“Thus in the United States, the drive to educate all students about a set of ‘facts’ in the name of literacy education can be seen by minorities as a thinly veiled guise for the imposition of a particular type of cultural identity” Bernado Ferdman “Literacy and Cultural Identity”

To be certain, no reasonable educator is insensitive to the perils of teaching and cultural identity.  We all know about the transitory nature of “fact” and the dangers of “pushing one way of knowledge” as Ferdman says.  We live and teach in a world of grey tones, where reality is subject to the interpretation of those interacting within it. We should be wary of absolutes, they tend to get easily disproven and cause more trouble than they are worth.

But the denial of absolutes is a value in and of itself and one that I would argue does get pushed at students. It is also a value sharply in contrast with much of the religious ideology in which students are raised.  Subjectivism fundamentally undercuts the basic tenants of any theistic religion- that there is a moral absolute established by an outside force.  If we as teachers, reject absolutism (and I actually do) are we not denying religion as many/most of our students understand it?

What about Global Warming deniers? Or Homophobes? How about strict Muslims who believe women shouldn’t drive?  If protecting cultural identity is of the utmost importance, then we are not allowed to challenge these antiquated notions, lest we violate someone’s identity.  It is easy to embrace the principles of Ferdman’s article when we identify with/sympathize with/ agree with the oppressed view-points.  And within the context of “the classroom” the commonly accepted “minority” view-points are often championed by those in power (even if not wholly understood) so it can be hard to argue that they exist in an oppressive space at the academy.  Compare a teachers reaction to a student arguing that the bombing of Hiroshima was racist vs. a student arguing the Bible bans homosexuality.  Which is the true “minority” opinion in that circumstance?

I think, at some point, teachers need to begin reconciling themselves to the fact that ALL education is, to an extent, the imposition of your world-view on a student.

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2 responses to “

  1. What is the the cultural identity of an American? It is impossible to invoke the idea of “American” without pulling along the ATTACHED concept of cultural heterogeneity . We are our diversity. That is our cultural identity. That is what we impose on our students, and we’re lucky for that because many places in the world don’t acknowledge or include the sub-cultures in their societies.
    The problems arise when we forget that we are our diversity: we micro-tend to specific cultures or we pull all of our students towards the homogenous discourse group of the upper class– two extremes.
    The pulls need to be towards the middle, where we all assume the cultural identity of a cultural mutt– an American.

  2. Good points except that I would argue the ideas that the “pull need to be toward the middle” and that “we are our diversity” would be rejected by x percentage of students and in order to get them to embrace them would be an imposition of cultural identity.
    Again I return to the notion of a student who uses the writings of Paul to assert that homosexuals are corrupt and perverse. Since that belief is not generally supported by “fact” as we understand that notion in academia, any student taking that position (and the underlying concept of absolutism that accompanies it) would not be presenting acceptable material as an academically supportable argument. How do you get the student in this case to embrace a diversity that includes homosexuals without fundamentally assaulting the portion of their cultural identity that rejects such behavior? And as the Presidential candidacy of Rick Santorum (whose name I will not hyper-link for fear of leading to something truly horrible) shows, their is a high awareness and rejection amongst conservatives right now of just such efforts by the University to promote this exact kind of curriculum.

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