Tag Archives: culture

“Tiger Moms” and Educational Attainment

Last month, as a Special Feature on The Society Pages, Jennifer Lee (a sociologist at University of California at Irvine) provided our readers a sociological take on “Chinese mother phenomenon.”

Lee is responding to Yale Law professor Amy Chua’s highly controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011). In advance of the book, The Wall Street Journal published “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” In the article and the book, Chua argues that Western parents do their children a disservice by not raising them with strict and demanding expectations for achievement.

Lee’s is another piece that is definitely going on my Sociology of Families syllabus in the fall, but it would fit well in any Intro to Sociology class or any class on education, culture, or youth. I would assign both Amy Chua’s WSJ article and Lee’s Tiger Kids and the Success Frame. What I love about Lee’s piece is that it does not reject Chua’s argument outright, but explores it from a sociological perspective. She asks (and answers):

How do we explain the academic achievement of Asians, especially when the patterns defy traditional status attainment models?

This topic is especially suited for most undergrads (18-22 year olds) in that they have only recently left their parents home and generally do not have families of their own. This life stage puts them in a unique position to compare how they were raised with how they want to raise their own (hypothetical) children when it comes to educational achievement.

For further context, check out the audio review of Chua’s book and parenting method on NPR and an excerpt from the book, as well as a response from Amy Chua to reader’s questions and a response her oldest daughter (age 18) to the criticism her mom received after publishing Battle Hymn.

 

Muslims in America

Lunchtime for Hoodies

Jen’nan Ghazal Read explores views of Muslims in her article Muslims in America in the Fall 2008 issue of Contexts. You can read the full text here! This is great article to assign in any class on race, culture or politics. Use the discussion questions and activity below to incorporate this article into your class.

Also, listen to Jen’nan Ghazal Read talk about these issues on the Contexts Podcast Office Hours.

 

1)    How do the political views of Muslim Americans compare to the rest of the American religious public?

2)    Why might Muslims, who ideologically align with most of mainstream America, still be considered “outsiders”?

3)     Can you think of other groups that are similarly considered “outsiders” in American society today?

 

ACTIVITY: The author provides demographic information on Muslim Americans. Download the Pew Center Report used in the article and write a summary of any information you learned that surprised you or that
you think should be more widely known.

 

“Culture” for International Adoptees

CB106492

U.S. families have adopted tens of thousands of children from other countries in the last decades (many of whom are sitting in our college courses).

International adoption is a great topic for a class or lesson on race and culture because, for international adoptees and their families, race, ethnicity and culture often do not line up neatly.

We recommend the Culture Review “Culture Goes to Camp” by Lori Delale-O’Connor in the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts to get a conversation going in your classroom about ethnicity and culture–and the challenges international adoptees may face with merging the two in their own identities.

To use this article in class, have students search the web and read up on culture camps like the ones discussed in the article and address these questions:

1) What types of activities are advertised on the websites? Put yourself in an adopted child’s shoes. How do you think a child would experience these “cultural” activities?

2) Imagine you adopted a child from another culture. Do you think that you would encourage activities like a culture camp? How important do you imagine it would it be to you to have your child “stay connected to his/her roots”? Why?

3) What culture do you identify most with? Is the culture of your ancestors important to you or present in your life? Did your parents encourage you to learn about it?

http://www.culturecamp.net/

http://kccmn.org/

http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/calendar.php?cal=camp

Hip Hop and the “N” Word

K-OS on The Come Up Show

It’s one of the most contentious words in America. Who can use? Who can’t? Should its meaning change when used by different people? It’s considered a curse word by a large segment of the United States and is prohibited from our major media and entertainment outlets–except for hip hop. Geoff Harkness explores this issue in his article “Hip Hop Culture and America’s Most Taboo Word” (Contexts, Fall 2008). We’ve put together some ways to use this article in your class on race, music, or popular culture:

  • Use these questions to start a class discussion:

1)    What social factors and cultural ties help explain the bonds Latino and black hip-hoppers express in this article?

2)    As its music and culture has become more mainstream and moved across class and racial boundaries, how has hip-hop changed?

