place within society. Clinton was responsible for the Hispanic Education Action Plan, where funding would be given to universities that serve Latinos. He also established a Hispanic Advisory Commission, and implemented the Student Diversity Partnership Programs. The rationale behind Clinton’s work was apparently to break clean from the ideals, taboos and conservatism of the 1980’s and early 1990’s and make radical changes that are completely different from those made by Republican presidents.

     The impact of Clinton was as influential then as it is now. Due to the opportunities given to Hispanics and Blacks during his two tenures as President, Clinton reivindicated minorities into a society that previously oppressed them under Reagan, and were simply ignored under George Bush. In conclusion, Bill Clinton’s presidency reached out to minorities and included them within society. His policies benefited social systems as well as minority groups by providing more work opportunities, and by making minorities a working part of society. By doing this, Clinton inadvertedly helped minority groups regain some identity and respect within the community. A society which once was delineated by social, status, and racial groups as Max Weber would observe, is now uniting. The attitude of Clinton reflected a new decade that geared towards the 21st century. His openness about racial equality was as productive as George Bush’s advocacy of Americans with Disabilities. Slowly, social systems have changed with laws that include and require that minorities are included. The policies of these last three presidents set the grounds for a new society which will be expected to include people of all walks of life and will provide everyone with the same opportunities. Buildings now would have to comply with the needs of individuals with disabilities, and employers would now have to consider a strong way to end racial and gender discrimination. Overall, these changes in society clearly state the change of the times, and set the pace for more changes to come.

     When it comes to multiculturalism, our current President, George W. Bush is perhaps more recognized for two important social laws that have taken place under his tenure: The, Patriot Act and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act (Young; Sharifradetz, 2004). The Patriot Act is still influencing the American population to this day. This act was signed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (Young; Sharifradetz, 2004). The act was made for Americans to be able to identify possibly dangerous activity against Americans, and to be able to track, report and share information. It also includes the possibility of eavesdropping on conversations and trying to get as much information as they can from extremist groups that want to hurt America (Young; Sharifradetz, 2004). The problem with this act on multicultural populations is the targeting and labeling of groups that could be related to terrorist ideologies. The Patriot Act argues that there should be profiling included with the information gathering process. Certain groups adopt certain manners that identify their ethnicity, and cultural background. Having these traits, people that fall under the categories established by the Patriot Act are more likely to be stopped, searched, and investigated than people who do not fit the profile. (Young; Sharifradetz, 2004 p. 35).  Due to these matters, debates have increased regarding racial profiling, racial tolerance, and the avoidance of labeling people from other countries as “terrorists”(Young; Sharifradetz, 2004). The influence of this act continues as the terrorist attacks continue to occur throughout the world. With more groups with Anti-American ideals have been caught plotting against us, more divisions of culture and ethnicity have occurred. People have a tendency of seeing all Asian groups as “arabs” and all “Arabs” as “Terrorists”.  The Patriot Act calls for more information and education regarding terrorism, and the people who practice the religious beliefs that lead them to believe that America should be the target for attacks (Young; Sharifradetz, 2004). The Patriot Act should work to shift attention from racial labeling, and focus on ways to not become targets of any groups. By profiling racially, not only is the government overgeneralizing and placing all people of one race and ethnic group as potential terrorists, but it is also allowing terrorist groups who do not fit the physical features to perform without getting noticed. Hence, it can be concluded that the Patriot Act does serve as a social system to warn from any further attack done to the United States, but much more education is needed for people who are not familiar with racial groups to avoid labeling them and discriminating against them.

     The NCLB act had the goal of advocating mandatory testing and standards that all school districts should be guided by (Kalekin-Fishman, 2004). It requires that students from the third to the eighth grade are tested yearly to meet the AYP, which stands for Adequate Yearly Success (Mitchell, 2004). NCLB impacts multicultural populations: For once, the scores from the testing done as a requirement are divided into groups, which also must meet AYP. These groups are clearly minorities and less privileged individuals. The groups are: ethnicity, Special education status, income, and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) status (Mitchell, 2004). The school that does not meet the AYP for that year is put on probation, and schools that continuously not meet the yearly progress could be shut down. In other words, for a school to receive federal funding, it must show that it is accountable for the success of the student.  NCLB is perhaps one of the pivotal characters that shows clearly the advent of change in society. It demonstrates that education holds the key for change, not only by becoming educated as individuals, but by providing the same educational opportunities to everyone equally (Kalekin-Fishman. 2004).

