Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education / Edition 1

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What should the civic purposes of education be in a liberal and diverse society? Is there a tension between cultivating citizenship and respecting social diversity? What are the boundaries of parental and state authority over education?

Linking political theory with educational history and policy, Rob Reich offers provocative new answers to these questions. He develops a liberal theory of multicultural education in which the leading goal is the cultivation of individual autonomy in children. Reich draws out the policy implications of his theory through one of the first sustained considerations of homeschooling in American education. He also evaluates three of the most prominent trends in contemporary school reform—vouchers, charter schools, and the small school movement—and provides pedagogical recommendations that sharply challenge the reigning wisdom of many multicultural educators.

Written in clear and accessible language, this book will be of interest to political theorists, philosophers, educators, educational policymakers, and teachers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226707372
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 279
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Rob Reich is an assistant professor of political science, ethics in society, and, by coutesy, education at Stanford University. He was a sixth grade teacher in Houston, Texas for two years, and currently serves as senior research associate for the Aspen Institute Program on Education in a Changing Society.

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Read an Excerpt

Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education

By Rob Reich

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2002 Rob Reich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226707377

ONE - A Short History of Cultural Conflict in American Education

[You] cannot dedicate yourself to America unless you become in every respect and with every purpose of your will thorough Americans. You cannot become thorough Americans if you think of yourselves in groups. America does not consist of groups. A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group in America has not yet become an American, and the man who goes among you to trade upon your nationality is no worthy son to live under the Stars and Stripes.
President Woodrow Wilson, "Message to Newly Naturalized Citizens"
In a highly charged atmosphere of intolerance for racial and ethnic minorities, a widely respected educator entered an impassioned plea in a national magazine for respect and tolerance of those from other cultures. Arguing that Americans were a people "international and interracial in [their] makeup," he concluded that "the genuine American, the typical American, is himself a hyphenated character." Addressing his thoughts to other educators, he wrote, "[T]he American is himself Pole-German-English-French-Spanish-Italian-Greek-Irish-Scandanavian-Bohemian-Jew- and so on....And this means at least that ourpublic schools shall teach each factor to respect every other, and shall take pains to enlighten all as to the great past contributions of every strain of our composite makeup." These are sentiments that any educator would recognize today as a standard salvo in the debate over multiculturalism. Yet these words were written in 1916 by John Dewey, just one year after President Wilson's message to newly naturalized citizens. Worried about the Americanization campaigns sweeping across the land, Dewey, along with other intellectuals of the era, sought to defuse the tension by begging for greater understanding of America as a place of multiple cultural composition.

If the academic and popular press is to be believed, culture wars currently wrack America anew. No fewer than ten major books appearing in the 1990s make the militaristic image of cultural war a central feature of their titles alone. Most of the books, and certainly popular opinion in the press, convey the message that the phenomenon of multiculturalism is responsible for setting off and fueling the culture wars. Moreover, the books all note that education functions as the central battleground for the culture wars.

To most of its proponents and critics, multiculturalism and multicultural education are taken to be novel developments. Judging by the usage of the term, one understands how such a conclusion might be drawn. The Lexis database of major American newspapers records nary a reference to multiculturalism in 1988, but over 1_400 in 1994. Today, the term is ubiquitous, employed by academics and laypersons alike.

But multiculturalism and debates over it only appear to be new. As Dewey's words imply, multiculturalism is in fact a new word applied to an old issue, an issue that dates back, at least, to the founding period of America. In 1782, for example, the French immigrant Hector St. John Crevecoeur marveled at the confluence of people from different European nations, asking most famously, "What then is the American, this new man?" This chapter aims to introduce the philosophical and political interest in multiculturalism, and in the process provide an antidote to the historical amnesia that plagues current discourse over multiculturalism and, in particular, multicultural education.

