It's Time to Teach that Our World Is Multicultural

GARRY WILLS

August 02, 1991|By GARRY WILLS

Sen. Paul Simon and others have long argued that our citizensare insular, that few of us learn foreign languages, that the United States is educationally more self-centered than most other Western nations.

Foreign journalists are surprised at the slight coverage given their own or most other nations in our newspapers and television. Neglect of the Third World continues, though it contains most of the world's population and much of its resources, and the economic future of the world will depend on the feeding of one and use of the other.

Admittedly, the United States is a great power. But just because we are that, we have a responsibility to understand the world we are supposed to be leading.

Given all this, it is educationally important to stress the variety of cultures in the world. But to some, any attempt to learn about different cultures is a kind of desertion of our own. Thus, Irving Kristol says, in The Wall Street Journal, that multiculturalism is ''anti-American and anti-Western.''

There was a time when this country was regularly called a Christian country, as if only Christian views, customs and feasts were American. Some people rightly pointed out that being Jewish is being non-Christian, but it is not being non-American (much less un-American). That form of multiculturalism Mr. Kristol presumably accepts.

But now he says that advocates of multiculturalism do not sincerely believe in the enrichment of the United States by a refusal to define it narrowly. This is all a pretense for one thing, in Kristol's fetid mind. Here are his own brutal words:

''Though the educational establishment would rather die than admit it, multiculturalism is a desperate and surely self-defeating strategy for coping with the educational deficiencies and associated social pathologies of young blacks.''

I have a faculty colleague, a Latin American scholar, who regularly reminds our department that we are being narrow and ignorant when we talk of ''America'' when we mean the United States. We tacitly blank out part of the world by this easy habit, and he has been right over the years to labor at our correction.

Has he, for decades, only been trying to cope with the deficiencies of blacks? Was that Sen. Simon's aim in telling us to learn foreign languages? Was that the aim of Jewish believers who told us not to think cross and flag are interchangeable?

Mr. Kristol is a very frightened man. Only that can explain so cramped a view, so closed a mind, so determinedly univocal a culture.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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