Joachim H. Knoll

While much academic research has by now been published about minorities, far too little attention is still being given to the issue in politics and education policy, and to the consequences for adult education. The author describes various models of integration, but points out that these cannot be generalized since they are specific to individual countries and cultures. This applies not only to industrialized countries, but more particularly to developing countries, where the question of ethnic minorities is a major issue and cause of conflicts. Prof. Dr. Joachim H. Knoll, whose article on comparative adult education appeared in issue No. 54 of this journal, occupied the Chair of Adult Education and Out-of-School Youth Work at the University of Bochum until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1997. For 25 years he was editor of the International Yearbook of Adult Education. He is a member of the IIZ/DVV Advisory Board.

Minorities – Caught between Acculturation and Exclusion

Some Clarifications of the Terms Segregation, Integration, Assimilation and Reintegration 

Besides being concerned at a personal level – I lived for many years as part of a minority – I have an academic reason for addressing this issue. In my capacity as Professor of Adult Education and Out-of-School Youth Education, I had to justify the international approach adopted when my department was created. Besides making numerous visits, spending study periods abroad, giving guest lectures and taking part in expert committees, I was the guiding spirit behind the “International Yearbook of Adult Education” from 1967, and have only recently handed this over to others. That publication was designed to foster the development of international comparative research in adult education, and reflected my concern to be involved in publishing about the situations and difficulties facing minorities, especially as there were many states at that time which needed to arrive at a new perception of their identity, and to rebuild both their societies and their educational policies. For many years it was the Council of Europe which took up this task, and I enthusiastically joined in its projects on “Protection and Promotion of Minorities and Minority Languages”. In Europe, the groups in question were both the long-standing so-called autochthonous minority peoples such as the Catalans in Spain or the Sorbs in Germany, and the allochthonous minorities which were the result of more recent waves of migration for economic, political, employment-related or geographical reasons (Turks in Germany, North Africans in France or Italians in Switzerland).

If we are looking for key moments when this subject was taken up and explored academically, we need initially to look back to a meeting of the European Comparative Education Society in Würzburg in 1983. This initiative was essentially launched by Wolfgang Mitter, who has subsequently contributed extensively to the discussion of difference, otherness, cohabitation, familiarity and unfamiliarity, and always draws on a generous store of personal experience. He too grew up in a minority environment. In the traditional countries of immigration there was, admittedly, already considerable expertise on the subject, both empirical findings of individual observation, and analysis of its general features. Four years before the Würzburg meeting, the Canadian comparative educationists Mallea and Shea had compiled a 300-page bibliography of research up to that date. Alongside the Institute of Education of the University of Vancouver, it was above all the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education which became the lodestone of research into minorities and multiculturalism. Given the present plethora of publications, this was a modest beginning, but an examination of the academic groundwork done at that time reveals that no fundamentally new ways of looking at or explaining the success or failure of minority integration projects have subsequently been proposed.

Overall, however, it is probably correct to say not only that the amount of research has increased but also that it has come to focus on certain issues such as:

  • the national, linguistic and ethnic tensions and conflicts facing settled minorities
  • the context of bilingualism and regional policy
  • the situation of migrant workers, where considerable expansion has occurred
  • incipient research into multiculturalism and interculturalism, and
  • publications and projects on migration and migrant education as a transnational, European phenomenon

This broad summary of the literature is merely intended to show that while pertinent academic research into minorities has developed, and has been reflected in the practical work of many adult education institutions, the treatment of the issue at a political and policy-making level is frequently still inadequate, biased and disappointing, and that excessive emotionality has crept into the discussion.

It ought to be possible to dispense with defining and explaining the terms at issue yet again. However, while the “facts” behind the terms are well-known, the terms themselves are often used for particular political ends, or are understood differently in different countries.

In Germany, it is probably true that no clear distinction has been made in political action between assimilation and integration, while the term segregation, which essentially means exclusion, was little used at first, and then only reticently, in reference to those migrant workers who were expected to remain in their new environments for only a short while, or would eventually return home.

