The Curriculum of Inclusion Revisited
I came to write the below article on multiculturalism, the first piece I published at National Review, by happenstance.
In July 1989 I had gone up to Albany on behalf of U.S. English to cover the latest developments in the New York State Regents’ bilingual education policy. Unexpectedly, at the same Regents meeting that I was attending, the famous “Curriculum of Inclusion” was officially introduced. This was fortunate for me on two counts. I had completed the first draft of The Path to National Suicide a couple of months earlier, but did not as yet have a clear and effective way of conveying the nature of the cultural changes that were taking place in America as a result of immigration-caused demographic changes. The Curriculum of Inclusion, with its idea that America consists of a “multicultural” collection of “equal” cultural groups that all must be included equally in school curricula, provided an objective correlative for the massive ethnic changes in American society, and a way to conceptualize the problem.
It also led to my first article in a national publication, which was also, as far as I know, the first (or perhaps the second) article in any national magazine criticizing the ideology of multiculturalism. Even though Canada had had an official multicultural policy since the early 1970s, and American schools had had multicultural-type curriculums in place at least since the early 1980s, the word multiculturalism had not been used in America prior to the late ’80s. I don’t think I heard it before 1989. For example, when the National Association of Scholars was formed in 1986, in order to combat what later came to be called political correctness and the leftist destruction of humanities curricula, they did not use the word “multiculturalism” to describe the curricular innovations that they were opposing.
When I was working on the article I thought of it for some reason as a piece for The New Republic and submitted it to them. Mickey Kaus, one of the TNR senior editors at the time, told me very nicely on the phone that the article was not right for TNR. Their approach, as he put it, was to say, “Here is this really neat liberal idea, but it’s gone overboard, and, gosh, we feel really bad about this,” whereas I was saying that the Curriculum of Inclusion was a terrible idea, period. He said that I should send it to National Review. It was a good suggestion, though getting it published at NR in anything like intact form—the first editor to look at the piece had wanted to cut it in half—required a struggle.
Readers familiar with my work will see that my basic understanding of multiculturalism was formed in my first encounter with it. I saw it, not as a well-intended idea that had gone “too far” (which was and still is the way most mainstream conservatives view it), but as an ideology that inherently meant the end of the American nation.
December 8, 1989
The proposal was released at the July meeting of the New York Board of Regents, the body that determines state education policy. Professor Harry Hamilton, a member of the Commissioner’s Task Force on Minorities, which prepared the report, told the Regents: “We’re on the brink of something very important for New York and the nation. We have to change the entire framework in the way we look at ourselves as a nation.” Hamilton invoked mythic imagery: “Instead of one group, European Americans, at the head of a long table, with other cultures present only as invited guests, we will have a Round Table with all cultures equal.” Sitting at their own long table, the Regents received the report with enthusiasm. Even conservatives liked it; former Chancellor Willard Genrich, one of a tiny minority on the Board that had just tried to block a major expansion of bilingual education, declared: “This is an excellent document and we should proceed with it.”
Unfortunately, if their recent handling of bilingual education is any guide, the Regents seem likely to decide on the curriculum plan on the basis of uplifting slogans about a new America rather than critical thought about the plan’s contents. The report does contain some good ideas about widening the curriculum to reflect minority experiences; but on the whole it is a poorly thought-out document, steeped in racial victimology and hostility to the West. The idea that Western-oriented education robs minority youth of self-esteem, “‘turns off’ the child who is not European American,” is not backed up by any evidence at all. When we recall such figures as W. E. B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, as well as a host of other American blacks who were shining products of “Eurocentered” education, it is hard to take that idea seriously. And why, if a group’s curricular “invisibility” harms its self-esteem, have Japanese Americans done so well? Asians have obviously been added to the litany of aggrieved and ego-damaged groups to make plausible the notion of a blanket educational oppression of all non-whites and the resulting need for a radical overhaul.
Surprisingly, the report concedes the presence of substantial “multicultural” content (as well as the absence of negative stereotypes) in the present curriculum. A series of textbook reviews written from each minority viewpoint shows that “there has been a serious attempt to broaden the content to reflect the pluralism of American society.” But such inclusion, says the report, does not solve the problem, because it is only “additive and not at the center of the endeavors.” This is what the Task Force calls “Eurocentered multiculturalism.” The mere inclusion of material on minority experience, no matter how extensive, “cannot counteract deeply rooted racist traditions in American culture. Merely adding marginal examples of ‘other’ cultures to an assumed dominant culture cannot reverse long established and entrenched policies and practices of that dominant culture…. The European American monocultural perspective prevails. Its value system and norms dominate.”
Hence the report’s inoffensive-sounding title, “A Curriculum of Inclusion,” conceals a radical intent; it is not just greater inclusion of minority cultures the Task Force seeks, but the dismantling of the dominant culture. By the Orwellian magic of a name—“European American”—the national culture is transformed into an ethnic culture on the same level as all of America’s minority cultures. Children will be taught that all cultures are to be “equally valued”; that the contributions of Puerto Ricans and Chinese and Iroquois are as important in the development of our society as America’s historical mainstream culture. The truth or falseness of this idea is beside the point; we are dealing here with pure ideology—a call for permanent cultural revolution. “How can one value other cultures,” asks one of the report’s contributors, “if it is implicit that Anglo-conformity is what is valued and other cultures are tolerated and celebrated only when they do not interfere with the social order?”
