CJ Pascoe on Teaching Developing Minds

“Students with a well-developed sense of self feel less threatened by new ideas involving beliefs that conflict with their own” (Ambrose et al 2010:160)

Teaching “traditional aged” college students about sex & gender can be tricky. Many of them are still discovering who they are. Even the most basic ideas about sex & gender can seem radical/threatening when the concepts are first introduced to students.

Last fall I sat down with Dr. CJ Pascoe from the University of Oregon to discuss her groundbreaking work Dude You’re a Fag and her award winning teaching. Given her area of expertise, I was dying to have her weigh in on how she overcame this pedagogical challenge.

*Note: this clip is excerpted from a much longer interview. More clips to come soon. *

Sociology Source Joins The Society Pages

Sociology Source has found a new home as part of The Society Pages. The site is going to stay pretty much the same. It will still be focused on ideas & resources for teaching sociology. However, I’m hoping to bring more voices on to the site. So if you have a great idea or resource for teaching sociology, send me an email (Nathan [at] SociologySource [dot] org).

A huge thanks goes to Doug Hartman, Chris Uggen, Letta Page, and especially Jon Smjada at TSP for making this all happen.

It’s an honor to join all of the other wonderful blogs on The Society Pages.

The Genie Scenario. What would you do?

Ideology is a lot like implicit bias. A smart person knows they have it, but they often struggle to see or describe it. One of the only ways to draw ideology into the light is to present it to students in unfamiliar ways. With this in mind I created the “Genie Scenario”.

Want to assign this to your students? Send them this link to an essay version of this complete with four assignable questions.


483302_thumbnail 1000

Walking along the beach one bright morning you trip over a hidden piece of driftwood. On all fours, a bright metallic spark of light escapes from the sand below searing your eyes. Like a blinded archeologist you clench your eyelids together while sweeping away the warm sticky yellow grains until your hand settles on something hot and smooth.
         “Are you done rubbing my lamp or should I come back later?” You whip your head around. A lumpy blue cloud with arms and a smiling face stands above you.
         “My god you’re… you’re a…”
         “I’m a genie, yes. Now how about you stand up and let’s talk about what I can do for you.”
         “Do I get three wishes?”
         “Nope. Not that kind of genie. Get up. Brush yourself off and get ready to listen carefully.” Rising to your feet you subtly grab a a piece of you hip and pinch down hard. You don’t wake up. This is happening.
         “As the saying goes kid, time is money.” Genie says arms folded. He starts in while you brush yourself clean. “I have been to the future and I know how you will live your life and how it will come to an end- well for our purposes here, the more important point is that I know *when* it will end.”
         “Wait, how I die?” Genie raises his hand.
         “Can’t give you that. Plus, knowing your fate only imprisons the rest of your life; just ask Oedipus and Cronus. What I offer you is the opposite of that. I want to give you… freedom.”
         “I am prepared to give you all of the money you will earn over the rest of your life. Take this offer and you’ll never have to sell another hour of your life to your employer. I will return ten more times over the remainder of your life each time with 1/10 of the money you are set to earn over the remainder of your career.”
         “Accept my offer and you are free to do anything you like with your time on Earth. Keep working if you like. Volunteer, travel, paint, or binge watch Netflix, it’s up to you. You would finally be truly free to do what you want. However in return, every time you see me, before I give you your money, I’m going to painlessly remove one of your fingers.”
         “So, do we have a deal?”

Bringing Capitalist Ideologies Into Plain Sight

I follow the “Genie Scenario” with a quick think/pair/share. That is, I ask my students to write down whether or not they’d take the offer and why. Then they talk to their classmates briefly before we talk as a whole group.

I have asked nearly 2,000 students to consider this offer and almost all of them have said they’d turn it down. The most common theme running through all the reasons they have given me for saying no can roughly be summarized as, “I need my fingers to live a quality life and once they’re gone they can’t be replaced.”

I ask my students to raise their hands if their reason for saying no fit’s with this summary and almost the entire room lifts up their arm. Then I ask them, “But couldn’t we say the exact same thing for your time? And many of you sell that for almost nothing.”

The Genie Scenario makes it easier for students to see one of their ideologies (i.e. selling my labor is normal if not moral). From here it’s much easier for students to understand Marx’s economic determinism and false consciousness, Gramsci’s hegemony, and the Frankfurt School’s critical theory. After the Genie Scenario, Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism helps students see how culture and the economy are both created by ideology and both also play a role in creating ideology.

