Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Can you even define it? 

Jenny D. has been running a great series of articles on multiculturalism in education, asking for a definition of what it means. She then follows up with a real-life example:

A HS English teacher in NYC had asked his students to write a brief composition. The next day, the students brought the writing to class, and the teacher told them he wanted several to read their work.

He called first on a girl, a Muslim girl wearing a hajab. She refused to read, and told the teacher she couldn't recite until a boy had gone first, according to her religion.

What should the teacher do? Or maybe I should say, what did the teacher do?

The answer is here. I think it's instructive for you to consider the problem before you click through.

Jenny is talking about elementary and secondary education, and I'm writing mostly from the experience of a state university. But her point would apply here as well.
Suppose that some parents came to a public school and said that their religion prohibited girls from learning math. The school should of course say no, because not learning math runs counter to the hallmarks of our civic society: it prohibits the liberty of the girls, and it cuts into equality of access to public goods. But the parents cry that the school is saying that their religion is no good, and send an intolerant message, etc. And the educator should say, no, our decision is neutral on your faith, but it is based on the beliefs of civic society, which are the most important values here.

Here's something else to consider: The US is one of the few nations that allows citizenry by choice. People decide to enter, become residents and citizens of the US. When they do so, the only obligation they have to is accept and foster our civic values.

When they become citizens, what in the Naturalization Oath requires this, exactly?
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

Is supporting the equal education of mathematics for men and women "work of national importance"? If so, how elastic is the concept, and what are its limits?

I am quite certain, had I forced the female student to read her essay first, the full force of the multiculti bureaucracy of SCSU would fall on me for cultural insensitivity. And yet if I did not, would I have perpetuated sex inequality? It's a great question Jenny asks. Alas, it has no good answers.