Segregation, which embraces a tendency towards self-ghettoization as well as exclusion, was apposite inasmuch as it assumed in the context of migration in Europe in the 1960s and ’70s that reintegration in the countries of origin would best be ensured if cultural and religious traditions were maintained. This view was reflected, for example, in the provision of public schooling for the children of migrants, where it was assumed that linguistic retention (i.e. retention of the mother tongue) could only be guaranteed if separate schooling were provided for these children and young people. According to this view, segregation meant a form of exclusion which seemed justified in the light of many migrants’ own self-perception in the 1960s and ’70s. Nowadays, it can be assumed that no one in the school system still takes this view (and this is not just my opinion). Self-exclusion or self-ghettoization is another matter, for this is a conscious process of separation (in a parallel society) in the conviction that integration is a block to eventual reintegration into the home country. The minorities which still practise such self-exclusion are notably the Japanese minorities in major European cities and sections of the Jewish minority in Germany. But it is not a widespread phenomenon.

It is not easy to make a clear distinction between integration and assimilation. Even in traditional countries of immigration, i.e. the United States and Canada, and to some extent Australia, approaches vary, and these are often more than mere differences of perception. In the light of steps taken in the United States that will be discussed later, it is debatable whether the policy of assimilation has come to an end there, or whether there will be a return to assimilation after a period of increasing integration. I may already state at this point that I am thinking of the latest language decree in California which is intended to restrict the separate linguistic and cultural identity of “Latinos”, the Spanish-speaking migrants. In the United States, assimilation is understood to mean complete absorption into the new society. This implies that the initial double identity is to give way to a single, American identity. The term integration or retention is employed in Canadian policy towards minorities, on the other hand, and deserves general support. It is intended to indicate that the state and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should provide a framework within which minorities can, if they wish to do so, retain their own language, religion and culture and relate to their culture of origin. This is the approach adopted in many countries, and in much school and adult education. Integration necessarily implies, however, that the majority population is willing to accept and understand the desire for retention, so that people can live together as a community rather than in parallel.

While the term “minority” primarily refers purely to demographic size and implies a minority society or minority groups within a given social, societal and political context, the epithet “ethnic” indicates that a minority is “descended from” a different “people”.

I accept that the above explanations of terms are incomplete, but I do not see it as my task to provide conclusive definitions, or to have the final word. In what follows, approaches to integration in other societies will be discussed.

Types of Integration in Various Countries

It should be said at the outset that no general principles can be derived from an examination of minorities in other countries or from the various policies adopted towards minorities. Solutions are usually specific to an individual culture and are not transferable. To say as much is a commonplace, but even the site visits which I have made have changed little in my view of the topic of “Minorities and Adult Education”.

When I went to Canada for the second time in the mid-1980s, largely to acquaint myself with the educational situation in British Columbia, I was familiar with positive comments on Canada’s multicultural society, in which it had apparently been possible to achieve harmonious cohabitation between different minorities and to pave the way for dialogue between divergent cultures. There was already an extensive literature on “ethnicity” and “multiculturalism”, which suggested that a society which was generally composed exclusively of immigrants found it easier to deal with multiculturalism. Even then it was possible to point to models in which “cross-cultural” initiatives had been introduced. I am thinking here in particular of the MOSAIC project, which focused on entry into the labour market for young people through cooperation with enterprise training centres, though without any subsequent guarantee of employment. The project also revealed two fundamental aspects of integration in Canada. On the one hand, the state largely refrained from providing a framework for the resolution of individual problems, leaving the initiative to the private institutions of each ethnic group (churches, associations and businesses): this seemed to me to offer a model of state action which relied essentially on the component sections of society and allowed for solutions appropriate in a social democracy. The juxtaposition of the various ethnic groups would thus lead to integration, each group opening itself out to others in the area, rather than causing circumscription or the creation of ghettos. This notion of cross-cultural cooperation between ethnic groups had been practised particularly impressively by Italian Canadians, closely followed by the openness of Canadians of Polish origin.

However, my initial over-optimism was called into question by some actual observations. Firstly, the WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) appeared to be a closed block who wanted assimilation rather than integration, doubtless spurred on by the feelings of superiority and authority which had been inculcated in them. Secondly, I remarked the exclusion of “visible minorities”, notably the Blacks, from positions of power in business and academic administration, and the perceived difficulties of dealing with whatever was the latest wave of immigration, the ethnic group concerned being seen as “alien”.