Multiculturalism and the Societal Impact of Education.

     Interestingly, these past 30 years have also witnessed major changes in American schools, test scores, student demographics, classroom population, and teacher education (Orfield, Lee 2006). The growing multicultural populations have been more evident in the microcosmic strata of the American classroom (Orfield, Lee  2006). The changes that each district has made to accommodate the needs of new ethnic groups evidences the growing social need to fit new groups within society. These past 30 years have made education a first-rate campaign issue in American politics.

     One of the most influential ways that Presidents and other political leaders use to either encourage or discourage racial integration is through the field of education.  The reason why education is the route to discourage, encourage or advocate in favor or against racial integration is, according to Ramsey (2002) that “over the past 30 years, the field of multicultural education in the United States has become recognized as one of the avenues of school reform” (p.xii). America’s issues with education have become the axis of political campaigning. As early as 2005, “on the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, 39% of white eighth graders were proficient in reading, vs. just 15% of Hispanics and only 12% of blacks” (Symonds, 2005). This is an alarming rate, considering the status of America as a “Super Power”.  With this in mind, American presidents have passed laws and social reforms that touch on the need for extended funding for education. Emery and Ohanian (2004) say that “the negative consequences of high-stakes testing, such as increased drop out rates and added costs associated with testing are being overlooked”. The consequences of this may result in a program that intentionally tries to help society by providing structure and standards, but it can also result in mismanagement of testing funds, unreliable reports, and the idea that testing is “all” an academic society needs to measure success. Yet, the impact of this in minorities might be deeper than what it looks. Sydmonds (2005) argues that minorities face more obstacles in getting through high school than other students, because many come from low-income families who have fallen at times through the cracks of the financial aid system. He adds that “just 10% of students from the bottom quartile of family income brackets earn a BA by the time they’re 24 vs. 81% of those from the top quartile”. What this entails is that most financial aid programs are being implemented in a way that middle class Americans could qualify for them, and the poorest population might not make the mark. Hence, multiculturalism is perhaps not being taken into consideration when deciding the financial aid rules, but the social status of the family at the time the child goes to college. Considering that most Hispanics are poor, chances are that less of them have the opportunity to attend college (Sydmonds, 2005). With the financial aid laws shifting, even if that minority students would be able to enter college, he still faces the financial burden that will come afterwards.

     It is highly possible to develop a critical allergic reaction to this theory. Sydmond’s theory is highly arguable although it might seem accurate in terms of the realities of the shifting rates for student loans and the requirements for financial aid for everyone. The laws that have been implemented since the Clinton administration have branched out in countless of additional opportunities created from the private sector and provided to minorities. Currently, there are as many opportunities for Hispanics as for any other ethnic group to attend college without burdens. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation offers the Stanford Chicano/Latino Engineers and Scientist fellowship for outstanding Hispanic students in the fields. This is only one of hundreds of different ways that minorities can attend the college of their choice, or at least pursue their academic goals. Some of these programs include: The College Assistant Migrant Program Alumni Association; The Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting; the College Board’s National Collegiate Recognition program for Latinos; the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute;  the Latino Entrepreneurial Award of Distinction (LEAD) for Hispanic Youth Ages 12-18; the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement; the Hispanic College Fund; the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU); the Hispanic Scholarship Fund; the Hispanic Theological Initiative; the Interamerican College of Physicians and Surgeon; Justicia en Diversidad (the Justice in Diversity) Foundation; the Latin American Educational Foundation; the National Association of Hispanic Nurses; National Association of Hispanic Publications; a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials; the National Hispana Leadership Institute; the National Hispanic Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees; the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts; the National Association of Hispanic MBAs; the National Association of Professional Hispanic Natural Resources Conservation Service Employees [http://scholarships.fatomei.com/hispanics.html].

