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The Gift of Discourse

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: December 13, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

Susan and the Gift
Dan and the Gift

Susan and the Gift: Thoughts on Teaching

Susan R. Takata and Jeanne Curran

Part of Teaching Series
Copyright December 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

On the morning of December 11, 1999, an e-mail nestled deceptively, determined to nudge me from my firm intentions of nary another word on the site until CSUDH records caught up to UWP's. Excitement bristled. I could not resist:

"Wasn't sure which email you're using. Nearly forgot to share with you some intense excitement. In my law and social change class, we had the best discussion ever. First, we usually open up by talking about current events and how they relate to theory, policy and practice. One student had brought up a follow up to Wednesday's earlier mentioning of the 6-year-old Cuban boy who's become such a political football. Darren found an article with Adrianna on gays and they applied it to queer theory. We came back to public autonomy vs. private autonomy.

Then we discussed chapter 21 in Mann & Zatz on the invisible color white. The students said that the chapter was true (truthful) at how white criminals are perceived differently than criminals of color. We've talked all semester long about the power of the media, which is white-controlled. That led to a discussion of hate crimes and how that's a recent term, and yet we've had hate crime all along when you look at what's happened to Native Americans and the lynch mobs of the South.

Then Ernesto seemed rather pessimistic and frustrated when he said now that we read all this, and we know about this stuff, but others don't, What can we do? And, why haven't we heard of these atrocities until now? That led into a discussion of revisionist scholarship and how things are changing, but ever so slowly. It sounded pessimistic, but then I brought up Habermas' optimism, and the discourse table, which led to how political correctness has made people afraid to speak up for fear of offending others. I mentioned the need to listen in good faith and to build trust.

Then they started to talk about how the class first began and how discussions are becoming a lot easier and there's more sharing. This led to Q bringing up her 6-year-old nephew's problem. There are two African American kids in his school which is predominantly white. The two African American kids refer to themselves by using the "n-word." So Q's nephew brought it up, too. But when he did, he got into trouble not realizing the word was not a good one to use; and yet the two African American boys use it to describe themselves. Darren, who is African American mentioned to the class that there was a difference between the derogatory n-word and a derivation that African Americans use amongst themselves (replacing the -er part of the n-word with 'ga' which has an empowering effect). But to the outsider, the two words sound the same. But in the case of the 6-year-olds, they may not know the difference between the two terms.

We were supposed to allow half of the class time for group work, but we got so wrapped up, we never did. It was fascinating to see how the discussion shifted and changed and flowed. Wish I had recorded it. It was so neat. One of the highlights in all my years of teaching. (As the semester comes to an end, I wish I could keep this group together because they've made so much progress. They're a fun group.)

So, despite the thousands of emails, a class discussion like this one is well worth it. The kids were thinking long and hard at these difficult issues. Wondering what can we do. What do we do? And knowing there weren't any quick, easy answers.

It was just so neat to be a part of this class discussion . . .


Yes, Susan, it was so neat to be a part of all this . . . across campuses, across half the continent, across tasks shared in crazy ways . . . across millennia . . . jeanne

On Monday, December 13, 1999, Dan Tredo wrote:


While I badly needed to stay at work on Friday, I don't think I've ever been so dissapointed after missing a class.  It sounds as though Friday was the perfect wrap-up for the semester.  It seems that many important issues were discussed, entailing many of the topics and theories we've covered throughout this fall.  You are not the only one who wishes that class had been recorded.  Just wanted to let you know that this alternative form of teaching/interacting has been a great experience for me this, my last, semester.  It has truly kept me from coming down with a case of "senioritis."  Thanks for the insightful class.  If there's ever a doubt of whether or not to teach other classes with this style, I only hope that Friday will give you the answer.  Thanks again,