3)    Like the “n-word”, groups sometimes “reclaim” words that are used as slurs to turn them into points of pride. Discuss the history and evolution of words like “ghetto,” “redneck,” “queer,” “faggot,” and “bitch.” Why have people sometimes chosen to reclaim derogatory words like these?

4)    Some words are loaded even if they seem neutral. Consider words like “feminist,” “patriot,” “communist.” What meanings and implications are built into these words? Can you think of similar words that evoke strong feelings?

Teaching about Racism in the Here & Now

 

Below is the last (for now) post from our guest blogger, Nathan Palmer.  Nathan’s work can be followed at www.sociologysource.com

Does race still matter? This is my day one question for students in my race & ethnicity courses. Many students walk into my class on the first day thinking that racism, prejudice, and discrimination are issues that were solved in the 1960s. Frequently I hear, “”well things aren’t perfect, but they sure are getting better all the time.”  Countless students have said to me, “How much racism can there be if we have a Black president?” While I see this line of thinking more often from my white students, I have had many students of color share this mindset. Using very recent current events can convince students that racism is not a thing of the past but a very real part of our present.

Even students who believe and know that racism is alive and well are typically unaware of the numerous current events that many feel are clear examples of racism. Students are surprised to hear that just this August a Mississippi middle school barred students of color from running for class president. Most students have not heard about the controversy surrounding the firing of Shirley Sherrod over claims of racism. Students are unaware that two ROTC students spread cotton in front of the Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri in February. They are shocked to learn that, also during this past February, a student hung a noose in the UC San Diego library and shortly thereafter a UCSD fraternity put on a “ghetto themed” party called the “Compton Cookout” where guests were invited to dress like thugs and “Nappy Headed Hoes.” I tell my students that this is by no means an exhaustive list. You could also discuss the recent Arizona Immigration laws, or the recent controversy over “Dr. Laura” using the N-Word multiple times on air.

As we go through each of these news events and facts I say over and over again that I am not saying each of these events is evidence of racism. I am simply showing them examples of what others have called racism. This is crucial, because it avoids any debate about the incidents and it keeps students from feeling bullied or steamrolled. Also, students are savvy enough to draw their own conclusions.

I wrap up the discussion by asking my class, “If racism is a thing of the past, why is it in the news so frequently?” “If we have civil rights laws on the books and a Black president, why do we continue to talk about the dead issue of racism?” Needless to say, my students always seem to see the ridiculousness of these questions.



NYC Pro-Muslim Rally Marching On Sept. 11th, 2010

Praying in Class

The following case study could accompany any readings or discussion on religion, culture or rights.  For example, it could be used with Jen’nan Ghazal’s “Muslims in America,” which is available through Contexts online.

Lisa is a new professor at a large public university.  Her class just finished a unit on gender, and her students are taking an essay test. Lisa sits near the front of the room and keeps a watchful eye over her students.  The classroom is completely silent except for their pencils scribbling furiously.

Suddenly, one of her students stands up and faces a corner.  He starts to bow, and Lisa realizes that he is praying.  Many of the students look up and start watching him instead of continuing their exam.  Lisa can tell they are distracted, but she also believes that the student has religious freedom. Thus, she decides to pretend that nothing is happening.

After class, a few students approach Lisa and complain about the student who was praying.  They say that they were seriously distracted during the exam and would like 10 more minutes to work on it.

Questions:

  1. What should Lisa do?
  2. Did Lisa make the right choice to ignore the student instead of asking him to stop?
  3. Should a student be allowed to observe her or his religious rituals during class?   Should this differ around the world?  By the type of school?

Are You Cool?

This learning activity was written by Jasmine Harris-LaMothe, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Sociology department, to accompany “Roll Over Beethoven, There’s A New Way to Be Cool” by Richard A. Peterson in Contexts Summer 2001.

For generations, preference for “high” culture included an interest in cultural mediums not readily available to the masses and signified a marked difference between the elites and everyone else. Today, “elite” status requires a familiarity with more – not just higher – forms of culture. This has significantly changed the way fine arts are depicted in the media and thus understood by the public.

Fill out the questionnaire below on your demographic information and your taste in fine arts. After you’ve completed the questions, turn to the neighbor and discuss your answers.

