Was Ehrlich right about multiculturalism?

October 30, 2007|By Robert Holland

When he was governor of Maryland in 2004, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. stirred a hornet's nest when he denounced multiculturalism as "bunk" on a talk-radio show. Because many Americans believe multiculturalism merely means teaching children in a wholesome way about diverse cultures, Mr. Ehrlich drew heat.

Now, the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME), the main advocacy organization for multiculturalism, is coming to Baltimore to hold its 17th annual national convention tomorrow through Sunday.

Here is a perfect opportunity to examine the agenda and see if the former governor had a point.

School board members ought to be particularly interested, because they approve the doling out of taxpayers' money for K-12 teachers from every state to attend the NAME convention.

They ought to be welcome to sit in on any of the workshops and determine what multicultural messages their teachers are absorbing for use in the classroom.

The co-sponsors of multiculturalism's biggest gathering include several beneficiaries of tax money, including the Maryland affiliate of the National Education Association (a longtime NAME ally), George Mason University and even the Maryland State Department of Education.

School board members could start by attending one of the half- or full-day workshops on Halloween. Here are some of the choices from the NAME program:

"The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Dismantling White Privilege and Supporting Anti-Racist Education in Our Classrooms and Schools." Taught by a professor from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, this session "is designed to help educators identify and deconstruct their own white privilege and in so doing more deeply commit themselves to anti-racist teaching and critical multicultural teaching."

"Talking About Religious Oppression and Unpacking Christian Privilege." This session, taught by a team of professors, "will examine the dynamics of Christian privilege and oppression of minority religious groups and nonbelievers as constructed and maintained on three distinct levels: individual, institutional and societal. A historical and legal lecturette will be presented and participants will engage in interactive learning modules."

"Beyond Celebrating Diversity: Teaching Teachers How to be Critical Multicultural Educators." Taught by NAME regional director Paul Gorski, founder of the activist group EdChange, this session will start from the premise that multiculturalism's greatest danger "comes from educators who ostensibly support its goals, but whose work - cultural plunges, food fairs, etc. - reflects a compassionate conservative consciousness rather than social justice. This session focuses on preparing teachers, not for celebrating diversity, but for achieving justice in schools and society."

Workshops at NAME annual conventions (six of which I have attended since 1993) repeatedly advocate the teaching of "social justice." That term never seems to be defined, but its users simplify all American life as a saga of the oppressed vs. the oppressors. Skin color, national origin, gender, religion and sexual preference are among the qualities that put all individuals into one category or the other.

There is method in such vagueness. The great free-market economist Friedrich Hayek once observed that entire tomes on social justice never offer a definition. As Michael Novak elaborated in an article in the December 2000 edition of the journal First Things, the term becomes "an instrument of ideological intimidation for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion."

Not just in the daylong institutes but also in more than 150 smaller-group sessions that go on almost hourly throughout a NAME convention, presenters instruct teachers to go back to their schools and become social justice warriors. Those who are white are supposed to transcend their oppressor status by becoming change agents. Those who are Christian should feel just as guilty as the whites for all those their faith has victimized. Nothing but evil has come from the European cultures that led the way in America's founding.

It is not necessary to accept my contention that ideological indoctrination permeates the multiculturalists' deliberations. Go to www.NAMEorg.org and read the full convention program. Better yet, ask to attend sessions that are of particular interest to you. After all, your tax money is paying for them, and for the lessons that teachers bring back for your children.

Then, decide for yourself whether Bob Ehrlich was right.

Robert Holland is a policy analyst for the Lexington Institute, a free-market-oriented think tank in Arlington, Va. His e-mail is holland@lexingtoninstitute.org.

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