Compared to this broad polemic, the actual problems the report identifies in current textbooks seem almost trivial In fact, most of the omissions the report complains of (eg., the Puerto Rican migration since World War II, the role of Chinese workers in building the transcontinental railroad, meaningful portraits of African Americans) seem to call for exactly the kind of expanded inclusiveness that its authors contemptuously dismiss as merely “additive.” For the rest, the curricular review adds up to little more than a captious racial census of the pictures that appear in textbooks. Black Studies professor Leonard Jeffries, a contributor to the report, writes: “Social Studies Program 3 does not include a multicultural illustration on the cover as is done in volumes one and two [emphasis added]; it depicts two European American youths in school activity.” Jeffries criticizes another social-studies cover because, while it portrays white, Asian, and black families, the black family only includes a single parent. “A subtle message is thereby conveyed,” writes Jeffries, “about differences in family structure in different cultures.” One can’t help thinking that if the cover had portrayed a black family with two parents, Jeffries would then have denounced it for imposing mainstream family models on inner-city blacks. One thing you can be sure of: the dominant culture is guilty no matter what it does.
This bias extends throughout the entire report. Among its suggestions for the social-studies curriculum, it recommends that the Age of Exploration be portrayed with a view to “negative values and policies that produced aggressive individuals and nations that were ready to ‘discover, invade, and conquer’ foreign land because of greed, racism, and national egoism.” Meanwhile, the history of African Americans must be presented “so that the heroic struggle for equity waged by African Americans can be an inspiration to all.” Blacks during the American Revolution were fighting “strictly for freedom,” while whites were only fighting to “protect their economic interest.” So it goes.
The anti-white slant applies not just to what children shall be taught, but to the way children of different races shall be taught. In a discussion of the K-6 social studies program—the current goals of which are to “decrease egocentric and stereotypical perceptions” and “increase the ability to empathize”—the Task Force remarks, with bureaucratic coyness: “Ironically, while these objectives apply broadly to all young people, African American, Asian American, Puerto Rican/Latino, and Native American children (because of ego starvation and negative socialization) have special needs that can be more meaningfully met by positive images and cultural experiences.” Translation: We’re going to tear down the egocentrism of whites (for their own good—to make them less “arrogant”) while tendentiously increasing the self-esteem (read: ethnic chauvinism) of non-whites—a sort of affirmative action of the mind.
But not to worry. The report has added a reassuring caveat: “Aspects of cooperation and amicability among all cultures should be stressed over conflict and violence.”
But one searches in vain for any sign of amicability in a document that is based on a race-oppression model of intellectual life. “The curriculum in the education systems reflects … deep-seated pathologies of racial hatred…. Because of the depth of the problem and the tenacity of its hold on the mind, only the most stringent measures can have significant impact.” [Emphasis added.] Doesn’t sound very amicable to me. But how could it be otherwise? Since “European American” culture is by definition exclusive and oppressive, it obviously cannot coexist with the oppressed cultures that seek equality with it until it has been stripped of its hypocritical pretensions to universality and legitimacy—i.e., until, as a national culture, it has ceased to exist. The multiculturalist movement, in its totalist aims, is profoundly inimical to Western and liberal values. Yet, amazingly, it has managed to gain acceptance within the liberal establishment by retaining the aura of social justice, the patina of humanitarianism, that properly belongs to the older liberalism it has supplanted. How long are liberals and conservatives, both of whom oppose the traditional kinds of radicalism, going to keep on acquiescing in cultural radicalism?
A final note: On the train heading back to New York from the Regents’ meeting in Albany, I struck up a conversation with a very bright young woman, a college senior majoring in English, who told me she was planning to be a teacher. She said she recently took an education course, “but all we talked about each day was race. We didn’t learn anything about education.” She said the experience has made her think twice about her career aims. Now she thinks she might teach in private rather than public school—or perhaps not go into teaching at all.
NATIONAL REVIEW / DECEMBER 8, 1989
John D. writes (June 22, 2008):
Thank you for linking to the article you wrote for National Review. I re-read that article in particular several times a few weeks ago for the purpose of trying to explain to my 15 year old son the nature of the modern government run school system and why the “history” that he is taught is so disparate to my educational experience (and the truth). He seems to understand the tactics of modern liberalism to a certain degree, and possesses a somewhat reasonable grasp of the liberal agenda, but when I had him read your article, your words hit him like a two by four. The article was very beneficial in affirming certain attributes of modern liberalism that he and I have previously discussed. It is worthy of inclusion as one of VFR’s Featured Articles.LA replies:
Thank you. That gives me a kick to know that this 19 year old article is still meaningful and having an impact.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 20, 2004 01:08 AM | Send