Let me begin this essay by stating that I am a retired English teacher of 34 years experience and believe that I have treated all of my students fairly and equitably. Three times I had been named into “Who’s Who Among American Teachers” and two of those nominations have been by minority students, one black and one Hispanic. Those students realized that my classroom standards were just as tough on them as they were on the majority Caucasian students and that I gave them no favoritism, slack or handicap for their minority-status ethnicity.
I had always refused to “dumb down” my curriculum Grammar, Vocabulary, Literature, Writing Skills to accommodate students that lacked motivation, desire, curiosity, cooperation, respect for teacher authority and a willingness to learn. A year before I retired in 1999 my Middle School’s English Department had a special curriculum meeting and the Administration and my Department Supervisor wanted to change and modernize the English curriculum’s literature textbooks.
The choice eventually narrowed down to two distinct textbook series grades six-to-eight and my school’s nine English teachers voted on which company’s series to incorporate into the school’s English curriculum. Obviously administrative fiat and pressure and trends from the State Department of Education was more important than teacher democratic input and the English Department’s overwhelmingly selected first choice was abruptly discarded because the other more “politically correct” literature textbook series from the administratively preferred company happened to have “more cultural diversity” and subsequently was more “multicultural.
For thirty-four years I had loved teaching imaginative literature featuring such accomplished authors as Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens, H. G. Wells, Washington Irving, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, S. E. Hinton, George Eliot, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, O. Henry and James Thurber. Apparently the fact that all of the aforementioned authors were “white” was a major problem because most of them had been effectively excluded in the newly acquired literature texts.
The old literature texts and program were too white-oriented and were not consistent with New Jersey and USA politically correct trends in “multicultural education. ” The new eighth grade literature textbook featured on its cover a painting of Sam Adoquei’s Portrait of Rockney C. A statement inside the text indicated that Sam Adoquei was born in the West African country of Ghana and that Adoquei was a contemporary artist that loved painting landscapes.
Old textbooks might have featured on their covers works by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh or Leonardo DaVinci but in this day and age those great contributing artists to Western Civilization have been demoted in public schools in deference to people like Sam Adoquei of Ghana, West Africa. I must admit that the new eighth grade administratively selected and faculty overruled literature eighth grade textbook did have a token representation of established white authors.
However the bulk of the contributors had names like Gloria Gonzalez Cuban American, Luci Tapahonso Navajo Indian, Yoshiko Uchida Oriental American, Gwendolyn Brooks Black American, Gary Soto son of California migrant workers, William Saroyan Armenian American, Maya Angelou Black American, Diane Mei Lin Mark Hawaiian American, Julio Noboa Polanco bilingual poet, Judith Ortiz Cofer Puerto Rican, Langston Hughes Black American, Julia Alvarez Hispanic, Ophelia Rivas Mexican, Nereida Roman Hispanic, Rudolfo A.
Anaya Mexican American, Esmerela Santiago Puerto Rican, Wing Tex Lum Chinese poet, Naomi Shihab Nye Palestinian, Ved Mehta from India, Paul Yee American Chinese and Li-Young Lee Chinese. There is no doubt in my mind that “multicultural” education is “dumbing down” American public schools. Most of the obscure “authors” being presented to American students in the name of “cultural diversity” have produced works that have weak vocabulary, shallow plots, lackluster characters, non-intellectual subject matter and demonstrably unsophisticated writing skills.
Yet these minority writers I wouldn’t call all of them “authors” are presented to naÃ¯ve and impressionable eighth graders as valuable contributors to literature when their works pale in comparison to those of great authors that are presently being systematically removed from literature textbooks and gradually being replaced by in most cases obscure “minority authors. ” The same type of phenomenon is happening in middle and high school “History” classes’ as is happening in Literature courses.
