|Wednessday, January 20, 1999||
Volume 64, Issue 75
Mahmoudi on Strangeness
|Letters to the editor
Fact or fiction?
To the editor:
I understand the meaning of Mr. Whitlock's column ("Life's a lot like playing solitaire," Opinion, Jan. 19), namely extolling the reality (some would say myth) of the "American Dream," and particularly its relationship to minorities. However, I disagree with some of his assertions.
To argue that all racial groups have experienced equal levels of discrimination is at best an example of political correctness, and at worst disingenuous.
Certainly, each group has experienced its own unique battles with discrimination, including white Americans, but American Indians might argue that being robbed of an entire continent is a greater impediment than what other groups have faced, and African-Americans can certainly argue that 400 years of slavery is an impediment that no other group has had to face.
The point being that just because one group appears to have succeeded in our society does not necessarily mean that those who don't appear to have succeeded as well (and that is arguable) do so only because they "spend their time complaining about the racism they endure."
One fact also ignored by Mr. Whitlock is the fact that the idea of Asian-Americans being widely successful is a myth. There are many Asians who are struggling as much as, or more than, any of the other ethnic groups. I think that a better argument than simply saying "If you don't succeed, you didn't work hard enough" is to try as a society to ensure that each person has a reasonable (not equal -- reasonable) chance to succeed if they do work hard.
Racism is no small factor in hindering this goal (even today), and while Mr. Whitlock's theory is laudable in a perfect world, where everyone starts off at the same point on the track, it becomes less so when we still have groups who are locked out of the stadium. If we can reach the point where groups no longer feel compelled to cry out against real or perceived injustices, then I will embrace Mr. Whitlock's vision wholeheartedly.
Until then, we must continue to be vigilant in the pursuit of equal opportunity for all.
Thinking in a box
To the editor:
In order to make it easier for students to transfer from one state institution of higher education to another, the Texas Legislature has decided (in Senate Bill 148) that each institution should require a minimum of 42 hours or a maximum of 48 hours in its core curriculum.
Until now, UH has required 54 hours in the core curriculum, and the nature of those courses has been decided by a University committee based on a formula handed down by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The UH administration and the Board of Regents are reducing the number of hours required by the core to 42, thus accepting the lower figure suggested by the Legislature. It is important for students at UH to understand the thinking behind this decision.
According to reports, one decisive factor has been the opinion that the students who are drawn to UH -- mostly from the city of Houston and the surrounding area -- don't need more hours in a core curriculum because they will be moving into jobs in which technical expertise, and not the development of new ideas, will be important.
This suggests that the administration and the Board of Regents do not think UH students need to be given the kind of broad background that will make them leaders in their fields. They seem to think UH students need only the kind of information that will make them skillful at following directions and implementing the ideas of others.
The University is making for each student a decision that only the student should make. There is nothing wrong with a life spent making use of technical expertise and implementing the good ideas of others. We often owe our lives to such people. However, it should not be any university's goal to restrict its students' education so such a life is the only possibility in their future.
Another factor in this decision is the belief that UH will not be able to compete with nearby community colleges if it requires more hours in its core curriculum. This is a strange twisting of the American myth of competition.
Competition is supposed to improve quality because consumers will choose what is best. The administration tells us instead that we must reduce quality because consumers (students) will choose what is not so good. If UH is taking its cue from community colleges, it has already eschewed its own leadership position and it is understandable that it would not consider its own students as possible leaders.
This reduction in the core curriculum also suggests that the administration and Board of Regents (and perhaps even the Texas Legislature) believe all education is aimed at making students fit for the workplace. On the contrary, the workplace itself is very efficient at making us fit for it. It is our lives that we need help with, because the choices in life are countless and the encounter with many other minds in many disciplines is essential in making choices we can live with.
It is ironic that this reduction in the core comes because UH is becoming an important research institution and has outgrown its early nickname of "Cougar High."
Research can be said to be the ability to think outside the box -- the box being everything that is already known in a specific enterprise. One way to learn to think outside the box is to look into other boxes and try to think inside them. This becomes less and less possible after college. It is this possibility that a university should be providing its students.
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