ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER, JR.Multiculturalism: Disunity? By: Tania McMenamin
WHO WAS ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER, JR.?• Historian• Pulitzer Prize-winning author (twice!)• Liberal Partisan• Kennedy confidante• Political speech writer and advisor• Harvard alum and professor• Wearer of polka-dotted bowties• Controversial critic of multiculturalism
A FAMILY HISTORY OF HISTORIANS Arthur M. Schlesinger had history in his blood. He was the son of a famous historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. His reputed ancestor was George Bancroft, author of the 12- volume History of the United States from the Discovery of the Continent, written from 1854 to 1878. George Bancroft Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr.To learn more about Arthur, Jr.’s life, read his obituary here:NY Times Article
AN ANECDOTE ILLUSTRATING HOW ONE (BAD) TEACHER CANCHANGE THE COURSE OF A STUDENT’S LIFE: “Schlesingers parents originally sent him to public schools in Cambridge, but his father, who was a Harvard history professor, upon hearing that Arthur‟s history teacher had taught him that Albanians were albinos, shipped Arthur off to Phillips Exeter Academy, before he returned home to attend Harvard College.” Read more hereQuestions to contemplate:• Was there a time when you experienced a teacher’s fallibility? How did it affect you?• Did you ever have a teacher who changed the course of your life?• How can you be the kind of teacher that can alter a student’s educational trajectory?Source: The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama by Eric Alterman and Kevin Mattson.
REVISIONIST HISTORIAN? Schlesinger was criticized for leaving out any mention of the removal and relocation of Native Americans during President Andrew Jackson’s administration, in his first Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Age of Jackson. Read what academic and historian Ronald Takaki has to say about it in his essay, Multiculturalism: Battleground or Meeting Ground?• Why do you think Schlesinger omitted this critical component of our nation‟s history?• If a Harvard educated, award-winning historian like Schlesinger can leave out important information, how can we ever expect to get the full story?• Do you agree with Takaki‟s assessment that “behind Schlesinger‟s cant against multiculturalism is fear”?Source: http://www.elegantbrain.com/edu4/classes/readings/depository/race/kiv_multicul_taka.pdf
TO BE, OR NOT TO BE, AMERICAN “[…] Most American-born members of minority groups, white or non- white, while they may cherish particular heritages, still see themselves primarily as Americans and not primarily as Irish or Hungarians or Jews or Africans or Asians” (19).• Would you agree with Schlesinger? As a first-generation American, I was brought up with strong cultural ties to the “old country.” In school, when someone asked what you were, I don‟t recall kids answering, “American.” However, whenever I referred to myself as being Irish, my parents always corrected me by saying I was American.• Consider your own cultural identity. How do you think this will influence or inform how you deal with the issue of multiculturalism in the classroom?Source: “The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society” by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
IN SCHLESINGER’S DEFENSE Schlesinger does recognize the value of multicultural education as a way to understand many viewpoints, and to learn about others as a means to learning about ourselves. In a way, he shares some common ground with Lisa Delpit. “Of course history should be To promote communication and taught from a variety of heal resentments between white perspectives. […] Living on a educators and educators of shrinking planet, aspiring to color, Lisa Delpit suggested the global leadership, Americans answer lay in ethnographic must learn much more about analysis – other races, other cultures, other “identifying and giving voice to continents. As they do, they alternative worldviews.” acquire a more complex and invigorating sense of the world – and of themselves.” Then what is all the fuss about? Here comes the “but” …Sources: “The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society” by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., pp. 15-16; “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People‟s Children” by Lisa D. Delpit, p. 331.
SCHLESINGER CLAIMS THAT WHEN WE GO “TOO FAR”WITH THE “CULT OF ETHNICITY” THERE ARE NEGATIVECONSEQUENCESHe tells us, on pp. 16-17 of The Disuniting of America, that:• “The new ethnic gospel rejects the unifying vision of individuals from all nations melted into a new race.”• “Division into ethnic communities establishes the basic structure of American society and the basic meaning of American history,” which, Schlesinger writes, is “fatally misleading and wrong when presented as the whole picture.”• “Instead of a transformative nation with an identity all its own, America in this new light is seen as a preservative of diverse alien identities.”• “Multiethnic dogma abandons historic purposes, replacing assimilation by fragmentation, integration by separatism.”
