Monday, June 18, 2007

Diversity Without Cultural Relativism

"Diversity" has been one of the most-misused words in education for the past few decades. When I looked up the definition in my Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (affectionately referred to in our household as the "roach killer" for its massive size), I found: (n) 1. difference, unlikeness 2. variety, multiformity 3. dissimilarity
As practiced in the government education system, however, "diversity" has become a codeword for the imposition of one particular viewpoint. Talk about Orwellian abuse of language!

During the turbulence of the 1960's, public schools came under fire from racial and ethnic minorities for being too Euro-centric, from feminists for being too patriarchal, from religious minorities and atheists for being too Protestant, and so on. I want to make it clear that I do agree these groups held legitimate grievances. The problem is that rather than embracing pluralism, government schools merely substituted the old WASP viewpoint with a new politically correct one.

This new viewpoint preaches cultural relativism, the idea that all cultural values are equally valid. Gender was now to be considered a "social construction" rather than a biological reality, and the goal became a unisex education rather than an egalitarian one. Rather than broadening the canon to include more non-Western and female authors, it was by and large dumped in favor of dumbed-down but politically correct textbooks. Science classes now presented only one side of controversial topics such as evolution, climate change, population, and so on. History and geography morphed into "social studies", which presented a biased view of Western Civilization particularly Christianity, European countries, and the United States. Copious attention was paid to the negative aspects and the positive aspects were given little to no attention. Even math classes were affected, with a shift in emphasis from teaching the correct way to solve math problems and individual work to fuzzy "discover your own methods" and group work.

The biggest shift was in the role of religion in public schools. The classroom changed from a place where students were indoctrinated in a Protestant worldview (bad) to a place where students are indoctrinated into an atheistic one (worse). Personal expressions of faith by students became taboo. Even non-specific references such as the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance fell target to lawsuits by advocates of the complete removal of spirituality from the civic arena. These were aided by activist judges who misinterpreted the First Amendment as requiring freedom from religion rather than the Founding Fathers' intent of freedom of religion.

The establishment clause means that the government cannot show a preference to any one worldview. The complete removal of religion from public schools is a violation of this, since it promotes atheism. I'm not suggesting a return to the days when teachers began the school day by reading from the Protestant King James Bible. But what about encouraging students to read from a spiritual text of their own choosing, whether from the Bible (Hebrew, Protestant, or Catholic version), the Book of Mormon, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, etc.? Nonreligious students could read some other sort of inspirational writing if they choose. Just a little daily ritual to encourage students to think beyond their own self-centeredness to higher concerns.

Certainly history and literature classes should include study of non-Western cultures and authors. However, they should be in addition to the study of Western Civilization, not instead of it. The contributions to America from different groups are important, but students first need to have a clear understanding of the 3 main influences: Judeo-Christianity, the ancient Greeks, and the ancient Romans. Science classes should provide a fair and balanced view of controversial topics and encourage students to make up their own minds after a careful consideration of the evidence presented by both sides.

Unfortunately, the stranglehold of what Bill O'Reilly terms the "secular progressives" in this country over public education means that it is unlikely that government schools will embrace the pluralism that true diversity requires. Because of this, parents who disagree with the "politically correct" viewpoint will have to resort to private, parochial, or home schools.

Ironically, I started writing this post for the "diversity" edition of the Homeschooling Country Fair but I found the restrictions of that particular carnival to be against the spirit of diversity. How can one celebrate diversity when one does not permit others to voice differing opinions?

I certainly do not share the Pearls' beliefs on corporal punishment, but I support the right of parents to raise their children in the manner they feel is best (so long as they comply with the laws of our country). Also, I object to the gag on religious content. I do not believe that all worldviews are equally valid, though I support the freedom of individuals to choose whichever one they desire. I do not expect everyone to share my beliefs, but I do expect that others will support my freedom to express them (just as I support their right to express opinions with which I disagree).

Note: Further thoughts on the matter can be found here.


Alasandra said...

Great post.

I always enjoy reading your views.

Dot said...

You could have sent it to the carnival, but your own preconceived notion stopped you, right?

Almost Lazarus said...

There is no gag on religious content - it's clear that the spirit of The Country Fair is secular. The mainstream "carnival of homeschooling" has more than once banned or censored blog postings from overt secular blogs. As for your stance on spanking, I don't agree - I don't think parents should be able to beat children and call it "the manner they think best", and what the Pearls advocate (and what Gena Suarez agreed with) is child abuse. It's your choice to interpret the rules of this blog carnival as not fitting your definition of diverse, but I challenge you to support that choice with hard data. Nobody's ever been turned away from posting there. Ever. I am the editor of the Fair. It's mine. And just as with my regular blog, I'll retain the right to censor or edit content as I see fit - however, I haven't as yet needed to use that power. People generally post to the carnival they feel comfortable with. A great many people are not comfortable with posting alongside advocates of child abuse. And with the number of odd stereotypes you included in your post, I doubt YOU'D have felt comfortable posting it. Secular education doesn't automatically default to atheism, and evolution isn't "one side" of a controversy. Evolution is a scientific theory. The "other side", isn't. Gender is not biology, gender IS a social construct. DNA is biology.

Crimson Wife said...

Other moms and dads make all kinds of parenting choices that I do not agree with and that I believe could have a negative impact on children- exclusively formula feeding, sticking a young child in daycare when the family does not need a 2nd income to pay for basics, watching commercial TV or even more than a modest amount of non-commercial TV, dressing prepubescent girls in sexually provocative clothing, etc. I could go on and on about things I think are bad for kids but really it's not my place to dictate to others how to raise their own children.

I don't think it's the government's job to be the nanny state. That is why I'm not in favor of anti-spanking laws and also, by the way, why I'm not in favor of laws regulating sexual behavior among consenting, non-related adults.

Oh, and FWIW gender *is* biologically determined. The X & Y chromosomes regulate the production of sex hormones such as estrogen & testosterone. These in turn, affect the development of the fetus including brain structure and wiring. I studied human biology and psychology in college and this topic was covered quite extensively.

Dewey said...

You are amazingly misinformed and I can only assume you haven't been anywhere near a public school since you graduated yourself.

Dewey said...

Here is a copy of the comments I left elsewhere, though I assume you will ignore the facts presented here and continue to believe what your church tells you to believe.

Students in public schools ARE allowed public displays of faith. It's so confusing to me why so many people think the opposite. Students are allowed to organize prayer groups, plan prayer-around-the-flagpole events, read their bibles or other religious texts in class if they finish their work early, discuss their religious beliefs as reactions to literature and other school work in class discussions, wear religious t-shirts, pray before tests, etc. The limits of separation of church and state prevent teachers from preaching my religious beliefs or lack thereof as a lesson. Teachers may not lead the class in a prayer of any sort. Teachers can teach a humanities class on world religions, and discuss the religious themes in novels and so on, as long as they don't state any one belief as THE correct one. Every literature textbook I've ever seen has excerpts from the Christian bible as well as many poems and stories with religious themes in them. Teachers and students who object to the pledge of allegiance are free to remain seated, and they are free to answer students' questions about why they do this. Teachers are free to answer students who ask them about their religion, as long as they don't then try to preach that their beliefs are correct and the students' are wrong. There is actually a LOT of respect for faith and religious differences in public schools. The objection that I think so many Christians have is simply that theirs is not the only one respected.