Sara Ruddick—a feminist philosopher concerned with care-giving and family relationships in context, and more

Sara (“Sally”) Ruddick, who died on Sunday, was a colleague in my first teaching job (at the New School for Social Research in the mid 1980s).  I still remember a discussion among faculty in the undergraduate college (Lang College) of the under-representation of minorities in the student body.  The discussion theme, which I was contributing to, was exploring relevance—were the kinds of classes we offered relevant to minorities?  Sally interrupted us with words to the effect: Do not assume that philosophy is not for minorities—and here she was talking about classical philosophy or philosophy in general, not simply some critical or activists’ strands of the field—Do not restrict their intellectual options or draw their intellectual horizons for them.  She might also been wanting us to question the stereotyping that goes on in discussions of under-represented groups, but she said enough for me reject knee-jerk ideas about relevance.

I didn’t stay at Lang long enough to see what curricular and recruiting strategies the College worked on to bring in and retain what we would now call “a more diverse student body,” but Sally’s words are with me every time I’ve been in equivalent discussions since.  I have not stopped being interested in relevance in teaching, but relevance has become something co-constructed with students so as to explore diverse strands in each person’s background and open up diverse points of engagement with materials the teachers help make available.

As the NY Times obituary indicates, Sally’s work has provided many points of engagement for feminists, philosophers, parents, caregivers, and other thinkers about families in their social context.  (I will link any other less NYTImes-ish memoriam when it comes my way.)   Equally important for those who knew her, even if only for a short while (as was the case for me), is something conveyed well by a friend who knew and worked with her for nearly forty years:

she was… an intellectual mentor… when I was young…, and yet she never treated me as anything less than a complete colleague and equal—in fact, I think it was beyond the realm of possibility that she could treat anyone in any way other than with total respect and regard.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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