ERIC Identifier: ED347494 Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: England, Joan T. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Pluralism and Education: Its Meaning and Method. ERIC Digest.
The philosophy and ideology of pluralism is not new but one whose time has
come for actualization. Education is providing experience for students,
teachers, counselors and the community to nurture and practice pluralistic
thought. The philosophy of pluralism is not restricted to the "purist"
educational environment but is being extended to encompass teacher in-service
training and community-based involvement and input. Teachers and the community
at large are acquiring an awareness of pluralism through subtle methods of
dialog and participation. Schools are expediting the implementation of pluralism
through activities, workshops, courses, and small groups. These processes often
fit under the name of multicultural issues and concerns; frequently the use of
the term "pluralism" is avoided. Accurate definition may assist in the
transition toward truly pluralistic thought.
Pluralism can be defined in a number of ways. The definition which seems most
encompassing is the following: a society in which members of diverse ethnic,
racial, religious and social groups maintain participation in and development of
their traditions and special interests while cooperatively working toward the
interdependence needed for a nation's unity. The focus of most definitions
evolves around the elements of interdependence, development and cooperation
among diverse peoples of the world.
Although counselors, schools, social
service components and communities may not label their activities pluralistic in
nature, there appears to be a pluralistic thread which runs through the weave of
fabric of their teachings and philosophies. Examples of the variety of ways in
which pluralism is being practiced, taught and expanded include the following
Innovative programs which have turned to opening
the lines of communication to the community have produced remarkable results. In
Lake Forest School District in Harrington, Delaware the situation of community
linkage was addressed (VanSciver, 1989). The district had a 17% Black enrollment
but not one Black was a member of the National Honor Society although several
were eligible but chose not to apply. The entire administrative team and
counseling staff were white. To whom would a Black youth with a problem go?
There were a few Black teaching staff but none anywhere else. A meeting was held
with members of the Black community to discuss their perceptions of the school
district's effectiveness in meeting their needs. Discussion was frank and clear
and items of concern were discussed and in turn acted upon. Other meetings were
scheduled to continue the dialogues. With the advent of these meetings, Blacks
began to become integrally involved in their children's educations. Service to
all students in this school district has increased through these efforts.
As early as preschool, youngsters are learning
about pluralism in an experiential sense. Barbara Thomson (1989), who teaches 4-
and 5- year olds in St. Louis, MO, encourages this age group to "see beyond
appearances" by offering them a choice between the contents of a large elegantly
wrapped box and a small dirty carton. The children all want what is in the big,
beautiful carton but, upon pondering, believe that something "yucky" or
delightful could be in either box. Upon opening the boxes the children find
garbage in the big box and a group snack in the little box. The discussion which
follows this activity promotes the child's ability to transfer this tangible
idea of "wrappings" to the real world of other children and how they are
"wrapped" or dressed or appear. Other transference of learning takes place when
discussion evolves around other times when appearance is not the most reliable
indicator of worth.
Thomson's firm conviction that children must "do" and experience to truly
learn is additionally noted in her many role-playing ideas for children. She
continually emphasizes the individual in a group experience as opposed to a
strictly individualistic orientation. This philosophy and her suggested
activities provide needed practice for children in a pluralistic society.
Later in the elementary school years, teachers
can help "celebrate diversity" and develop group respect with their students. To
develop the idea of pluralism, children can create a classroom quilt to which
each student contributes a square that is designed to represent his or her
ethnic background; plant a small farm or garden project to allow children to
experience the planning and cooperation required with each other, the earth and
nature in planting their crops, harvesting and reaping the benefits or sharing
the failures together. Children could create a mural in a similar way or have
students independently research and report on various cultures. (Mack, 1988).
Group counseling has a particular impact in the
high school setting. "Anytown: A Human Relations Experience" (McWhirter, Paluch,
& Ohm, 1988) outlines a group experience for high school students to promote
direct, intergroup contact and increased racial tolerance among students. The
process of Anytown involves the promotion of group experience based on working
together, sharing and listening. Each day of the week has a theme and the small
groups are guided through experiential activities to help process the theme and
become more fully attuned to themselves and others in their small group. The
intimacy of daily contact and interaction helps to make the groups realize that
race, religion, sex, age and other physical or social features are not
sufficient bases for prejudice and discrimination. The Anytown program claims
that the we-consciousness that is promoted tends to develop into friendships
that transcend racial, ethnic, sex, religious, age and other differences.