Before You “Go Off” On That Student

When a student is angry pull them closer to you. Embrace their critique and thank them for it. Show them that you really hear what they are saying and ask them to keep talking. If right now you think I’m crazy, that’s okay. This is a counterintuitive approach and that’s what makes it both disarming and pedagogically rich.

To understand why this approach works, first we have to examine how teachers commonly frame a student’s vehement challenge.

Student “Attacks” & “Defending” Our Selves

When a student challenges you, how do you respond? Or let’s take a step back, what are the adjectives you use inside your head when thinking about a student assertively challenging you or the ideas and research you are presenting them? It’s not uncommon for teachers (myself included) to frame a student’s challenge as “an attack” or frame their posture as “willful ignorance.” We might tell our colleagues afterwards that we had to “defend ourselves” from students who were “not willing to learn” or “blinded by their [insert perceived culprit].” The crucial self-reflexive question that we should ask ourselves is, what are we defending and how does that affect our teaching?[1]

Most of the time we are protecting our identities as teachers. We have spent years in graduate school and in our careers developing our identity as a competent teacher and content expert. But every teacher, no matter how developed their teacher identity, has a voice in their head that questions their competency and wonders if their identity is built upon a foundation of self-deception.

You might be tempted to think that this is an issue for only new teachers or sub-par teachers. To the contrary, the more reinforced our identity as a teacher is, the more egregious a student’s challenge can feel. That is, our internal monologue can tell us, “I am a full professor who’s won teaching awards and has published on this topic for decades. Who is this student to think they can pull my card!”

The point I’m making here is that it is perilous to conceptualize a student as your adversary. But if this conceptualization still rings true for you, then my suggestion is you employ an Aikido like approach to your students. In Aikido, you are trained to redirect the energy of your attacker. In this case, you take a student’s powerful energy and redirect it toward your learning goals.

How to Handle Student Challenges

Imagine a student has come up to you after class with a red face and explains all the ways that you, your class, and sociology in general have “got it all wrong” in a tone of voice teetering on the edge of incivility. How would this interaction go if you said something like this:

“Thank you for sharing this with me. I know that it’s not easy to challenge a professor or what’s written in a textbook. We are always talking about how important it is to think critically about things, so I absolutely appreciate the fact that you are thinking critically about our class. I hear you saying… , is that right?”

This is a classic deescalation technique. You are showing the student that you are hearing them, you are affirming their point of view, and most importantly you are role modeling civility and inviting them to join you. This is a powerful, mature, and authoritative response that projects confidence and compassion.

From here, encourage your students to continue talking. Often their outrage is based upon a misunderstanding of the course material, an error in logic, or the fact that they have privileged their anecdotal experiences above the empirical evidence you showed them. Ask questions that will direct the conversation to these mistakes. You will often find that the student’s own inner teacher will emerge and teach the students to better understand the material, acknowledge their logic errors, and accept that their anecdotal evidence and the empirical evidence can both be accurate.

There are numerous examples in society of how we adjust our expectations and tact when working with novices. For instance, when we deal with children, or a “new hire” at work, or the server at the restaurant who is “in training” (Goffman 1961/2013). I’m not suggesting that we “coddle entitled students”, rather I’m suggesting that we reframe student challenges as a passionate request for help.

References:


  1. Note that I am not talking about abusive student-teacher interactions. If a student crosses that line, my approach may not be appropriate.  ↩

You Should Write For Contexts!

If you could have the public’s attention for a moment, what would you tell them about our education system, teaching, and/or learning?

Contexts, the ASA’s sociology magazine, is looking for people like you to write for our teaching and learning section. Your article can be about any topic related to education (Pre-k-12 & higher ed) and/or teaching and learning in general.

Each article is only 1,500 words long and we don’t use jargon, footnotes, or citations.

Are you interested? Then you can contact me (Nathan Palmer editor of the T&L section of Contexts) at npalmer@georgiasouthern.edu

Your audience awaits.

When Students Stop By Your Office Unannounced

The office drive by is the worst. A student walks by my office door, sees me inside and says, “Hi, Prof. Palmer are you busy?” Then there eyes fill with this look of vulnerability. In the past I used to just say, “Yes I am. Could you send me an email or come back during office hours?” This was always followed by an awkward moment. Students either were angry that I was being so selfish with my time or they just looked sorta heartbroken.

But now I know the secret to deflecting the office drive by.

“Prof. Palmer are you busy?”

“I am, but I always have a moment for a student like you.” I say with a smile.

“I’m having a problem. I [insert student problem].”

Then if I can answer the question in a snap I do so, but if the question requires even 2 minutes to answer I say, “You know what? That’s a really important question. I think that we should schedule some time when both of us can give our full attention to this. Can you send me an email about this or do you want to come back during my office hours?”

