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What do you mean 'There are too many cultures'?

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The two women in the subway car underneath London were English; i.e., they were white, rosy cheeked, blond, blue eyed, wore sensible shoes, and were discussing the school their daughters attended.

I was listening and they weren't a bit self-conscious about their talk as we sat knee to knee for more than 30 minutes. (It was the Green Line to Wimbledon.)

The talk turned from homework and maths to the ''types'' who were now asking to enroll in their daughters' school. After quite a long outburst by one on the dangers of admitting Commonwealth members from Africa and India to England, the other nodded sagely and pronounced:

''There are too many cultures.''

''Right,'' her friend agreed, ''there are just too many cultures.''

My thought went first to Madison Square Garden in New York and the Westminster Kennel Club Show. Too many dog breeds?

Next I thought of a spring visit to a field in Greece near Delphi - too many wildflowers? Or what about a rose garden; could there be too many varieties?

And then I looked around our subway car and saw that we represented almost as many cultures as there were individuals.

And next day, in Trafalgar Square, I looked again on a marvelous array of separate individuals and wondered why anyone, anywhere, could think there were ''too many cultures.''

But we do. And, in part, it's such thinking that is behind the enormously difficult struggle over public-school enrollments. Apparently, some of us fear more than we respect our differences - particularly when these differences are ones of color, race, creed; i.e., cultural heritage.

The principal of a primary school in the deep South of the US, (Mobile, Ala.) spoke with feeling of the struggle she had when first Negro children (as she still refers to them, saying that she ''hates the word black'') came to her school. At the same time, half her white teachers were transferred out of her school and a half dozen black teachers (''she'd had no hand in choosing'') were assigned to her building by ''downtown.''

''But I love children,'' she explained. ''And I had no reason to hate these new little ones; no reason to fear them, either.''

A pause - ''I couldn't accept their parents, nor socialize with the 'new' teachers.''


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