The Public Interest

Multicultural illiteracy

Kay S. Hymowitz

Spring 1999

IF ANYONE ought to understand the unintended consequences of multicultural education, it is Ruth Sherman. The young and idealistic Sherman was assigned a third-grade class at Public School 75 in the Bushwick section of New York, a school with achievement scores so low it is on a list of the state’s failing schools. Sherman gave among her first assignments a book titled Nappy Hair, the story of a young black girl with kinky hair. Highly recommended by teacher’s colleges as a way to improve the self-image of black youngsters and to celebrate cultural diversity, Nappy Hair evokes the folksy teasing as well as the rhythms and idioms of African-American speech. “And shegot the nappiest hair in the world. Aint it the truth,” goes one representative passage. Unfortunately, Sherman’s efforts to advance the cause of racial justice were not appreciated. Parents became enraged at the assumption that their children needed a white teacher to help them “feel good about their hair.” At a school meeting, they hurled racial epithets and profanities; they threatened “to get” her. Sherman was finally forced to quit her position at PS 75--though not, evidently, her beliefs. ‘Tin a multicultural freak,” she was quoted as saying in the New York Post after the fracas.

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