Multiculturalism is notoriously difficult to define. The term connotes both a descriptive and demographic fact--the existence of multiple cultures within a common political structure. And it connotes a normative and intellectual ideal--the idea that by virtue of the fact of cultural diversity, certain policies or programs that tolerate, recognize, or, more strongly, actively support cultural groups must follow. Historians attest to the fact of descriptive multiculturalism in the United States--it has always been a land of diverse ethnic, racial, and religious composition. The normative understanding of multiculturalism, however, is generally taken to be an argument against the uniform assimilation of cultural groups to some common, usually white, mainstream norm. In this work, I will understand multiculturalism to refer to its normative, and more controversial, usage. I argue here that even a casual glance at history reveals how normative multiculturalism and multicultural conflict have been evident in American education since its very inception.

Multicultural conflict, as reflected in questions about the ability of a common school to accommodate students of diverse cultural backgrounds, punctuates the history of American education dating back to the beginning of public schooling in the mid-nineteenth century. To substantiate this claim, I examine three different periods of intense cultural conflict in American education: first, the battles in the nineteenth century between Protestants and Catholics over the Protestant bias of the common schools; second, the clashes at the turn of the century between German immigrants and American nativists over instruction in the German language; and third, the fight in the 1910s and 1920s over Americanization campaigns and immigrant children in the public schools.

I hope primarily to correct the misunderstanding that multiculturalism is something novel by showing the roots of the current debates in the past. But I also wish to use history as a guide, suggesting what the multicultural conflicts of the past have to tell us today, comparing the ways in which previous multicultural conflicts may have differed from those of today. There are, I believe, important lessons to be learned from the history of multiculturalism.

Though portrayed in sometimes cataclysmic terms today, the debate over multiculturalism can be viewed as another episode in the ever-present tension between common values and pluralism in America. There have always been demographic cultural differences in American society; and education-- even in its most strenuous aspirations to inculcate unity--has had to cope with social diversity. In short, schools have always been diverse and simultaneously tried to transmit common values. At one level, then, contemporary conflicts over multiculturalism represent business as usual, for conflicts over cultural divisions in society are endemic to the history of American common schooling. At another level, however, today's conflicts are not business as usual, for they attest to the increasingly liberal and inclusive context for resolving or handling such conflicts. Seen through the lens of history, we find that while the current conflagration over multiculturalism and multicultural education may revisit in many important aspects previous debates about the place of religion, language, race, and ethnicity within the schoolhouse, the twentieth century's broader acceptance of tolerance for diversity and its greater emphasis on inclusion within civic institutions offer a comparatively less incendiary environment with reduced dangers of outright cultural oppression or denigration.

Catholics and the Common School Crusaders

Because contemporary debates about multiculturalism focus on racial and ethnic group cultures to such a great degree, it may be easy to forget that the most significant cultural differences in the nineteenth century were religious. Yet political clashes between Protestants and Catholics were common, and in the case of education, they revealed the limits of whom the common school crusaders were willing to include within the public schools.

The strict separation of church and state has become such a common feature of American life in the twentieth century that it is now difficult to imagine the deep Protestantism that colored the arguments of the common school founders and, ultimately, the curriculum of the public schools they helped to develop. As David Tyack and Elisabeth Hansot note in their study of public school leaders, the common school crusaders in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s were "largely Protestant in religion and Anglo-Saxon in ethnic background, [and] they shared a common religious and political conception of the role of public education in shaping a Christian nation." For these crusaders, the private and charity schools of the early decades of the 1800s would be replaced by common, publicly funded schools that would teach Christian and republican virtue, ideals that at the time were closely tied up with prevailing conceptions of good citizenship.

