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Letters to the Editor: Ethnic studies courses can spare young people a lot of pain

The LA Times logo The LA Times 7/28/2020
a man flying through the air while riding a motorcycle: Students ride on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, a flagship school of the state's largest public university system, which recently passed an ethnic studies requirement for undergraduates. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times) © (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times) Students ride on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, a flagship school of the state's largest public university system, which recently passed an ethnic studies requirement for undergraduates. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: I was a racist kid. My 1940s world of North Hollywood was racist. My divorced mom and her mother who raised me frequently dropped racist cracks about Jews and Black people. ("CSU undergrads must take an ethnic studies or social justice class starting in 2023," July 22)

So when I was blackballed from membership in my high school sorority because I looked "so Jewish," I was horrified. "I'm an Episcopalian," I screamed. I told my estranged father, "The kids think I look like a k—."

His face turned red, and he went into one of his roaring rages. "Don't you ever use that word again!" he hollered. Tearfully, I said, "I'm sorry." Then came the death blow. "I'm a Jew," he roared. "My wife is a Jew. You are a Jew."

Later, in a 16-year-old bout of self-loathing, I wrote a farewell note apologizing for the shame of my existence, swallowed the contents of a tin of aspirin and threw myself on my bed to await death. Mom panicked and called our doctor. "Just give her a few glasses of milk," he said. "She'll be fine."

But I wasn't. I broke off all relations with my girlfriends, fearful their mothers would learn my dreadful secret and end our contact.

In college, I signed up for "Introduction to Ethnology," hoping it had something to do with paleontology. Our textbook was "Patterns of Culture," by Ruth Benedict. It was a tough book about peoples and cultures I knew nothing about. My experience in the course slaughtered any absolutes I had about race.

I only wish such a study had been offered in high school. What I learned is there is no "they" — I am them, and they are me. We are all connected — one wonderful, complicated family.

Mel Kernahan, Laguna Woods

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To the editor: Instead of adding another graduation requirement, the California State University system should actually slash all breadth requirements, which are nothing more than a ridiculously expensive and pointless repetition of high school.

College has become a spectacular boondoggle. Eliminating breadth requirements would shorten college, reduce tuition, allow more students to attend and enable young adults to reach their career objectives more quickly.

These are changes that would truly benefit all students and set in motion a much-needed rethinking of the role we want colleges to play in our society.

Robert Rakauskas, Winnetka

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