When Martin Luther King Day was established as a National Holiday celebrated in January George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had to be diminished in stature to accommodate MLK on the school calendar. The traditional Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday were shrewdly consolidated into ‘Presidents’ Day” with “Washington and Lincoln’s regular February birthdays being abandoned to allow room for Martin Luther King Day in January on the school calendar. And now February which used to almost exclusively belong to Washington and Lincoln is now declared “Black American Month” in schools across the country.
It is no wonder that American children now know more about Harriet Tubman, Crispus Attucks, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson and George Washington Carver than they do about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight David Eisenhower. History is being re-written by contemporary re-visionists that are attempting to diminish and discredit the accomplishments of white people and simultaneously magnify the attainments of lesser-known minority figures.
One unique irony of all this multicultural and curricular craziness is that teachers are now being held accountable for higher standardized test scores and “higher academic performance” when their curriculums are being systematically watered down and diluted to allow for the implementation of “multicultural education. ” Stories by minority writers in literature now have simple vocabulary and easy-to-understand simplistic themes, characters and plots.
Teachers are now “teaching down” to the students’ level of achievement instead of challenging the kids seated in the desks to raise their level of performance up to the plateau of superior subject matter content being read and studied in the works of Poe, Twain and Orwell. And this sort of insane farce is happening in public schools all over America. Teachers are presently compelled to propagate a system of American public school education that is both designed and destined to fail.
Teachers are not only accountable for teaching “weak subject matter content” with low-academic challenge; they are also now held accountable to the State for students acquiring sufficient subject matter for the learners to pass state sponsored “academic standardized tests. ” Whatever happened to individual student responsibility? Here’s what is urgently needed to immediately improve American public school education: 1 The twenty-to-thirty percent of students grades six to eight that don’t do homework, that don’t do class work and that are chronic discipline problems should be placed in “General Public Middle Schools. The remaining true self-motivated students should then attend and participate in “Academic Public Schools” having higher standards whose standardized test scores don’t reflect the general performance of the un-motivated and disruptive students. Stop blaming teachers for educational ineffectiveness. It’s the inefficient system that public school teachers are forced to work in that is responsible for low standardized test scores. Only academic students should be required to take academic standardized tests. Academic education should be an earned privilege and not a right. After eighth grade the academic students should attend “Academic High Schools” and the remaining thirty-percent in the inner cities, this percentage would probably be higher should attend “Vocational High Schools. ” 3 From grades 9-11 those students in the “Vocational High Schools” should have the opportunity to earn admission or re-admission into the “Academic High School” on the basis of standardized test performance, subject matter test performance, individual initiative and teacher recommendations.
But those students should be aware that they could lose their privilege of an academic education and be transferred permanently to the “Vocational High School” should they return to their old bad habits of being disruptive or of not doing work. In other words the transferred students would surrender their privilege of an academic education and return to their right to a “Vocational Education. ” 4 Traditional values and academic thinking and writing skills should be emphasized in the “Academic High Schools. As of now teachers are held responsible for non-academically oriented children’s “student academic performance” when the instructional staff should solely be answerable for designing lessons, teaching lessons and evaluating student progress. Teachers should not be responsible for student learning. Teachers should just be responsible for teaching. Each student should be held accountable for his or her learning and his or her behavior. Remember, true democracy is based on the individual. “Multicultural education” forces teachers to limit the subject content of their literature and history courses while ignoring general literature and history, it waters down the curriculum in the areas of vocabulary, content, sophistication and difficulty, it “lowers the bar” to allow minority children to perform better, and it compels many minority and non-minority talented children to read and study easy course stories, easy essays and easy text selections that are below their achievement levels.
In effect, “Multicultural education” plays both ends of the student-performance spectrum against the middle, thus generally “dumbing down” student academic achievement while thwarting the genuinely superior students and exposing them to perpetual mediocrity. Critics might maintain that such a much-needed division of “Academic High Schools” and “Vocational High Schools” discriminates against minority students. They might be right in thinking so. But it would not be the teachers doing the “discriminating. ” It would be the curriculum requirements of the “Academic” middle and high schools.