One of the most active environments in
reacting to pluralism has been the college campus. College campuses have
developed training programs to diminish prejudicial attitudes and to promote
unlearning racism. These efforts by universities help to bridge the gap for
minority students. Most of these programs develop their ideas through a workshop
or brief training program. Examples of these programs include a word association
exercise which consists of six minority group descriptors typed on a page
leaving space for written associations. Because the goal was to focus on racism,
sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism, the six descriptors were as follows: gay
man, Black person, woman, Hispanic person, Jewish person and lesbian.
Participants were instructed to respond anonymously by writing down the first
words that came to mind for that descriptor. Sheets were collected and responses
written on the blackboard. Questions which followed included: "Which group
received the most positive associations?" "The most negative?" "Why?" It seems
few questions needed to be asked to precipitate discussion. Students
subsequently expressed their hurt, fears and anger about prejudice from this
activity and in their lives. Both students and faculty participating in this
group rated the overall experience as highly positive. (Lasenza & Trout,
James Stewart (1991), states that the design and implementation of diversity
planning are most effectively undertaken as an integral part of overall
institutional planning rather than as independent processes.
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
The following questions
may provide fodder to provoke further pluralistic thinking.
How does the powerful ideology of individualism limit the realization of
pluralism? (Olneck, 1990)
How can moral development be modified to educate individuals on three levels:
(a) as members of a large society, (b) as members of a subgroup, (c) and as
individuals free to explore potentialities beyond any group membership?
How does the media (television), assist or hinder in developing views of
pluralism? (Piepe, 1990)
How can promoting diversity splinter as well as enlarge moral communities?
How does the language we use inhibit pluralistic thought? (i.e., subculture,
Could we now be in an interval of redefinition before a higher ethos emerges
that both tolerates and integrates pluralism? (Olneck, 1990)
Do we need to rethink/redefine multicultural counseling? (Speight et al., 1991)
How can we re-evaluate the trends toward courses in multicultural counseling and
teach all courses in a pluralistic mode? (Journal of Counseling and Development,
The thesis of pluralism is truly summarized by
an old Jewish folktale about a rabbi who is asked how one can know the moment of
dawn. The rabbi says simply, "Dawn is the moment when there is enough light to
see the face of another as that of a brother or sister." (Thomson, 1989). Dawn
has not come to our world as yet, but when it does, pluralism will be the byword
Haberman, M. (1990). The nature of multicultural
teaching and learning in American society. Peabody Journal of Education 65, 101-
Journal of Counseling and Development. (1991). Multiculturalism as a fourth
force in counseling (special issue), 70.
Lasenza, S., & Troutt, D. V. (1990). A training program to diminish
prejudicial attitudes in student leaders. Journal of College Student
Development, 31, 176-177.
Mack, C. (1988). Celebrate cultural diversity. Teaching Exceptional Children,
McWhirter,J. J., Paluch, R., & Ohm, R. M. (1988). Anytown: A human
relations experience. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 13, 117-123.
Olneck, M. R. (1990). The recurring dream: Symbolism and ideology in
intercultural and multicultural education. American Journal of Education 98,
Opotow, S. (1990). Deterring moral exclusion. Journal of Social Issue, 46,
Piepe, A. (1990). Politics and television viewing in England: Hegemony or
pluralism? Journal of Communication, 40, 24-35.
Sleeter, C. E. (1990). Staff development for desegregated schooling. Phi
Delta Kappan, 72, 33-40.
Speight, S. L., Myers, L. J., Cox, C. I., & Highlen, P. S. (1991). A
redefinition of multicultural counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development,
Stewart, J. (1991). In E. H. Cheatham & Associates (Eds.), Cultural
pluralism on campus. Alexandria:VA. American Association for Counseling and
Thomson, B. (1989). Building tolerance in early childhood. Educational
Leadership, 47(2), 78-79.
VanSciver, J. H. (1989). Not a gray issue. Educational Leadership, 47(2),
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