1.     Male or Female
2.     Age
3.     Where is your hometown?

Answer never, rarely, sometimes, or often to the questions below:

4.     How often do you read a book for pleasure? ___________

5.     How often do you go to the movies?__________

6.     How often do you read a newspaper?___________

7.     How often do you watch the news on television?____________

8.     How often do you watch other types of live (non-DVRed) television?_____________

9.     When was the last time you visited an art museum?____________

10.  When was the last time you visited the theater?_____________

Provide your top three answers to the questions below:

11.  Who are your favorite musical artists?

12.  What are your favorite musical genres?

13.  What are your favorite plays?

14.  What are your favorite ballets?

15.  What are your favorite operas?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  • Are you and/or your partner cultural “omnivores” or “univores?”
  • Are your tastes reflective of your demographic information?
  • Do you think your answers are reflective of changes in medium preferences among the greater population?
  • What implications do the aforementioned changes in medium likes/dislikes have for the future of mass media as a whole?
  • Rights, Religion and Relativism

    This is a case study that could accompany any discussion on rights and cultural relativism.  For example, it could be paired with any article in Contexts that deals with religion, culture, etc.  Another option would be to use it with “Keyword: Culture” by Joseph R. Gusfield in Contexts, Winter 2006.  Click here for a pdf version of the case study.

    Kelly is discussing women’s rights with a group of her friends before their International Law class starts.  As an avid feminist, she prides herself in her belief that women and men are equal.  She says to her friends, “I feel sorry for the women that feel like they have to submit themselves to men.  I mean, look at Muslim women.  Why should they have to cover their heads or faces?  They are beautiful.  It’s a violation of their human rights to be treated as inferior to men.  Why should they have to wear one if men don’t have to?” 

    Several of Kelly’s friends look uncomfortable and motion with their eyes to the right of Kelly.  She glances over and realizes that Salma, who is originally from Kenya, is sitting next to them wearing her hijab.  Thankfully for Kelly, their professor enters the room and begins the day’s lecture. 

     After class, Salma approaches Kelly as she putting her things away in her backpack.  Salma explains that she heard Kelly’s conversation and that she wears a hijab because in her culture it is empowering.  To her, a hijab is a sign of her submission to Allah.  It also makes it so that men judge her by her personality rather than by her appearance.  Surprised, Kelly apologizes.  Yet, she is confused.  She thought hijabs were degrading and a violation of women’s fundamental rights.  How could two people view women’s right so differently?

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Do you agree with Kelly that hijabs violate women’s rights?
    2. If human rights are universal, how do we account for cultural differences?
    3. Are human rights and cultural relativism fundamentally incompatible?  Which one is more important? 
    4. Who has the power to decide how human rights are interpreted? 

    TED Talks

    We’ve been big on videos lately, but what can we say: online video is booming.

    You may be familiar with TED: a conference about Technology, Entertainment and Design, though really there are talks on just about every topic. The best part: the talks are all online for free.

    Most of the videos are around 20 minutes, so they’re perfect for watching in class or as assignments. Here are just two that I’ve watched recently as examples:

    First, here’s Barry Schwartz on the decline of “wisdom.” It’s a bit of a rant near the end (in my opinion), but the first half provides an interesting critique of our modern faith in rationality and incentives and is great to compliment lectures on either bureaucracy or on rational choice:

    Second, here’s a talk by Hans Rosling on “Third-world myths,” which is worth watching just for the captivating display of data alone. It’s great for a discussion of globalization but also, because the graphics are so good, for courses on research methods and data presentation. You can also see more of these graphics at gapminder.org:

    a great reading on the sociology of knowledge

    Teaching an undergraduate or graduate level course in culture? Or even a seminar on the sociology of knowledge? Take a look at this reading by Ann Swidler and Jorge Arditi. 

    This article (an Annual Review piece) provides an excellent summary of “how kinds of social organization make whole orderings of knowledge possible, rather than focusing on the different social locations and interests of individuals or groups.” This is a particularly interesting reading in the larger scope of sociological work on knowledge…

    Full citation:
    Ann Swidler and Jorge Arditi. 1994. “The New Sociology of Knowledge.” Annual Review of Sociology 20:305-29.