Monday, August 28, 2006

The Trouble with Melting Pots

An article published in the NYTimes this past weekend, "In Schools Across U.S., the Melting Pot Overflows" forecasts a melting pot of gastronomic proportions. The article bubbles with attendance and demographics statistics like those published by ED that show three decades ago, in 1973, 78 percent of the students attending the nation’s public schools were white and 22 percent were minorities. In 2004, 57 percent of all public school students were white, while 43 percent were minorities. The Times also predicts that if trends continue as they have for 30 years, minority students will outnumber white students within a decade. They already do in California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas.

But is the metaphor really right? Is Loudon county Virginia, one of the wealthiest per capita and fastest growing counties, really an exemplar of what U.S. schools look like? What about all the city schools that are primarilyHispanicc and black, and all the suburban schools that are primarily white? Are U.S. schools really a melting pot? What's with the melting pot metaphor anyway? And who is this Park View High School Thuy Nguyen? Roving in and out of cliques like a challenger candidate trailing marginally in the polls days before election day?

Melting pot ideals have lost somelegitimacyy over time. Horace Mann's Common School movement based in large part on the universality of American ideals is long gone, replaced, and with some good measure, by an awareness of the ethnocentrism that thrived during some of the uglier moments in American nation building. The danger is that we go too far and lose sight of the role of majority, collectivity, and responsibility. We've all heard other metaphors, salads, layered sandwiches, or supreme pizzas (making you hungry no?) that better describe what we are and how we would ideally all work together. We keep and celebrate our differences--no melted unidentifiable soup--but remember the responsibility we have as Americans collectively working for the good of all. The melting pot metaphor, for my money, implies too much naivete to toss around willy nilly.


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