Jenny D has a series of great posts on multiculturalism in education, starting with the one where she asks education graduate students what it means.
“Could someone tell me what exactly is multiculturalism in education?” I asked. There is silence. Everyone stares at me. “I don’t know exactly what it is. I hear the word all the time, and it seems to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean.” More silence. I wait. Then I say, “It seems to me that multiculturalism is a bag that’s full of good ideas and garbage, and that we stuff anything we want into it and just lablel it all under fog of the word multiculturalism. I don’t want to teach it until I know what it means.”
. . . They let me know that multiculturalism matters more than anything, and affects how you treat every kid. I don’t like the word because it is so misused and vague. It can be used as an excuse to tolerate a child’s illiteracy, because that’s his “culture.” Or, as scholar Lisa Delpit said (she’s a winner of a MacArthur genuis grant), white teachers allowed minority students to pass with inferior work products in the name of multiculturalism.
On the other hand, it could mean knowledge of a child and his background that a teacher needs or uses in order to help that child achieve. But the way we throw this word around, who would know what we mean?
So I say, “Okay, let’s talk about professionalism. Let’s think of a doctor. A patient walks in the door. Does the doctor thing: oh, it’s a Hispanic. I won’t do the lifesaving surgery because his culture might be against it. I’ll suggest more culturally relevant treatments, like herbs and tortillas? Of course not. That doesn’t mean that the doctor doesn’t bring in a Spanish speaking interpreter. So although the doctor might alter the environment in which treatment occurs, the treatment is not altered based solely on a patient’s culture or race.”
See, I’m just not sure that as a real professional, you can alter treatment based on a person’s race or background. I’m not sure that everything passes through that prism, that all knowledge, and all goals and desires, that all human flourishing is uniquely based on culture.
Read the posts on a Muslim student who refused to read her composition aloud in class till a boy had read first. The teacher decided the civic values of a democratic society trumped the girl’s religious beliefs about her own subordination.