Thirdly, there was the guilt felt by all newcomers towards the minority original inhabitants, the Indians, whom the immigrants had driven out of the green belt with all kinds of enticements and inducements, and the attractions of civilization. The newcomers were now attempting to atone for the sins of their fathers through an almost unnatural cult of anything “ethnic”. Where else in the world were there so many museums of ethnology, in which all aspects of the life and culture of just one “ethnic group” were displayed? However, the descendants of the original inhabitants were not integrated, but actively stigmatized.

My initial positive view was also shaken by Canada’s policy of imposing bilingualism nationally. This bilingualism derived from the confrontation between French Canadians, a minority among the majority society in Canada, and the WASPS in the western provinces, a conflict which was sometimes hidden and sometimes open. Bilingualism was of course encouraged in principle in school and adult education, although actual bilingual ability often seemed to be of marginal importance, especially in areas where only one language was used as the language of everyday life and government.

Fourthly, and this was an approach also used in immigration policy in other industrialized countries, Canada had relatively restrictive immigration legislation based essentially on a quota system, which made immigration dependent on the requirements of the labour market and the skills of the potential immigrant.

Overall, however, more positive than negative examples and instances of the country’s attitude towards multiculturalism remain in my memory. A key factor in this was what Bassam Tibi means by distinguishing between migrants (German: Zuwanderer) and immigrants (German: Einwanderer): in the latter case, there is a commitment to taking on a new social nationality, and a free, definitive and final decision to acknowledge the regulations governing such a new status.

Like Canada, the United States is now a country of immigration with restrictive provisions. For a long time it was open for unrestricted immigration, with a dream of equality and a decent start in life for anyone willing to accept the American way of life and to melt into the new society. This was a supreme example of the notion of assimilation. The fact that not all immigrants allowed themselves to be assimilated is evident from the cultural range in Manhattan, where ethnic groups are concentrated in certain blocks of streets. The Germans, the Italians, the Jews and the Poles live in their own districts, far from their homelands, but still near to them in language, song, food and drink, although the degree to which such connections, such retentions, are desired and achieved, obviously varies.

It is particularly around the edges of the country that we find ethnic groups which have not accepted the notion of assimilation as unthinkingly and totally as was for a long time expected and imposed by American immigration policy. The Latinos, Mexican migrants in California and Cubans in Florida, are striking examples of the determined retention of a separate identity. Rightly seen, they have turned assimilation into a form of integration that strongly emphasises retention. These Spanish-speaking immigrants, who are usually referred to collectively as “Latinos”, have their own language and culture, and have founded their own press and schools as an alternative “imported culture” alongside the American. At first, the American government found it easy to accept this in view of its policy on Cuba. But when “Hispanic” education and culture broke free from the American linguistic environment and became a regional majority culture rather than a minority culture, American policy in the states affected was quick to bring back the discarded remains of the doctrine of assimilation. The Bilingual Education Act adopted 30 years ago was intended to make it easier for immigrants to adapt to new environments and social milieus, permitting schools to teach through the medium of other languages alongside English. Referendum No. 227 in California recently put an end to this right because the impression had been gained that the teaching of pupils in their foreign mother tongue hindered rather than helped integration into their new homeland, and hence their opportunities for learning and in life in general. The background information to the referendum illustrates the social and demographic situation in California: “Over one quarter of the 33 million inhabitants are of Hispanic origin, around ten per cent come from the Asian-Pacific area. Nearly one quarter were born outside the USA and just over one third do not speak English at home.” It is part of the renewed acceptance of the doctrine of assimilation that English is henceforward prescribed as the obligatory language of instruction in California, and the number of Senators in favour of the “English only” initiative is rising. It is a classic case of a move away from the concept of assimilation to that of integration, only to return to assimilation once again (see Quality Education for Minorities, QUEM Network, Washington DC).

