Published on Philadelphia Public School Notebook (http://thenotebook.org)
A voice for inclusion: why multicultural education?
by Germaine Ingram
In 1994, Germaine Ingram, then president of the Fellowship Commission and a trial attorney, testified before Philadelphia’s school board on behalf of the proposed multicultural education plan now known as Policy 102. The policy was adopted that year. Her testimony was reprinted in the first issue of the Notebook (Spring 1994).
In the mid-1950s, I was a 4th grader at the Stevens School at 13th and Spring Garden. My teacher had assigned us to select, read, and report on a book about the life of someone we considered a hero. In response to this assignment, I combed the shelves of the children’s department of the public library and selected a biography of President Gamal Nasser of Egypt.
A few days later, my teacher asked what book I would report on and I showed her my Nasser biography. With a look full of disapproval bordering on disgust, she said, “You think he’s a hero?” Before I could even begin to answer, she turned and walked away, leaving me hurt and deeply puzzled.
I was too young, too naïve, too ignorant to appreciate how a person of her family origin and faith might take insult at the mere suggestion that the president of Egypt might possess heroic qualities.
But I dare say that she was too consumed with her own history and belief system to consider how a black child might exalt at finding someone her own color lionized in print as a great thinker and leader. More importantly, her myopic attachment to her own world view prevented her from recognizing a valuable opportunity to challenge me to look beyond the attraction of racial identity and to assess critically the values and deeds of this man that I would call a hero.
The power and promise of a multicultural, multiracial, gender curriculum is that it will help our children choose their heroes carefully…help them recognize that heroes as well as scoundrels come in many nationalities and creeds. That genius comes in more than one color or gender…that righteousness resides in more than one faith…that family values are consistent with more than one family configuration or sexual orientation…that disability is not synonymous with “no ability.”
A multicultural curriculum at its best can be a therapy in the war against the disease that makes us run blindly behind flags marked “race,” “gender,” “religion,” and “nationality” – the disease that makes us prey to dictators and demagogues who manipulate our differences into excuses for exclusion, repression, and violence.
To my mind, the real challenge is not in deciding whether to adopt a multicultural curriculum policy, but rather, how such a policy, now adopted, can be implemented in a way which does not succumb to superficialities and stereotypes, which earnestly plumbs the histories and experiences that reflect our differences, and which illuminates the traditions and values that unite us.
I suggest we move quickly past this threshold issue of whether to have a policy and get on with addressing the real challenge.