Author Archives: Hollie

There’s Research on That!: A Classroom Tool

Wake Forest News

 

TSP recently unveiled a new initiative: There’s Research on That!  In the posts, TSP will provide insight into how social scientific research can inform current events. This information would be useful for any classroom, as it’s important to make the material relevant to students’ lived experiences. So, we recommend checking TROT if you are looking for a way to integrate current events into your class!

Environmental Inequality, Class, and Life Chances

great expectations

A few years ago, I was a teaching assistant for an introduction to sociology course that structured every reading and lecture around exploring the idea that social class determines life chances. Reading the TSP special article Environmental Inequalities, by Hollie Nyseth Brehm and David Pellow, reminded me of what a powerful and simple framework that is to introduce new students to the discipline of sociology or discussions about social inequality in general.

In the article, Nyseth Brehm and Pellow tackle the issue of environmental injustice by looking at how low income people, immigrants, people of color, and indigenous communities are much more likely to live near a major environmental hazard. Dismissing the idea that this is an “environmental” problem, they explain that it is instead rooted in broader economic, political, and social inequalities that are imbedded in our social discourses, structures, and institutions. The people who live near these hazardous areas face profound risks: for example, pollution from two coal-fired power plants in Chicago is thought to be responsible for 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks, and 720 asthma attacks each year. Many more environmental hazards like this exist across the country and world.

This article would be a terrific way to introduce students to discussions on inequality, environmental policy, or climate change. But it would also be effective as part of a class that seeks to expand students’ understanding of the relationship between social class and “life chances”—or the odds that an individual will obtain the resources and opportunities necessary for a long and successful life.

There is tremendous evidence that the life chances of the poor in the US suffer in comparison to the wealthier strata of society. Wealthier individuals have increased educational opportunities, income earning potential, and employment prospects—all elements of living a successful life. But the evidence also suggests something more alarming: a host of studies have posited a relationship between class and mortality directly. Put simply, poor people in the US have lower life expectancies than their wealthier compatriots. There are a variety of mechanisms though which this inequality comes about: for instance, poor people may have less access to quality medical care and nutrition, in addition to a higher risk of occupational hazards (e.g. black lung or injuries from heavy machinery). Furthermore, as the article discusses, the poor disproportionately live in close proximity to environmental hazards that threaten their health.  Below are a few examples that you could draw upon to make these points in class.

Class and Life Chances in Disasters

The Titanic is the classic extreme example of the relationship between social inequality and mortality, and it could be used in a class setting to begin to illustrate how gender, race, and aspects of social class impact our lives. It is well known that a passenger’s chance of surviving the Titanic disaster was directly tied to gender and class. Because the ship was divided into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class cabins, class stratification was exceptionally clear. 62 percent of 1st class passengers survived (97 percent of women and 32 percent of men), versus 43 percent of  2nd class passengers (86 percent of women and 8 percent of men) and 25 percent of 3rd class passengers (49 percent of women and 13 percent of men).  These percentages exclude children, and the source is found here.

Expanding this discussion to Hurricane Katrina and other more recent disasters would further the discussion, guided by the following questions:

  • Assess the statement: Nothing exposes social inequality like disasters. Do you agree? If so, why might this be the case? If not, why not? Can you think of examples of other natural disasters where this statement was accurate?
  • On the Titanic, what were some of the mechanisms that explain the relationship between ship class and mortality? (E.g. proximity of cabins to lifeboats, rumors of physical restraint of 3rd class passengers, social attitudes towards women and children, etc.)
  • During Hurricane Katrina, what mechanisms help explain the relationship between social class and chance of survival? (E.g. construction of houses, access to transportation, etc.)

There are untold other topics in this line of discussion—including on the relationship between social class and incarceration, illness, death in war, and crime (selected readings on these subjects are listed below). At this point it would be useful to bring in Nyseth Brehm and Pellow’s article to emphasize to students that even in a less “extreme” scenario, the relationship between social class and life chances is a defining feature of our social world that must be analyzed seriously.

The following discussion questions might be useful when discussing this article:

  • Assess the statement: Class determines place of residence. Do you agree? If so, why might this be the case? If not, why not?
  • How might a communities’ ability to demand better environmental protections also be mediated by race or class?
  • The article notes that climate change is another example of environmental inequality. How is this the case? What does this mean for certain populations around the world? What are some of the ways that climate change may disproportionately impact certain populations in the future? (e.g. destruction of crops, conflicts over water, desertification, etc.)
  • Can you think of other situations in which class, race, or gender may play a determining role in an individual’s life chances? Mortality? Chance of success in the future?

Supplemental Readings

To deepen the discussion about the relationship between social class and life chances, a variety of subjects and articles might be introduced. Below are several readings to get the discussion going:

On the link between social class and death in war:

Zeitlin, Maurice, Kenneth G Lutterman, and James W Russell. 1973. “Death in Vietnam: Class, Poverty, and the Risks of War.” Politics & Society 3(3):313-28.

Dunne, John Gregory. 1986. “The War that Won’t Go Away.” The New York Review of Books.