Let us now consider Israel as a particular example of a multicultural immigration policy. The largely successful policy of “Tahila”, which roughly means “glory”, is truly unique in mixing literacy with an introduction to the everyday culture of Israel, to Jewish festivals and rites, and to house-keeping and employment. It is addressed primarily to immigrants from the Maghreb states of North Africa, who would have remained at the bottom end of the social scale without such assistance. It is an example of an integration scheme which has been developed in accordance with actual needs, with the wishes and policy of the state, and with the perspective on life of those concerned. (Tokatli and Zivion were the inspiration behind the scheme.) The achievements of the scheme, which goes back to the beginnings of the state of Israel, are impressive, and a new society has in fact been formed as a result. However, it could not be transferred successfully to other countries, even if the entire content were thought to be useful and helpful, since the motivation behind this type of integration clearly lies in Jewish religion and tradition, out of which the notion of lifelong learning has developed. Furthermore, all the inhabitants are immigrants, and they have all had to learn and adapt to a new language. This social experience is supported by the unifying bonds of basic religious assumptions, such as that of being the “chosen people”, which are accorded conventional significance even by secular families. Recently, however, trends have become visible which are obviously disturbing this coherent solidarity. Unlike their predecessors, immigrants from Russia have recognisably great difficulties in accepting that they should be subject to integration, let alone assimilation. The image of universal integration is damaged by this phenomenon.

In the case of integration schemes and projects in the European context, I shall call attention to only one trend, which is expressed in internal linguistic and political conflicts, either within one country or across a border. This refers to those minorities which are demanding a right to greater autonomy and independence for their linguistic and cultural identity. The Council of Europe appears to support such claims, in the well-meaning intention of encouraging a union of regions rather than of nation-states in the 19thýcentury sense. We shall not explore further here the alternatives of “a federation of states or a federal state”, but will merely point out that regional variety and regional initiatives often break down when they come up against national borders and the limits of their own dynamic. This is clear from the cultural conflict in northern Spain. The Catalan “people” extends roughly from Alicante to Montpellier in France, uses a language that is only distantly related to Spanish, has its own culture, literüture and art, and a relatively autonomous government in Barcelona. This ethnic group straddles a border, believes in a regional concept, and has the character of an autochthonous minority with political pretensions. It is, however, unlikely that an independent political entity could be created out of this minority. The same could be said of the Basques, and the internal conflicts in Belgium do not suggest that that country will be able to move towards implementing a state plan for the integration of settled minorities.

We have given the above examples in order to show that there is a wide range of noteworthy initiatives of varying sorts which seek to introduce or achieve integration, or to prepare the groundwork for it. However, it is also evident that these projects and models encounter considerable resistance, or that they can only be realised in one place under one particular set of circumstances, and are not transferable.

Minorities as a Problem in Developing Countries

It would be inexcusable, especially in “Adult Education and Development”, if no attention were paid to the peculiarities of the issue in developing countries. We can only give some general remarks since the situation worldwide is simply too varied.

Firstly, it could easily be demonstrated that the scale of the cultural, religious and behavioural differences between minorities in developing countries is appreciably greater than in those countries that have felt obliged over a long period of time to pursue a policy of integration in which social and political equality and cultural and religious retention have been given similar weight. The latter certainly have in consequence the potential for conflict, but at least the minorities there are protected by a binding and overarching concept of the state. However, when African states in particular were “set free”, they were initially concerned with the process of “nation-building”, which was posited on the rediscovery of a joint inheritance, or at least of many common bonds. Two things are apparent here: first, that the development of European forms of society, of the nation-state of the 19th and 20th centuries, was widely adopted as the model for building a nation and, secondly, that attempts were then made to develop a culture out of the indigenous spirit of the region in question. The processes of centralization and decentralization have led to a clash which has given rise to difficulties, particularly in foreign and economic policy. To give an example, Ceylon, the present-day Sri Lanka, began independence with a decision to make the regional languages the sole media of communication on the ground that this would symbolize independence of mind and freedom from colonial oppression. As a result, Sri Lanka disappeared from international economic affairs (cf. International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Sri Lanka). This rigid emphasis on regional languages then took on more a moderate form, so that exclusivity was replaced by coexistence between an internationally accepted administrative and official language, and a regional language, as is the practice in other countries in Asia and Africa, without there obviously being too great a remembrance of the colonial era. At the same time, it can be observed in the context of development and literacy programmes that greater attention has been given recently to regional and minority languages, probably partly because this makes it easier to appreciate the cultural inheritance, and because disparities within the population cannot simply be glossed over. We have no intention of putting forward a universal law to this effect, but it is noticeable in many countries that national and regional policies are today as common counterparts as are regional languages and official or administrative languages. However, it must also be borne in mind that the issue of minorities often takes the guise of ethnic minorities, which can naturally lead to mutual exclusion and conflicts. Moreover, the scale of minority problems in Africa and Asia is exacerbated by forced and voluntary migration. One essay which particularly addresses this fact states more or less incontrovertibly that “it is agreed that migration and ethnicity are perceived and said to have the potential for problems and conflict.” This sometimes leads to the simplified assertion: migration – ethnicity – conflict (Klaus J. Bade). In his book “Conflict and Harmony in Multi-Ethnic Societies”, Walter Morris-Hale calls attention to the otherness, exclusion, anxieties and fears associated with the generally misunderstood ethnic differences between minorities and the majority society. He lays down the principle that: “The equation is clear: ethnic fear leads to suspicion, intolerance, revenge, and violence, while trust leads to tolerance, cooperation and accommodation.” If the latter behaviour is to be achieved, norms of democratic freedom have to apply to the state and to individual social relations, and acceptance of otherness has somehow to be created. This process is described euphemistically as “multicultural education”.