The unabashedly religious impulse behind the movement to create public schools was reflected in the diversity of Protestant sects represented among its leaders. Though the Protestant leaders initially quarreled internally, split by sectarian differences about the proper type of religious instruction for schools, there eventually emerged what historians Carl Kaestle and David Tyack call a pan-Protestant consensus. Protestant clergy united in a millennial vision of America as God's chosen country and agreed to teach the Protestant, or King James, version of the Bible without comment. Teaching the Bible without comment made it possible for the common school promoters to present schools as nonsectarian. Horace Mann, for example, the archetypal common school crusader, recommended allowing the Bible to "speak for itself " and championed common schools as a means to transmit a common virtue among diverse citizens.

So integral to the crusaders was the pan-Protestant orientation that reading the Protestant Bible was assumed to be a required part of any school curriculum. Those who objected were often subjected to insult and ridicule. An editorial in the Massachusetts' Common School Journal, for example, lambasted immigrants who objected to Bible reading:

The English Bible, in some way or other, has, ever since the settlement of Cambridge, been read in its public schools, by children of every denomination; but in the year 1851, the ignorant immigrants, who have found food and shelter in this land of freedom and plenty, made free and plentiful through the influence of these very scriptures, presume to dictate to us, and refuse to let their children read as ours do, and always have done, the Word of Life. The arrogance, not to say impudence, of this conduct, must startle every native citizen, and can not but hope that they will immediately take measures to teach these deluded aliens, that their poverty and ignorance in their own country arose mainly from their ignorance of the Bible.
The aliens to whom the editorial refers were most certainly Irish Catholics. To the ever-increasing number of Catholics flooding America's shores, however, the Protestant cast of common schools was an outright affront. As immigration from Ireland, and, to a lesser degree, Germany, brought thousands of Roman Catholics to America each year, the voices of protest rose dramatically. Some immigration statistics illustrate the rapidity of the Catholic arrival in America and give a hint as to the proximate cause of the coming culture clash between Protestants and Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1820 there were 200_000 Catholics in America, up from 35_000 in 1790. But in the next decade 200_000 more arrived from Europe, and then, fleeing the Irish Potato Famine in 1845-47, another 780_000 came ashore in the next decade. By 1850 there were over 2 million Catholics in America, still a small minority of the total population, but large enough to make the Catholic Church the largest religious body in the land.

It is difficult to imagine today the cultural gulf that separated Protestants and Catholics. Religiously, of course, Protestants rejected the Catholic insistence on Papal authority, especially as reflected in interpretation of scripture. But the spiritual and worldly authority of the Pope had political implications as well. Many Protestant Americans were deeply suspicious of Catholic immigrants, even in the founding period, worrying that Catholics' loyalty to the Pope in Rome called into doubt their allegiance to a fledgling nation. Popery seemed the antithesis of the freedom American institutions were designed to protect. Lawrence Fuchs notes that, before 1800, South Carolinians burned the Pope in effigy, Marylanders levied a double land tax on Catholics, and seven state constitutions banned Catholics from holding public office. The flood of immigrants in the coming years only inspired more fear among the overwhelmingly Protestant populace. In the 1830s and 1840s, blood ran in the streets of Philadelphia when more than a dozen people were killed during the "Bible riots," clashes between Protestants and Catholics over the choice of scripture to be used in public schools. And though no one was killed, deep political conflict between Catholics and Protestants also rent New York City, Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Due to such outright discrimination, Catholics were attuned to the suspicions of Protestants early on. Seeing no opportunity for acquiring an education in publicly funded schools that would not undermine the Catholic faith, in 1829 Catholic bishops decreed that Catholics should start separate schools.11Even so, Catholics still pressed to be included in the emerging common school movement. In 1840 the American Catholic hierarchy denounced the Protestant bias of the common schools. But such criticism only aroused the ire and suspicion of Protestants more. As Tyack notes, "When Catholics sought successfully to eject the Protestant Bible from the common school, Protestants thought that they were attacking the very basis of American institutions. When they demanded the removal of biased textbooks, citizens and school officials thought Catholics were trying to control the curriculum."