            These agencies are only some of the few which are publicly listed in the world wide web, and in each of the agencies’ web portals offering diverse grants, fellowships, scholarships, internships, and training opportunities to Hispanics. To say that Hispanics are not getting enough opportunities to go to college is as insulting as saying that white Americans have way too many. This research has clearly shown that multiculturalism has indeed impacted the laws in society, economy, and overall attitude in America. Now, it is proven fact that multiculturalism has moved corporate America, public service associations, government agencies and higher institutions toward the improvement of opportunities for minorities to go to college. It is debatable, then, to argue that Hispanics have financial obstacles to attend college. If anything, Hispanics can only obstaculize their own path toward an academic career if they do not obtain the proper role models and proper guidance to find these services.  Schools have indeed changed as a result of multiculturalism, and that will be the last installment of analysis in this journey through the societal change and the impact of multiculturalism.

            Multiculturalism in the American Curriculum

     The National Center for Educational Statistics provided the following information back in their year 2000 report: “One of every three students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools is of a racial or ethnic minority background. One in five children younger than 18 lives in poverty. More than one in seven children between the ages of 5 and 17 speak a language other than English at home; more than one third of them are of limited English proficiency (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2000).  Six years have gone by since those reports.

     As of the latest report, provided in 2003, the statistics continue to change. Orfielfd and Lee (2006) offered in their research Racial Transformation and the Changing Nature of Segregation

     Of all racial groups, whites remain the most isolated group: the average white student attends schools where more than three quarters (78%) of his or her peers are also white As a result of this isolation, most nonwhite groups experience less exposure to white students than one would expect given the racial composition of the nation’s public schools. The average black student attends a school that is 30 percent white and the average Latino student, 28 percent. Asian and American Indian students attend schools with larger proportions of white students, likely due to the fact that their populations are far smaller and less residentially segregated than either the black and Latino populations (p. 8).

     In other words, the educational world continues to be impacted by the influx and changes of ethnically diverse groups in the United States (Wing, 1991). At this point, teachers, psychologists, social workers, principals and other public officials must deal with the reality of diversity in all camps. When it comes to teaching, it would be easy to conclude that the correct measures have been provided to educate teachers to deal with the changing demographics of the classroom (Wing, 1991). Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Although there is a clear pattern of higher multicultural populations in American Public Schools, not enough has been done to catch up with the changing times (Villegas, Lucas 2001)

     In the year 2001, research from Villegas and Lucas argued that University curriculums have responded poorly to this trend in terms of preparing teacher education programs.  They claim that the most colleges have done is add “a course or two” to the progress plan of each teacher education program and that these courses were mostly optional. What this means is that teachers who graduated as early as a mere six years ago may have gone through an entire teacher preparation program without taking a single course in multicultural education (Villegas, Lucas, 2001).

     In consideration, Villegas and Lucas presented standard guidelines that should be followed in order to create a multicultural and racially understanding teacher that will deal with the needs of the classroom population of the 21st century. In their opinion a teacher must be: (a) socioculturally conscious; b) must have affirming views of students from diverse backgrounds; (c) sees himself or herself as both responsible for and capable of bringing about educational change to all students; (d) understands how learners construct knowledge; (e) knows about the lives of his or her students; and (f) uses his or her knowledge about students’ lives to differentiate instruction properly (Villegas, Lucas 2002, p. 1)

     In the year 2006, changes in the education of public servants have indeed taken place. The unfortunate part of these changes is that they are still not taking place quick enough to deal with the quick influx of multicultural populations.  The area of teacher education seems to be the one area which should be working harder at this problem, yet, it is not. 

     According to a 2005 study by Driver, McAllister, Rutledge and Watson, it has been particularly difficult to find at least one basal textbook that deals with first hand training of teachers of students of English as a Second Language (ESL) or English Language Learners (ELL). The authors offer,

     Workshops, seminars and other programs are now available across the country to help practicing teachers learn the skills necessary to address the educational needs of the English Language Learner. But who is addressing the preparation of the pre-service teacher in this critical area? It is clear that authors of teacher education texts are not including content in the texts to reflect the rapid growth of the ELL population. One rater pointed out that many texts explore the problems faced by ELLs but offer few solutions. Another indicated that the texts she explored rarely mentioned English Language Learners, but when they did it was often in a negative context and no recommendations were offered. Practical strategies for teaching English Language Learners, information pertaining to the assessment of ELLs, and instruction for making oral language comprehensible to the English Language Learner were almost nonexistent in most texts.

