Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Multiculturally Sensitive, or Just Making Excuses?

If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes.
-- T. H. Huxley (1871)
One of the oldest and easiest methods of “getting back” when an injury has been done is reprisal. For example, if someone in group A injures someone in group B, group B members grab anyone in group A, innocent, involved or not, and injure them “in return.”

Unfortunately, the practice of reprisal continues on today in many parts of the world, not the least important of which is in American public schools, where kids in gangs or cliques act this way up through college, as popular movies and TV illustrate. But teachers and administrators do, too.

Consider only the practice of giving class detentions, or making sports teams do “punishment exercises” for losing games, or depriving whole groups of privileges for “offenses” done only by a few. No Child Left Behind programs have closed schools and transferred teachers and administrators when only a small percentage of students failed to show “adequate progress” on standard tests.

Clearly normal school practices are not as barbaric as killing the family members of criminals, or bombing the home villages of suspected insurgents, or NCLB, but the violation of moral or legal principles is the same.

Now an interesting thing often occurs when we deal with an offender that depends upon whether he (or she) is one of “us” or belongs to a different group; or -- as we say as we pretend to be enlightened -- another “culture.”

If the offender is from another culture, there is a tendency to attribute the offensive behavior to a “cultural difference,” i.e. “all people like him are like that.” But if the offender is from our own culture, then the offensive behavior is “an individual act,” unless we can alienate the whole family, “who permits that behavior.”

On the other hand, if a child does not understand English well and gets low grades, as teachers, or administrators, or school board members, we can disavow any concern for the grade difference by “understanding” that “people like him or her” are just showing a “cultural” adversion to ambition and learning.

“Cultural difference” thus becomes a magic wand by which we punish or disregard the less than sterling achievements of the hapless who are different, somehow from what we “normal people” are.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Multiculturalism & The Problems of Immigration

--- EGR

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