A stress on conditions in Africa, if such a generalization may be at all permitted, should not, however, lead us to dismiss the problems and conflicts that have arisen as a result of migration in the industrialized countries. In policy towards foreigners in these countries, a clear distinction is broadly drawn between the legal equality of autochthonous minorities (which have citizenship) and the inferior status or grudging equality of allochthonous minorities. The subtle differences in policy towards minorities perhaps derive from the fact that the industrialized countries have generally had more time to become accustomed to living together and have a constitutional framework which has allowed for interference in the interests of democracy.

This does not mean that the debate since the end of the Second World War has been uncontroversial. For some time, the relationship between the existence of the nation-state and minority issues was underestimated, and it was even maintained with some historical exaggeration that a little more discussion would bring about the end of the nation-state. Such a view is contradicted by the experience of the EU, which pursues a policy of regions, but has still to achieve a common domestic and foreign policy among the nation-states of which it is composed. The modern nation-state is nonetheless no longer essentially based on homogeneity and cohesion, as it was in the 19th century, and it differs particularly in relation to language policy, which is no longer subject to the dictates of uniformity and standardization.

At first, as we said above, one of the regional languages was chosen as the language of administration in many developing countries, and this obliged citizens to speak a uniform “high” sublet: “citizens of the newly-formed nation-states were forced to speak the same language, they were even encouraged to speak the standard dialect of that language with the ‘correct accent’”. The conclusion drawn by D. Yagcioglu about the paradox between “homogeneity” and “diversity” is in many respects now a thing of the past: “...most modern states had to resolve a paradox: the dominant nationalist ideology claimed [that] within the national boundaries there was one integral, undivided nation, while at the same time governments were trying to do away with diversity in order to establish homogeneity (the process of nation-building). In other words, they were trying to turn a myth into a reality.... Yet, ethnocultural identities, differences and minorities proved more resistant.”

The discrepancy between the desire for national and political homogeneity and the actual experiences of minorities still persists, so that there is as yet no answer in terms of modern state actions and political self-perception to the question of the degree to which minorities must adapt or can remain separate. It is undisputed that there are no guidelines that can be applied throughout the world. Minorities, like individuals, can only be defined and given special treatment in particular geographical, social and cultural contexts. A number of different approaches have been adopted in Europe. Early encouragement was given in the Council of Europe Charter on Minority Languages, which certainly raised the profile of minority languages and made them the object of teaching and research, but it is more than a blemish that the languages of the minorities created by migration received no mention.


Klaus J. Bade, Migration – Ethnizität – Konflikt, Universitätsverlag Rasch Osnabrück, Osnabrück 1997

Walter Morris-Hale, Conflict and Harmony in Multi-Ethnic Societies, an International Perspective, Peter Lang Verlag, New York 1996 (with refs.)

Dimostenis Yagcioglu, Nation-States vis-à-vis Ethnocultural Minorities, (with refs.)