The Multicultural West

The Multicultural West

Multiculturalism is in the air. The recent movement in American education—both in the schools and in colleges and universities— to incorporate into the curriculum works from non-Western cultures has aroused an exceptional amount of public debate. A cover story in Newsweek, long discussions in the Atlantic and the New Republic, vociferous denunciations from George Will and other conservative intellectuals, even a speech by George Bush touching on the matter—this
amounts to an unusual outpouring of attention in a country very little given to debating (or even noticing) intellectual or educational issues. Perhaps it is because we are so out of practice in this matter that the terms of the debate have been so poorly defined.

Opposition to multiculturalism has come most noticeably from the right, and the terms of that opposition seem clear. Our country is part of Western civilization, and it is Western civilization that has given us what is admirable about our society: its democracy, its commitment to due process, its economic and political openness, its technology and high standard of living. The education system plays a crucial role in maintaining our commitment to these values, and we ought to teach a curriculum centered on Western culture precisely for that reason. In an effort not to seem prejudiced, most of those articulating this view add that learning something about other cultures is of course a good idea, but non-Western cultures are other cultures; our culture is Western culture.

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