You have a worldview. You mistake your version of reality for THE version of reality. This is a challenging concept to teach students, particularly in an intro class, especially during the first week of class. However, if you can plant this seed in the first week and keep coming back to it throughout the semester it will pay dividends.

There Are Multiple Realities.
To students who have never taken a sociology course before this can seem like some Matrix stuff. But this concept is so central to everything we teach in sociology. When you tell a student about a national trend or some other fact that is true in aggregate, the student is likely to disbelieve it if the fact runs counter to their lived experience. For example, if I tell students that most Americans who use welfare only do so for a short period of time, but they know someone who they perceive to be “gaming the system” the social fact can ring untrue to them.

Let’s stop for a second and break down this reaction. If what the teacher says is incongruent with what the student has experienced as reality it must be untrue. Central to this line of thinking is the idea that there is a single version of reality; that there is a single truth. If you hope to challenge your students to see beyond their limited worldview and use sociological facts to inform them as they develop a new worldview, you must FIRST get them to accept that worldviews exist and they have one.

Single Camera Perspective.
I repeat over and over throughout the semester this idea that each of us has a biased worldview because we are all limited to a single camera perspective. That is we can only see what comes before us, we can only hear what is around us, and we can only read that which is in front of us. No one has the definitive version of reality, including the professor at the front of the room. One of the best strategies for winning over your students on this idea is to own up to your own biases and how your worldview is and has been shaped by your single camera perspective.

Social Location Matters
Asking students to see their worldview is like asking someone to see the contact lenses on their eyes- hard, but not impossible. Help your student see their worldview by tracing it back to their social location. If you can get students to see how their social characteristics (race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc) affect their worldview you are half way there. The other half is to get them to place their social characteristics within a social context (i.e. find their social location). Here I try to get students to recognize if the majority of the people in the community they grew up in shared their social characteristics. Being of the majority in a community suggests either segregation and/or being of the dominant group (either is a social construction and an opportunity to teach how social forces affect individuals).

Activity- Social Location Finder:

I have created a “Social Location Finder” worksheet that addresses both these issues. Students are asked to first identify their social characteristics and then address if their social characteristics were of the majority in the communities they were raised in. Then students are asked the following:

Now Think About This:

  • Is it possible that your answers to the questions above impact the way you experience the world around you? Do these answers affect the way you experience this school or even this class?
  • If you answered them differently would you be treated differently by others? Would you have access to certain experiences that you don’t presently? Would things you take for granted now be unavailable to you if you answered the questions above differently?
  • More directly, do you think that the experiences of a White, male, middle class, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, U.S. citizen student at this school are different than a non-White, female, lesbian, Muslim, who is a legal resident, and has a physical disability?

If your students agree that experiences of reality vary by social location or even if they can just acknowledge that there is not a single reality, you are on your way to breaking them from an individualist perspective of reality and toward adopting a perspective that is informed by sociological facts.

You can download the Social Location Finder or this activity any many others can be found in the Soc101 Class Pack which is available to download free by clicking here.