Effort at Multicultural Education Backfires in Philadelphia Schools

February 28, 1990 1 min read

A multicultural-education effort in the Philadelphia school district recently backfired when Puerto Rican residents were angered to find a number of factual errors about their native island in a booklet designed to educate teachers about other cultures.

The mistakes were discovered in a five-page essay on Puerto Rico in ''One Nation, Many Peoples,” a publication district officials developed and distributed to help teachers understand other cultures and pass on their knowledge to their students.

Among other errors, the essay describes the native Indians of Puerto Rico as Arawak, when they actually were Taino. It also incorrectly lists a wide assortment of dances, foods, celebrities, and customs as Puerto Rican when, in fact, they belong to Mexico and other countries.

Leaders of the city’s Puerto Rican community called the document “an insult” and criticized the district for not having qualified Puerto Rican teachers or scholars review the essay.

District officials last week said the essay--one of 14 on various ethnic groups contained in the booklet--was being pulled from use in the schools and revised.

Harold Kessler, acting director of the district’s office of curriculum support, which supervised the document, also has arranged to work with officials from a Puerto Rican cultural center to discuss the essay and needed changes, the officials said.

A spokesman for the district said errors in the essay on Puerto Rico “were not caught because a decision was made that the material needed to be in the schools sooner rather than later.”

“The review process, as we see it now, was not as exhaustive as it should have been,” he said.

The spokesman said the document had not been read by teachers or administrators of Puerto Rican descent before its approval. He added, however, that no ethnic group was deliberately included or excluded from the review process.--p.s.

A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 1990 edition of Education Week as Effort at Multicultural Education Backfires in Philadelphia Schools