Transforming the Curriculum: Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies

Transforming the Curriculum: Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies

Transforming the Curriculum: Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies

Transforming the Curriculum: Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies

Synopsis

Johnnella E. Butler is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle.

John C. Walter is Professor in the Department of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. Dr. Walter is the author of The Harlem Fox: J. Raymond Jones and Tammany, 1920-1970, published by SUNY Press.

Excerpt

Laurel Wilkening

Studying Western Civilization was a wonderful experience for me. From the study of texts of a great sweep of time and places came an understanding of the human common quest: the search for the meaning of human existence. Whether the search was pursued through the travels of Odysseus, the introspection of Aquinas, or the loves and lusts of Shakespeare's characters, it was a compelling, intellectual story with a lesson. We peculiar animals, gifted with the ability to contemplate our existence and converse about our contemplations, have shared this search across time and place. Inspiring as I find this lesson, is it unique to Western civilization? Could I not have gained a similar understanding of humanity through the study of the complex tapestry of intellectual and religious writings and from the art of those who, for millennia, have occupied Africa, the Indian subcontinent, or the vast expanse of China? Or, was there something uniquely "Western" about Western civilization that was to be learned?

Some strong advocates of Western Civilization stress its role in identifying and emphasizing the common ground among all cultures, races, and gender. However, the sad truth is that for too long the common ground has been identified by white protestant males as the attributes common only to this group. The assumption seems to be that these attributes are the reason for our patently superior modern Western society. There is much to question in this assumption. If one learns anything at all about history from the study of the Western Civilization curriculum, it is that today's superior society is tomorrow's declining and falling empire. But my greater concern is that the definition of these common attributes disconnects those of us who are not white protestant males from the curriculum and, therefore, from the common moral, which is the lesson to be learned. Women have been disadvantaged for centuries by the fact that the norm in health and behavior was defined "male" by the scientists and philosophers studying the human body and behavior. Women were described and defined by their difference from that norm. This custom has not totally disappeared.

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