The melting pot has been used metaphorically to describe the dynamics of American social life. In addition to its descriptive uses, it has also been used to describe what should or should not take place in American social life. How did the term originate? How was it used originally? How is it used in contemporary society? What are some problems with the idea of the melting pot? How is public education connected to the idea of the melting pot? How does the melting pot function in American cultural and political ideology? These are some of the questions considered in the following discussion.
The Statue of Liberty is by now a universally recognized symbol of American political mythology. She stands at the entrance of New York harbor, wearing a spiked crown representing the light of liberty shining on the seven seas and the seven continents. The statue was a gift to the United States from the people of France in 1884. It is made of riveted copper sheets, only 3/32 of an inch thick, ingeniously attached to a framework designed by Louis Eiffel. Its construction is such that it will not be stressed by high winds or temperature changes (The world Book Encyclopedia, pp. 874-875).
Melting Pot Essay Example
The symbolism of the statue is reinforced by Emma Lazarus’poem “The New Colossus”, which is inscribed on a plaque at the base of the statue. Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of exiles. From her beacon hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! ” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door. ” (Emma Lazarus, 1883) The Statue of liberty, dedicated in 1886, became a visual symbol of American ideology. Between 1880 and 1930, 27 million people migrated to the United States (www. pbs. org/fmc/timeline/eimmigration. htm). Most of them entered by way of Ellis Island in New York harbor. Most of them would have ended their long six weeks’ journey with by seeing Miss Liberty come into view. These immigrants were about to enter the “golden door. ” What lay behind it? What opportunities were imagined?
What kind of life was imagined? How were these turn- of- the- century souls to become part of America? A Brief History of the Common School One powerful social institution that played an important part in the integrative process of immigrants, beginning in about the middle of the 19th century was the common school. Horace Mann, the first state school superintendent in Massachusetts and a strong advocate for a number of social reforms, including a system of public education, articulated the ideology of a common school in his Twelfth Annual Report of the Board of Education in 1849 (Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1849).
He says: It (a free school system) knows no distinction of rich and poor, of bond and free, or between those, who, in the imperfect light of this world, are seeking, through different avenues, to reach the gate of heaven. Without money and without price, it throws open its doors, and spreads its table of bounty, for all the children of the State. Like the sun, it shines, not only upon the good, but upon the evil, that they may become good; and like the rain, its blessings descend, not only upon the just, but upon the unjust, that their injustice may depart from them and be known no more.
This flowery description of the possibilities inherent in a system of free schools was to become part of American political ideology. Public schooling was seen as having the power to recreate and reform European immigrants into respectable, tractable, productive American citizens. Through a system of common schools, a variety of creeds and cultures could be amalgamated for the social stability and economic good of the country. By the late 1800’s the public school movement in America was robust in the Northeast but just gaining momentum in the South.
Its progress had been halting, proceeding at different rates under the influence of varying geographic, cultural, and economic circumstances. The common school, as it was first called, was to be tax supported. It was to have a common curriculum, regardless of the social station of its clientele, it was to be open to all, and it was to foster a common set of civic virtues. The public school movement in the Northeast began to gain ground in the early years of the 19th century.
It was powerfully influenced and directed by the rise of industrialism, by charismatic reformers such as Horace Mann, by new modes of transportation, and by the contributions of American inventors. The historian S. Alexander Rippa says “ In the history of American education, one of the most significant outcomes of the Industrial Revolution was the gradual emergence of a new, public school- minded working class in the northern cities. Indeed, the rapid growth of manufacturing depended on a readily available source of labor for the new factories” (Rippa, 1984. . 100).
The labor force in the northern factories and mills was augmented by European immigrants: Between 1815 and 1845 almost 3 million emigrants had left their home shores for America (p. 101). Significant numbers of immigrants in mid-century America profoundly affected the public school movement. They formed a nucleus for organized labor, whose agenda included an interest in education; and their very presence in such large numbers fueled fears for the fragility of a young nation (p. 102).
The common school was seen as an avenue for the assimilation of immigrants into American society. Formal schooling was not systematic in America in the mid-1800s, despite the regional efforts of strong advocates for public education. There were wide regional and cultural differences in attitudes toward the idea of tax-supported, systematic formal schooling based upon a common curriculum. Various religious groups had established schools for the perpetuation of their theology and culture, especially in the mid-Atlantic and Northern states.
