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March 22, 2004


Dear Editor:

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 against pot.

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 make.

John Hartmire
Porter College '78

Currents article on death of John Kitsuse

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