On the link between social class and health/life-expectancy:

Antonovsky, Aaron. 1967. “Social class, life expectancy and overall mortality.” The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 45(2):31-73.

Donkin, Angela, Peter Goldblatt, and Kevin Lynch. 2002. “Inequalities in life expectancy by social class, 1972–1999.” Health Statistics Quarterly 15:5-15.

Deaton, Angus. 2003. “Health, inequality, and economic development.” Journal of Economic Literature 41(1):113-58.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2012. “Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the US.” New York Times.

*Marie Berry is a graduate student in the Sociology Department at UCLA. Special thanks to Maurice Zeitlin for the inspiration for this post.

Compassion

FMSC Packing Room - Liberytville, IL
In the most recent episode of Office Hours, Shannon Golden talks with sociologist Natan Sznaider about compassion. This podcast could be shortened (specifically at the front and the back ends) for use in the classroom or as homework. The following questions could also be assigned:

1)   What is compassion, and what is morality?

2)   What does Sznaider say has influenced an increase in compassion, and why is his thesis    surprising?

3)   What types of methods does Sznaider use to better understand what influences compassion?  Why does he say that interviews are inadequate?

Book Review Speed-Dating

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For my class this summer, students are required to do a book review. To ensure they were thinking about the books (and actually reading one), I asked them to bring their books to class one week before the book reviews were due. Then, I set the class up for speed-dating (two lines of desks). Students were given a few minutes to tell their speed-dating partner about their book. Specifically, they were asked to discuss why they chose it, how it relates to the class, what the main arguments were, and one thing they learned or found particularly interesting. After a few minutes, I asked students in one row of desks to move down one, and the discussions started over. We did this a few times so students could hear about a couple of other books and practice talking about theirs (while not having to say the same thing too many times in row), and students said they really appreciated the chance to hear about others’ books and think a bit in class about their own.

 

In-Class Paper Topic Brainstorming

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If you require your students to write a paper, you know that one of the toughest things for students is narrowing a broad paper topic to one that is sufficient for a course paper.  This quick group activity helps students begin to refine their ideas with some help from their classmates.

  • Have students take out a piece of paper and write their potential paper topic in the center.  (Tell them to write in small handwriting!)  Tell them it’s normal for students, as well as professors, to start out with broad paper ideas that need to be narrowed.
  • Then, have students form groups of 3-4.  Each student should pass her/his piece of paper to the left (or right!), and all students should spend 1-2 minutes writing what comes to mind when they see their classmates’ paper topics.  Show them a picture like the one above (perhaps with a slightly more related topic!), and explain that they are creating brainstorming webs.
  • Students should continue to pass their papers around until everyone in the group has commented on each other’s paper ideas.
  • Then, give students a moment to look at their webs.  If you want to spend extra time on the activity, you can also ask them to pair up with someone from their group, talk through their webs, and talk through any ideas that the activity spurred in their minds.

Evil Men

New Books in Sociology is an untapped resource for the classroom.  In these podcasts, the hosts spend about an hour talking with the author of a new sociological book.  While they are all interesting, a recent podcast caught my (aspiring genocide scholar) eye.  Evil Men, by James Dawes, draws on firsthand accounts of convicted war criminals.  This podcast would make a fantastic assignment in a course covering genocide, human rights, international law, or criminology.  Below are a few questions that could accompany the podcast.

  1. Who did Dawes choose to interview, and why?
  2. Why were interviews an appropriate research method for this project?
  3. Were people willing to talk with Dawes?  Why do you think this was the case?
  4. What did Dawes learn about why these “evil men” committed the crimes they did?
  5. What do his findings tell us about why people commit war crimes?  Based on what you have heard, do you find anything problematic about drawing scientific conclusions from his book?

This podcast could also be paired with several other activities on Teaching TSP, such as these activities about the Milgram experiment and this activity about power.

 

First Day of Class

Ok, most of your semesters and winding down or over.   But, for those of us teaching this summer, we’ll soon be turning our attention to planning the upcoming course.

Over the past few days, I’ve found myself thinking particularly about the first day of class. Sure, it’s often a day that consists of the syllabus being passed out and students hoping to get out early.  But, in reality, the first day sets the tone for the rest of the course.  Because of this, I try to spend some time thinking about the goals for the first day.

Generally, I settle on the following three key goals:

#1: Communicate the course elements and expectations clearly.

#2: Immediately set the tone for the classroom as an open, safe atmosphere for learning.

#3: Create rapport between the instructor and students, and begin to create rapport among students as well.

 

To achieve these goals, I rely upon different activities.  Here are some ideas below:

Communicating Course Elements

Going over the syllabus is often a little boring.  But, it’s important to let the students know what they can expect throughout the course and what is expected of them.  I also like having them write down what they except and hope to learn from the course before we go over the syllabus.  Then, they can keep that in mind while we talk about the course, and, if you have them turn in their expectations, you can get a sense for what they are hoping to learn.  Of course you can’t incorporate all suggestions, but it’s good to know where students are coming from.

