Cultural Pluralism Term Paper

Pages: 7 (2879 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Race

Cultural Pluralism

The American territory is well-known for its cultural pluralism. The outstanding cultural diversity and ethnic pluralism in the United States call for cultural awareness and special social education of the community members, in order to avoid important problems, such as racism and discrimination. The basis of the modern democratic society requires more than tolerance towards the different racial, ethnic or social categories. The contemporary cultural and ethnic studies aim at a globalization based on the cultural awareness of each individual in society. The main premises of cultural awareness are that the individuals should have knowledge of the different traditions, customs and ideologies specific to each culture. It is essential for the proper functioning of any social environment that the other culture, which are not part of what is usually called the mainstream white civilization, should not be considered as "minorities" also in terms of culture, simply because they have small populations on a certain territory.

In the United States, approximately 75% of the total population is non-Hispanic White, while the rest is formed by different cultural groups, such as the African-Americans, the Asians, the Latinos and the Native Americans:

Almost 75% of the U.S. population identifies as non-Hispanic White (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), while about 12.3% is African-American, 12.5% is Latino/Hispanic, 3.6% is Asian, 0.9% is Native American or Alaskan Natives, and 0.1% is Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders."("Diversity and Citizenship," 107)

Some of the regions in the United States have a predominant Latino or African-American population, such as Los Angeles and Brownsville in Texas, where the Hispanic population is of over 80% or Alabama and Detroit, where the black population is of almost 90% of the whole. ("Diversity and Citizenship," 105) These statistics point to the importance of cultural diversity in the United States. Also, besides the numbers, the cultural contributions of these minority groups to the overall history of America cannot be neglected. As Ignatiev emphasizes, the Afro-Americans in the United States, as well as the other minority groups can not be regarded as exceptions to the mainstream culture or as exotic people, but as an integral part of the American history:

In looking at the history of Afro-Americans in this country, one must look at it not as if this is some exotic group of interesting people in a foreign country about whom we ought to learn a little bit more, but rather understand that the history of Black folk in the United States is central to the history of Americans as a whole. That applies to the shaping of the American national identity, to the particular forms that the American republic takes, to the meaning of citizenship, to the meaning of westward movement, to the meaning of labor movement, of reform, of every aspect of American society."("Diversity and Citizenship," 104)

The Afro-Americans, the Hispanics and the Native Americans have played an essential role in the shaping of the American culture. Nevertheless, in the early United States, they were not considered as citizens of the country. The right to vote or to hold public offices was given exclusively to the white male, thus basing citizenship on such criteria as race, ethnicity and gender. Although this has changed over time, and the minority groups have equal rights, the cultural awareness of the society is still insufficient. As such, a great emphasis has been laid in the past decades on the promotion of cultural studies and on finding a way to integrate multicultural education in the general curriculum of schools. One of the best-known textbooks of multicultural education is Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies by James a. Banks. In his study, Banks emphasizes the need for a new educational curriculum or at least for its adjustment, so as to direct the students toward a better apprehension of the cultural plurality in their environment. This is not supposed to be a mere add-on to the general academic preparation, but actually an essential part of its basic structure. Multicultural education has the purpose of helping students to understand the different cultures that are part of the same environment they live in. It is obvious that although all the citizens of a country may be homogenized into the whole of the population by taking part in the same laws and in the same patterns of living, the major cultural differences help to individualize them and so point to the importance of cultural awareness. Banks presents in his book the main methods that can be used by the teachers and instructors in schools to ensure that their educational system is a multicultural one. He also stresses that multicultural education does not address merely the minorities, and that everyone should participate in it. As Banks has emphasized in his previous works as well, the multicultural education can be done in four ways or approaches, which range from a more superficial to a deeper understanding of difference. Thus, the first approach is "the contributions approach," which consists of the introduction in the curriculum of discrete cultural elements, such as very important heroes or holidays or traditions specific to a certain culture. The next approach with be the additive one, where the teacher gradually includes cultural add-ons to the general curriculum, increasing the understanding of the different cultures. The transformation approach which follows can be seen as a complete renewal of the initial academic material, so as to be directly concerned with multicultural issues. The most radical approach is the social action one, in which the cultural education goes from passive understanding to social activism. Thus, the outline of these approaches stress the importance of including the cultural plurality problems in the educational curriculum to make sure that multiculturalism is part of the formation of each individual. As Banks points out, the modern democratic society requires that the students have multicultural skills so as to promote progress and diversity:

To fully participate in our democratic society, these students and all students need the skills a multicultural education can give them to understand others and to thrive in a rapidly changing, diverse world."("Teaching Strategies," 37)

Thus, according to Banks multicultural education is the first necessary step to level the faulty dialogue between the different ethnicities that live on a common territory. In the culturally plural environment of the United States it is important to include cultural awareness into the basic formation of the individual, so as to ensure that he or she can act as the members of a democratic community:

Consequently, an important goal of citizenship education in a democratic multicultural society is to help students acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to make reflective decisions and to take actions to make their nation-states more democratic and just."("Diversity and Citizenship," 4)

The present theories related to multiculturalism emphasize the necessity of going beyond mere tolerance to otherness, and, most importantly, of avoiding assimilation. Besides discrimination and racism assimilation of the Afro- Americans or the Hispanics within the white culture has greatly contributed to the negative consequences that the education has had on the minority groups. As Banks explains, through assimilation, an individual who belongs to a minority group becomes alienated from both the mainstream culture and from his or her own culture:

Assimilationist approaches to citizenship education often used in nation-states in the past alienated students from their home and community cultures and failed to recognize that cultural citizenship was an essential part of the self-determination of many students from various ethnic, racial, and language groups.

One outcome of assimilationist approaches was to make students of color experience marginality in both their community cultures and in the mainstream culture of society. When they became alienated from their home and community cultures, institutionalized racism prevented most students of color from attaining full structural integration into the mainstream society. Consequently, they were full participants in neither their cultural communities nor within the dominant society."("Diversity and Citizenship," 5)

Therefore, Banks points to the importance of the preparation of the individual so as to be a part of the global community as well, and not only of his own culture. As such, there is a new emphasis on difference and diversity, which are extremely important in the multicultural world in which we live in. This is why the gradual introduction of ethnic elements into the school curriculum is considered to be a positive step towards democracy, as it aims at the education of a global citizen rather than of an American one. For example, it should be noticed that the homogenizing of identity can sometimes lead to misunderstanding of a certain culture and to discrimination. In the case of the group generally called "the Latinos" or "the Hispanics" it can be seen that the general term used to delimit it is too fuzzy, as it unites many minority groups in the United States, such as the Mexicans, the Puerto Ricans, the Cubans or the Spaniards under one general term. The criterion used for this homogenization is simply the use of the same language (Spanish) by all… [END OF PREVIEW]

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