Rainbow Curriculum

by John J. Miller on August 10, 2010 · 1 comment

in Articles,Politics

  • Sumo

February 10, 1993



Today the New York City Board of Education will finally end the long dispute over whether to renew the contract of Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez. Perhaps after its vote the board can begin to focus on teaching students rather than on fighting very public battles over social policy. A positive next step would be the wholesale elimination of the “Children of the Rainbow” curriculum.

While tempers have flared in New York over teaching first graders about homosexuality, more than 430 pages of the curriculum have gone ignored. This unfortunately leaves the impression that, with the exception of a few statements on gay parenting, all is well. Yet the Rainbow curriculum is, above all things, a multicultural curriculum, and it marches in lock step to the drums of educational fashion.

The curriculum focuses almost entirely on student differences rather than commonalities. It pays lip service to inclusion, but ultimately reinforces barriers that prevent students from intermingling and learning about one another. One reads virtually nothing about a shared American identity and instead discovers hand-wringing passages devoted to topics of such grave importance as whether children with lesbian “co-parents” will feel left out during a classroom Father’s Day celebration.

The best definition of the curriculum’s idea of multicultural education comes from the board’s 1989 resolution mandating the guide’s creation: “Multicultural education values cultural pluralism and rejects the view that schools should seek to melt away cultural diversity; rather, multicultural education accepts cultural diversity as a valuable resource that should be preserved and extended.”

The preservation and extension of cultural diversity in this curriculum, however, does more to heighten walls and widen gaps than create harmony. The guide’s puerile cheerleading of ethnic differences quickly devolves into a babble of varying tongues: “Almost half of the first grade pupils come from homes where a language other than or in addition to English is spoken. It is evident that we New Yorkers have much to celebrate!” That sentiment might come as quite a surprise to the teacher confronted by a classroom of six-year-olds who speak only Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Russian, Vietnamese or any of the other 120 languages represented in the city’s school system.

“Encourage children to use their native language,” orders the guide. Part of the orthodoxy of bilingual education is that reinforcing the native language leads to pride, then academic confidence, and, finally, learning. Despite more than 20 years of classroom experience with bilingual education, very little empirical evidence suggests that it either improves the self-esteem of non-English-speaking students or keeps them from falling behind — much less helps them learn English quickly.

How the curriculum goes on to trivialize different cultures provides further evidence of its intellectual character. Teachers can “celebrate and share diversity in the classroom” by leading their students through multicultural chants, claims the guide. So, by singing a ditty called “Tortillas” (“Tortillas, tortillas/Tortillas for my mother/ Tortillas, tortillas/Tortillas for my father,” etc.), children gain an appreciation for Mexican culture and an understanding of their Hispanic peers. By singing the Spanish version (“Tortillas, tortillas/Tortillas para mama/Tortillas, tortillas/Tortillas para papa”), they apparently deepen their awareness.

In case teachers don’t know whether they are doing enough to promote multiculturalism, they can always review the “Incorporating Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Checklist.” Here, a series of questions helps instructors see the hidden biases of everyday school life: “Do snacks and cooking experiences feature nutritious recipes from many cultures?” “Are the lifestyles of one group’s members depicted as inferior to the lifestyles of members of another group?” “Are block accessories {a.k.a. dolls} multiracial and non-stereotypical in race and sex roles (e.g., African-American male medical worker, Asian-American female construction worker)?”

The curriculum harbors a second political passion: feminism. It showers attention on this concern, offering an extensive how-to guide on liberating first-graders from the burdensome legacy of American sexism. When students aren’t out on a field trip searching for Asian-American female construction workers, for example, the teacher should encourage the boys to play with dolls and the girls with trucks. For the especially devoted teacher, “challenging sexist myths can begin on the first day of school. Purposely making pink or red name tags for boys and blue name tags for girls will bring up initial discussion of why some colors have traditionally been used for boys and others for girls.”

This poses a problem. Feminism and multiculturalism do not hold hands and stroll down the lane on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Rather, they fiercely butt heads like any two incompatible ideologies. The Rainbow curriculum has very little to say, for instance, about the treatment of women in the various world cultures it hopes to conserve in the classroom. One does not find a healthy feminist movement in Iran, Albania, or Liberia.

Outside of lessons for junior feminists, multiculturalism finds its niche in almost every topic. After learning how seeds become plants, for instance, students can draw maps and discover that fruit comes from all over the world. Through this, “we gain an appreciation of taste and sensory experiences when we share our cultural diversity.” Important rewards can also stem from learning about the weather: “Multicultural understanding will result when children compare and contrast the climates of their countries of origin.”

The U.S., of course, has its own songs, foods, and celebrations, but at no point does the curriculum detail ways in which teachers can explain to students how they are all alike as Americans. Even American history — which chronicles the development of special traditions, customs and laws that make the U.S. unique among nations — receives a first-class glossing over. Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson make their brief appearances during a lesson on coins. They are, after all, the guys on the pennies and nickels.

Mr. Fernandez has admitted to not having read the guide, even though he attempted to suspend the entire school board in District 24 in a dispute over the curriculum’s lessons on homosexuality. School officials also make the document extremely difficult to obtain — as if they fear a public debate about its contents.

If the New York school board decides that it has no higher task than to ensure that its students know that tortillas come from Mexico and that even little girls can grow up to become construction workers — at the expense of the many New Yorkers who today graduate from high school without the ability to conduct simple calculations or write complete sentences — then it surely succeeds with this new curriculum. But if the board truly wants to improve New York schools, it can begin by telling Mr. Fernandez to take the Rainbow curriculum with him if, as seems likely, he leaves office this June.

Mr. Miller is associate director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the New American Community.

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