These groups were fearful of relinquishing responsibility to political authority. In the Southern states, slavery and a strong caste system were impediments to the development of public schools (p. 97). The influx of huge numbers of immigrants exacerbated religious and cultural tensions and engendered conflicts with American workers who were fearful for their jobs. This volatile situation created even more support for systematic public education as a socializing agent.
Public education became part of a wider humanitarian movement addressing all kinds of social ills created by urbanization, industrialization, and immigration (p. 105). A diverse group of largely middle class reformers called for action to abolish slavery, to improve the conditions of the poor, to increase the legal rights of women, and to improve the educational opportunities for all classes of people. The social changes of the latter half of the 19th century buttressed a general belief in education as a pragmatic social institution.
The South presented a special case, however, especially because of the devastating effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction as well as its long history of slavery. In the South, the integration of masses of newly freed slaves was an enormous task, especially in a decimated economy and in a social milieu that was still strongly class conscious. African Americans were largely illiterate because of a history of legal restrictions against educating them. There was also a “rising tide of illiteracy among the southern white people” (p147).
The Peabody Education Fund, a philanthropic endeavor established by the wealthy financier George Peabody for the purpose of improving southern education, found that from 1862 to 1872 the white population had increased by 13%, but the illiteracy rate had increased by 50 % (p. 147). In the twelve years following the Civil War, the period known as Reconstruction, local government in the South was directed by the Federal government. This was a bitter pill for many white Southerners to swallow. Public education was identified in their minds with the agenda of Northern interlopers.
It was further stigmatized in their minds by its association with charity schools. Therefore, the ideological potency of public education as a great equalizer was embraced primarily by a core of black leaders, progressive white leaders such as Walter Hines Page (p. 154), and some northern philanthropists. It would be decades before public education was firmly established in the South. “While a devastated South fought and struggled to survive, the North, ironically, passed through the tragic years of war and reconstruction more prosperous than ever,” says Alexander Rippa (p. 156).
In the 1880s another wave of immigration began, settling primarily in northern urban centers; and these “new” immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe, brought with them cultural patterns which differed greatly from native-born Americans and the northern and western European immigrants who preceded them. Between 1890 and 1920, 18 million new citizens debarked in America (Booth, Washington Post). Existing social problems became even more pressing. There was a perception among native-born Americans that the social problems of the cities stemmed from the changing character of the new immigrants (p. 71).
There was a new urgency to Americanize these latest groups. This urgency played its part in the general willingness in the northern states to establish systematic public education. The Melting Pot What did it mean to “Americanize” a non native-born population? It meant much more than teaching English to new citizens. It also meant establishing a loyalty to the United States, instilling a devotion to democracy, and breaking up ethnic and cultural loyalties (p. 171). The public school became directly involved in this social task in the late 1800’s. In 1908 a play opened in Washington, D.C. entitled “The Melting Pot” (Booth, Washington Post).
The playwright was Israel Zangwill, a Jewish immigrant from England, and the message of the play was that all immigrants could be transformed into a new alloy in the crucible of “democracy, freedom, and civic responsibility” (ibid. ). Zangwill believed old cultural hatreds had no place in a new country; he claimed that God “was using America as a ‘crucible’ to melt the ‘fifty’ barbarian tribes of Europe into a metal from which he can cast Americans” (www. pbs. org). This was not a gentle metaphor.
The product of the melting pot would be completely transformed; the original metals would have lost their original identities under the influence of the extreme heat. Zangwill’s chief concern was that the old cultural and religious hatreds of the emigres would be perpetuated in America, but he believed that part of the melting pot effect would be that people would marry across ethnic and religious barriers. Other conceptions of the melting pot focused on acculturation and economic assimilation through deliberate means such as public education and projects such as Jane Addams’ Hull House.
The metaphor of a melting pot had idealistic overtones as well as fear of social chaos built in. There was also an element of xenophobia and fear that immigrants would maintain their loyalties to foreign powers. But there was also a genuine desire to help people improve their lives and become economically and culturally successful in their new country. Zangwill himself believed that if immigrants would undergo the melting pot, they would be “just as American as anyone else” (ibid. ). The melting pot was a quite complicated idea, with regional differences as well.
A chief goal of American classrooms, especially in northern cities, was to melt down the distinctive cultural metals into the new American alloy. Compulsory attendance assured that all children would be exposed to this process. By the end of World War I, most states, regardless of geographical differences, had enacted compulsory school laws, although the upper age limits differed (Rippa, p. 172). In 1911 in the major urban centers, over half of the public school population consisted of the children of immigrant parents (p. 173). The melting pot was not a universally accepted social vision of the way America ought to be.
