A Reflection on Schlesinger, A.M. Jr. (1998) The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. 3rd ed. Norton .

I read the whole book over the Christmas Holidays, so wanted to go a little slower in light of what we have been talking about in EDU 6133.


Foreword & Chapter 1:  A New Race?


Historically

Historically America has been exceptional.  In its founding principles, in its composition, and in its flaws, this country has walked its own path.  Schlesinger trumpets this with quotes from George Washington, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Millard Fillmore, Teddy Roosevelt, W.E.B. DuBois, Woodrow Wilson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Gunnar Myrdal, Martin Luther King, F Scott Fitzgerald, to Mario Cuomo.  In fact, there is no shortage of reflectors or reflections, paeans and perspectives on the American Experiment.

This destination of countless million immigrants has survived thus far by forging from those alloyed masses, a single identity, i.e. that of the “American”.  The retrograde sentiment of reviving class and clan is seen as a positively backward step, and one that does not bode well for the Republic.

Politically

There is tremendous fodder here for politicians on left and right to propose and lament, diagnose and comment, what our course should be moving forward.  Where Schlesinger sees European heritage as a historical fact, and thus valid, he knows that folks across the aisle see that hegemony as the root of the evil that almost caused the fledgling Republic to be stillborn.  Schlesinger is mostly quiet on the duties of the existing status quo to right old wrongs or continue striving for equity in all forums and in all forms.

Personally

Personally I find the book eminently thought-provoking.  I believe in American exceptionalism.  I am proud to be an American.  I do not turn a blind eye to her faults.  I believe in progress and the ability to right old wrongs or prevent new ones.  I subscribe to the Myrdal’s “American Creed”.

The schools teach the principles of the  Creed, Myrdal said; the churches preach them; the courts hand down judgments in their terms.  Myrdal showed why the Creed held out hope even for those most brutally excluded by the white majority, the Creed acting as the spur forever goading white Americans to live up to their proclaimed principles, the Creed providing the legal structure that gives the wronged the means of fighting for their rights.  “America,” Myrdal said, “is continuously struggling for its soul.”

 

Summary

Schlesinger decries the new factionalism under the name of multiculturalism, asserting that diversity fanatics are taking us in the wrong direction.  From our class we have consistently defined diversity as race, ethnicity, spiritual practice, sexual orientation, gender, age, socio-economic status, physical abilities, political beliefs or other ideologies.  This book is only treating dangers he perceives in emphasizing the pluribus of race and ethnicity over the unum of the American experience.  Thus I don’t believe he is really countering multiculturalism in all its dimensions.  Nor do I think he would argue against acceptance and respect in those other dimensions.  That he would admit that fundamentally a system made up of individuals could be racist and need reforming is doubtful.  That he would approve of active means to correct wrongs done to individuals in any of those aspects of diversity is also doubtful.

Looking forward to re-reading the other chapters and Epilogue and commenting further.


Chapter 2: History the Weapon


Historically

In this chapter Schlesinger argues that those who write history have often interpreted that history for their own ends.  As examples he cites:  Russian, German, Japanese and Czech civilizations that have all suffered under the effects of history as weapon.  In this country, historically marginalized communities like the Irish, or the Catholics or the Jews have risen up and asserted their voices in history.  Most notable to Schlesinger in recent times are the African Studies scholars and proponents of Afrocentrism.  

Politically

Schlesinger writes that “the corruption of history by nationalism is instructive (p. 53).”  Nationalism is one “fever” sweeping the world, and also seems to infecting the US.  There are two types of history that are used to protect the ruling class, “top-dog history” also referred to as “exculpatory history” and “underdog history” which he also refers to as “compensatory history”.  The struggle between those is a main topic of the rest of this chapter.

Personally

I find this chapter non-controversial.  It was Winston Churchill that said “History is written by the victors.”  This saying has been played out over and over again in the course of human experience.  That te pendulum of historical reporting swings back from one side of the story to another side seems inevitable.  That Afrocentrism was a response to Eurocentric histories and an attempt to reverse their biases and remedy their shortcomings seems laudable.  I do not disagree that marginalized cultures need some sense of history and a means to mediate their claims and contributions. 

Summary

I believe the following quote sums up this chapter:

Salvation lies in breaking the white, Eurocentric, racist grip on the curriculum and providing education that responds to colored races, colored histories, colored ways of learning and behaving. Europe has reigned long enough; it is the source of most of the evil in the world anyway; and the time is overdue to honor the African contributions to civilization so purposefully suppressed in Eurocentric curricula. Children from nonwhite minorities, so long persuaded of their inferiority by the white hegemons, need the support and inspiration that identification with role models of the same color will give them. (p. 70)


Chapter 3: The Battle of the Schools


Historically

Politically

Personally

Summary


Chapter 4: The Decomposition of America


Historically

Politically

Personally

Summary


Chapter 5: E Pluribus Unum?


Historically

Politically

Personally

Summary


Epilogue: Multiculturalism, Monoculturalism, and the Bill of Rights:  Update on the Culture Wars


Historically

Politically

Personally

Summary

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