Education Reform Essay, Research Paper
Education reform could be considered as one of the most highly debated issues of today. People of many different backgrounds from many different locations have many different opinions on how children in this country should be taught. In this incredibly broad debate, one of the most highly discussed issues is that of a multicultural education. The problem with this topic is that the many different people who have an opinion on the issue have many different definitions of what a multicultural education should be. Perhaps if the ideas behind a multicultural education were defined more clearly, the issue would be easier to talk about and the seemingly circular argument that is education reform could move towards a definite goal. Some of the ideas that have been discussed within the parameters of a multicultural education include afrocentrism, tolerance, and morality, among many others. While these and other issues do have certain merit, they alone can not serve as the basis for a strong education. The aim of a multicultural education should be to integrate a child’s acquisition of basic skills with a general knowledge of the people he or she lives with in the United States.
One of, if not the main factor in education reform is the teachers. They are the foundation for a child’s development, and the are the filter through which the child must learn. A single teacher should not be allowed the right to single handedly hinder a young person’s education, as the material taught and the lessons learned should transcend the people teaching these lessons. The seemingly obvious way to eliminate differences between teachers would be homogenous teacher training. However, the fact must be understood that while most teachers will be similar, they will all be individuals whose personalities and experience will come into play, and should come into play. A training session does not compare to real life experience, and teachers will learn as they continue to teach and interact with different types of students. To some extent, environment will also affect teaching methods, but, as Lisa Delpit points out, some teaching ideas can be universal. “I learned that children should be in control of their own learning, and that all children would read when they were ready” (Delpit, 12).
The universal themes that Delpit discusses bring up another debate within the realm of a multicultural education. The curriculum issue deals with how much the location of a school should determine what is taught within that school. Stan Karp has dissected the recent troubles within New York public schools, and thinks that local education must be determined within a local forum. As he states, “The added rounds of education, organizing, and political struggle it takes to turn progressive policy into actual practice must occur at the school and community level ” (Levine, 27). While this statement has some merit in that the details of all educational goals must be decided in the community it affects, a national education must be implemented as well. A base curriculum that covered basic goals for education at different levels of schooling would eliminate further polarization of different ethnicities. While local “touch” would definitely improve the quality of any education, a strong national education which requires certain aspects of learning would make sure that education reform is performed in the manner in which it should.
Another topic that seems to be included in most multicultural education debates deals with kind of material that is included in the curriculum. Thomas J. Famularo, an opponent of multicultural education, argues “A curriculum can contain just so much, and because education succeeds only when it includes prolong and in-depth consideration, ? more in education is often less” (Noll, 123). Perhaps Famularo is correct when speaking about older children like high school or even college students, it would seem highly unlikely that a third grader could deeply consider many topics in their lives. The key to integrating education is to mesh different issues into one lesson at the times at which this meshing process can be done. For example, in a reading lesson for a first grade class, the class could read about the cultural differences between living in the city versus living in the country. In a lesson such as this, the children could improve their vocabulary and reading skills while learning about something a little more exciting than Dick and Jane running. Methods such as this can be used in all areas of elementary education, and while a second grade student might not be able to recite all fifty state capitals, he has a broader understanding of the world around him, and perhaps his knowledge will eliminate a small form of bigotry, which is bred by ignorance.
Multicultural education is designed to teach exactly what its name says, the principles and ideas behind certain topics on different cultures. Ingrained in this definition is the idea of tolerance for different cultures. Some people have argued that morals should be taught in the home, and that public schools should interfere with such an issue. However, perhaps if morality was touched upon in a central environment that did not involve blood lines, the racism that is still prevalent in our country could be chipped away. Opponents argue that the teaching of morality also takes away from the acquisition of skills that are important in real life. However, social skills are also incredibly important and are used every day. As Henry Louis Gates, a noted speaker on the topic, states “We’re worried when Johnny can’t read. We’re worried when Johnny can’t add. But shouldn’t we be worried, too, when Johnny tramples gravestones in a Jewish cemetery or scrawls racial epithets on a dormitory wall?” (Levine, 8). Gates goes on to conclude his argument by saying “Ours is a society that simply won’t survive without the values of tolerance; and cultural tolerance comes to nothing without cultural understanding” (Levine, 8).
Some extreme measures have also been suggested to improve the nature of certain public schools in this country. One such measure is the idea of an afro-centric education that teaches from an African-American point of view. Molefi Kete Asante, one of the largest proponents of an afro-centric curriculum, states, “Afrocentricity provides all Americans an opportunity to examine the perspective of an African person in this society and the world” (Noll, 268). While Asante is most likely correct that afrocentricity will allow people to learn more about African-Americans, Asante is incorrect in his motives for an afrocentric curriculum. Multicultural education should be multicultural, and an afrocentric education provides for a singular viewpoint. An afrocentric education would be a step backwards. In no way should African-Americans be left out of a multicultural education, but also in no way should they or any other culture be the lone focus of a public education. Such a step would lead to further polarization between races, which is what educators are attempting to fix by installing a multicultural education.
The topic of afrocentrism and the teaching of a specific culture leads into the question of what should be included in a multicultural education, and where educators should draw the line as far as teaching culture. Louise Derman-Sparks, a proponent of multicultural education, says that preaching diversity in all parts of learning is the best approach to teach diversity. She suggests, among other ideas, to avoid denying color, but rather to embrace it. “By implicitly setting up the dominant culture as the norm, we end up equating ‘We are all the same,’ with, ‘We are all white.’” (Levine, 19). A multicultural education should touch upon different aspects of many different ethnicities, but not do so in a token manner. Such an education should also teach students specific skills at the same time that the education teaches life skills that are not often equated with the classroom.
Enid Lee, a leading arguer for multicultural education, believes that education reform is absolutely necessary, and produces a harsh tone for anyone who is not in favor of educational change. She states “If you don’t take multicultural education seriously, you are actually promoting a monocultural or racist education. There is no neutral ground on this issue” (Levine, 9). While Lee’s view may be considered to be somewhat extreme, she is correct in the fact that this country does need some sort of educational reform. Although the answers may not be clear yet, enough people have called for a change that it is time to do something about the situation. Calling for change is not enough either, as many pieces have been written on the issue but not much has actually been done to produce a different sort of public education. Whether the issue must be decided in a political arena, which education reform likely does, or whether educators must produce the changes themselves, something needs to be done, and the reform starts with targeting a clear and specific goal and moving towards this goal. A clear definition makes for a clear answer. There is no neutral ground on this issue.