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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 9/7/20

Good morning!

I hope everyone is staying cool (in temperature, disposition and “hip-ness”). It’s 10:30 on Sunday and we just passed 100 degrees. Forget about toilet paper and paper towels…I’m worried there may be an ice cream shortage coming.



California’s second attempt at a mandated high school ethnic studies curriculum is coming out soon. As you may recall, the curriculum that was earlier proposed was soundly attacked both for what it didn’t include, as much as what it did include. Asian Americans felt there was not enough focus on their plight, Jewish Americans felt our society’s anti-Semitism did not receive the same attention as the pervasive racism against people of color that was the curriculum’s focus. Many felt that the curriculum provided a jaundiced view of American history as little more than a history of oppression of indigenous people and people of color, without so much as a nod to the positive aspects of life in America and the American ideals upon which this country was founded. Some believe that the focus primarily on the negative is as wrong as what has been perceived as a far too rosy picture of society without fault that previously commanded our textbooks.

I am neither an educator nor a professional historian, but it seems to me that the value of an ethnic studies curriculum should lie not simply in the repeated documented discrimination, and sometimes violence, against various groups of Americans; although these wrongs should be studied and understood. But I think we do a disservice to the study of the various ethnicities that comprise our State if the focus is on the victimization of these groups, rather than a celebration of the contributions of these groups. America arguably is the most racially and ethnically diverse country in the world. California arguably is the most diverse of the states in this nation. It is time that we focused more on a celebration of this diversity. Los Angeles alone has the greatest number of Korean citizens outside of Korea, the largest Armenian population in the world outside of Armenia, and the largest Persian population outside of Iran. These people and others have contributed to our State and those contributions are worthy of our study and our admiration.



A focus of our ethnic studies curriculum should celebrate the accomplishments of Tom Bradley, our Black mayor, and George Deukmejian, our Armenian-American governor. We should celebrate the story of the founding of USC, built on land donated by a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew. We should celebrate the contributions of Latino and Black culture to the richness that is our State and our national culture. I am not suggesting that we ignore the history of injustices meted out to minorities in our community. To the contrary, we should we must learn this lesson and celebrate the totality of the experiences of the various ethnic groups. We should learn of the contributions of Chinese workers in building the transcontinental railroad, together with the indignities to which they were subjected. We should celebrate the contributions of Eastern European Jewish immigrants to the rise of Hollywood and the music of the era, while also noting the hotbed of anti-Semitism that was Los Angeles in the 30s. In this era of Black Lives Matter, we should celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans in myriad fields, who have made their imprint on who we are as a people—in politics, science and the arts.



Many of us were raised to believe that America is this great melting pot. In many respects, I would like to think that’s the case—that each of us together contributes our history and traditions toward a greater American story. Then there are those who malign the idea of an “American” culture. I prefer to think that we can both retain our respective heritages, while tapping the contributions of each into a shared multi-cultural culture. Perhaps we should think of our State not as a melting pot, but as a collection of tapas. A tapas of meals has diversity of the flavors, all playing off of each other to provide a far richer experience.



A wonderful article by a scholar and community leader, Saba Soomech:



In my travels in middle school debate world, I’ve met some pretty smart and talented people. At the top of that list has to be Adam Torson, an educator at Marlborough School. He offers the following in response to my thoughts on the tax code, together with his commentary. Perhaps we should force our leaders to follow Adam’s advice and read this book and play this game, so they are at least as prepared as Marlborough graduates:

The Fiscal Ship: This is the most fun thing ever, I actually use it in my Presidential Elections class to help students understand the fiscal tradeoffs of policy preferences.

We Are Better Than This: Probably the best book I've read on this subject, also from a USC economist. Based on your thoughts here, I think you would appreciate it.

Of note, the late Ed Kleinbard, the author of We Are Better Than This, was a professor at the USC Gould School of Law!



I’m thinking of trying to plow through more Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and Man Booker Award winners in the next few months. I have a few recommendations (and a couple of pans). Curious who has read some of these and has a recommendation or wants to steer people away. Please share your thoughts. I’ll start with Underground Railroad (must read) and Less (I don’t get it).

Have a great week,


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