Multicultural Higher Education: Respecting Differences or Promoting Divisiveness in America’s Liberal Democracy?
Stacy Lee Smith
William E. Cross, Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 1996 S642
vi, 157 leaves; 29 cm.
Debate over the appropriateness and merit of multicultural education is raging across the nation. College and university campuses often become hot-spots in the fray as questions are raised over admissions policies, general education requirements, curriculum revision, and political correctness. Proponents of multicultural education claim that reform is necessary to provide equality of educational opportunity to students from all cultural backgrounds. Critics charge that, by focusing on differences rather than commonality, multiculturalism is inherently divisive and threatens to balkanize America.
This thesis explores the evolution and current manifestations of multicultural higher education in the United States. The argument put forward is the multicultural education reduces an ever-present gap in America between political ideals of liberty and equality and social realities of disenfranchisement and inequity. The thesis approaches this premise primarily on philosophical terms. First, the political philosophy of American institutions is explicated. The question is posed-What principles is America founded upon? The response is that America is a liberal democracy. Accordingly, principles such as human freedom, individual rights, pursuit of the good life, and equal sovereignty are at the root of our political morality. Next, a multicultural philosophy of education as an avenue of conscious social reproduction is outlined. If the principles listed above are the building blocks of our civic arena, how are we to (re)create our liberal democratic society through formal education? Multicultural education is explored as a reform option that has high potential for inculcating students with virtues necessary for liberal democratic citizenship. It is argued that multicultural education achieves this goal by advocating two key principles: 1) equal respect for cultures, and 2) equal educational opportunity for all students.
After tracing the development of multicultural education from the early 20th century to current theory and practice, the thesis identifies various models of multiculturalism in relation to American society in general, and higher education in particular. These models range from conservative assimilationism, to social reconstructionism, to a radical centrist approach. Whereas conservative approaches advocate maintenance of the status quo, radical centrist approaches tend to reverse rather than displace existing hierarchies. Yet, a variety of theoretical tenets and pragmatic strategies from the middle of the spectrum can be combined to formulate a substantive multiculturalism appropriate for conscious social reproduction.
The thesis concludes that a substantive multiculturalism would be both pluricentric and anti-oppression in nature. The concept of pluricentricity provides for multiple cultural centers from which epistemological and pedagogical approaches are launched. Anti-oppression education actively resists the tendency of mainstream cultures to dominate socializing institutions so the marginalized cultures are granted equal educational opportunity. A substantive multicultural higher education is identified which raises the potential for obliterating existing discrepancies between America's political ideals and social realities.