An early critic of homogeneity and uniformity was the essayist Randolph Bourne. He envisioned a pluralistic society in which difference would be valued (Fischer, et. al. , 1997, p. 15). In a 1916 essay, Bourne asks “whether perhaps the time has not come to assert a higher ideal than the ‘melting pot’. . . . America is a unique sociological fabric, and it bespeaks poverty of imagination not to be thrilled at the incalculable potentialities of so novel a union of men” (ibid. pp. 16, 17). Bourne believed that a cosmopolitan society would be creative and would most accurately embody democratic ideals.
Some of the harshest rhetoric in this article, first published in the Atlantic Monthly, is reserved for the role of the public school in perpetuating a shallow popular culture: “This ( a public school education) does not mean that they (immigrants) have actually been changed into New Englanders or Middle Westerners. It does not mean that they have really been Americanized. It means that, letting slip from them whatever native culture they had, they have substituted for it only the most rudimentary America – the American culture of the cheap newspaper, the ‘movies,’ the popular song, the ubiquitous automobile.
The unthinking who survey this class call them assimilated, Americanized. The great American public school has done its work” (ibid. , p. 16). Although the term “melting pot” was, and is, generally associated with assimilating European immigrants, especially eastern Europeans in the early years of the 20th century, the issue of assimilation extended beyond this group. In the South, the problem of assimilation included bringing African Americans and poverty stricken white children into the economic mainstream.
The south, as a region, had to redefine itself as part of a nation and not as a separate culture. In the southwestern states, assimilation was focused on Native Americans and Mexicans who lived in the territories ceded to the United States by Mexico in 1848. In the western states and territories, the immigrant population of concern was Chinese. What kind of education was provided for the immigrant population? Jacob Riis was a humanitarian reformer, a journalist and photographer who chronicled the lives of New York’s immigrant poor.
A representative description comes from Riis’s The Children of the Poor (Best & Sidwell, 1967). . . . and the discovery has been made by their teachers that as the crowds pressed harder their school-rooms have marvelously expanded, until they embrace within their walls an unsuspected multitude, even many a slum tenement itself, cellar, “stoop,” attic, and all. Every lesson of cleanliness, of order, and of English taught at the school is reflected into some wretched home, and rehearsed there as far as the limited opportunities will allow.
No demonstration with soap and water upon a dirty little face but widens the sphere of these chief promoters of education in the slums. . . . Naturally the teaching of these children must begin by going backward. The process may be observed in the industrial schools, of which there are twenty-one scattered through the poor tenement districts, with a total enrolment of something over five thousand pupils. . . .Whatever its stamp of nationality, the curriculum is much the same. The start, as often as is necessary, is made with an object lesson – soap and water being the elements and the child the object.
The alphabet comes second on the list. Later on follow lessons in sewing, cooking, carpentry for the boys, and like practical “branches” of which the home affords the child no demonstration. . . . Very lately a unique exercise has been added to the course in the schools, that lays hold of the very marrow of the problem with which they deal. It is called “saluting the flag,” and originated with Colonel George T. Balch, of the Board of Education, who conceived the idea of instilling patriotism into the little future citizens of the Republic in doses to suit their childish minds.
To talk about the Union, of which most of them had but the vaguest notion, or of the duty of the citizen, of which they had no notion at all, was nonsense. In the flag it was all found embodied in a central idea which they could grasp. In the morning the star-spangled banner was brought into the school, and the children were taught to salute it with patriotic words. Then the best scholar of the day before was called out of the ranks, and it was given to him or her to keep for the day. The thing took at once and was a tremendous success.
Kindergarten also became a popular mode of education for assimilation as it was thought to instill order in the young child (ibid. ). Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois Two of the early twentieth century’s most powerful voices in black America disagreed with each other on matters of assimilation. Their argument echoes in contemporary America. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in Virginia, and was liberated at the age of nine at the end of the Civil War.
His rise from humble circumstances into prominence as a nationally recognized educator and spokesperson for African- Americans was chronicled in his autobiography, Up From Slavery (1901). Washington worked in coal mines and salt furnaces before attending Hampton Institute, an industrial school for African-Americans. He later established and administered Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, emulating the model of vocational education he himself received (World Book, vol. 21, pp88-89). Washington stressed vocational education and the social skills that would allow African-Americans to move relatively seamlessly into the economy.
