March 22, 2004
With the accreting sadness that comes with bad news, I read that John
Kitsuse had died. It would be a bit much to say that he changed my life
when I took my first class from him at UCSC back in 1975--a little grandiose
even for an unsolicited letter in praise of a good man like this--but
I continued to call him professor and friend long after my 1978 graduation.
To the point, in both the classroom and tennis court, where we met almost
weekly for three years, and in the comfort of his home, where I was
a regular guest, his influence was gently profound. Elegiacal. Even
appreciated, even back then.
The inherent grace of education and learning as its own guerdon first
came alive for me in Kitsuse's Social Problems course, an 8 a.m.
class I didn't miss once. He told me once that how we measure our deviants
and crackpots is nothing less than a measurement of ourselves, and I
swear I left his class each day almost understanding that one of the
noblest attributes of a social structure is that despite itself it contains
no entity in its ranks who can truthfully say, of two pots, which is
the cracked, which is the whole. It was, he argued, a basic social construction
of reality poser. We had better welcome all comers, and let pot clink
God, how he loved the pedantic entanglements his particular field presented.
So much so it rubbed off on his students like luck. He loved, too, playing
tennis. Fortunately, there was less rubbing off here. His form was always
a bit suspect on the court, and he had a chronic elbow that bothered
him more for the brace he felt he had to wear than for the pain it caused.
Players on neighboring courts often stopped to see what all the laughing
was about when he played. He had, too, the rattiest collection of tennis
balls I've ever hit with, and I've hit with tens of thousands of ratty
tennis balls. John Kitsuse was a happy man on and off the tennis court.
When I was asked the other night in my sadness at the news of his death
what about him was most remarkable, I wanted to say his mind. The way
he thought and saw the world. I also wanted to mention has family, and
his generous and willing friendship. But what I did say, and what was
most right of me to say, was that John Kitsuse, for all his intellectual
gifts, believed that character is more precious than special knowledge,
that vision is not just something arrived at through a well-ground lens,
and that we had better always take great pains to spell truth with a
small "t." This was, he told me once, an educator's secret
strength, and the finest contribution to my education and life he could
Porter College '78
article on death of John Kitsuse
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