American Dream

American Dream

In today’s society, many Americans feel the need to pursue the “American Dream”. The American Dream is most commonly associated with success, freedom, and happiness. This concept seems to have dwindled from where it was in past generations. It has gone from success, freedom, and happiness to having lots of money and the nicest possessions. To achieve the status of being successful, many feel that the best way to reach their goal is to receive the best education they can get. Education in the early nineteenth century was thought of to be essential in the prosperity and survival of the nation. The philosophy at the time was that education would build a better society and it would enable the nation to compete better with other countries. In the next century, that same philosophy carried over. But the attitude towards education was not the same as it was in the previous century. The quality of education declined due to many different reasons. To bring the quality of education back up, America in the twenty-first century should turn to a “multicultural” education system. With the diversity in the United States, it would be more beneficial to the nation.

After the American Revolution, the founders of the United States argued that education was essential for the prosperity and survival of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson was the first American leader to suggest a publicly funded school system. In 1779, he proposed an education plan that would have supported free schooling for all children in the state of Virginia for three years. The best students from this group would continue in school at public expense through adolescence. The most advanced of these students would go on to publicly funded colleges. Jefferson’s proposal was never enacted and his idea of selecting the best and brightest students for special advantage failed to gain widespread support. However, Jefferson’s plans for universal education and for publicly funded schools formed the basis of education systems developed in the nineteenth century (Mondale 22). The actual national system of education differed from education systems of other Western societies in three w!

ays. First, Americans thought that education was a solution to various social problems. Second, with the confidence in the power of education, the United States provided more years of schooling for a larger percentage of the population than other countries. Third, school systems were primarily governed by local authorities rather than by federal ones (Springs 97).

With the passage of time, the education system began to take shape. In the 1830s and 40s, a generation of reformers surfaced with a philosophy that education could turn youth into virtuous, literate citizens. It was thought by these people that education could build the country to be better equipped to compete with other nations. At this time, American’s fears were growing about increasing the economic and religious tensions as immigration of various ethnic groups increased (Mondale 149). These reformers believed that common schooling could create common bonds among a diverse population and could also preserve social stability and prevent crime and poverty. It was suggested that common schooling should be available to everyone and be publicly funded. By the end of the nineteenth century their philosophy was somewhat adapted. Public education was available at the elementary level for all American children (Mondale 152).

Towards the end of the nineteenth century secondary schools began to surface. At this time, only 10 percent of American teens ages 14 to 17 were enrolled in high school (Mondale 154). But it was during the twentieth century when the percentage a teenagers enrolled in high school began to increase. From 1900 to 1990 the number of teenagers who graduated from high school rose from six percent to 85 percent (Mondale 155). The numbers grew because more and more young people thought schooling was the key to succeeding in an increasingly urban and industrialized society. Also strict child labor laws resulted is fewer teenagers entering the workplace. Later on, laws were passed that required young people to be in school until they reached a certain age (Mondale 155).

The education system in the nineteenth century is the basis of what the system is today. In the 1950s, the system was set up in somewhat a different manner. There were schools strictly for white students and schools strictly for black students. The case of Brown vs. Board of Education changed this idea of “separate but equal”. The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously declared that it was unconstitutional to create separate schools for children on the basis of race” (Dudley 20). At the time of the decision, 17 southern states and Washington D.C. required that all public schools be racially segregated. Segregation usually resulted in inferior education for blacks, whether in the North or the South. Average public expenses for white schools routinely exceeded costs for black schools. Teachers in white schools generally received higher pay than did teachers in black schools, and facilities in most white schools were far superior to facilities in most black schools (Dudley 21). This case opened the door to “multiculturalism” in schools.

Like education in the nineteenth century, education was important to the American way of life. But education was drastically different. What used to be based on morals, success, and literacy was not what it used to be (Healy 68). The low amount of resources and the low pay teachers receive illustrates the poor quality of education the youth are receiving today (Healy 75). There was not as much emphasis on the importance of education today compared to the excitement about the opportunities education in the nineteenth century could create.

Education today should not just be about learning basic grammar and arithmetic, but about cultural awareness. A perfect way to achieve this awareness is “multiculturalism” in schools. Most people can agree that a person’s life is affected mostly through the personal experience they have in their adolescent years (Pruitt 254). If public schools today could become more diverse, then the society would be a more culturally aware order.

In the 1930’s several educators called for programs of cultural diversity that encouraged ethnic and minority students to study their respective heritages. This would not be easy because there is much diversity in many different places. A 1990 census shows that the population in the United States has changed more in the last ten years than in any other time in the twentieth century. It stated that one out of every four Americans identified themselves as black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or American Indian (Gould 198). Foreign born residents was at an all time high with 20 million.

Joining multiple cultures would not be an easy task. Most people agree that the first step in intertwining multiple cultures is to develop an understanding of other backgrounds. But the agreements stop there. One obstacle in this task is defining “multiculturalism”. When it means that simply there is an existence of a culturally integrated society, many people have no problems. When people go beyond that meaning and try to suggest a different way of arriving at a culturally integrated society, everyone seems to have a different opinion on what will work.