As it presently stands, mediocre “Multicultural education” is being packaged to the American public as “Academic Education,” but any eighth grade teacher is fully aware that at least twenty-thirty percent of the students he or she must teach daily have sixth grade or lower reading and writing skills while the states are pushing for higher “Academic Test Scores” from non-motivated and often disruptive students that really don’t care too much about academic skills, theories, abstractions and/or school attendance.
This is why “Academic Education” must become a privilege and not a right in American public middle and high schools. A parent of a disruptive non-motivated minority student once accused me of “discrimination” against her son during a parent/teacher conference. I shocked the hostile mother when I told her, “I do indeed discriminate. I discriminate between lazy sassy students and respectful ambitious academic students.
I am prejudiced against insolent students that answer back with disrespectful remarks, I’m prejudiced against lazy students that don’t do homework and class work and I do discriminate against insubordinate students that prevent me from teaching a class because of their incessant belligerence! ” I answered. “If good didn’t discriminate against evil,” I continued, “then there would be no distinction between good and evil. Both extremes would always appear to be the same thing. Sometimes discrimination is both necessary and good. In the final analysis, teachers should only be required to teach “academics” to academically oriented students in academic middle and high schools. Students that exhibit disruptive deportment, students that don’t do homework and/or class work and students that prefer working with their hands rather than dealing with academic abstractions should attend Middle General Schools and Vocational High Schools where they could rightfully enjoy their unalienable right to an education.
If they want to transfer to an academic middle or high school then those individuals must demonstrate the initiative to earn the privilege of an academic education. But as I have explained Multicultural Education is often the antithesis to a bona fide academic education. When I had attended Catholic schools back in the fifties, the nuns taught me how to read, write, how to memorize and how to do basic arithmetic.
I had only learned how to write personal and formal letters in elementary school and I didn’t actually write a formal essay or fictional story in an English class until my junior year in high school. I was not falsely praised by my teachers for doing mediocre work as is the case in American public schools that are teeming with “Multicultural education” and with bored non-academic students expected by the State to do academic work. But the nuns did teach me the value of self-discipline and of perseverance, which ultimately proved to be invaluable in my future life.
Educational Psychology demands that each student today must be praised and commended for doing even the most mediocre and lackluster work, and when a composition or story is done in fifth grade, the teacher must flatter each student as if he or she is a budding Shakespeare, Cervantes or the next T. S. Eliot. Despite the fact that I had only been exposed to grammar, punctuation and spelling skills in elementary school and had never written a creative story until the eleventh grade, I am happy to report that I have over two million words in print represented in twenty-four published books.
And I have achieved all of that production despite lacking a “Multicultural Education. ” And so today the academically oriented students being held hostage across the USA to Multicultural Education in American History and Literature classrooms will eventually ascend above their present unfavorable captivity and then realize their true potentials when they manage to evolve out of high school and filter into the real competitive economic world. Until then those academically oriented students minority children included are doomed being exposed to and suffering through educational and multicultural mediocrity.
And finally, “Multicultural education” should not be eliminated from the curriculum but it should be diminished in influence to allow for a more accurate perspective of Literature and History to be presented to American school children. Crispus Attucks and Harriet Tubman should not supplant George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in February as equals sharing common historical prominence. And there’s no way that Sam Adoquei is in the same league as Picasso or that Gloria Gonzalez and Yoshiko Uchida are the literary equivalents of Mark Twain and O. Henry.
Our great American culture is being distorted and perverted enough by MTV, VH-I and by the Comedy Channel without ineffective social engineering and Multicultural Education polluting our American public school students and also our public schools’ already ambivalent academic standards. And it was principally because of that “politically correct and multicultural” new literature textbook series that had been administratively imposed on my middle school’s English Department that convinced me it would be expedient for John Wiessner to retire from the teaching profession after thirty-four years of dedicated classroom instruction.