It was an incremental approach and “the schoolhouse” (Best & Sidwell, p. 281) was essential, followed by the very best of vocational education. Washington, writing in 1904 in Working With the Hands (Best & Sidwell, p. 281) says, “We must be sure that we shall make our greatest progress by keeping our feet on the earth, and by remembering that an inch of progress is worth a yard of complaint. . . .All the Negro race asks is that the door which rewards industry, thrift, intelligence, and character be left as wide open for him as for the foreigner who constantly comes to our country.
More than this, he has no right to request. Less than this, a Republic has no right to vouchsafe” (ibid. , p. 283). Washington’s vision of the assimilation of African-Americans into the mainstream at the turn of the century had much in common with the ideology of the melting pot. At Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Washington’s system of industrial education was aimed toward creating economically indispensable workers who would have the skills, the work ethic, and the demeanor of the larger society. W.
E. B. Du Bois was born in Massachusetts three years after the end of the Civil War. His great grandfather was a white plantation owner in Haiti, and his mother was a free African-American. Du Bois’ childhood and education were much different from Booker T. Washington’s. He attended racially mixed schools, and was encouraged by his high school principal to enroll in the college preparatory curriculum. White benefactors funded his college education at Fisk University. Du Bois eventually earned a Ph. D. rom Harvard University, gaining preeminence as a pioneer in sociological survey methods. He was a political activist, passionately committed to the belief that African-Americans deserved the educational opportunity denied them by a segregated society, including and most especially, the opportunity for university and professional education (Gutek, 1997, pp. 371-392). Education played an enormous role in the personal lives and the visions of both Washington and Du Bois, but their educational emphases and methods of assimilation were antagonistic to one another.
Du Bois wanted to push the society: Washington believed African-Americans, as a group, had to deal with the harsh realities of a segregated society by first demonstrating that they were indispensable to the economic health of the society. This implied vocational education rather than scholarship and political activism. The interpretation of equal educational opportunity would be re-visited in a serious way in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The metaphor of the melting pot seems an ironic one for a population which had been deliberately excluded from mainstream culture for hundreds of years on the basis of a salient difference – skin color.
Zangwill’s notion of ethnic blending through intermarriage did not sit well with southern white society, and was referred to as miscegenation. And yet, Booker T. Washington’s view of assimilation is congruent with the idea of merging, melting, and blending into the economic whole. The ideas of W. E. B. Du Bois, on the other hand, require another metaphor. Du Bois challenges the structure of the society itself. Beyond the Melting Pot In 1963, two sociologists took an in-depth look at the role of ethnicity in the life of New York City.
In the preface to their book Beyond the Melting Pot (1963), Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan say, “The notion that the intense and unprecedented mixture of ethnic and religious groups in American life was soon to blend into a homogeneous end product has outlived its usefulness, and also its credibility. . . . The point about the melting pot, as we see later, is that it did not happen. At least not in New York and, mutatis mutandis, in those parts of America which resemble New York” (p. xcvii). Glazer and Moynihan focus on the third and fourth generations of “newcomers” (ibid. as represented by five identifiable groups in the city of New York: African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish.
The title of their book implies both the time and place of their scholarly focus as well as the need for a new metaphor to describe what they see. One of the major conclusions of Beyond the Melting Pot is that “The ethnic group in America became not a survival from the age of mass immigration but a new social form” (p. 16). Thus, the authors take the melting pot out of the realm of ideology, and see it in its descriptive elements. Essentially the melting pot does not exist except in the imagination, they believe.
Glazer and Moynihan are not much interested in the role of education as a social institution. Rather, they are interested in the way social groups form and identify themselves and work toward common interests. They acknowledge that immigrants to America did lose their language and alter their culture, and that several generations ago it did seem reasonable to project that eventually ethnicity would give way to a new national identity. But they note that ethnic groups re-create themselves as something new, which mark them off. And these differences are operative in social policy (ibid. , 12-14).
In a sense, ethnicity is as much an interest group as it is a cultural group, so there is a reason to maintain the differences rather than blend them. Getting ahead in the society would depend upon maintaining this interest group and the political power it wields rather than diminishing the difference. In this case, the metaphor of the melting pot would be counter-productive to the actual interests of the “ethnic” group. In Glazer and Moynihan’s work, we see the immigrant in a new light. The immigrant is not one to whom something must be done or someone who must somehow be brought into the fold or helped in some way.