IDENTITY CRISIS James Baldwin vs. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. 1964 1991 “It is not really a „Negro revolution‟ that is “In no arena is the rejection of an overriding upsetting the country. What is upsetting the national identity more crucial than in our country is a sense of its own identity.” system of education.” “Even if black America had a spontaneous “If one managed to change the curriculum and authentic relationship with Africa, in all the schools so that Negroes learned would learning about Africa improve the more about themselves and their real self-esteem of black children? So far as I contributions to this culture, you would be can find out, there is no scientific study liberating not only Negroes, you‟d be showing any correlation between ethnic- liberating white people who know nothing studies programs and the self-esteem of about their own history.” ethnic groups.” Imagine these great thinkers sharing a beer or a cup of tea. What an enlightening conversation that would be! Would they find common ground? Perhaps they would both vehemently dismiss the teaching of inauthentic history, no matter which ethnic group or culture is represented.Sources: “The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society” by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., pp. 15-16; “A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin, p. 224.
ASSIMILATION: AN AMERICAN NECESSITY, OR A BAD WORD?Assimilation was believed to be necessary for success for my parents’generation when they came to this country. Today, assimilation can be viewedas an incalculable loss of cultural identity and sense of self. An example ofthis is the story of my sister-in-law who, when she first went to school at fiveyears old and only spoke Italian, was told that she could not be taught untilshe learned to speak English. The family went into panic mode to adapt, andthe cost was the children’s bilingual fluency.Must our ethnically-diverse population give up so much of its culture in order to keep the melting pot from giving way to the Tower of Babel?
THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA REVISED Schlesinger revised and expanded his book in 1998, to include what he believed was an essential book list for understanding America, called Schlesingers Syllabus (pp. 167-169). Consider some of the books he names, such as Uncle Tom‟s Cabin and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Do these books even make the cut anymore on schools’ approved reading lists?
HAVE SCHLESINGER’S IDEAS ABOUT MULTICULTURALISMCOME AND GONE? The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society was written more than 20 years ago. Schlesinger stated then that multiculturalism arose as a reaction against Anglo- or Eurocentrism, and that “the very word, instead of referring as it should to all cultures, has come to refer only to non-Western, nonwhite cultures.” (74)• Would you agree? What’s your definition of multiculturalism? “The situation in our universities … will soon right itself once the great silent majority of professors cry „enough‟ and challenge what they know to be voguish nonsense.” (18)• I am taking two courses this semester alone with the word “multicultural” in the name. What would Schlesinger make of our ongoing study of multiculturalism? To What End Multiculturalism?
REFERENCES Alterman , E., & Mattson, K. (2012). The cause: The fight for American liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama. New York, NY: Viking Penguin. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=BWfx_wu70JgC&pg=PT60&lpg=PT60&dq=schlesinger albinos come from albania&source=bl&ots=fHVlO0ukmW&sig=454E8jw3fi8cS95IeK5JznjyNXo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=v ykhUbmqL4jq9ASMsYGIDA&ved=0CGkQ6AEwCA Baldwin, J. (1963). A talk to teachers. In W. Ayers & P. Ford (Eds.), City Kids, City Teachers (pp. 219-227). New York, NY: The New Press. Delpit , L. D. (1988). The silenced ialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other peoples children. Harvard Educational Review, 330-345. Indian removal. In Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_removal Martin, D. (2007, March 1). Arthur Schlesinger, historian of power, dies at 89 . The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/us/01cnd- schlesinger.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Schlesinger, Jr. A. M. (1992). The disuniting of America. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co. Schlesinger, Jr., A. M. (1998). The disuniting of America: Reflections on a multicultural society (Revised and Enlarged Edition ed., pp. 167-179). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Disuniting-America-Reflections-Multicultural- Enlarged/dp/0393318540 Takaki, R. (n.d.). Multiculturalism: Battleground or meeting ground?. What is Multicultural America? Multiculturalism in the United States, 484-485. Retrieved from http://www.elegantbrain.com/edu4/classes/readings/depository/race/kiv_multicul_taka.pdf