The pan-Protestant school reformers were for the most part unconciliatory. Kaestle finds only scattered successes of Catholic protest, places where Bible reading was not mandatory or scriptural choice was made an option. But overall, neither the common school founders, nor the administrators of the nascent educational system, nor political or judicial leaders made significant concessions to Catholics. Thomas James's survey of judicial decisions found that "the courts of the nineteenth century sided with the Protestant majority and its values in almost every case." In the 1850s in New York a Catholic student was beaten and expelled from a public school when he refused to read from the King James Bible. And in Maine in the same decade, the State Supreme Court decided that public school officials could rightfully compel all students to read from the Protestant Bible. The nativist Know-Nothing, or American Party was organized in the 1850s with a central platform of excluding immigrants and, in particular, Roman Catholics. In 1856, 104 members of Congress, seven governors, and eight U.S. Senators were Know-Nothing members. The National Teachers Association declared in 1869 that "the Bible should not only be studied, venerated, and honored as a classic for all ages, people, and languages ...but devotionally read, and its precepts inculcated in all the common schools of the land." The successor of the NTA, the National Education Association, would continue for several decades to attack Catholics for seeking to deprive America's children of proper moral training based on the Bible.

In a short time and across many states, then, it became clear to Catholic leaders that the common schools would not be hospitable environments for Catholic children. So, in tandem with continuous objection to the Protestant bias in common schools, Catholic leaders pursued state support for their own schools. Catholics paid taxes like any other citizens and therefore public schools should accommodate them, they argued. Failing that, public funds should support their own schools. Despite state sanction of the Protestant Bible in public schools, courts and politicians rejected this plea on the basis that state support of Catholic schools would constitute state endorsement of religion, contrary to the First Amendment. Bishop John Hughes, for example, pursued this separatist strategy in New York City in the 1840s and 1850s. But, as Ravitch notes, "Between the Trustees of the Public School Society and the Catholic clergy, there was an unbridgeable cultural gulf." The legislature and the courts received his request no more favorably.

Finding this cultural gulf unbridgeable, then, many Catholics resolved to construct, with whatever meager funds were available, their own alternative system of public education. The separatist strategy became official policy in 1884, when a formal decree of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore made it mandatory for every Catholic church to erect a school near to the church structure and compelled parents to send their children to Catholic schools. The cultural gap between the pan-Protestant common school crusaders and the ever-increasing number of Catholics in America resulted, therefore, in the formation of the Catholic school system, which expanded rapidly in the 1880s and 1890s. Already in 1890 the parochial school system enrolled more than six hundred thousand students, making it the largest alternative to public schools in the country. The rise of compulsory education laws in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century led to renewed conflict between Protestants and Catholics. Finally, in 1925, the Supreme Court held in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510) that parents could not be forced to send their children to public school and therewith gave constitutional standing to all private schools. The clash between the culture of Protestantism and the culture of Catholicism turned out to be so endemic--so incommensurable, one might say--in the sphere of public schools, that an entire alternative school system arose out of the conflict. On the multicultural question of how public schools could accommodate religio-cultural diversity in the mid-nineteenth century, the clash of Protestants and Catholics was irreconcilable.

Germans and Bilingual Education

German immigrants and their settlement in the Midwest created the atmosphere for the next major multicultural conflict in education. Rather than the religious beliefs of the immigrants, however, this conflict centered around ethnicity and language. The crux of the controversy was the German immigrants' desire to educate their children in German. Few people today recognize the roots of contemporary battles over bilingual education in this earlier period of American history.


Excerpted from Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education by Rob Reich Copyright © 2002 by Rob Reich. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1. A Short History of Cultural Conflict in American Education
2. A Multicultural Critique of Liberalism
3. A Liberal Critique of Multiculturalism
4. Minimalist Autonomy
5. A Liberal Theory of Multicultural Education
6. Testing the Boundaries of Parental Authority over Education: The Case of Homeschooling
7. Pedagogical and Policy Implications

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