Before you read this post, may I direct you to the three previous posts this week in case you haven’t already seen them: ‘Today’s citizenship’, ‘The 10 Cs of today’s education’ and ‘2012 in light of American Communism in the 1930s and 1940s’.

All three, along with today’s, have common strands of thought.

Clare Spark has been invaluable in exploring the United States through the lens of the Enlightenment and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick up through and including the progressive movement of the 20th and 21st centuries.

As I was writing the aforementioned entries, I happened to run across another of her posts which concerns multicultural studies. It was surprising to discover that this curriculum came to light not in the 1960s but in the late 1930s. As Clare explains, it has its origins in the German Enlightenment; I summarised her findings last year.

Clare’s post to which I refer to today, ‘The Antiquated Melting Pot’, concerns the Bureau for Intercultural Education, founded under a different name in New York City in the mid-1930s. I cannot help but wonder if the late (former) Communist Party activist Bella Dodd knew of its existence, as she was active in the City’s public school teacher’s union at the time.

Clare includes this note about the Bureau (emphases mine):

The editor of this Humanities-Net list, Jeremy Bonner, helped historians on the list with the following addition: “For the record, the papers of the Bureau for Intercultural Education are located at the University of Minnesota. Founded in 1934, it initially operated in New York high schools as the Service Bureau for Education in Human Relations. The Bureau for Intercultural Education emerged out of a reorganization of the original Service Bureau in 1939-1941. It subsequently provided workshop training for teachers and scientific research in human relations through field centers in Detroit, Gary, and Battle Creek. It was dissolved in 1954.

She goes on to feature excerpts from an article concerning the Bureau which appeared in the first edition of Commentary magazine dated November 1945, the year when the United Nations was founded.

Clare introduces the article as follows — note the language and terminology shift between 1939 and 1945:

One feature of my research (on contending ideologies during the period covered in this discussion group) has been on the move away from “scientific history” toward “cultural history” and “social history.” Although the statement in the first issue of Commentary, quoted below, is dated 1945, Carolyn Ware had already reported to the American Historical Society in 1939 that “scientific history” (apparently materialist in her eyes, and too focused on the individual investigator following the evidence wherever it led) was now displaced by what many call culturalism, a focus on the individual as interacting with groups, and indeed, groups now possessed individuality in her ideology, thus erasing the conflict between the individual and society … I noticed that the stigmatizing of the unique individual as the measure of value had begun long before, as I showed in this blog  http://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness, also in my work on the German Romantic predecessors to what is now called “multiculturalism.” [See http://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.  The lengthy quotes from Mordecai Grossman’s article are followed by a comment of mine.

Now to Mordecai Grossman’s “The Schools Fight Prejudice,” Commentary, Nov. 1945:

The intercultural education movement [begun with the New Deal Bureau for Intercultural Education, 1935] in which many teachers, schools and national organizations of teachers…are now joined, is based on two principal assumptions: first, that prejudices are culturally transmitted rather than biologically inherited, and second, that the school can, by one method or another, contribute significantly to the transformation of self-enclosed, mutually exclusive and hate-breeding cultures into open, interplaying and cooperating cultures. We have here a reaffirmation of the faith in education as a force for human progress and in the schools as the principal instrument of education in democratic ideals. A democratic way of life…is one which seeks to provide every individual with the maximum possible opportunity for personal growth and community service, for sharing in the control over the economic, political, and social conditions of group life, and for mastery over his own destiny–for all individuals regardless of race, creed, or ancestry.

However, inter-individual (man-to-man) democracy is…only one aspect of the democratic way of life. The other is intercultural democracy [that] occupies a somewhat intermediate position between the ideals of “cultural pluralism” and of the “melting pot.” In contrast with the former, intercultural democracy denies both the possibility and the desirability of maintaining fairly intact the ancestral cultures of the varied ethnic groups that came here. But it also denies the possibility and desirability of stamping the 140,000,000 Americans in the mold of a uniform dominant culture–of a “melting pot” Americanism. For a democratic culture is an open culture, continually growing through individual and group interaction. Advocates of intercultural education recognize the survival of elements of old world culture in the new. Such elements of the old world heritage that are at odds with a democratic way of life are to be eliminated.

[T]here is the risk that the gains likely to accrue from the school’s attempt to develop an appreciation of the sub-culture will be nullified by the possible heightening of the sense of difference. Much depends on the way the intercultural program is administered (42).

This is partially where we find ourselves in the 21st century. Old, European ways must be replaced, it seems, with a culturally relativistic mix of unquestioning attitudes towards non-European cultures. My mother and I used to have an ongoing discussion about the great American melting-pot, which was more of a mosaic — if not a cauldron — by the time I was in primary school in the 1960s. She still saw it as the melting pot, as she had graduated from high school in the late 1930s.

Where does this leave us then in Grossman’s post-War day compared with four decades earlier? Clare Spark explains (emphases in the original):

Grossman has distorted the meaning of “the melting pot” as it was previously understood and bodied forth in Israel Zangwill’s famous play of 1908. For Zangwill and his predecessors (including de Crèvecoeur and Jefferson), a new man would be created out of the religious and ethnic mix unique to America, and this rights-endowed individual new man and woman presumably would be fit to judge their elected government representatives with the critical tools of the Enlightenment: analysis of propaganda and access to primary source documents, ending the monopoly of rulers whose affairs were conducted far from the public eye.

