Clashing Views on Ethnicity
Editor: Mentioning multiculturalism nowadays is equivalent to shouting fire in a crowded theater. Regardless of the audience, passions will be fanned, rhetoric will escalate and demands will increase.
The ruins are everywhere.
The New York State Board of Education has adopted a multicultural curriculum which scholars such as Arthur Schlesinger and Diane Ravitch have denounced as anti-intellectual and bigoted. However, Schlesinger and Ravitch are mild in their criticism compared to conservatives such as Allan Bloom and Thomas Sowell, who fear the ethnocentric backlash should multicultural studies triumph.
Those on the left are adamant in advocating a pernicious form of multiculturalism. At the extreme are black studies proponents Lionel Jefferies and John Henrik Clarke who have attacked whites, particularly Jews, as oppressors.
Although both have followers on their respective campuses, the debate is not limited to a specific region. Witness ethnic curriculum clashes at Stanford, Berkeley and numerous other colleges, as well as conflicts between accrediting agencies and the federal government.
Is there any hope of implementing a truly scholarly non-political, balanced multicultural studies curriculum? Can ethnocentrism and ugly confrontations be avoided?
The answer is yes if educators adopt certain principles.
First, avoid ''oppression studies,'' the notion that a group is defined primarily by its victimization, that African American is synonymous with slave and welfare recipient, that Jew is equivalent to Holocaust victim and Japanese American to internee. Obviously, every ethnic group has suffered but educators must treat the rest of the group's history and culture.
Equally important, students from elementary school through college should study ethnicity as part of American society and, where possible, from a comparative perspective. All too often America's impact on the ethnics is stressed while the ethnic impact on America is neglected.
Nor should the ethnic influence be limited to a list of heroes or role models. Instead ethnics should be viewed honestly as human beings capable of a range of behaviors both positive and negative, capable of suffering and inflicting pain.
By studying a variety of ethnic groups and individuals, students can observe the interplay of environment and individual choice, the possibility of individuals rising above their backgrounds.
The writer, a professor of English, coordinates ethnic studies at Towson State University.
Based on Merit
Editor: I read with interest your editorial, ''Legislative Scholarship Scam.''
Of particular interest was this sentence: ''They [legislators] also like awarding scholarships to poor and academically talented students whose parents will be indebted to them at election time.''
My child is an academically talented student who receives a $300 per year scholarship from her state senator. The sum does not cover the cost of books, let alone make a dent in tuition costs. But it is appreciated, both by two working parents whose incomes are moderate and by a student whose learning goals are high.
This is the only scholarship assistance that she receives. I personally feel that the $900 invested over the course of the last three years has been money well spent.
She has never met her senator; neither have we. But at least we know that all our hard work is acknowledged by someone. It does not guarantee our votes. Our senator maintains his scholarship choices are based on merit and we have no reason to believe otherwise.
Editor: The problem with budget cuts is that they lack a human face until those affected raise a ruckus.
Few people are unaware that 83 state troopers facing job cuts marched on Annapolis, or that 252 Baltimore firefighters went head-to-head with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to save their jobs.
Yet, when The Sun reported last November that five branches of the Pratt Library were closing, nobody knew how many library users would be affected.
Statistics furnished by the library show that in fiscal 1991, the five branches circulated a total of 118,148 books. Juvenile books accounted for 51,293. That's a lot of books.
And that's a lot of bewildered readers wondering why there was no warning that their libraries were closing, or, more importantly, anyone asking how they felt about it.
Legislators, philanthropists and decision-makers must be convincingly persuaded by the citizenry that libraries are worth every penny spent on them.
Libraries give taxpayers maximum return on investment. The loss of even one branch jeopardizes that investment and erodes confidence in the ability of our public institutions to set priorities now or in the future.
Let's not let it happen in Baltimore. Use the library for all that it is worth.
Leona M. Hirtle.
Editor: Who cares whether the Pratt has enough money to buy even one copy of ''Scarlett'' or whatever the pop trash novel of the moment happens to be?