The US has just fought its way out of the absurdities of multiculturalism being urged on Britain
In the debate about Britishness and the Runnymede report, it’s hard not to sense a whiff of deja vu. Not so long ago in the United States the fashionable left, having run out of any coherent economic arguments, turned to culture.
America, they decreed, was irredeemably racist and oppressive. Racial minorities had no chance without vast and expensive social programmes to nurture them towards success. Schools which taught a Eurocentric curriculum were racist; insistence on English as a unifying force was colonial and hegemonic.
Traditional curriculums were therefore systematically ripped apart and replaced with cultural studies; English was supplanted by bilingual education. Anything else, we were informed, would discriminate against ethnic minorities and make their progress impossible.
Well, guess what? A couple of decades of multiculturalism and the results are in. It doesn’t work. Nobody buys it any more. Its most avid supporters are licking their wounds or recanting their past absurdities.
There’s no greater example of this than California. This year, for the first time, whites are a minority of the state’s population. The past decade has seen an explosion of racial and cultural diversity, with vast numbers of Latino, Asian and Indian immigrants transforming the culture.
In the past 10 years alone, the Asian population has grown by some 36%; the Latino population by 35%. Go to any campus in the University of California and you would be forgiven for thinking that you have wandered into Seoul or Mexico City. There is arguably no other place on earth which has more experience or more challenges in managing a multiracial society.
But at the same time, multiculturalism as a political ideology has largely collapsed. As California has become more racially diverse, it hasn’t enacted new racial privileges or programmes. It has done the opposite and abolished them. As California has become racially more diverse, it has re-emphasised its unitary civic culture.
Against every effort by the liberal elites, Californians voted re-cently to abolish racial preferences in their schools and colleges – and the result has been higher standards and, after an initial dip, a rebound in minority representation in the student bodies. Thanks to this, no student now believes they owe their place in college to their race rather than their intelligence. And the initiative was spearheaded by a brave black man, Ward Connerly.
But more strikingly, in 1998, Californians went one step further and banned bilingual education – something that had been at the centre of politically correct educational policy for a generation. From the mid-1970s, California had a policy of bilingual classes for Spanish-speaking children. Since a voter proposition in 1998, pioneered by a visionary entrepreneur, Ron Unz, California’s schools have reverted to an English-only curriculum.
I don’t know what Lord (Bhikhu) Parekh would make of such a colonialist, imperialist plot, but I doubt he’d like it. All the usual suspects whined in advance about how an English-only rule would harm minority children, impose Eurocentric values on them, crush their self-esteem, render classes unintelligible to most of them, and lower their educational achievement.
But since the reform was passed, a funny thing has happened. In two years, Hispanic student scores have soared. Even the old multiculturalists have had to eat their words. “I thought it would hurt kids,” Ken Noonan, the superintendent of schools outside heavily Hispanic San Diego, told The New York Times. (Noonan was a founder of the California Association of Bilingual Educators a generation ago at the height of multicultural fad.) “The exact reverse occurred … The kids began to learn – not pick up, but learn – formal English, oral and written, far more quickly than I ever thought they would.”
Twenty-eight per cent of California’s Latino seven-year-olds are now reading English at their age level, compared with only 19% a year ago. Their scores in other subjects have jumped as well, with the number passing their maths tests rising from 27% to 41%. In two short years, the offspring of poor, Hispanic, sometimes illiterate farm labourers in southern California have almost reached the average maths scores of white, wealthy English-speaking children in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It turns out it wasn’t racism or imperialism or insensitivity keeping these kids down for the past 30 years. It was multiculturalism.
Compare that with New York City, which still labours under the kind of politically correct curriculum new Labour may want to foist on Britain. A quarter of a century after the board of education mandated multicultural, bilingual classes for children whose first language wasn’t English, more than half the foreign-speaking students can’t speak the language after three years in special classes.
Eighty-nine per cent of non-English speakers who enter school in their early teens cannot pass a standard English test three years later. Under New York’s nightmarish multicultural requirements, if more than 15 students a year speak a different language, all classes have to be bilingual. Currently, 140 separate languages are catered for in these programmes. It makes the Tower of Babel seem like a quiet suburban bungalow.
No doubt the authors of the Runnymede report would welcome such sensitivity. But the result is not the integration of different races and cultures into one country. It’s the alienation and segregation of racial minorities in dead-end schools ending in dead-end jobs.
At a time when English is not merely a gateway to success in Britain and America, but a critical tool for success in the world economy, this kind of multiculturalism is not just stupid. It’s despicable. At a time when students from around the world are trying hard to master English as a way to make it, British and American liberals are trying to keep their own citizens in the dark. It would be comic if it weren’t so devastating to the lives of so many.
It’s increasingly clear that multiculturalism is essentially a device whereby upper-class liberals can celebrate their own virtue while condemning generations of immigrants to failure and frustration. “Epluribus unum” is still engraved on American currency, but one of Al Gore’s most notorious recent gaffes was to mistranslate it. He said it meant “out of one, many” when, of course, it means the opposite: “out of many, one”.
Notice that the One doesn’t eclipse the Many. In fact, California’s new immigrant students are in no danger of losing their ability to speak Korean or Japanese or Spanish, just because they have also mastered English. It’s dawning on Americans that racial and cultural diversity – an enormous social asset – is made possible only if it is balanced by an over-arching cultural and political unity.
This is a lesson America has learnt the hard way and is now trying to rectify. Why on earth, one wonders, would Britain want to repeat the mistake Americans are now straining mightily to undo?