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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Takaki on "Revolutionary" Thinking

Since a good deal of attention on Judge Sotomayor has focused on her youthful and subsequent interest in "identity politics," and since some scorn has been cast on her helping to start a course at Princeton on the history and politics of Puerto RIco -- scorn that probably finds its reductio ad absurdam in the blog comments linked to here -- I thought it might be worthwhile to quote from a slightly different take on the nature of courses arising from identity politics.  It comes from an obituary of Ronald Takaki, who established a doctoral program on ethnicity at UC-Berkeley.  Here's the quote:

At U.C.L.A., Mr. Takaki taught the university’s first black-history course, created in response to the Watts riots. When a student asked what revolutionary tools he would be teaching, Mr. Takaki said: “We’re going to strengthen our critical thinking and our writing skills. These can be revolutionary tools if we make them so.”

Of course, that's not what all ethnic studies courses have become, any more than those skills are on offer in every course that pursues a more conventional or "conservative" subject matter.  But it does say something useful and worth repeating about what such courses -- about what all courses -- can be.  In my usual milquetoasty way, I would add that those skills can be conservative or reactionary tools too, in a value-neutral way.  But I could stand living in a world in which revolutionaries and reactionaries alike had strong critical thinking and writing skills.      

Posted by Paul Horwitz on May 31, 2009 at 01:24 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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Here's the link to the LA Times obituary of Takaki which contains a few more items from his life and work: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-ronald-takaki29-2009may29,0,6360569.story

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | May 31, 2009 1:54:11 PM

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