Revisiting the Ideal of Unity within American Public Education Informed by Multicultural Education

By Shilpi Sinha.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Public education within the United States has long been called upon to perform a unifying function for a nation made up of diverse cultural groups. Yet, as American education is informed by multicultural models of education, some historians and educational theorists argue that a destructive plurality is glorified at the expense of unity. While the multivocal sense of multicultural education has been much examined and debated within educational theory literature, what has not been sufficiently drawn out is the multivocal sense of unity found in multicultural education discourse. I examine how and where the notion of unity fits in with education that emphasizes plurality, and provide clarification on what is being pointed to when both critics and supporters of multicultural education talk about unity. Different perspectives of multicultural education are linked to the question of unity in three main ways: as incompatible with or destructive of unity; as constitutive of unity; or as wrongly linked to the question of unity in that the terms of the debate are viewed as miscast. I examine the varying senses of unity that are pointed to as lost, incompatible, or engendered with multicultural education, as described by educational theorists such as Yael Tamir, Piet Van Der Ploeg, Robert Fullinwider, Amy Gutmann, Philip Walking and Rob Reich. The varying senses of unity indicate different modes of unifying, or different “unifying moves.” These different unifying moves do not necessarily indicate unifying forces, and at times are actually in the service of a violent foreclosing or silencing of non-dominant groups’ experiences and perspectives. Thus, I build on the insights of critical theorists such as Carl Allsup, Peter McLaren, and Iris Marion Young to show that given the increasing diversity of American society, American education would be better served by loosening its attachment to the rhetoric of unity as it currently stands.

Keywords: Unity, Multicultural Education, Plurality, Hermeneutics, Critical Theory

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp.129-140. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 908.214KB).

Shilpi Sinha

Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, USA

Shilpi Sinha is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11530. She teaches courses in the social, historical, and philosophical foundations of education. Her research interests include ethical encounters with otherness, critical theory and postmodern thought, multicultural education, and philosophy of education.

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