Joining multiple cultures would not be an easy task. Most people agree that the

first step in intertwining multiple cultures is to develop an understanding of other backgrounds. But the agreements stop there. One obstacle in this task is defining “multiculturalism”. When it means that simply there is an existence of a culturally integrated society, many people have no problems. When people go beyond that meaning and try to suggest a different way of arriving at a culturally integrated society, everyone seems to have a different opinion on what will work. A Stanford University debate is a good illustration of this. In 1980, Stanford University came up with a program, later known as the “Stanford-style multicultural curriculum”, which aimed at familiarizing students with traditions, philosophy, literature, and history of the West. The program consisted of 15 required books by writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Aquinas, Marx, and Freud. By 1987, a group called the Rainbow Coalition argued the books were all written by DWEM’s or Dead White European Male!

s. They felt that this type of teaching denied students the knowledge of contributions by people of color, women, and other oppressed groups. In 1987, the faculty voted 39 to 4 to change the curriculum and do away with the fifteen book requirement and the term “Western” for the study of at least one non-European culture and proper attention to be given to the issues of race and gender (Gould 199). This debate shows that to study only one people would not correctly show what America is consisted of.

People who agree with the concept of multicultural education say that it offers students a balanced appreciation and a view of other cultures as well as their own (Stotsky 64). Of course someone would not have a true understanding of a subject by just having knowledge of one side of it. Many would then ask, ”Then how would a school or school district cover the contributions of each individual nationality or culture?” The school year cannot be lengthened because of the political aspect of the situation. An instructor or school cannot modify the curriculum to what they feel is most important because other groups will say they are not being treated equally. A way that multiculturalism in schools would work is through the teachers. During their early years, children are most impressionable. By having students participate in activities that have to do with other cultures, teachers can open up the young minds and make learning fun. For example, in one first grade classroom, a teacher used the minority students to her advantage. She made them her helpers as she taught the rest of the class some simple Spanish words and customs. This newly acquired vocabulary formed a common bond among the children in their early years, an appropriate time for learning respect and understanding (Pyszkowski 154). Another idea is to put children in the setting of the culture they are learning about. By having children around the ideas and customs of other cultures, they understand better what it is like to be removed from our society altogether, even if only for a day. This would make learning fun for kids and make education more diverse. Also, by asking questions of each other, students can get firsthand answers about the beliefs and customs of other cultures, along with some insight as to why people feel the way they do, something that can never be adequately accomplished through a textbook.

Students are not the only ones who can benefit from this type of learning. Teachers certainly will pick up on educational aspects from other countries. For instance, if a teacher has a minority student from a different country every year, he or she can develop a well rounded teaching style that would in turn benefit all students. Teachers can also keep on top of things by regularly attending workshops and getting parents involved so they can reinforce what is being taught in the classroom at home.

To give a better understanding of multiculturalism, James Banks states, “Teachers need to let students know how knowledge reflects the social, political, and economic context in which it was created. Knowledge explained by powerful groups in society differs greatly from that of its less powerful counterparts”(Banks 11). For example, early Americans are most often called “pioneers” or “settlers” in social studies textbooks. On the other hand, foreigners are called “immigrants”. If a person were to look at the situation from a Native American’s point of view, one would see that pioneers were the immigrants. But since the “pioneers” later went on to write the textbooks, it is not usually described in that manner. Another important aspect students need to realize is that knowledge alone is not enough to shape a society. The members themselves have to be willing to put forth the time and effort and show an interest in shaping their society in order for it to benefit all people.

Some people feel that the idea of multiculturalism will, instead of uniting cultures, actually divide them. They feel that Americans should try and think of themselves as a whole rather than people from different places all living together. They go even further to say that it actually goes against our democratic tradition, the cornerstone of American society (Stotsky 64). If everyone in America thought of themselves as a whole and not different people, then Americans would be telling people from other cultures to forget about their background. If they were to think of themselves as a whole, everyone would have to consider America’s history everyone’s history. The cultures would be divided, not brought closer together. And who is to say that the democratic tradition is perfect. Sure, America is where it is today because of that tradition. But there are so many ways of getting around things in our society today. Lawyers are the ones who try to find these holes and maintain a person’s “freedom.”

In the nineteenth century, Americans identified education as being the basis of their society. To correctly prosper and compete with other nations, many people at this time thought education would be the reason why nation survived. That concept help the United States carry itself into the twentieth century. In the twentieth century education peaked, and declined. The emphasis on schooling and a proper education was not as strong as it had been in the nineteenth century. But many still believed that a proper education would lead them to achieving the “American Dream”. But if the education is so poor, how would they be able to achieve that dream? A better understanding of how the American culture is today is required in achieving that goal. If someone understands the many cultures and different aspects of America today, that person will have an easier time being successful and reaching the “American Dream”. To get a better understanding, multiculturalism in the education system is essential. Multiculturalism in society is how Americans should identify the United States in the twenty-first century. With a better understanding of the different people and cultures, America as a whole can better understand the world and prosper in a whole new way.


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M.D. Pruitt, David. Your Adolescent : Emotional, Behavioral, and Cognitive

Development from Early Adolescence Through the Teen Years. New York:

HarperCollins: 2000

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McGraw-Hill. 1997

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