Word Count: 1688Is multiculturalism a disruptive or an integrative force in Canadian society?
In terms of education, multiculturalism is becoming increasingly disruptive in Canadian society. It seems that there is a new issue in the media focus regarding education on a weekly basis. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that most, if not all issues in recent years stem from the debate of whether to centralize or decentralize our current system of education. Proponents of centralization argue that a standard national system of education will provide all people with access to the same quality of education. On the other hand, proponents of decentralization claim that individual educational institutions will provide a level of education that is sensitive to the differing cultures and economic status within a particular area. Both sides contend that their system will provide a higher standard of education while improving the educational opportunities for minorities.
Due to the recent investigation by the UN into Ontario’s education system, it is appropriate to define what Canadians are entitled to as far as educational rights. The UN proclaims universally that, “Everyone has the right to education” and that “education shall be free,” UN, 1948,Article 26 (1). These definitions are very broad and far-reaching, and are rarely adhered to as fundamental human rights. “Many governments are inclined to define human rights in the manner most convenient to suiting their own political interests.” (Boutros Butros Ghali, 1993). Essentially, there is no benchmark that compels any government education system to provide for a multicultural society. It should be interesting to see what the UN will say about the Canadian education system and whether or not they will set standard in education for a multicultural society such as ours. With no hard and fast guidelines how should the education system in Canada operate in order to become an integrative force in Canada.
The most prevailing school of though in Canada regarding education is its standardization and centralization. The provincial Government is responsible for developing and implementing of public education policy as long as they are in power. The Harris government has implemented and proposed many ideas for the centralization and standardization of education in the province of Ontario. These policies are aimed at conserving tax dollars and the elimination of the wasteful bureaucracies infecting our education system. Also the provincial government is taking steps to standardize the level of education received by students in Ontario. Programs like standardized testing for teachers and students as well as the standardization of the curriculum were implemented. These programs are intended to provide all students regardless of race or economic standing in any area of the province and equal opportunity to succeed. These initiatives are part and parcel of increased demand by the Federal government to have Canadian students rise to “levels equivalent to those achieved by students in Asia and Europe.” (Lightbody, pg. 265) These steps however pay little heed to other cultures in the education system. All courses on history or culture at the high school level are aimed to familiarize students with the traditions, philosophy, literature and history of the western world. Proponents argue that this action is appropriate since our country is based on a democracy founded in European ideals of government. It is also claimed that there would not be enough time in the current school year to educate students on every culture that has contributed to the construction of our society. Proponents for centralization seem to prefer the “middle of the road approach” when making decisions on curriculum. It is argued that trying to push the subject of multiculturalism too far would actually be a hindrance. Over emphasis of multiculturalism may interfere with a students participation in other groups, or worse, hold a child back from expressing his or her individuality. (Ryan 137) In other words, an education system that is equal is equal for all that use it. An all-encompassing education system provides the same level of education for all involved, and should not pay preference to any one individual culture. This type of system has come under fire from groups such as: Natives, isolated communities, minorities, and womens groups since the system is incapable of attending to their particular needs. For example, the Oakland California School Board’s introduction of a controversial Ebonics policy. This policy was countered immediately with the creation of a bill that would penalize schools who support the instruction of Ebonics by restricting funding. Teaching courses in Ebonics can severely handicap a student in North America. Almost every facet of business, education, and government is conducted in proper English. This is a good example of how an absurd attempt to be considerate towards a minority hinders the progress of the education system. Diversions such as these take the attention away from sensible attempts to structure the education system in a way that benefits everyone fairly (If there is such a thing).
In todays society this type of education does not seem to be a progressive step for Canadians. An example of this is the creation of Affirmative action programs. In the U.S. blacks are experiencing an unemployment rate of nearly twice that of whites, Canadian figures I assume are relatively similar. “Affirmative action was designed to give qualified minorities a chance to compete on equal footing with whites. (Chappel, 1995) These programs create widespread resentment for minorities by Caucasians and thus hindering the development of society. Meanwhile the implementers of these programs ignore the reasons why these programs need to be created. They have even gone as far as claiming, “Few can argue that racism is still rampant in awarding contracts, jobs, and educational opportunities, even though its been proven beneficial to have people of different races with different ideas and different experiences working toward the same goal” (Chappell, 1996)
The other school of thought in regards to education is the creation of what is known as a chartered school. A chartered school is run nearly autonomously with little interference by government (other than partial funding) or bureaucracies. It is intended to allow for increased local participation in decision making, and to save money by cutting down on costly administration and foster innovation through competition. (Lawton pg. 23). With competition, schools would have a greater incentive to improve itself in all aspects. Most advances would take place in the creation of new programs, providing access to higher levels of technology, and structuring curriculum with sensitivity to the ethnic make-up in its surrounding area. These schools would be developed and influenced by the parents of the students, teachers, other community members and even corporate sponsors. One of the major benefits of this type of school would be an increased response time in educational demands due to a lack of bureaucratic posturing and unnecessary collective bargaining agreements. Essentially, the organization will perform better since the programs implemented or any decisions made will affect those who make them. Supporters believe that this will hold a charter school accountable for improving and achieving its stated goals. Therefore, a school located in a particularly ethnically rich area can provide a form of education more appropriate culturally for its students. If a school is to be successful then it will have to be very aware of the demands placed on it by the area in which it is located. If it is not then it will risk failure. Parents will move their children to another school if they feel that their child is not being provided with an acceptable education. A centralized school system would be unable to respond to local needs due to broad general policies made by distant bureaucrats. These schools however will be partially funded by the government, with more money being allocated to the successful schools who attract more students. Presently there are eight chartered schools operating in Alberta out of a legislated maximum of 15. Other Provincial governments may be considering the implementation of charter schools but the idea is still new in Canada and there are numbers or studies that assess the performance of the existing schools in Alberta.
The fundamental hindrance of a charter school is that it serves its community but not the nation. The increased response to community needs may in fact serve to increase the segregation among cultures in Canada. Also, lower income families will not be able to send their children to more successful schools for many reasons such as the cost of transportation and the cost of living in a particular area. The same could possibly apply to different cultures. The opportunity for a culturally rich education may be limited to location, and financial position. The result being that they would be no better off than they are now.
The issue of multiculturalism will always plague the education system in Canada. There is no proven method of teaching all the students in a class in a manner that preserves their culture while affording them the same opportunities as everyone else. The centralization of education almost ignores the need for cultural understanding between ethnically different people. It supports itself on the idea that if all schools teach the same thing, students will be afforded the same opportunities. But how does the government decide what is best for each individual? Does majority rule apply in the education system as well? On the other hand the de-centralization of the school system provides for more community oriented schools that strive for improvement through competition. The idea of a problem free multicultural society can not be realized if we draw lines in the sand. We must act for the development of the nation, and the maintenance for the culture. Both views essentially try to answer two important questions asked by Canadians at once. First, how do you reduce the level of bureaucracy and reduce wasted tax dollars. Secondly, they attempt to answer the looming question of equality and the creation of a multicultural society in Canada today.
Sources Of Information
Ryan, Francis J. “The Perils of Multiculturalism: Schooling for the Group” Educational Horizons 7 Spring 1993:134-8
Chappell, Kevin “Ready, Aim, Fire.” Black Enterprise March 1996.
Lawton, Stephen . “Busting Bureaucracy to Reclaim Our Schools” Montreal. The Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1995.