Thoughts on multi-culturalism, immigration & vouchers

Last night my husband and I were having a conversation about why immigrant communities have not successfully integrated into the European countries they have settled in. (Yes, we actually talk about these sort of things – we’re well matched dorks.) Aside from the riots in France last year there is the incredible news that 40% of British Muslims want the government to impose sharia law in parts of the country. For all it’s problems, particularly with its African-American population, America just doesn’t seem to have these sort of problems with our legal immigrants. We identified two problems: lack of opportunity and a strange version of multi-culturalism. If you’ll bear with me I want to bring this back to a question it raises about our education system and vouchers.
The first problem is one of opportunity. If a legal immigrant plays by the rules here, gets an education, works hard, etc., they have a reasonably high degree of confidence that they will be largely accepted and have access to the opportunities America offers. This provides a strong incentive for new immigrants to assimilate rather than seeking to transplant their old country to America. In many places in Europe, it seems that immigrants just don’t see the pay-off for giving up their old ways. In many places even legal immigrants are treated differently than their native peers when it comes to employment and access to education. To make things even worse, in some countries like France, an immigrant’s child is not guaranteed citizenship and all it’s benefits even if born on French soil. When opportunity is blocked, so is incentive to buy into a country’s culture and participate.
The second problem is a version of multi-culturalism. This is one you hear a lot about from right leaning thinkers and politicians. Most European cultures have a history of colonialism which has left them very wary of doing anything which might be seen as imposing their culture on another. Britains in particular seem to have a strong allergic reaction to doing or saying anything which would remotely imply that their culture has something to offer that another culture does not. This has lead to a version of multi-culturalism where it is seen as improper to expect that an immigrant would modify their views or practices, even when in conflict with British norms and morals. An extreme example of this has been official’s reluctance to get involved in “honor killings” which have taken place in minority communities. Another result is that the government provides funding for Muslim schools in Britain. Unfortunately, one of the results of having duel school systems in place for Muslim and non-Muslim children seems to have been that Muslims who have not bought into British values can insulate themselves from pressure to do so or for their children to do so. Now, perhaps this is simply a reflection of the lack of opportunity I mentioned above, ie if there was an obtainable advantage to buying into the British sensibility keeping one’s children insulated from such would not seem so appealing. However, it’s hard to argue with the simple fact that faced with no pressure to give up old ideas and ways of doing things, people don’t. That said, perhaps you can begin to see the problem this raises for me in my thinking about schools and vouchers.
Anyone who has read John Taylor Gatto knows that one of his arguments is that prior to government schools, people who sent their kids to school sent them to schools which taught values they themselves had. There were Quaker schools and Baptist schools and so on. This reduced conflict between people with different beliefs because if that crazy Quaker down the road wanted his child to be taught crazy Quaker ideas that didn’t matter to you because he wasn’t trying to teach such notions to your child. People didn’t feel threatened by other people’s beliefs, as they often do today, because they weren’t trying to impose them on your family. So why hasn’t this worked in places like Britain? I think it’s a lack of opportunity for minority communities as well as what happens when a great culture like the British doesn’t see their own worth because of their failings and become easy targets for another culture which is convinced of it’s own superiority (such as militant Islam).
I support vouchers for many reasons, not the least of which is because it would allow a dynamic such as the one Gatto identifies prior to government schools being forced on parents. Hillary Clinton gave a particularly ridiculous speech on vouchers the other day, but I agree that I certainly would hate to see a situation where our differences became more rather than less threatening and divisive.
However, perhaps Europe’s experience isn’t particularly informative in regards to our conversation on vouchers here in the US. I think our economic opportunities and national pride would act as counter-weights against a desire to hold too strongly to ideas and traditions which are in conflict with our own – even if all parents were free to send their children to schools that reflected their own values. After all, many of us in the homeschool community homeschool precisely so we can protect our kids from being taught things we find immoral or wrong – yet our kids seem to be integrating into society quite well once we’re done with them. It seems to me that we would do well to think about these things so that when some demagogue like Hillary tries to use the divisions which have been perpetuated in part by religiously separated school systems in Europe to try and smack down vouchers here in America, we have a good answer.
OK, there’s my dork post for the day. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum!

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