This approach works because it 1. allows a student to feel heard and 2. it screens out questions that can be answered instantaneously.

I’ve often thought how funny it would be to go over unannounced to one of my student’s dorm rooms and just knock. “Hi, are you busy? I wanted to talk about our class for a minute.” The look on the student’s face would be priceless.

Social Media Quick Start Guide for Sociologists

“How can I get started on social media? Who should I follow on Twitter? What blogs should I be reading?” I must have heard some variant of those questions two dozen times at ASA this year. That will probably sound strange until I tell you that, I was an instructor for the JustPublics@ASA Media Camp Pre-Conference Workshops. As always, I’m here to help. Below are some suggestions for sociologists looking to dive into social media. Want a pdf version to email a friend? Here ya go.

First, you should check out the JustPublics@ASA Media Camp Workshop website for the handouts, resources, and best practices given out at the pre-conference workshop.

Who Should I Follow on Twitter?

You should follow people who are tweeting about your scholarly area of interest. That was the advice that Tressie Mcmillan Cottom, my Media Camp colleague, had for her workshop attendees. I’d echo that. The value of twitter is it’s ability to bring you people and information related to the things that interest you.

That said, if you’re looking for a list of sociologists active on Twitter, you could do a lot worse than the list that Rosemary F. Powers created on her webpage The Paradox of Society.

What Blogs Should I Read?

Below are all of the sociology blogs that I can think of. I’m sure I’ve left some off. This list has a clear bias toward the U.S., but I’m not up on sociology blogging outside the states (though I would like to be). Email me if you’ve got a blog you’d like me to add.

Teaching Ferguson

The article below originally appeared on SociologyToolBox.com and was written by Todd Beer an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lake Forest College.

Systematic racism has been made evident again in the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Pulling stories directly from recent news headlines is one way to get students’ attention and demonstrate the abundant relevance of the sociological perspective. The New York Times has a timeline of the events that serves as a useful starting point (from the mainstream media) to share the events with students that may have not kept up with the story.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.01.24 PM

The community of Ferguson, Missouri (the site of the shooting) has responded with on-going mass protests.

Ferguson cannot be understood in a vacuum. These events are rich with sociological issues – inequality and poverty, racial profiling, the militarization of the police, protester and police interaction, social media (#Ferguson and hashtag activism) and the “criminalization of Black male youth”.

Looking first at the disproportionate levels of poverty and subsequent exclusion from the economy of many Blacks in the US, Brookings, a Democratic leaning think tank, analyzed census tract data of changes in the poverty rates in Ferguson (and the surrounding area) between 2000 and 2008-2012. They state:

“But Ferguson has also been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.

Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 12.23.45 PM

The community of Ferguson, one of many that have been disproportionally hurt by the economic downturn, has experienced long term poverty, and this undoubtably was part of the mass frustration that contributed to the emergence of the protests. See Brookings web site for their full story.

However, the key grievance that seems to have inspired mass protest is the relationship between the police and the community. In previous posts I have explored the disproportionate number of Blacks incarcerated, arrested for drugs, and racially profiled under programs such as “Stop and Frisk”. While the population of Ferguson is 63% Black, 90% of the police officers are White. As noted by the New York Times (see below), Blacks in Ferguson are disproportionally stopped and arrested by the predominantly White police force.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 12.27.06 PM

An FBI and federal justice department investigation is on-going and reports of the events present conflicting stories – an eye witness that was with the victim at the time says Michael had his hands up, but slowly emerging (which certainly adds to the distrust) police accounts argue that an unarmed Michael was in a confrontation with the officer. The job of the police is to make arrests and allow a court system to decide guilt. The police later released images from a video of a suspect robbing a convenience store (no weapons were used). Let’s just say it was Michael (that would still have to be proven). A police officer should be able to subdue a suspect without shooting him six times. In essence, (presuming guilt instead of innocence) Michael was sentenced to death for supposedly stealing a handful of cigars.

The police responses to the protests in Ferguson have exposed the results of the militarization of municipal police forces. Images of police in full military gear, helmets, armored vehicles, sharp-shooters, high caliber weaponry, and military fatigues certainly garnered the attention of the media.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.25.06 PM

The distribution of military weaponry to local police departments began after the terrorist attacks of September 11th under the guise of preparing communities for foreign attacks. Now we see this weaponry and accompanying tactics used in our own communities. The saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail” comes to mind.