Now the immigrant is spoken of as a political force. Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity The 1960s and 1970s were decades in which the language of assimilation evolved into the language of civil rights and equal opportunity, largely as the result of a group of highly educated African-American legal scholars and charismatic leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. . The melting pot metaphor was left behind, and a language of rights was put in its place. Again, public education became a focus, and for several reasons. The separate but equal system of education in the southern states was a sitting duck for legal challenge.
The system was patently unequal, and it took only the doggedness of lawyers such as Charles Hamilton Houston and the legal expertise of the NAACP to mount a challenge to this system. The end result was the Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, which struck down the separate but equal legal precedent. Public education became the focal point for discourse about how to bring African-Americans into the economic mainstream and how to foster their access to all the opportunities of a democratic society.
This was not a melting pot issue because African-Americans themselves were challenging the moral authority of the political system. They were demanding the natural rights that the United States Constitution bestowed on its citizens. They were articulating a theme which had not been fully acknowledged in public discourse about assimilation – that certain groups had been deliberately denied the American dream of social mobility and social equality. Public education was seen as an important avenue for social mobility and economic parity.
It was, and is, a perceived means to achieve the goals of creating and maintaining a common set of civic virtues and economic and social stability. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination in any federally funded program, including, of course, public education. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed by the United States Congress in the following year made significant Federal dollars available, thereby enticing school systems to conform to the 1954 Brown vs.
Board mandate. The courts and the Congress were challenged in their own terms to respond to the demands of a minority interest group to have the promise of America made good. The legal system and the United States legislature were again used as instrument to address the neglect of other interest groups. Schools were to be venues for promoting equality, in response to legislative and legal mandates, but they were not serving as melting pots.
In 1974, the United States Supreme Court ruled that school systems denied students their equal opportunity to receive the benefit of a public education if they did not provide language instruction for children whose primary language was other than English (Rippa, p. 408). Public Law 94-142, signed by then President Gerald Ford in 1975, established the right to a free, public, appropriate, least restrictive education for students with physical and intellectual disabilities (pp. 397-398). This original law has undergone a number of amendments that essentially expanded and refined the original law.
It is now best known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – IDEA. In 1972, Title IX of the education amendments of the 1964 Civil Rights Act made it illegal for anyone to be denied on the basis of sex the benefits of any activity or program receiving Federal funds (p. 277). The melting pot idea has been turned on its head through the efforts of special interest groups who have no desire to be thoroughly assimilated into the dominant culture, but who wish to have equal opportunity for economic and political parity in America.
Contemporary Melting Pot Issues In the 21st century, the tension between common national values and pluralism, or multiculturalism, is prominent in national discourse. Some have called this the culture wars, but it is more profound than that: it is a philosophical and psychological tension inherent in democracy. The debate shows up in school matters, for example, when curriculum and instructional decisions have to be made about teaching English as a second language. Should non-native speakers have instruction in their own language as well as learning English?
Will they be held back if they are placed in classes designed for non-native speakers of English? Should they be taught to be competent in the grammar and syntax of their native languages as well as English? The larger question might be, “Can one hold dual citizenship, so to speak, in America and in one’s culture of origin”? The notion of cultural literacy, as articulated by E. D. Hirsch (1987), proposes that there is a common core of cultural knowledge which all Americans should possess if they are to be fully educated, capable citizens.
Cultural literacy”, of course begs the question – “Whose culture? ” An answer satisfactory to all parties in the debate has not been given. What knowledge should be common to all citizens? What should public schools require as cultural literacy? Again, where is the balance to be struck between maintaining cultural identity and national identity that transcends cultural differences? The push for values education as a part of the formal public school curriculum also embodies an argument concerning which values should be taught as well as who has the authority to make such decisions.
A more extreme version of this issue centers around whether to allow faith-based groups to have formal connection with public schools to teach religious values. Tracking, special education, magnet schools, single gender education, and giftedness programs – all designed to meet special needs and foster economic stability – are not uniformly accepted as good. Do they create strong class barriers of a different kind, or do they ameliorate barriers that prevent particular classes of people from reaching their growth potential? Summary
Some careful observers of American culture in the 1700’s predicted that in a society of pioneers and emigres, traditional ethnic, religious, and cultural differences would be erased as people adapted to a new society, intermarried, and focused their attention on prospering in a new social order. The idea was that assimilation would be a natural, gradual, somewhat orderly process. J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur, a French essayist who eventually settled in New York State, writes in 1782: What, then, is the new American, this new man?
He is neither a European, nor the descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new modes of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.
