Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality
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Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality

A Brief History of the Education of Dominated Cultures in the United States

Joel Spring

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Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality

A Brief History of the Education of Dominated Cultures in the United States

Joel Spring

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About This Book

Joel Spring's history of school policies imposed on dominated groups in the United States examines the concept of deculturalization—the use of schools to strip away family languages and cultures and replace them with those of the dominant group. The focus is on the education of dominated groups forced to become citizens in territories conquered by the United States, including Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and Hawaiians.

Inseven concise, thought-provoking chapters, this analysis and documentation of how education is used to change or eliminate linguistic and cultural traditions in the United Stateslooks at the educational, legal, and social construction of race and racism in the United States, emphasizing the various meanings of "equality" that have existed from colonial America to the present. Providing a broader perspective for understanding the denial of cultural and linguistic rights in the United States, issues of language, culture, and deculturalization are placed in a global context.

Extensively revised throughout to reflect the dramatic national events since the prioredition, the Ninth Edition discusses the riseoftheBlack Lives Matter movement, increased educational inequalityrelated tothe pandemic, concerns about institutional racism and White nationalism, disputes about the interpretation of U.S. history, and debates over cultural and racial identity.

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Deculturalization, Native Americans, and American History

1619 and 1776 Projects

In this book, I discuss efforts to deculturalize Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinx and the struggles of these groups for equal educational opportunity. The efforts to deculturalize these groups involved a conscious attempt to replace one culture and language with another. Since the early days of European settlement, this was common educational practice.
In this chapter, I will focus on efforts to deculturalize Native Americans. This will require understanding the belief by Europeans of their own linguistic and cultural superiority upon arriving at American shores. I will explain this in sections on “Globalization: The Meaning of ‘Uncivilized’ and ‘Pagan’ ” and “Educational Methods for Global Cultural Encounters.”
Throughout the book, I use the terms “race,” “racism,” and “White.” These terms require definitions, which I provide in the next section before turning to European beliefs in their cultural and linguistic superiority. Also, I interchange the words “Native American” and “Indian” throughout this book as English words for the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Race, Racism, and the Meaning of “White”

Race is primarily a political and social construction. Consider, for example, racial segregation in Southern states during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries based on “drop of blood” laws. The “drop of blood” rule was used to determine who should attend White or Black segregated schools. For instance, if a child’s ancestors included one African American and the rest were European Americans, then the child was classified as African American and was required to attend a segregated Black school. Or consider, as I will discuss in Chapter 4, that Chinese were classified by California courts in the 1850s as Native Americans—based on the theory that Native Americans originally were Asians who crossed the Bering Straits and populated North America.
Given the changing meaning of race throughout U.S. history, I am relying on legal definitions of race as expressed in U.S. laws and in court rulings. In American history, “race” is often linked with citizenship. Consequently, I have provided in Chapters 2 through 5 citizenship time lines. These time lines indicate when each group—Native American, African American, Asian American, and Latinx—gained full citizenship rights. For instance, as I will discuss in Chapter 2, Native Americans were not granted U.S. citizenship until 1924, and they did not receive full citizenship rights until the 1960s and 1970s. These citizenship laws and court decisions provide a concrete understanding for the constantly changing meaning of race in the United States.
With regard to the term racism, I define it as prejudice plus power. This means that when power can be used to serve feelings of prejudice, such as through the establishment of segregated schools for Mexican Americans in the Southwest, then it is a racist act. Therefore, throughout this book I am defining racism in concrete terms as citizenship laws, education laws, and court rulings that are prejudicial toward a particular group of students based on their skin color or ethnic background.
What does “White” mean? Congressional approval of the Naturalization Act of 1790 involved the use of the term “White.” The Naturalization Act excluded from citizenship all non-Whites, such as Native Americans, who were considered domestic foreigners and, therefore, ineligible for citizenship. The legislation specifically stated that citizenship would be granted only to a “free White person.”1 As I will discuss later, U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the 1920s narrowed the definition of “free White person” to exclude Asians with pale skin and East Indians who claimed to share common ancestors with Europeans. Until the 1950s, Asian immigrants were denied citizenship, though their children born in the United States were automatically citizens.2
In the minds of some early American leaders, the term “White” was primarily reserved for those of British Protestant descent. By the early twentieth century, most Americans applied the term “White” to all Americans of European descent.
However, it required a social struggle for the Irish and Southern and Eastern Europeans to gain acceptance as “Whites.” How the Irish Became White is Noel Ignatiev’s fascinating history of the struggle of Irish Americans to gain status in the American “White” community.3 For the Irish, their Catholicism was a major problem in gaining acceptance by the majority of Protestant Americans. Jewish, Muslim, and Eastern Orthodox immigrants also encountered problems because of their differing religious beliefs.
The writers of the U.S. Constitution and leaders of the new republic were divided over the issue of immigration. However, there was almost universal agreement among this group that citizenship should be limited to free Whites. This agreement was based on the opinion that a republican form of government could only survive with a homogenous White population. Of the two political factions, the Jeffersonian Republicans and the Federalists, the Jeffersonian Republicans favored immigration and, in the words of Rogers Smith, “sanctioned slavery and the conquest of the tribes [Native Americans], often alleging their racial inferiority.” Reflecting the conflicting strains in U.S. history up to the present, the Federalists preferred “native-born” citizenship as opposed to the naturalized citizenship of immigrants and “expressed hope for peaceful assimilation of the tribes and the eventual demise of slavery, though few championed racial equality.”4 The advocates of limiting citizenship to the native-born are referred to as “nativists.” Therefore, current anti-immigrant attitudes can be traced back to the debates over citizenship that occurred among the Founding Fathers. In addition, the feelings of “White” superiority should be understood against the background of European colonialism, as discussed in the next section.

