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Multiculturalism in the Academy

Americans Should Stress Unifying Ideals Over Ethnic Backgrounds

By David H. Goldbrenner

Multiculturalism is one of the most politically charged and ubiquitous buzzwords bandied about in academia today. The underlying concept represents the attempt to weave a social fabric more just than the one we now wear. Unfortunately, current efforts to establish a more diverse curriculum will only produce a more ethnically charged and divisive atmosphere.

Students should be made aware of the two inherent flaws in the theory behind multiculturalism. This theory claims that we need to promote the study of ethnic differences in order to effectively educate the populace and reduce ignorance.

The first flaw in the theory of multiculturalism is a practical one. Quite simply, this country is much too diverse a place to cover all the ethnicities that comprise it in any general study of American history or society.

While the study of different cultures is undoubtedly worthwhile, the controversy arises when we begin to discuss how to incorporate these cultures into the basic, often mandatory, study of our own common society in the United States. How much time do we devote in our curriculum to each ethnic group? Do we just follow demographics? Since roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population is Black, should 12 percent of American History 101 be devoted to the study of a separate African-American culture?

The answer is expressed by Doug Lanzo and Gabe Sterling in their Guest Commentary in The Crimson (Feb. 25): "True Multiculturalism...is not separatism...is not ethnocentrism...It is the inclusion and integration of noteworthy individuals and groups, regardless of race, religion and class, into a common curriculum." The strength of American Society has always been based on the contributions of individuals from many different cultures.

The second flaw in the multiculturalist theory is more fundamental. The particularistic multiculturalists (those who hold that "no common culture is possible of desirable") seem to assume that the colorful heritages and cultures of America's minorities are being suppressed by a homogeneous "white" institution. This assumption flies in the face of the basic fact that America is a nation that has been multicultural since its inception.

The United States is a country whose birth lies not in the name of conquest or nationalism but in the name of ideals. The Revolutionary War was fought in the name of democracy, individual rights and freedom of expression--ideals that empower all individuals regardless of their particular background.

Undoubtedly, these rights have often been tragically withheld by those in power. But it is vital that we separate the ideals themselves from the flawed human beings entrusted with their safekeeping. These ideals form a common heritage stronger than any ethnic bond, for they recognize the sameness of our inherent dignity as human beings rather than the differences in our ethnic backgrounds.

This may seem rather abstract, but it is the essential reason that a society as incredibly diverse as ours can hold together despite the natural tendencies of humans to hate and fear those who are different. American ideals, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the Constitution, are the glue that keeps us together and allows us to form a common culture in which all can be included, a culture that has indeed been forming for hundreds of years, long before the cries of "diversity" and "ethnocentrism" began to emanate from the universities.

By over-emphasizing our differences, we are only fixing what isn't broken. We are calling attention to differences that we have, in general, quietly accepted and respected in the past, while exposing ourselves to the danger that arises when people feel they no longer have any common ground.

We are obfuscating a true intellectual and cultural history in the name of ethnic pride. And, finally, we are denying the true American identity--an identity that is unique and valuable in that it is not definable in terms of skin color, geographic or igin, religion or any of the myriad of reasons that human beings have found to hate and murder each other over since the dawn of history.

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