Melting pots and salad bowls

Intercultural Education
April 24, 1998

Migration and emigration are highly complex and emotive phenomena because they challenge the cosy condition of a homogeneous culture. Intercultural Education: Theories, Policies and Practice is a collection of essays on education as a major thrust to establish social equality in western Europe following recent demographic changes. The book is the result of an Erasmus network course held in Lisbon in 1994 on interculturalism initiated by the European Union and Council of Europe.

Claude Levi-Strauss's anthropological humanism is the epistemological basis of intercultural education, which concerns the promotion of the understanding of one culture by another. With increasing interdependence between countries, the educators of Europe are now acknowledging the critical importance of intercultural understanding as a means to ensure intellectual, moral, social and economic vitality in the 21st century.

Over the past few decades, politics and economics have pushed a considerable number of migrants into Europe. But though the notion of a nation state may have slightly altered in our minds, we have not yet been able to come up with an effective process to control chauvinism, racism and xenophobia. Paragraphs in the Bullock report in 1975, the Swann report in 1985 and the National Curriculum in 1988 have given moral support to the idea of equality of language and culture in our diverse society; government funds have been made available to foster intercultural education; but still racism is rife.

The first half of the book deals with the historical development of the idea of intercultural education. The early United States "melting pot" metaphor of cultural fusion and the more recent "salad bowl" metaphor for unity in diversity are part of the integration debate. The second half offers comparative studies of practice in European countries such as Italy, France, the Netherlands and Lithuania and deals with teacher education, interracial marriage, health education and Europeanisation of the curriculum. Though all the essays are not equally absorbing the total effect is professionally rewarding. Derek Woodrow's analysis of why English schools are failing to teach arithmetic to Pakistani pupils is an apt example of failure to respond to individual needs in education. Whereas children in Pakistan are in an arithmetic-rich environment in which everyday life involves frequent monetary transactions for different items, in an English supermarket a single credit card swipe completes multiple purchases. This lack of exposure to arithmetic affects learning and produces low self-esteem and frustration. Perhaps Britain should provide primary school children with opportunities of supervised shopping to aid raising general standard in arithmetic. Attilio Monasta's contribution informs us that Italy still does not have any professional training for teachers! Jagdish Gundara's observation on the importance of intercultural education as a counter against insecure nationalism is timely. Peter Pumfrey's piece on development and support of the cultural diversity curriculum is comprehensive and constructive.

But having read the book, I have the uncomfortable feeling that we have not moved much since the first attempt to generate enthusiasm for the language and culture of the European immigrants was propagated in 1970 in Resolution 70/35 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. So far we have produced a paper mountain in the shape of corporate policies on equal opportunities, multilingual information leaflets and multilingual welcome greetings at school entrances, but none of these has been of much help in creating an environment of genuine curiosity for other cultures. Our children in primary schools participate in the celebrations of Diwali, Eid and Chinese New Year, but do not refrain from covert racial abuse to a refugee child from Bosnia or Somalia. Our teachers attend courses on raising awareness on humanitarian issues, but overlook racial friction in the school playground for fear of their personal safety. How else do we explain the death of Philip Lawrence? Moreover British education does not have an impressive record in teaching other languages, which helps to overcome monocultural stagnation.

With the increasing number of children of immigrant parents being born in Europe and the progressive rise in interracial marriages, Europe's ethnic composition is changing fast. We need to develop strategies to encourage genuine interaction in a world of shared interest and market-led economies. Academic works such as this will be of little or no consequence unless Europe's education policy-makers pledge sincere commitment to it. Education certainly helps to sharpen skills of reasoning, but without the nourishment of the aesthetic and moral aspect of human existence, reasoning will remain underdeveloped. Exposure to intercultural education is one way towards redressing the balance.

The book ends with a famous quotation from Gandhi. Though the writer does not say so, Gandhi was then arguing in a nationalistic vein with Rabindranath Tagore against western learning in India. Tagore was a more significant thinker than Gandhi on education and certainly deserves a mention in the multicultural context: he implemented the idea of intercultural education in his university, Visva-Bharati, founded in 1921 in Bengal. That institution inspired the Dartington school and college and continues today under Indian government aegis.

The book has no index, which is infuriating. Although each article is referenced, there are no footnotes. There are also no notes on the contributors, which is essential for a book of this nature. Neverthless, this is a useful resource on intercultural education.

Krishna Dutta was an adviser on the multicultural curriculum, London Borough of Haringey.

Intercultural Education: Theories, Policies and Practice

Editor - D. Woodrow, G. K. Verma, M. B. Rocha-Trindade, G. Campani and C. Bagley
ISBN - 1 84014 118 2
Publisher - Ashgate
Price - £45.00
Pages - 338

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