Letters to the Editor: How ethnic studies done wrong can make students more resentful

Ethnic studies
Students at John O’Connell High School in San Francisco participate in an ethnic studies class discussion on Jan. 22, 2018.
(Josh Edelson / For the Times)

To the editor: Reading articles on California’s proposed ethnic studies curriculum is very much a “been there, done that” experience for me.

Nearly half a century back, I developed a philosophy course at Pierce College that we labeled “ethnic value systems.” It ran for three semesters, and while most who took it were appreciative of the chance it gave for a more candid look at how we all saw each other, for some it only intensified a sense of resentment.

If the intent of any such course, as reported by the L.A. Times, is to “decenter … the privileged white narrative of the American experience,” it risks becoming an exercise in shaming. This ignores what we know about the most common reaction to cognitive dissonance — that of rationalization.


I personally doubt that any one required course in ethnic studies will make the kind of difference its supporters hope. Learning to appreciate our American experience in its totality, beginning with the brutality toward our own indigenous peoples as well as our shameful approach to the “peculiar institution” of slavery, needs to be something that is built into the curriculum at all levels.

Douglass McFerran, Woodland Hills


To the editor: It is commendable that the proposed California ethnic studies program will be getting another look after thousands of public comments.

Along the same line, there should be a women’s studies section added to the curriculum.

On college campuses, courses in women’s studies were part of the curriculum for the last 40 years. Recently, however, women’s studies has been subsumed under the category of “gender studies.” This is not to say that there shouldn’t be gender studies, but when you have half of the world’s population subsumed under anything, that’s problematic and wrong.

Where will our women’s history, culture and struggles for equality be taught?

Suzanne Roth, Encino