Concerned about what he calls the increasingly popular "Little House on the Prairie" view of education, Scott Walker has published another view. Call it "Little Gulag on the Kalahari."
"Gulag" and "Kalahari" are just two of the 600 terms listed in "The Graywolf Annual Five: Multicultural Literacy" (Graywolf Press, $8.50).The collection of essays was compiled by the St. Paul Press, of which Walker is editor and publisher, as a response to those best-selling critiques of American education, "Cultural Literacy" by E.D. Hirsch and "The Closing of the American Mind" by Allan Bloom.
Those books contend that a well-rounded American education must be based on white, male, European history because that is the dominant culture.
Hirsch's new followup book, "The Dictionary of American Literacy," contains a list of thousands of subjects with which the literate person should be familiar.
Walker says Hirsch's list isn't wrong; it just doesn't go far enough. "Our intention was to come up with alternative ways of thinking about contemporary realities, so that we're able to communicate with the wide variety of people that we interact with every day," he said.
The book began last year when Walker and Rick Simonson, the book buyer for Elliott Bay Books of Seattle, Wash., were comparing notes on this conservative view of American education.
"What bothered me was that some of my friends, people who are ordinarily more liberal in their inclinations, found the message of the Hirsch and Bloom books to strongly support our educational system so seductive that they started nodding and smiling," Walker said. "And they kept nodding and smiling past the point where they should have said, `Hey, is this really the approach we should be taking? Shouldn't we be doing more?' "
Walker was struck by the infrequency of references to women, feminists and black and other minority scholars. More interesting, however, was his discovery when he began asking people in these groups for their opinions that they hadn't heard of Hirsch or Bloom. Instead, they thought the relevance of minority cultures had been affirmed 15 years ago, he said.
"So here we had these parallel tracks, one saying that the mainstream is white, male and European and another that says there's a much wider reality than that, and the two had never heard of one another," Walker said. "We saw this book as partly a way to heal that gap."
"Multicultural Literacy" includes 13 essays by such writers as James Baldwin, Wendell Berry, Carlos Fuentes, Ishmael Read and Paula Gunn Allen. They approach the issue from different ways.
Fuentes, for example, writes about trying to learn Western European culture while he was growing up in Latin America. Berry writes of the less ethnic minority culture of the family farm, likening one's relationship with the land to a long marriage.
Despite their own best judgment, Walker and Simonson came up with their own catalog of items they call "the beginnings of an expanded list of essential names, phrases, dates, and concepts."
Sheila Murphy, who does marketing and publicity for Graywolf, said the list was compiled with some trepidation. "It's the kind of thing that anyone can shoot holes in. We very freely shot holes in Hirsch's," she said. "But it's just meant to suggest other things that may be taken into account."
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***** Here are 25 items from the "Multicultural
Here are 25 items from the "Multicultural Literacy" list of things that Scott Walker and Rick Simonson feel are too commonly excluded from U.S. educational texts. They offer no definitions, but prefer to think of the list as "the start of a discussion among friends who hope to improve the educational system of this country, and to make its citizens more aware of the important roles played in our lives by a great many cultures:"
King Sunny Ade; Agent Orange; beatnik; biodegradable; "Charlotte's Web"; Cinco de Mayo; cool (personality attribute); Druids; Betty Friedan; Green party/movement; health maintenance organization; "I heard it through the grapevine"; Khmer Rouge; Love Canal; Tony Morrison; Louise Nevleson; prophylactic; racial slur; refusenik; Margaret Sanger; Swahili; vegetarianism; Lech Walesa; Wounded Knee; zombie.
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
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