Ready or not, sociology happens. Events like Saturday’s not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial have a way of becoming class discussion topics. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome when students come to class highly motivated to talk about sociology, but these events can thrust your class into a discussion that they aren’t really ready for. I imagine there are quite a few of you today who will be forced to discuss race, racism, and institutional discrimination with a class that hasn’t yet read that chapter or been properly introduced to the sociological concepts they need to properly have that discussion.
In moments like these you need your students to be okay with the ambiguity of learning and their confusion. But ambiguity and confusion are not unique to these moments, they are in fact part of learning anything. Every semester when I introduce a new big idea like “there is more than one perspective of reality” I know that some of my students think I am a loon or on drugs. In those moments where we take a big jump and I am worried I’ll lose students, I simply say:
“I know that this might not make sense right now, but that’s okay. Keep the idea in your head and as we further discuss ____, I think you will find that it does make sense.”
My point here is that you have to prepare your students to deal with ambiguity. I work really hard to ensure that every lesson “makes sense” to as many students as possible, but no matter how hard I try, some students will be “lost”, because ambiguity is part of the learning process. To set my students up to deal with this ambiguity I always say something like the following on the first day and then repeat the sentiment throughout the class:
“Learning sociology is a process. It doesn’t always make sense in a given moment. But if you stick with it, keep an open mind, and keep coming back to the material it will slowly make sense. For most students of sociology there is a learning curve, you will be confused for a while until eventually it ‘clicks’. All of this is to say, it’s okay if something doesn’t make sense to you. It’s okay if something you learn in class seems wrong or implausible or crazy. Stick with it, push through the confusion, and you will eventually come out the other side.”