Gary Klass

Spring, 2008

Since its founding, no set of political issues has more bedeviled the American political system than those having to do with race and ethnicity. The nation’s founders devised a political system that has done a pretty good job of addressing conflicts arising from ideological, geographic, religious and class differences, but the institutions they created have been largely inept when it comes to dealing with the persistent inequalities related to race and ethnicity. Social policy problems related to education, crime, and welfare, that might otherwise find resolution, often prove unsolvable to the extent race and ethnicity enter into the debates.  How and whether or not the nation can begin to solve these problems are the fundamental questions of this course.

At it simplest level, much of the debate over race in the US is between those who see racism as the fundamental cause of America's social ills and those who blame these problems on the behavior and lifestyle of the disadvantaged themselves.  Starting with either of these first two premises -- and in some cases, compromises between the two premises -- those how have studied and written books on race in America have developed a wide range of competing theories, and agendas.

In this course we will read many of these books, analyze and critique them. We will read the books in part for the knowledge and information they might contain, but mostly to gain an understanding of the diversity of thinking about these matters. An important objective of this course is for the students to develop an ability to communicate their own ideas and insights about these most controversial of subjects. This involves more than formulating ideas and putting them on paper; it involves finding an audience, exposing one's ideas, evidence, and logic to others and anticipating, and responding to, their reactions. In this regard, this course will be different.

Perhaps unlike many other courses related to race, ethnicity and social inequality, there will be no attempt to impose any doctrine, perspective or ideology on this course (although even saying that might do so), other than that we ought to adhere to common standards of free and open inquiry. The books themselves have been chosen to reflect a very broad spectrum of thought and ideology. The authors, the other students in the class, and, perhaps, the instructor will, no doubt, express views with which you will disagree. This should be appreciated: you will never learn much from people you agree with. Our discussions will be guided by one general rule:

We are all students trying to learn; it is just as important not to take offense as it is not to offend.


Course Objectives:

  • To familiarize students with the broad spectrum of contemporary political debate about matters of race and ethnicity.
  • To understand how ideas about race and ethnicity shape social policy.
  • To engage in critical analysis of ideological positions and policy agendas related to ethnic issues.
  • To develop habits and interests in reading good books.
  • To develop capacities to express ideas and insights about matters of race and ethnicity in public fora.

Due Dates, Requirements and Grades.

Reviews. Each (undergraduate) student will be assigned to read four of the books (one from each of the four sections of the course), to summarize the work in class, and to submit a review of each book to the discussion list. Each reviewer will be asked to summarize and discuss the assigned book one week prior to the date the review is due. The reviews should be approximately 1,500 words in length. The reviews and in-class summaries will comprise 80% of the final grade. Note that the class presentation on each book is a part of the grade for that review. Reviews will not receive a grade higher than a B if a) it is submitted late, or b) if the reviewer cannot adequately summarize the book the prior week. Each review will be evaluated based on the "Summary Grade sheet" standards.

For each book, one reviewer will be assigned as the lead reviewer.  The job of the lead reviewer is a) to meet with the instructor ten days before the class presentation on the book, b) to coordinate the group presentation with the other members and c) to summarize the book at the beginning of the group presentation. The class presentations should be organized around the main ideas in the book, with more than one student addressing the same ideas; they should not be organized as chapter-by-chapter summaries.

You are welcome to send draft copies of your other reviews to the instructor and to each other at any time, but please do so sufficiently in advance of the due date to receive comments back.  Not paying attention to comments made on your draft is a big mistake.

Participation. Class participation, both oral in-class participation in class (including serving as the lead reviewer) and on the discussion list, will comprise 10 percent of the grade. This will include at least two well-thought-out messages to the discussion list commenting on other reviews that have been posted. At least one of these must be posted before the semester break.

Participation on the discussion list, in the form of "commentaries" submitted to the list will require some reading of, or reading-about, the other books on the list. Such commentaries should consist of serious analysis of the book or the review under discussion. At all times avoid sending quick, short, and immediate responses to reviews and commentaries to the list.

Final exam. A final take-home examination on the course subject matter (minimum 2,000 words in length) will comprise 10% of the grade. There are two possible questions for the final exam: one of them will be chosen during the last week of class.  The exam will be emailed to the instructor by Tuesday, May 6th at 3:10pm (the scheduled final exam). The examination is intended to assess how well you grasp the ideas presented in all of the books, particularly those you have not reviewed and to develop and summative and integrative interpretations of many different works.

Format.  In the class schedule below, two books are assigned each week. The dates in the schedule below are the Tuesday class presentations (the second book on Thursday); the review must be posted to the discussion list the following Monday at midnight. (Thus, the first book will be discussed on February 5, and the second on February 7; both reviews must be posted by Monday, February 10, 11:59pm). Late reviews will not receive a grade higher than a B.  Later than that, the reviews should not be sent out on the discussion list, and you will receive a 20% grade reduction.

Attendance: Attendance for this course is mandatory. Do not enroll in the course if you anticipate problems attending class.   If for any reason at all you miss three classes, you will be assigned an extra review.  Two more classes, one more review.  If you miss a class when you are scheduled to present a book, you must schedule a special meeting with the instructor as soon as possible.

Class format: Once we get into the book review schedule, one hour of  each class will be primarily devoted to a discussion of one of the two books to be reviewed the next week. These discussions will be led by the students doing those reviews.

An unusual feature of this course involves the use of an Internet electronic mail discussion list, POS334-L . Each student's work will be distributed on the POS334-L list to over two hundred faculty and students across the world, some of whom will be submitting their own writings and commentaries on each other's writings. The purpose is both to provide an external audience for the students' ideas and to bring ideas from the outside into the class. In effect, your writing will be on public display.

Course Schedule:

I. Introduction: (Weeks 1-3).

The first two weeks will address general principles of writing book reviews, an introduction to the major value conflicts and issues concerning race and ethnicity, and some demonstration of the use of electronic mail and discussion lists. We will examine and evaluate previously-published book reviews, including those sent to the POS334-L discussion list. 

The following readings (available on-line) will be discussed on Tuesday, August 28th:

Robert Jensen, "Unearned Privilege: White people need to acknowledge benefits of unearned privilege."

Walter Williams, "Affirmative Action Can't Be Mended"


II. Book Review Schedule:

{Note: Each undergraduate student will be assigned one book from each section to review.}

Section I Contrasting Ideologies

February 6:
Joe Feagin. Racist America
John McWhorter. Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America

February 12:
Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal
Mona Charen, Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help


Section II. The Other Minorities

February 19:
Samuel Huntington, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity
Roberto Suro, Strangers Among Us: Latino Lives in a Changing America

February 26:
Jorge Ramos, The Latino Wave: How Hispanics Are Transforming Politics in America
Urofsky, Melvin, Affirmative Action On Trial

March 4:
Fergus Bordewich, Killing the White Man's Indian
Frank H. Wu., Yellow: Race in America, Beyond Black and White

Section III: Education

March 18:
Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom. No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning
Jonathan Kozol, The Shame of the Nation:

March 25:
Richard Rothstein, Class and Schools
Barbara A. Perry, The Michigan Affirmative Action Cases

April 1:
Walter Benn Michaels, The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality
Dinesh D'Souza, Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus

Section IV ????.

April 8:
David K. Shipler, The Working Poor
Jason Deparle, American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare

April 15:
Ellis Cose, Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge
Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint, Come On People:

April 22:
Michael Eric Dyson, Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind?
Juan Williams. Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure


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