Educating the Culturally Diverse
Hear me, four quarters of the world - a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.
-Black Elk (1863-1950), Oglala Sioux holy man
While access to formal education improved dramatically for most of the population of the United States during this time. Native and African Americans were not allowed access to most public schools and institutions of higher learning. Following the Civil War, African-Americans were at least allowed to learn how to read and write. However, segregation laws, whereby the African-American population was not allowed to share facilities that were used by the Caucasian population, were used to frustrate the development and growth of learning for this group. African-Americans were not given adequate funds to staff or build their schools and as a result were relegated to sub-standard and overcrowded facilities.
Even in the northern United States, segregation was still the rule rather than the exception. Most institutions of higher learning did not accept African-Americans. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was one of the first African-Americans to attend an institution of higher learning in the United States. He had to endure incredible hardships to complete his education and vowed to make the acquisition of such easier for the next generation. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in rural Alabama that was a technical and vocational school for African Americans. Washington believed education was the means to which the races the races could learn to live together in harmony.
W.E.B. DuBois was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. He also founded the NAACP or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Unlike Washington who believed that education for African-Americans should focus on a technical or vocational orientation, DuBois believed that African-Americans should educate themselves to assume positions of leadership. Both DuBois and Washington had a profound influence on improving education for African-Americans. DuBois, as both a role model and a proponent of higher education, allowed African-Americans to believe in themselves, while Washington made higher education a real possibility for many.
Mary McCleod Bethune (1875-1955) believed that education was important in providing opportunities for employment and growth in Christian education for African-American women. She founded one of the first schools for African-American women in 1904 with just a handful of young African-American girls in Daytona, Florida. This institution grew rapidly, as it was one of the few places where an African-American could receive a quality education. Later it became Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune's influence extended beyond providing educational opportunities, as she was a consultant and advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt on education and racial matters as well as founder of African-American women's organizations. She always carried herself with great pride and dignity and served as a role model for other African-American women.
Native-Americans were experiencing the disastrous effect on their culture and way of life as a result of westward expansion. Many died as a result of the Indian Wars and many more saw their former living spaces dwindle away to little or nothing as more and more settlers poured across the western plains. Subsequently many tribes were forced to move out of their native and traditional lands into territories or reservations that were considered undesirable by the Caucasian population.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was established to help Native Americans adjust to life on the reservation. In addition this organization established compulsory schools to educate the population. For the most part these schools made little or no effort to accommodate the traditional and cultural beliefs of the various tribes. Children were often packed off to boarding schools such as the Carlisle Institute in Pennsylvania, which was attended by Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete, and forced to remain away from home for years. When students returned to the reservations after completing their education, few or no opportunities existed for them to earn a living.
As with the Native American population, for the thousands of immigrants entering the United States the goal of education was quick assimilation. Schools provided a common ground where children had the opportunity to learn English as well as the common cultural traditions and mores of American society. Most immigrants rapidly acquired the expertise they needed to live comfortably in American society. However, many were forced to put aside cultural traditions and beliefs from their former countries. Speaking any language other than English was strongly discouraged. This often led to a situation where the newly assimilated children ridiculed and mocked their parents who had not yet learned to speak English or understand American culture.Think about It: