Want to learn something about your class?

The next time you teach, start class by asking your students to write about the recent history of any social issue of the moment. Help them generate a list of topics on the board. Climate change, marriage equality, racism in the legal justice system, mass shootings, the 13 year war in Afghanistan, Bronies, the #Selfie, anything they want. Nothing major, just a bulleted list of the key moments over the last 30 years. Give them 5 min.

If you’re feeling really brave try writing the recent history of all of these issues yourself. Personally, I know enough about these issues to know that I don’t know enough about these issues. I think I could muster the watershed moments in each, but not well enough to explain them to a class full of students.[1]

After you go to your happy place, read through your students’ papers. I’m willing to bet that for the most part your students will be unable to provide even a rudimentary history of a social issue[2]. Keep in mind that your students chose these issues, so in all likelihood you’re reading about the social issue that they feel they understand the best.

If your students don’t know the history of social issues, they will be forced to build their understanding of the social world on top of a framework devoid of historical context. If the sociological imagination lies at the intersection of biography and history, then how can we expect our students to develop as sociologists without a basic understanding of thier recent past?

The next time you find yourself thinking, “they just aren’t getting it.” Ask yourself, “do they know the first thing about the history of this issue?” Without a historical context no one can have a sociological imagination.

  1. I would need to review the literature before I would be ready to teach it to a room of undergraduates.  ↩

  2. Obviously every class and every student is different. Some will struggle more than others. If you find you have a class of students who can all provide an accurate recent history of a social issue, then run down the rows of desks high fiving each one of them like a maniac.  ↩