This weaponry has been widely distributed.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 12.08.09 PM

Click on the map above to have students go to an interactive version that allows them to see the distribution of the weaponry in their county. For example, I can see that in Cook county, home to my city of residence, Chicago, the police have obtained over 1200 assault rifles and even three “mine resistant” vehicles.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 12.19.56 PM

The use of these weapons and tactics is not limited to Ferguson. In June of 2014, the ACLU published the following report:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 12.54.43 PMIn it they report the increased use of SWAT tactics for search warrants for low level drug investigations and that the “militarization of policing encourages officers to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies” (p.3). These tactics and mentality have resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including infants and children (see the report for numerous stories).

Do these tactics pay off? According to the ACLU’s research, the majority of the time they do not. Drugs are only found about a third of the time.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.20.36 PM

And these tactics are used disproportionately in cases involving racial and ethnic minority suspects.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.23.57 PM

So, was this an isolated event among two individuals – the officer and Michael Brown? No. Sociologically, the impoverished community context likely leads to community members feeling disconnected from the rewards of mainstream society, the stereotyping of Black males as “thugs” and criminals likely added to the officer’s fear of Michael and activated socially constructed cognitive cues of “danger”, the community’s response is generated by local and national racial profiling by the police and a lack of minority representation among the officers, and the type of police response to the protests was a result of the militarization of the police driven by the “war on terror” and the power of the military industrial complex in our economy (and foreign policy).

Teach well, it matters.

Additional reading:

Elijah Anderson, Editor. 2009. Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male

Kate Harding. 2014. Ten Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet “

Viktor M. Rios. 2006. “The Hyper-Criminalization of Black and Latino Male Youth in the Era of Mass Incarceration”

Robert Sampson and William Julius Wilson. 2005. “Toward a Theory of Race, Crime and Inequality” in Race, Crime, and Justice: A Reader edited by Shaun L. Gabbidon and Helen Taylor Greene

Nick Wing. 2014. “When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims”

ADDENDUMS

August 20th, 2014

Recent Gallup survey results show vastly different perceptions of the police. These are not skewed by the events in Ferguson as the data is from 2011-14, but they certainly explain some of the resulting protests.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 1.35.28 PM

August 21, 2014

Below is a link to a good article on the challenges and weaknesses of the data on the number of people killed by police each year. It’s great to inspire critical thinking about facts.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 9.29.55 AM

 

Here is polling data specific to this event from the Pew Research Center…

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 2.16.01 PM

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 2.19.39 PM

For more excellent resources like this, please check out Todd Beer’s SociologyToolBox.com.

A Teacher’s Guide to ASA 2014

Ready or not ASA is upon us. For those of you who are pedagogically inclined, I’ve put together a list of events that you should check out. Mostly these are the ASA Section of Teaching and Learning events. If you spot other sessions/events that I should feature, email them to me at Nathan@SociologySource.org.

I’ll be tweeting from a lot of the sessions and I hope to see you at our Sociology Blog Party on Saturday at Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub. For more on the blog party check here.

 

Monday August 18th — ASA Section Day

8:30-10:10

Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Paper Session. Connection, Transfer, and Reflection: How Community Engagement Enhances the Sociological Imagination

10:30-12:30

Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Invited Session. Mapping the Sociology Curriculum

2:30-3:30

Hans O. Mauksch Award Speech, Betsey Lucal, “Getting Real about Private Troubles as Public Issues: Students, Teachers and Higher Education in the 21st Century

3:30-4:30

Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Business Meeting

4:30-6:10

Section on Teaching and Learning Roundtables

6:30-8:30

Reception, co-sponsored with AKD at the Parc 55 Hotel (room not assigned yet) with cash bar.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014:

8:30 – 10:10

Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Paper Session. Capstones, Culminating Experiences, and Senior Seminars: Meaningful Teaching Ideas that Help Students Put It All Together.

Join us at the ASA Sociology Blog Party

Are you coming to ASA? Do you like chatting with friendly sociologists? Would you like to meet your favorite blogger face-to-face? We’ll then come on down to Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub and join us for the 3rd Annual Sociology Blogger Party. This is a casual and fun affair open to anyone. Your favorite bloggers from the Sociological Cinema, Sociological Images, The Society Pages, Conditionally Accepted, SociologySource, and SociologyInFocus will all be there.

Tell your friends, bring your colleagues, or come alone and meet new people. We’d love to see you. The details are below and for even more info go to our Official Blog Party Page

WHO: Open to everyone! Please bring your friends and colleagues.

WHEN: Saturday 8/16 4:30–6:00pm

WHERE:
Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub
243 O’Farrell Street
San Francisco, CA 94102