About your instructor
Leah Halper has been teaching at Gavilan since 1990, and has taught history since 1994. She grew up in California and Latin America, and earned a double BA in History and English at Stanford University in 1982, graduating with honors and winning the Dinkelspeil Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. Her masters is in journalism, earned in 1988 at New York University, with an emphasis on labor and international issues. She teaches US and US women's history classes at Gavilan, as well as US history, California history, world history, and conflict resolution. She has special knowledge of the First Amendment, and special facility for oral history.
Ms. Halper is currently president of the Gavilan College Faculty Association. She is past chair of the college's Curriculum Committee and has been active in celebrating Women's History Month, Black History Month, and other history-related occasions. She is one of the founding members of the college's Stand Together Group, which works on improving the college's atmosphere of inclusiveness and respect. She is a trained mediator, . She recently signed onto the growing group of people who have taken the Compact pledge to lighten, simplify, and calm life by foregoing unecessary possessions.
She is a photographer and writer. Her poetry won one of the undergraduate Ina Coolbrith memorial poetry prizes. In the 1980s and 1990s, she was mentioned in the Ticknor and Fields Best American Essay collections for three "notable essays of the year;" and, in 2000-2001, she was awarded an Arts Council Silicon Valley playwriting award. She has since written plays that have been stage read or produced at SF PlayGround at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Sheherezadeat PCSF, Calaveras Repertory Theater, Pear Avenue Theatre, City Lights Theatre Company, Ross Valley Players, Actors Theatre Santa Cruz and Broadway West Theatre in Fremont. Her short play, "Ready" was a 2009 Heideman Award finalist in 2009 at Actors Theatre Louisville. Her essay "Ants" has been recently published in Bad Subjects, issue #70. Ms. Halper served as first chair of the Gilroy Library Commission, and was the city's representative to the Joint Powers Authority Citizens Committee in the 1990s. She is active in the community, most recently on an anti-bias and anti-hate task force in Gilroy, and helped found a Gilroy Women in Black group in 2002. She works with a local group of gleaners and foragers who volunteer to help supply the local food bank with produce.
Among her beliefs about the teaching of history to undergraduates at Gavilan:
History is one of the most important studies to undertake. It can explain the world we live in, and transform us from objects being buffeted by unseen forces beyond our control to subjects who clearly understand these forces and can effectively organize to respond to them positively.
History is not neutral, and neither are those who teach it or write about it. History can and should be taught with a social conscience. History with an emphasis on questions of ethics, human rights, and the costs of conflicts, "progress," and authoritarian leadership is responsibly taught history.
It is a positive to offer information to students and invite various perspectives on or analysis of that information. More viewpoints are always better than a single viewpoint, because many viewpoints contain some truth. There is no such thing as too much speech when it comes to exploring historical viewpoints. (Though there is always too little time!)
Both relativism--an acceptance of many ways of thinking and acting--and universalism--an acknowledgement that there are some universal ethical truths, such as that murder is wrong--are important in history, and these are always interacting with one another.
In making the changes that bring more good to more people, both reformers and radicals are necessary, and the tactics both groups use for making social change should be understood.
The usual tellers of history have biases and privileges of class, ethnicity, gender. These biases should be examined, understood, and countered with information from the "losers" or commoners in history. Re-envisioning history requires listening to new voices, asking new questions, and being willing to tolerate information or perspectives that conflict with our own or with other information or perspectives.
Reading first-hand accounts of historical events or situations is valuable because it allows people from the past to speak to us, if we have the patience to listen.
History belongs to all of us, but it is the first thing to be stolen from us when governments, corporations, or dictators need to control us.
We all make history, whether actively by participating or passively by allowing ourselves to be manipulated into tacit consent.