How To Talk About Affirmative Action

Glenn Ricketts

I don’t know if you discuss affirmative action in your classroom, but if you do the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning has crafted some helpful guidelines which appear in today’s IHE.  Take an hour or so to read them and see what you think. 

But if you’re short of time, I suggest as an alternative that you read the latter section of Federalist #35, where Alexander Hamilton considers the idea of mandated group representation in 1788.  This won’t take quite as long:

The idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people by persons of each class is altogether visionary. Unless it were expressly provided in the Constitution that each different occupation should send one or more members the thing would never take place in practice. Mechanics and manufacturers will always be inclined with few exceptions to give their votes to merchants in preference to persons of their own professions or trades. Those discerning citizens are well aware that the mechanic and manufacturing arts furnish the materials of mercantile enterprise and industry. Many of them indeed are immediately connected with the operations of commerce. They know that the merchant is their natural patron and friend; and they are aware that however great the confidence they may justly feel in their own good sense, their interests can be more effectually promoted by the merchant than by themselves. They are sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments, without which in a deliberative assembly the greatest natural abilities are for the most part useless; and that the influence and weight and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal to a contest with any spirit which might happen to infuse itself into the public councils unfriendly to the manufacturing and trading interests. These considerations and many others that might be mentioned prove, and experience confirms it, that artisans and manufacturers will commonly be disposed to bestow their votes upon merchants and those whom they recommend. We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community.

This passage may have written in 1788 but mutatis mutandis, I think it has a better handle on the subject than much of the contemporary academy or the folks at the CRTL.  And not only that, it can also expose your students to some pretty classy prose.


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