Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pros and Cons of Multiculturalism

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There are many meanings associated with multiculturalism. The simplest of definitions is found in any standard dictionary. The actual word means many cultures, yet there is no universal definition of this concept. I am going to present the meaning that in my judgment is most suitable to the Canadian experience. Multiculturalism is a policy aimed at promoting the interaction of people from various cultures in Canada to increase mutual respect for one another as well as provide for equal rights and opportunities.1 the concept of multiculturalism entails a wide variety of issues.

Multiculturalism has and continues to impact Canada�s social, economic, political and religious structures. I have decided to focus mostly on the educational and employment aspects, since I feel these to be the strongest qualifications for overall life chances of any individual. Although the ideal meaning of multiculturalism sounds to be very “fair”, many struggles had to be fought and are still being fought today. Attitudes and policies of everyone involved have been in constant assessment; policies have been progressively adjusted to attempt to suit the needs of everyone. I will attempt to convince the reader that even though multiculturalism has gone through some positive changes, the social inequality rooted in the fabric of multiculturalism has continued its legacy to the present day

Historically, Canada was considered a bi-cultural society, up until the late 1800�s. At the time of Confederation Canada was mostly made up of people of French and British origins. That�s not to say that people of other ethnic origins were not present in Canada at that time. Simply there was very little regard or concern given to the needs of any minorities. The beginning example would have to be the treatment of the indigenous peoples of Canada. The disregard for multiculturalism is evident in the treatment of this particular group in relation to the personal and land restrictions set forth by the British settlers. Policies aimed at the indigenous included the prohibition of any land ownership, restrictions on use of the native dialects, wiping certain traditions and eventual total genocide of certain indigenous groups. With no regards to those who preceded the French and British settlers, the consensus of 181 included only classification by British, French and “other” origin. People of diverse ethnic origins entered North America during the 18th and 1th centuries. These diverse groups made the larger numbers of fisherman, farmers, merchants, traders, soldiers, slaves and fugitives. Immigration in post-Confederation Canada became a major issue when hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived following an economic policy set up by Sir Clifford Sifton to attract agriculturists to Canada.

By 110, problems began to arise when it came to the ability to assimilate certain groups. The 11 Immigration Act demanded tighter immigration control. It allowed the government to prohibit individuals or entire nationalities from entering Canada. It became painfully obvious that Canada�s government was only interested in expansion at any cost. Great numbers of those who along with the French and the British, built Canada and contributed to its economy were prohibited to prosper from their labor. This is most disturbing in the case of the African slaves who were kidnapped from their land of origin, force to work without wages and resided in sub-human living conditions. These conditions were made lawful and even encouraged by the government, the people and the church. Canada�s inhumane tactics were once again revealed in the country�s treatment of the Chinese immigrants. During the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, many Chinese males were encouraged to immigrate to Canada. The Chinese experienced in Canada included harsh living conditions, pitiful wages and absolutely no respect from the government. After the railway was build, those who survived were either deported or faced blunt racial hatred from the Canadian government and it�s people. Since their labor was no longer needed, the government implemented various policies that would stop or at least discourage Chinese immigration into Canada. A head tax was imposed on every Chinese person who crossed the border. The fees became so high that it was almost impossible to afford.

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In 1 the British became concerned with whether it was possible for Canada to preserve it�s British character if large numbers of immigrants continued to enter the country.4 Many other policies that discriminated against ethnic peoples continued to be practiced. Very few positive changes occurred in multiculturalism in the next fifteen to twenty years. During WWII, immigration became very restricted. Following W.W.II , large scale immigration resumed. Immigration policy still included the preference of British origin people over those of “other”. Although no groups were completely excluded and the laws that once totally restricted the entry of Chinese were relaxed. No great improvements in multicultural policies would occur until the 160s.

Up until the late 60s, all social institutions were aimed to aid the white “middle class” and “upper class” citizens. Schools were concentrated and focused on the British and French groups and dealt with solely British content. People of different ethnic cultures were told that they had to go to different schools or they were only allowed to educate in certain professions. Such was the case with segregated schools between white and black children. Up until the late 160s, black children were unable to penetrate the “white” schools. Those who tried were opposed by government policies and often met with violent protesters. Jews were also restricted in their choice of professions and were denied acceptance to medical and law schools. Obviously the curriculum reflected the common attitudes of ethnic and racial inferiority. The living conditions of many of these immigrants were sub-standard. Those who extracted the last of their resources sometimes exercised the option of going back home, but many became stuck in poverty. Education played a big key since social and economic mobility upwards frequently requires extensive education. Until recently, the study of ethnic languages and cultures was deemed to be the responsibility of the ethnic communities and was largely ignored in the public and secondary school curriculum.5 However, if the curriculum was to include minority cultures and programs, the strong preference of minority people would be that the teaching of these programs should be carried out by minority teachers. This would not only provide the knowledge of the cultures but also it would implement positive role models.

