Monday, July 21, 2008

Hidden Curriculum

I have been dutifully reading my textbook as I am now in week two of the Summer III term. While I continue to enjoy my classes and the things I am learning about education and myself, a passage a read in the textbook the other day really caught my attention and touched on something I have been wanting to blog about for some time. The passage was the opening paragraph of a scenario on page 22 of the book Dynamics of Effective Secondary Teaching. It reads as follows: "It was a diverse group, with a mix of white students (mainly males), a number of African Americans, several Latinos, and two Native Americans." I was immediately struck by the fact that of the four racial groups described here, three are proper nouns that reflect that group's racial background in some way. The other lumps all light-skinned people into the general term "white"which is hardly a proper noun or says anything about the background of that group of people (like where they came from). Now, I'd bet that most people would look at this and ask me what the big deal was. But look at it again...what message is this sending to those "white" kids about the importance of their racial history, culture, and background? This is an example of a hidden curriculum; lessons taught by subtle hints and clues rather than direct communication.

It irritates me when people are so careful to use so-called "politically correct" terminology to define racial and ethnic minorities, then turn around and refer to the majority by the general color of their skin (and we all know that most "white" people aren't really white at all). How is that right or fair? Do "white" people not have history or culture? "White" people are a very diverse group, including Germans, English, French, Polish, Russian, Italian, just to name a few. Each have distinct cultural and genetic traits. If we're going to be so careful with everyone else, we need to be fair to everyone, not just minorities. If we want to use hyphenations to describe people, then be consistent; same with using general terms like "white" or "black". If it's not OK to use general color-related terms to decsribe a person or a group's racial makeup, then it should be that way across the board for all races. If it is OK, then it should be OK for all races.

Honestly, I am a big proponent of simply using "American" (or whatever nationality that person actually is) as much as possible, paricularly in light of the fact that many of the people we lump into "African American" or "Native American" or any of the other "-Americans" have many races present in their family history and thus in their appearance. Tiger Woods and Barack Obama are prime examples, even though many erroneously refer to them as "African Americans" despite that fact that Obama clearly has European-- excuse me-- WHITE ancestry as well as African and Tiger Woods' mother is of Asian (Korean I believe) descent and his father is of African descent and likely others as well. I have several different European ancestors including German, English, Scottish, and Slavic (among others), but I identify myself as an American, not a "German American" or "Scottish American". Why should one aspect of a person's heritage cancel out or take precedence over another? Is our obsession with "politically correct" racial and ethnic names the result of trying to be fair or of some kind of lame attempt to deal with guilt from actions our forebearers committed on minorities? If it was wrong to generalize them, why is it OK to generalize us now?

I also find it interesting that most of the people who are most anal about using the "politically correct" terminology are "white" themselves. The term "Native American", for instance, was not the idea of actual "Native Americans" but of whites who felt guilty over past atrocities committed by past Americans and early European settlers. This is known as "white guilt" where white people practically bend over backwards to prove they aren't racist by treating minorities better than their own race and then being heavily critical of their own race to the point of making people ashamed to be "white". While these "white guilt" people may view what they're doing as noble and just, in actuality it is no better than the discrimination that they are seeking to "correct" and it demonstrates a very condescending attitude like these minority groups need their help since they can't take care of themselves. Even the extremist group American Indian Movement is opposed to the use of the term "Native American" and instead uses "American Indian" (obviously!) and it seems most "Native Americans" still prefer the general term "American Indian" or even better to be called by their specific tribe (much like we rarely hear "European American" but instead hear the actual nationality like "German American"). To me "Native American" is a misnomer since anyone is a "native" if they are born here and since I was born in the U.S. that makes me a native American, but with European ancestry. Don't forget also that if migration theories are true, the "Native Americans" emigrated here as well...they just did it before the Europeans. Even "African American" is a misnomer to me since the vast majority of people we refer to as "African Americans" have little or no ties to Africa nor do they have exclusively African ancestry as I mentioned above. On top of that, anyone who moves to the United States from Africa would correctly be considered an "African American" but that doesn't mean they are black.

I honestly could go on forever on this. In the end, I'm not promoting abandonment of culture in favor of complete assimilation, but more of just being fair. Just because I'm part of the majority race in this country does not mean my heritage is any less important than any minority, nor does it mean I had anything to do with the bad things done to minorities by the majority in the past. The best way we can "atone" for the sins of past generations is to not repeat them. Reversing the sin doesn't solve the problem, it just continues it.

1 comment:

The Mathews said...

I TOTALLY AGREE!! (are you surprised?) GRRR... Do you like Glenn Beck? Because I think you would if you don't. I love what he says about "PC" and how that is what is wrong with EVERYTHING today! Oh- and your Obama thing at the bottom... at first- I thought you were going to write that you support Obama... then I kept reading. THANK YOU FOR NOT PICKING HIM! The end.