San Francisco Chronicle
Ethnic studies teaches students vital lessons
Regarding “California ethnic studies classes are sparking controversy as mandate looms” (California, SFChronicle.com, March 20): When I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley in the ’80s, I remember how struck I was by powerful lectures from the likes of U.S. history Professor Leon Litwack and Asian American studies Professor Michael Omi, especially about systemic brutality toward persons of color. I came away thinking how dramatically different these lessons were from what I learned in high school in Alameda.
I especially remember how Litwack had us attend a movie depicting the brutality in the South during Jim Crow. Many of us came away distraught, if not in tears, as we walked home silently after the early evening showing.
While I honor my high school teachers, I see now how, while delivering technically accurate lessons, they tended to wrap these with a pretty bow tie, recalling Martin Luther King Jr.’s message about the “arc of history bending toward justice” and “things are getting better.”
What Litwack, Omi and other Cal history and sociology professors were telling us was, hey, it’s not a given that things get better, and hate and brutality against those who are hated are real, even in the ’80s.
High school students of today are regularly exposed to violence and economic despair (if not their own, then of others) that previous generations were shielded from. Students now have the maturity that I didn’t reach until my Cal days, and that makes them ready for ethnic studies.
Tony Daysog, vice mayor, Alameda