Winter 2019 HC 444H/431H: Ethics in America: Ideals and Realities

Winter Term, 2018-2019

Professor: Caroline Lundquist

4.00 credits

CRN 26830: Monday & Wednesday, 12:00 – 13:20 @ GSH 103

Graduation Requirement: This class will fulfill both of the following requirements: a Social Science Colloquium and an AC (American Cultures) Multicultural class. If the student has already taken a Social Science Colloquium, this class will fulfill both of the following requirements: an Elective Colloquium and an AC Multicultural class.

From its inception The United States of America has been a land of high ideals, overflowing with ethical promise and serving as a beacon of hope to oppressed people around the world. From its inception The United States of America has also been a land where the powerful exploit the powerless, where women and minorities find their liberties curtailed, where truth is jettisoned as soon as it becomes inconvenient, and where justice does not apply equally to all. In other words, the ideals on which this country was founded have all-too-often been at odds with the daily realities of most Americans, resulting in a schism between a largely imaginary Ideal America and the more complex and troubling Real America. To what extent, we might ask, can these two Americas be reconciled? 

This course critically explores the values at the heart of the (uniquely) American ethos, and asks about the extent to which these values have been or are presently manifested in our laws, customs, working lives, family lives, educational practices, and personal identities as Americans. To that end, we will critically rethink the story of American history by seeing that history through the eyes of the least powerful and privileged in our nation, people who are too often excluded from idealized American histories: women, children, the poor, indigenous people, people of color and immigrants. In the process we will explore numerous questions about ethics in America, such as: “Do we live according to the values we claim to espouse?”, “How has our history been shaped by the difficulty of reaching consensus on what those values entail and how we ought to actualize them?”, “Are some of our basic values-- like liberty, justice and independence of thought-- in need of reexamination in the light of our shifting ethnic and religious demographics, the rise of globalization, and the advent of climate change?” and many more. In this course we will approach history not as something static and dead, but instead as something dynamic and alive; not as a curated collection of facts but instead a series of attempts to interpret those facts by imagining the lived experiences of the people involved. In this course we will understand why so much is at stake in how we choose to tell our story. Welcome to a new America.