The melting process has turned out to be much more difficult than Zangwill imagined, and it hasn't worked nearly as well for people of color as it has for European whites. Rising immigration rates always seem to be accompanied by a rise in prejudice and racial tension.
Today, our ability to assimilate people from other cultures and to cope with the resulting tensions is again being severely tested. The number of immigrants who arrived in the United States during the 1980's surpassed the 8.7 million who arrived in the first decade of the century, which was the historic high mark for immigration to this country. One important result of this immigration is that more than a third of the nation's schoolchildren will be minority members by the end of this decade.
These minority children pose a formidable challenge to teachers and schools. Most of them to some degree are alienated from the "mainstream culture.'' For a growing number, English is a second language. Victims of racism and discrimination, many of them are disadvantaged.
Individuals and organizations in many places across the country are working to meet this challenge. A few shining examples appear in this issue, beginning on page 38 with anthropologist John Ogbu and child psychiatrist James Comer.
Comer believes that disadvantaged children can learn and succeed if they receive the support at school that they don't get at home. His school-reform model to provide that support has been so successful in New Haven, Conn., that it is being adopted in other districts across the country.
Ogbu has been studying immigrant and minority schoolchildren for many years, trying to learn why some minorities do better in school than others. His research has convinced him that children whose families came to this country voluntarily do better in school than those who arrived here as the result of slavery, conquest, or colonization.
Joseph Hawkins is one of those whose ancestors were brought here as slaves. In his "First Person'' article on page 8, he writes about a moving visit to a slave castle in Africa and the impact that experience had on him. He believes it is vital that teachers and students confront the issue of racism, despite the pain and controversy that it might generate.
School officials in Pittsburgh are doing just that in one of the nation's boldest efforts to deal with the many dimensions of racial and ethnic prejudice. In its new Prospect Center for Multiracial, Multiethnic, and Multicultural Education, described on page 20, the district is seeking to create a model of racial harmony and cultural tolerance. The sweeping and innovative program being developed at the center will eventually be replicated in all of the city's schools.
Efforts like these defy Freud's declaration that "against prejudice one can do nothing.'' So do the actions of Linda Naymick Harrison, the subject of our cover story, which begins on page 56. When she moved from teaching to administration in her West Virginia school district, she was disturbed and puzzled by the fact that though most teachers are female, most administrators are male. Looking more closely, she concluded that women were being discriminated against in the competition for leadership positions. Risking her own career, Harrison led a bitter and painful--and only partially successful--battle against inequity. Because she generated controversy and attracted negative attention to her district, she became unpopular with some of her colleagues.
But such battles must be waged. And schools are appropriate battlegrounds for the struggle against inequity and discrimination--for it is in childhood, after all, that the seeds of prejudice are planted. --Ronald A. Wolk