REDEFINING “US” Professor Gittleman missed the mark in his essay “Fresh off the Boat” (Fall 2009). Asians are not new immigrants to the United States. They have been migrating to and living in the United States since at least the early nineteenth century (and have been targets of racist and nativist attacks for as long). Given this history, I have to ask who the “us” is that Professor Gittleman refers to, and why Asians and Latinos are excluded.
To flatten the experiences of all immigrants into a grand narrative of assimilation is misleading at best. Race is a crucial difference that separates immigrants of color from those European immigrants who managed to become white in the United States. Those who were excluded from whiteness and its attendant rights and privileges were set on a very different historical trajectory, one that has sharply diverged from the scripted outcomes of the assimilation narrative that Professor Gittleman rehearses here. Such a narrative is not only false but dangerous in its implication that transnational ties must be severed and that racist and xenophobic hate directed at Asian and Latino immigrants ought to be expected, and perhaps endured, as a rite of passage to becoming American.
It seems unlikely to me that Asians and Latinos will become more like “us.” If anything, the latest demographic projections suggest that the “us” of America is becoming more Asian and Latino.
ETHICS AND INTEGRITY The issues pursued in Professor Sternberg’s thought-provoking article (“Liars, Cheats, & Scoundrels … and What to Do About Them,” Fall 2009)—how we might sharpen students’ ability to “apply abstract ethical principles in real life”—are both a timely and timeless concern. I was most riveted by Dr. Sternberg’s account of (falsely) telling his students that he’d “double dipped” by billing twice for reimbursement on a single set of expenses. He then “waited for the firestorm … [that] didn’t happen.”
Why didn’t it? The silent students in Sternberg’s seminar fell into two types. The first did not recognize any moral issue. However, the problem isn’t with these students’ ethical reasoning skills but with their bedrock moral endowments.
The students who did recognize the moral problem lacked the conviction to raise their voices in protest. These students’ deficit lies not in their ethical reasoning skills but in their store of courage. Courage isn’t a virtue likely to be enhanced by classroom discussion.
Immanuel Kant declared that two things “fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” It required revolutions in physics before we could engineer probes to touch the face of the former. I’m inclined to think that changing the face of the latter might also call for revolutions in psychology—and pedagogy.
I spent some years in matters involving ethics-laden decisions, and my experience has been that everyone knows the right thing to do when complicating facts can be excluded from view. The question is whether a person will see the complicating facts that are there to be seen. And that typically turns on whether a person can afford the luxury of exercising intellectual integrity. For example, SEC investigators know that Ponzi schemes are wrong. Priests know that sexual predation is wrong. The real issue is, What is the right thing to do in light of the facts? And can the person burdened with acting afford the intellectual integrity of recognizing the critical, and sometimes disturbing, facts?
A TUFTS HEIRLOOMI was so pleased to read the article
on 1876 alumnus Eugene Bowen (“Kissing Under the Bowen Gate,” Fall 2009). He
and I lived in Cheshire, Massachusetts, when my dad, Kenneth Chase, E26, came
to town and married my mother. Eugene Bowen gave them a large metal Jumbo.
When I married my husband, Paul Milman, E51, the elephant became ours. It now
belongs to my daughter, Elizabeth, J87, and her husband, Stephen Christo, E87.
When Eugene Bowen returned to Tufts in 1951 to celebrate his seventy-fifth
reunion, I was delighted to be his official date.
MATH MENTORI would like to pay homage to Professor
Kathleen Butcher Whitehead, whose death was reported in the Fall 2009 issue.
I was in one of her Calculus I classes during my first semester at Tufts. This
random association turned out to be a profound one. I went on to take Professor
Whitehead’s Calculus II and Linear Algebra courses. When I taught these courses
years later, I used her effective teaching style and the notes from these classes
KEEP ’EM COMINGHaving read many college magazines
over the years from several schools, I found the Fall 2009 issue of Tufts
Magazine to be the best yet. The articles were sparkling, and the topics were interesting.
I can’t pick out the best. Keep up the good work.
The magazine is excellent, and the articles are truly thought-provoking.