Chapter 11 of Noddings' Philosophy of Education outlines the elements currently under debate in consideration of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism in classrooms. This is conducted to a lesser extent in a theoretical framework of multiculturalism itself in general, and to a greater extent the specific implementation of multiculturalism and the challenges inherent when applied to the education system in the United States.
While Noddings makes compelling arguments for the challenges in forming a truly multicultural classroom in American society, many of these challenges are due to attitudes inherent in American society rather than inherent globally in humanity. As such, the limitations imposed are not necessarily indicative of human or global challenges with the creation of multicultural or cosmopolitan classrooms themselves, but rather with the implementation and integration of such classrooms within the United States. That is not to say that these challenges are uniquely American, but rather would be shared by any nation with similar perspectives to the United States.
Multiculturalism and the American Classroom:
Noddings describes the purpose of multiculturalism in education is “to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students” (p.207) while indicating that the intent of this is to provide “a more hopeful approach” (p. 207). What is telling that this is a particularly American approach is that rather than being concerned with an idealistic form of integration is that it is specifically trying to negate a negative relative achievement pattern already in place. While this approach may be successful in bridging the achievement gap mentioned, to do so requires that there be an achievement gap to bridge.
On that point, Noddings will also claim that multicultural classrooms are “an education for all students, and its purpose is to bring us together, not to separate us and cause divisiveness” (p. 208) Here the emphasis on ‘all’ indicates a comparison with a previous way of conducting education wherein education was not for all students suggesting some form of either covert or overt exclusion, or both. While this can also represent a contrasting reform in other countries or cultures where the system of education has enacted forms of exclusion, it is not necessarily a problem indicative of multiculturalism itself. A multicultural system of education can be a result of a new and welcome form of integration without necessarily having had a previous conflicting system of exclusion preceding it.
Noddings indicates, according to Spring (p. 208), that four of the goals of multiculturalism in education are to: build tolerance of other cultures, eliminate racism, teach about different cultures, and view the world from different perspectives. While three of these goals are primarily additive in that they teach or promote a positive change, one of them is subtractive in that it seeks to remove a negative attribute. While being a noble goal, the elimination of racism does require racism to have existed in the first place. This is not to say that other nations do not have extant problems with racism but does affirm that this is a goal of multiculturalism in education due to the prevalence of racism in the United States rather than being a necessary component to be implemented in all multiculturalism schemes. Should a culture that has little to no racism imbedded already be considered, it would not require such a provision.
However, Noddings issues a kind of warning to those that wish to create a multicultural educational environment and this warning is not necessarily limited to the problems inherent within American society and societies with similar problems, but potentially to all societies. “Without careful implementation and continuous reflection, it might indeed have a divisive effect.” (p. 208) This is indeed a potential danger as, if it is the case, as the history of American society has shown, that great division can be formed then it would stand to reason that it could form again. What complicates matters is that Noddings also says, “[i]t does not aim simply at bringing people together under one common culture.” (p. 208) Here, Noddings starts to introduce a greater complexity, and while he will use the American classroom again as an example to illustrate the challenges of cosmopolitanism, these challenges will become more generalized. Despite this, the challenges of cosmopolitanism that he will put forth will depend of ideas prominent in, though not exclusive to, American society, so although useful and applicable in many cases will not necessarily be inherent problems for all of humanity.
Noddings devotes a significant yet smaller section of the chapter on cosmopolitanism, which itself is an indication that the concept can be heavily tied in with the idea of multicultural education. Noddings' definition is, “Cosmopolitanism – a perspective that regards the whole world as a focus for citizenship and mutual concern.” (p. 212). What is important here in relation to multiculturalism is that it effectively tackles the same issue, clashes between differing cultures when integration is forced, but from the opposite perspective. It could be argued that the main difference between participants in multicultural education and cosmopolitan education is that where multiculturalism has a dominant culture that is tasked with integrating new minority languages and cultures, cosmopolitanism puts the diversity of culture as the first mode of participant identity.
To understand cosmopolitanism more clearly, Noddings' uses the idea of an individual’s national identity, in this case American. Although he defines “[t]o be “at home” anywhere in the world is the mark of a cosmopolitan” (p.212) in simplest terms will also address the potential clash between national identity and this global perspective. “However, when the cosmopolitan attitude displaces national identity and allegiance, society’s judgement often turns from admiration to disdain or even condemnation” (p. 212). This is where Noddings' interpretation of cosmopolitan, though not inaccurate, relies on a dominantly American perspective, that of fierce nationalism, and a nationalism that cannot live alongside a global perspective. Though there may be other forms of nationalism that display themselves in such a way there is no clear and established consensus that this is a common attribute indicative of all cultures and nations.
In fact there exist many nations and cultures that already meet a multicultural identity, “Israeli society, not unlike many other countries in the world, is characterized by multiple cultures” (Paul-Binyamin & al, p.47, 2014). Even in the face of overt regional tensions there is still recognition of “the need for policies that can be adapted to suit Israel’s complex and ever-changing reality.” (Paul-Binyamin & al, p.48, 2014) Indeed as recognised by Peterson “[a] core tenet of cosmopolitan theories is an acceptance of the ‘fact’ of globalisation and a desire to understand and define citizenship identities as transcending rootedness in the nation-state.” (Peterson, p.227, 2012) As such, although Nodding’s analysis of multicultural education seems to be capable of addressing some of the core issues present with its adoption within the American school system, it does not necessarily represent a global attitude towards multiculturalism.
Noddings, N. (2016). Philosophy of Education. New York: Routledge, https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.4324/9780429494864
Peterson, A. (2012). The Educational Limits of Ethical Cosmopolitanism: Towards the Importance of Virtue in Cosmopolitan Education and Communities. British Journal of Educational Studies, 60(3), 227-242.
Paul-Binyamin, Ilana, & Reingold, Roni. (2014). Multiculturalism in teacher education institutes - The relationship between formulated official policies and grassroots initiatives. Teaching and Teacher Education, 42, 47.