By rejecting the culturally syncretic* “melting pot,” Grossman was left with the cultural pluralism he was adjusting, to be replaced by a vaguely defined “intercultural democracy.” There are no autonomous free-standing individuals in his model, only interactive (collectivist) entities. Since he was actually reversing the Enlightenment by replacing individuals with groups (today we would say “community” as a substitute for the group and a corrective to hyper-individualistic loose cannons of all types), he resorted to the contrast of “democracy” with “fascism,” all the while ignoring the statism and destruction of the dissenting individual that was common to both ideologies as realized in the collectivist categories asserted in the New Deal and its progressive antecedents. (For “the individual” or “rugged individualist” was now associated with “laissez-faire capitalism” by statists of every stripe, from fascists to social democrats, though I do not equate them.) And of course Grossman underestimated the grip that authoritarian ideologies and ancestor-worship maintained in the offspring of his would-be democrats …

*Syncretic means that cultures do not evolve in isolation but frequently fuse with other cultures. For instance, the popular music of the early 20th century was a fusion of mid-19th century middle-class music (often Irish or British in origin), black music, remembered Jewish music, and music from such sources as Gilbert and Sullivan and European opera.

Today, we have even more difficulty in separating a desired love of other cultures from a loathing of government-led mandates so to do, present in all areas of life. There sometimes seems to be no reciprocal mutuality — a dreadful word reminiscent of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner — and it is painfully clear that other cultures do not love the West, although their people gladly settle here.

The situation becomes more complicated when we read of people from other parts of the world in various humanities classes, then meet them in our own countries only to find that they sometimes do not wish to have anything to do with us, despite the individual kindness we extend to them. It is no wonder that people are confused or angered by anthropology, sociology, cultural accommodation and so on. As one of Clare’s commenters put it (emphases mine):

Fascinating thoughts on multiculturalism. It seems a form of sentimental mythmakingI knew a serious anthropologist who had just returned from a year in a small Mexican village just south of Mexico City. He condemned the way it was approached in schools with oversimplifications by MacMillan or some other textbooks, the eating of quaint foods, and dressing up in gaily colored costumes. He suggested that very few people would choose refried beans over steak if they had a choice. But the minds of our 4th graders will be forever sullied with sentimental attitudes about the jolly peasants lolling about taking siestas.

Very true, however, this is the manner in which government and educators direct our thoughts. It’s a bit like the Cult of the Child, although we are speaking of adults here. Nonetheless, the sentimentality is the same.

Then we have revisionism, not only in our education system but in our political parties. During the past few weeks, lefties and Republicans have debated the direction of the GOP for the 2014 and 2016 (God willing!) elections. The question is — should the GOP be reaching out more to minorities? I think they should, however, I also agree with Clare when she says in ‘”Race” and the problem of “inclusion”‘ that there is another hurdle to surmount (emphases in the original):

… adding female or black and brown faces to the optics of the Republican Party will not solve a much deeper challenge: the curriculum that teaches  children to hate our country, and to seek Democratic Party [pseudo-solutions] to achieve “social justice.” Personally, I believe in social justice, but it can only come about through a thoughtful reform of the curriculum in all our schools, and it must tell the truth about the American past, which is a mixed bag of glorious achievement and loathsome discrimination, exploitation, and oppression. We should not pretend otherwise, unless we want to look like amnesiac opportunists.

I’ve often lamented — as mentioned here before — the omission of black greats of the 19th and 20th centuries from American curricula: Frederick Douglass, Booker T Washington, George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman. Clare rightly mentions Ralph Bunche and points out the distorted multicultural emphases on offer in schools today (italics in the original):

1. Separatist Black Studies programs that mobilized even more hatred against the “white” oppressor, thus reinforcing the notion of history as above all, racial struggle; and

2. Strategic tokenism. Window dressing that gave a rainbow aura to the Democratic coalition, even as it failed to address the curriculum that should have been dispensing such tools to all students that would aid in their upward mobility, not to speak of an accurate account of U.S. history, which is more complicated than the current curricula would have it. (Where, for instance, is Charles Sumner or Ralph Bunche today?) Above all, it allowed black liberation theology to annex the integrationist approach of Martin Luther King Jr. to the cause of black supremacy. This has gone relatively unnoticed by the white majority, but black antisemitism and hatred of “Whitey” is worse than ever, with many black adherents to the Nation of Islam.

3. The progressives put forth a version of  American and European history that described the West as essentially racist, sexist, classist, and ecocidal. Their alternative was the racialist/fascist notion of pan-Africanism, reflected in the favored term of African-American for black people. Instead of defining American nationality as equality under the law for rich and poor alike, American nationality was now hyphenated along racial or ethnic categories: there are Mexican-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. This is not only a betrayal of the Constitution, but a route to hopeless disunity and a thoroughly racialist discourse. This move is not only bogus, but fatal to everything we hold dear as unhyphenated Americans. (For a related blog see http://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.)

Agreed — the hyphenation of ‘-American’ to everything is sickening and truly fatal to everything the United States as a people used to — and should — hold dear.

Multiculturalism also needs a revamp and a rethink — by someone other than a leftist. The past 45 years of leftist revisionism have been destructive in their divisiveness first to America and, beginning in the 1980s, to Europe then Australia and New Zealand. Yes, by all means, let us be sincerely open to all the Creator’s own wherever they are in the world but, equally, let us not sentimentalise them.

The best solution seems to be resistance to leftist groupthink whilst maintaining an open and honest education at home for our young. That may mean once- or twice-weekly conversations at the dinner table or after supper where children can ask questions and get factual answers, warts and all.

No society is superior to another. We all have our faults and failings as peoples and as nations.

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