He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world (Crevecoeur, pp. 41-45) In the early 1800s, and again in the years surrounding the century’s turn, the notion of natural, gradual assimilation was challenged by the sheer numbers of new immigrants and by the fact that the later waves of immigration consisted of eastern Europeans, who were much different in culture from the already established groups.
Egregious urban social problems and escalating tensions between the new immigrants and established groups created a new urgency for the solution of these problems, which were perceived as threatening the social order. Public schooling assumed a prominent role in assimilation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its job was to enculturate the masses of new immigrants, to instill in them a sense of loyalty to the United States, and to make them economically viable. The school as a social institution has been mobilized to effect massive social changes since the mid 1800s. Whether these changes have always been successful is arguable.
Schools have been enlisted to reinforce the new Republic, improve the moral character of the society, decrease social class differences, assimilate immigrant groups, teach citizenship skills, provide skills for economic success, meet the needs of individuals for personal growth, improve the nation’s competitive advantage in the world market, provide social mobility, model democratic virtues for the young, and reduce racial and ethnic prejudice. American political and cultural ideology has contained a set of tensions from its earliest articulation. E pluribus unum and diversity are twin American values.
The melting pot, as a metaphor and an ideal has its critics. Homogeneity of culture and values is in tension with cosmopolitan vitality; pride in being an American contends with the possible loss of one’s particular cultural identity; an emphasis on economic prosperity as a mundane value competes with more abstract values. And the nature of the process of assimilation has a variety of contentious advocates: there are those who recommend a gradual process through economic productivity, and then there are those who demand immediate recognition and acceptance into the mainstream.
The interest groups evolve, but the arguments remain the same. In the 1960’s and 1970s there was a renewed interest in assimilation that focused less on ethnicity and cultural differences in defining the discourse of assimilation around the language of equal opportunity and civil rights. Women, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos became vocal as interest groups, and their issues were primarily centered on economic advancement and other social opportunities. Politics became at least as important as education as a means to these ends, although education was still seen as a key to the golden door of opportunity.
In contemporary America, the discourse of assimilation includes distinctively educational matters. The structure of schooling, assessment of learning, curriculum content and materials, instructional strategies, special needs of students, school funding–all contain the tensions of the melting pot. The discourse around these issues and others seems to have made a metaphorical shift from “the melting pot” to the militant “culture wars” or “class wars” or “gender wars” The metaphor of war was being proposed as early as the 1930s and 1940s.
Louis Adamic, a widely read and respected novelist and journalist, describes “a psycho- logical Civil War” in his work Two Way Passage (1941, p. 85). His book explores the growing tensions in American society in the pre-World War II years. He says: Economic and industrial problems, labor, education, trends in writing, the theater, architecture, and other arts were attracting a lot of attention (in the 1930s). They interested me too. But little heed was paid in print and on the platform to the United States as a conglomerate of peoples – the result of a great migration.
Little attention was directed to the intricacies and maladjustments which grew up in its train. There was little realization that in the process cultures were being shattered. This last fact appeared to me most important. The old-stock American cultural patterns of a hundred years ago clashed with the Old World ways ( as revised by the slum and the factory ) of new-immigrant groups and partially destroyed them. It was a negative business. Many values, both old-American and new-immigrant, were not adjusted to the needs of contemporary America. Nor did they fuse or merge.
They were simply ground out, pushed aside, scrapped, without giving rise to new values. They either went down through lack of character, through irresponsibility and vulgarity, or they were clung to desperately, in toto – and thus perverted and devitalized. . . . Like the peoples of Europe, we in America have not yet completely synchronized the two-way impulse to homogeneity and diversity. We have experienced both but, as our sporadic psychological civil war with its several fronts demonstrates, we have not achieved a steady, continuous balance between them.
When we examine our resemblances we find that one of them is our common against-ness; when we look at our differences, most of them charged with potentialities for good, we see that all too often they function defensively against other differences.Where can this take us? (1941, pp. 87-88). This seems an apt question to ask 60 plus years later. Glazer and Moynihan made direct reference to a metaphorical shift in the title of their 1963 work, Beyond the Melting Pot. They also questioned the reality of the melting pot.
This seems to be the abiding tension in the idea of the melting pot – finding a balance between pluralism and homogeneity in values in multiple public arenas – education, politics, popular culture, social policy, and economics. If cultural metaphors belie true modes of thinking, it should be somewhat disturbing to note the metaphorical shift to “war”. Wars imply victors and the vanquished, a state of affairs America has not seen since 1865.