I’ve also heard about syllabus speed dating.  I haven’t tried it and would love to hear from someone who has, but the basic idea is that you set up in the classroom for “speed dating” and then ask students to discuss a question about the syllabus as well as a question that enables them to get to know each other.  Then, switch partners and ask two new questions.

Setting a Tone and Creating Rapport

These goals take more than one class period to achieve.  But, icebreakers and activities geared to get students talking often help create a positive classroom environment from day 1.  We’d love to hear your first-day activities so we can create a log of them.  Here you’ll find an older TSP post with a link to classroom bingo, which allows students to get to know one other.  A few other popular ones we’ve seen or done ourselves include:

Interviews: Have the students pair up and interview each other.  Then, give them a chance to introduce their interview partner to the rest of the class.

Two Truths and a Lie:  Each person should share three things—two of them are true, and one is a lie—and the class guesses which one is a lie.

Introductions with a Question: Have each student answer a question when they introduce themselves.  I have asked students to talk about the coolest place they have been (global studies courses), but any broad question would work here.

Student survey: Give students a short survey, which includes questions about their preferred name, why they are taking the course, their career goals, and any other things they think you should know.  I prefer giving them this survey and going over it alone, but I’ve seen others add a goofy question to the survey and go over it in class (after giving students a few minutes to fill it out) as a way to take attendance and do introductions.

Ok, that’s just a few.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on activities as well.

 

 

Welcome, Girl w/Pen!

Teaching TSP is very happy that Girl w/Pen has joined TSP’s Community!  Of course, we’re happy for many reasons, but one that we must highlight is the fantastic amount of teaching resources that can be found on the blog.  Here’s an example, posted by Girl w/ Pen’s Deborah Siegel last month, which could easily be adapted to the classroom.

Start by giving your students this short, in-class quiz.

1. Children rarely have a firm sense of what “gender” they are until they are how old?
a) 1 year
b) 2 years
c) 3 years

2. This past holiday season, which country produced a toy catalog featuring a boy cradling a doll and a girl riding a race car?
a) the US
b) Sweden
c) France

3. True or false: In a study of 120 pregnant women conducted shortly after women learned the sex of their baby, those who knew they were carrying females described their fetuses’ movements as gentle, quiet, and rolling while those carrying males described kicks, jabs, and a saga of earthquakes.

 

Then, to get the answers and learn much more, watch this TED Talk in class.

The Mating Game

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Below is an activity I’ve seen used a few different ways.  The activity helps to illustrate the issue of mate selection for forming a family; it also gets students thinking about gender, sexuality, and the life course. 

First, have students think about their expectations of what their immediate family will be like someday. What are their plans for the future?  Or, if they are already married or in a domestic partnership, what is their family like?

Then, have students draw a future mate randomly from the list below, which has been adapted from several versions of this exercise.  The trick is that the draw is indeed random, so there will be same-sex, interracial, or other couples.

  1. A middle-class, white man who travels three weeks each month for his job and has three kids from a previous marriage of whom he has custody. Currently, he has a live-in nanny but would rather have a full-time parent in the home for his kids.
  2. A wealthy, African-American woman who owns a publishing business in Chicago.
  3. A working class, Latino man from Costa Rica who wishes to live near his family in his home country.
  4. An upwardly-mobile white woman who wishes never to have kids or at least not to care for them herself. (If you want kids, you will have to be the sole parent.)
  5. A female, Presbyterian minister whose first job assignment is in central Kansas.
  6. An African-American male professor who has tenure at Harvard.
  7. A English man who wishes to live in the US but cannot get residency for 3-4 years as a result of the immigration waiting list for English citizens into this country.
  8. A white, male Florida “cracker” whose family has owned a fishing business in Everglades City for two generations. He plans to adopt the business in five years and needs to continue working for the business until that time.
  9. Martha Stewart’s sister, a middle-class, white woman who plans to be a homemaker.
  10. An Indian woman (US resident) whose parents are planning to arrange a marriage for her with someone other than you.

Students must suppose they will fall in love with this person within five years and plan to form a family with them.  Then, they should think about the following questions:

How will their future plans be affected by this selection? What will their other family members think?  Where will they live? What about kids?  What is the likelihood that they would actually consider marrying this person?

Check out the myriad posts on Soc Images about marriage and family, and consider coupling one or two with this exercise!

Digital Activism

We just got the pager network up at #SeaSides BBQ

 

TSP’s Kyle Green recently spoke with Mary Joyce about digital activism.  This short podcast would be great in a class on media, transnational activism, or a variety of other topics.  Most, if not all, students will be able to connect to the material, making it relevant to their everyday lives and a great addition to a lecture.  Here are some questions to accompany the podcast.

 

  1. What is digital activism?
  2. Have you participated in anything that could be considered digital activism recently?  Did you consider your participation as “activism” at the time?
  3. What are the strengths of digital activism?  Can you think of any pitfalls?
  4. As a related post on our sister blog, Cyborgology, points out, the United Nations declared that disconnecting people from the Internet violates their human rights.  Do you think access to the Internet should be a human right?  Why or why not?

Note that the project’s website also has some tools that could be utilized for the lecture, including a visual summary of their preliminary findings.