Another words, the curriculum can question feelings of self-worth and intelligence to those who are not representedA theory of the “vertical mosaic” was proposed by John Porter that stemmed from the belief that certain groups were socially and economically inferior to others. In his research, Porter ranked the Caucasian group as being at the very top of the social hierarchy and the African ancestry group as being at the very bottom of the hierarchy. The Asians and Natives were also included. The Asian ranking higher than blacks and natives. Although the theory may have been statistically correct, there was no real concrete explanation as to the cause of certain groups having little success in life. At first it was the belief that people of color weren�t intelligent, but I believe that the reason for such a hierarchy (if it did and does exist) was the lack of a positive self-image that was not portrayed in any of the Canadian institutions. Ethnic peoples creativity and intelligence was masked and considered unimportant when however it has been an enormous asset to Canadian history and future. Educational, political, religious and judicial institutions were very racist and discouraging to those of other cultures and backgrounds. It wasn�t until the late 160�s that real changes in policies and attitudes were developed to recognize the multicultural contributions.

The idea of equality of cultures did not originate from the government. It was the 60�s Cultural Revolution that influenced the government in its pursuit to define Canada as a multicultural society. People became less tolerant of racial, social and economic inequality that had been crippling immigrants and minorities for decades. Discrimination also gained a greater respect and interest in cultural diversity. Starting in the late 160�s policies began to arise that signified the fact that people would no longer stand for the injustices that had been occurring. The Official Languages Act in 16 which gave the French and English languages equal status proved the government�s emphasis on Canada being a bi-cultural society. Many groups became concerned with the government�s lack of interest of social, cultural and political aspects of multiculturalism. When the French culture began to seek greater recognition, programs to recognize the French culture were later used to being attention to other cultures. In 171, a policy was introduced to promote ethnic groups and communities and to aid in overcoming cultural barriers. By this time, previously segregated schools and facilities were lawfully open to almost anyone. Many minorities even though largely under-represented were making their way into previously restricted professions. These steps were definitely going in the right direction but still enormous amounts of minorities were facing discrimination on the part of the employers, teachers as well as other opposing groups that felt threatened. Hate crimes were being committed; co-workers at times made individuals uncomfortable by announcing that they didn�t belong. So policies would not be enough, people would have to become more accepting of the multicultural concept

The government�s stand on multiculturalism became more pronounced in the 180�s. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms introduced by the government in 18 guaranteed the government�s commitment to equal rights and respect for the multicultural heritage of all Canadians. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act that was introduced in 188 was aimed at promoting and enhancing equal opportunities, the ability to contribute as well as understanding and respect for all that reside in Canada. This policy attempts to make the necessary adjustments so that all Canadians can participate fully in every aspect of society. Programs became implemented into the Act, since making something a law doesn�t necessarily mean that people will abide. There must be consequences for discrimination and racism. An example of these consequences is litigation on the grounds of discrimination, which provides a more confrontational means in battling discrimination. A major barrier to people of ethnic backgrounds has been inequality in the work force that has stumped the social mobility of many who have had the same qualifications as their white Canadian counterparts. Many quotas have been put in place as a result to ensure that everyone gets fair representation. An example of such programs would be the Affirmative Action policy. This policy is suppose to ensure that a certain amount of minorities are hired into previously predominantly white businesses. A couple years before the Multiculturalism Act was established, in 186, an Employment Equity Act was proclaimed. This Act mostly concentrated on equitable representation of women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.7 What this Act does is ensures that the employers covered by this Act must provide equitable representation in the work force of the four groups already mentioned. The Employment Equity Act is one of the strategies used whose aim is to eliminate discrimination and racism. But as I�ve mentioned before, a policy alone does not make changes. Other strategies have also been used since laws can�t change the way that people have felt for generations. The government came to the realization that it was not only the laws but people�s attitudes had to be altered, which only comes after people have been educated and exposed. Education doesn�t necessarily have to be in the form of schooling since the media and advertising also plays a major role in molding minds. In the last decade we have seen billboards displaying anti-racism ads, public service announcements and the declaration of March 1st as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. All these strategies have had a positive effect yet many still do believe in the inferiority of certain groups. As I have stated, the above mentioned programs and policies have worked to some extent but there has been some opposition to these programs as well. The affirmative action program for instance have been regularly questioned since it is the belief of some that it�s wrong to get a job simply on the status that someone is a minority. My counterargument would be that it has been wrong not to get a job based on the fact that the person applying is a minority. Today the RCMP in Nova Scotia is less likely to take a white applicant over a minority one. This is due to the fact that minorities have been greatly under-represented in the police force and this has drawn negative feedback from minority communities. As stated previously, someone of an ethnic background is more likely to feel more comfortable in dealing with a professional that represents that same background. The aim of Affirmative action programs is not to take away jobs from certain individuals, although that seems to be inevitable, but to have a number of minorities within the work force that equally reflect the number of minorities in society. Another complaint has been the cost of such programs. But as noted by John Berry, “...the economic argument is merely a front for deep-seated underlying bigotry.”8

Education strides still have to be considered because there is still not enough minority teachers and even fewer ethnic courses. Caucasians are insultingly over-represented in elementary, junior highs and high schools. To go through twelve years of school and not being able to learn about multiculturalism in Canada I believe to be crippling, not only to the minority student but to Canadian students as well. wwbg bgw esbgbgs aybg bgba nbg kcbg bguk!

In conclusion, there have been many changes made in Canadian society due to multicultural policies and programs, and I believe most of these changes to be positive. However, more changes are needed and these changes need to start in the elementary school curriculum. From the beginning school years children should be encouraged to learn about themselves as well as others who always have and will contribute to Canadian society. In defense of my thesis, racism is a legacy that is passed on from generation to generation and it will continue to plague Canadian society because we are all different. Perhaps there will come a time when people will not even necessarily like one another but respect each other.

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