In the spring of 2005, the Teagle-sponsored Working Group based at Washington University in St. Louis commenced its efforts to rethink the pedagogy of ethnicity. Our explicit goals were to understand the proper role of the study of ethnicity in liberal education and to improve our pedagogy in courses either dedicated to or touching on ethnicity. Since the Group includes faculty colleagues from a wide range of humanistic and social-scientific disciplines, participants have advocated diverse approaches to both questions. We believe that such diversity is all to the good, because it has inspired us to articulate our own views transparently, to confront challenges to them, to revise in accordance with more plausible understandings, and to define for ourselves what liberal education in ethnicity involves. The paper that follows is a traditional White Paper in the sense that it outlines a theoretical understanding of ethnicity and offers strategies and recommendations for approaching the pedagogy of ethnicity in higher education. Our White Paper contrasts with traditional policy papers, however, in that we have aimed throughout to preserve the diversity of viewpoints characteristic of our group. Such a “dialogic” presentation represents our work accurately and will, ideally, invite readers to participate actively in our ongoing debates.

Our project also presents two other features that might be unusual or contrary to initial expectation. First, apart from Dr. Lisa Satanovsky, whose Ph.D. is in Education, no members of our Group have backgrounds in the discipline of Education. This feature of our Group will, we hope, enable us to take an entirely different and original perspective on the pedagogy of ethnicity. Second, most professional literature on our subject focuses on primary and secondary education. By contrast, our focus has been entirely on college- and university-level education. As a result, our discussions tend to grow out of our experiences in higher-education classrooms, as well as our individual reflections on and group conversations about such experiences.

Our discussions of the pedagogy of ethnicity have inevitably taken place within larger interpretations of our project goals. While we are unanimously convinced of the value of improving our theoretical understanding and our pedagogical practices, nothing has attracted more controversy than the interpretation of precisely why we have been doing what we have been doing. This is the subject of the two essays in Section I, which consider the study of ethnicity in light of contemporary political thought (Section I.1) and propose a civically-oriented skill set that could apply, in principle, to a wide range of ethnicity-related courses (Section I.2). Our goal in the first section is to establish 6 the wider framework of discussion within which our work has taken place, while indicating the variety of opinions expressed in each case. Publishing these clearly articulated controversies will hopefully encourage educators to persist in reflecting upon their own aspirations within the context of the larger academy and, indeed, the larger political and cultural world.