Globalization: The Meaning of “Uncivilized” and “Pagan”

Globalization as I am using the term begins when Columbus arrives in the Americas in 1492 and links the world trade routes. At the time of Columbus’s trip, many Europeans saw the world as divided between the civilized and uncivilized and the Christian and the pagan. This worldview originated with the creation of the Roman empire. Romans, and later Europeans and Americans, justified Western expansionism as necessary for civilizing the world. For early Romans, the goal of Imperium romanum, the geographical authority of the Roman people, was the entire world. The ultimate destiny of the Roman empire, its leaders believed, was “to civilize” the world’s peoples. For Romans, those who lived by Roman law and within the limits of the Roman empire were human. Those who lived outside Roman rule were less than human. The word “civil” meant a form of law, and the verb “to civilize” meant to bring a people under the control of the law. In other words, to bring people under Roman law was to civilize them.
The Roman Imperium was viewed as both a political expression and a source of knowledge. The Imperium gave knowledge to the world. The center of knowledge and culture was Rome. Rome contained the perfect civitas, or civilized political order. The collective ethical life of Rome was mores. Civitas and mores could be exported to the empire. Thus, the city of Rome was the model for the culture and morals of the empire. In this context, those living outside the Roman empire were without culture and morals. Those outside the empire were considered irrational barbarians or natural slaves. Cicero, as quoted by Anthony Pagden, wrote that Roman conquest of barbarians “is justified precisely because servitude in such men is established for their welfare.”5 This concept of barbarians and natural slaves appeared often in European justifications of empire. Similar to Cicero, Fox Morcillo, writing in the sixteenth century, conceptualized Native Americans as natural slaves who should be pressed into servitude for their own good. Justifying enslavement of Native Americans, Morcillo wrote, “they should be civilized by good customs and education and led to a more human way of life.”6
Christianity expanded Roman concepts of empire and civilizing to include converting pagans. The combination of Roman ideals of civilization and a belief that Christians had the duty to convert the world’s population convinced many Westerners that it was their responsibility to spread Western civilization and Christianity to the rest of the world. For early Christians, barbarian was synonymous with paganus. Pagans were both non-Christian and without civilization. Imperium romanum and Christianity were considered geographically the same. Consequently, pagans or non-Christians were considered less than human.7 In this context, it was the duty of the Christian empire to convert and civilize all people and make them pious and virtuous. Among early Christians, pietas or pious meant compliance with religious laws and loyalty to the family. Virtus or virtuous meant a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of the Christian community.8 Consequently, virtuous people were willing to sacrifice their lives to convert others to Christianity and to spread civilization.
Under the banner of “saving” a population from “backward” or “savage” cultures and “pagan” and “heathen” religions, many Europeans, and later Americans, could feel they were doing good as they conquered Native American, African, and Asian nations. Edward Said argues,
There was a commitment which … allowed decent men and women to accept the notion that distant territories and their native peoples should be subjugated, and … these decent people could think of the imperium as a protracted, almost metaphysical obligation to rule subordinate, inferior, or less advanced people.9
In South America, the Spanish believed that they were chosen by God to bring the “inhuman” into the realm of the human. Justified by a claim of sovereignty over all the world, Pope Alexander VI in 1493 gave the Spanish crown the right to occupy all lands that they discovered.10 Occupation of Central and South America was considered a joint venture...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality
APA 6 Citation
Spring, J. (2021). Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality (9th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)
Chicago Citation
Spring, Joel. (2021) 2021. Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. 9th ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Spring, J. (2021) Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. 9th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Spring, Joel. Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. 9th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.