     The implications of these observations are enormous. It means that teachers who will depend entirely on a classroom basal to teach, especially in school districts where they hire just about anybody, are ill-prepared to deal with the realities of the classroom (Wing, 1991). American classrooms need the best prepared teachers ever in the firs place. Yet, the American classroom is becoming a metamorphic element that changes every year. The students are now speakers of other languages as well as English, their religious and traditional backgrounds are more eclectic than before, their mannerism, customs, goals and expectations vary more than ever. If America was not quite ready before to train those who will lead the future, will it start getting ready now?

Summary of the Analysis

     America has been a catalyst of change throughout history. Ever since its early beginnings, this country has witnessed the entrance of more diverse groups than any other country in such a consistent rate. The effects of war, disease, and the economy marked the advent of even more diverse groups of individuals wanting to become part of this nation. The effects of these changes have influenced society and the major societal groups in different ways. Multiculturalism has become a norm that should not be denied, or ignored. The influx of the diverse populations has invited change in the several areas.  First, there is the American mentality: The traditional American attitude has changed in the last 30 years due to the additional exposure to people of other races and ethnicities. Although these changes are not radical, nor indicate a totally unified society, they show a changing tendency for integration that includes interracial marriages, integrated neighborhoods, and multicultural families. One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the societal attitude towards multiculturalism and change comes with the election of the President. This research showed that the power of the President permeates the American mentality, and way of life. The way the President perceived the population is often the way the populi ends up perceiving it as well.  The Presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were analyzed and  compared in terms of their impact in the societal changes due to the influx of multicultural groups. It was concluded that the Presidencies of George H. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush were more impacting in the changing and implementation of social reform than the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.

     As the white majority is steadfastly becoming smaller, the penetration of other races and cultures has become bigger, making government programs and social support systems available to attend the needs of minority groups. Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Civil Rights Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Patriot Act, and other government amendments were mentioned as a way to show that multiculturalism has indeed impacted the government by making create new options for minorities. It was debated whether minorities are still underprivileged in obtaining opportunities for going to higher learning institutions. This study shows that the government acts that have been made to help out minorities have inspired private corporations and other institutions to also establish college funds of their own. The conclusion regarding this matter is that minorities are not underprivileged at all to attend college, and that suggesting it would create tension in groups that might not yet accept racial integration as a social reality.

     This research demonstrated that the social impact of multiculturalism extends to the American classroom, where the shift in demographics is more obvious. It was determined that the white majority is slowly becoming less expansive and that multicultural groups are growing at big rates. The changes in classroom demographics bring with them a need to assess the rate at which teachers, curriculum specialists, social workers and other public servants are educating themselves to ensure that they understand the uniqueness of these groups. A need for further education in the area of multicultural education was advised as part of this analysis.

     Questions were raised: Are teachers prepared to handle the incoming migrant groups and educate the current ones? The conclusion is that teacher education programs have indeed change somewhat in that they include now the option of multicultural education within their curriculi, yet, many future teachers choose not to take this option, and continue ignorant to what multicultural integration really is.

     In closing, the migration of multicultural groups has affected America since the country’s beginnings as “New England”. It is evidenced that the impact continues to this day. The past 30 years brought  political, economic, societal, and educational changes that are a sign of the coming generations. These coming groups will likely be more technologically advanced, college-educated, and perhaps even more empowered by the changes that this generation has made. The way to continue a policy of integration, education, and tolerance is by exposure, adaptation, and openness to change.

     As a closing remark, it is to apposite consider Chin’s 2004 view into the future of the American society. In his research, he foresaw a society that would continue a pattern of the changes we see today. Chin contributed to this theory, demonstrating that there has indeed been an impact in the area of education done by incoming multi-ethnic groups. These changes have already placed in today’s society ranging from literature, to educational reforms, to technology integration, and everyday interactions. His research concludes that our society will likely be a multiethnic conundrum “by the year 2050”.  He predicts “a multiethnic and highly technological society that could only come to life if we, in our current time, learn to understand what it takes to accept changes and admit to inclusion” (Chin, 2004 p. 19). Hopefully someday, our country will get to the point where it will undoubtedly be a “melting pot” of all the right ingredients.

 

 

 

 

 

References

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Watson, S.; Miller, T.; Driver, J.; Rutledge,V.; McAllister, D. (2005) English language learner representation in teacher education textbooks: A null curriculum? Education 126 (1), p. 148

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