Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answeris an easy to understand and thorough dismantling of the myth of common sense. The book intrigues it’s readers with a simple question; how is it that something we rely on so heavily can be so biased, unreliable, and fictitious? The single greatest barrier students have to learning sociology is their inability to let go of common sense and embrace empiricism. Watt’s book, more than any other I’ve read, focuses on the science of sociology and makes a strong, but measured1 case for using empiricism. Every sociology 101 student should read at least a portion of this book.

I will be using Watts’s book throughout the Soc101 Class Pack 2.0 especially early in the semester. While most textbooks think it’s really important that students know the names of long dead sociologists, I think it is far more useful to provide your students with the basic skills they need to start seeing and thinking like sociologists. Most textbooks’s early chapters are a parade of findings from studies done decades ago and these texts seem to assume that by reading findings students will learn the method of sociology which is like assuming you could infer a pig from looking at many varieties of sausage2. Having your students read the preface, chapter 1 (The Myth of Common Sense) and chapter 2 (Thinking on Thinking) will help them see how flimsy intuition and common sense are and once you’ve broken this mindset they will be ready for you to help them build a sociological mindset to replace it. This first portion of the book addresses many of the topics I’ve been talking about here on Sociology Source for a while. Confirmation bias, the fundamental attribution error, etc. are all covered brilliantly here. Furthermore there is a lot of great terminology, like “The Lake Wobegon Effect”, that can be recalled later in the semester when students stumble back into common sense thinking.

“So now what do I do?”

Typically the last chapter in a 101 textbook is horrible. After describing in depth all the social problems we face instead of telling the reader what they could do about them, textbooks frequently just talk about social change research and then abruptly stop. It’s no surprise that many students ask, “So now that I know all about these terrible social problems, what the hell do I do now to solve them?” Chapter 8 (The Measure of All Things) provides students with a clear and understandable description of how social scientists approach mitigating social problems. Watts provides multiple empirical approaches, but argues that good science doesn’t just measure it experiments. What he really means here, is that a good social scientists collect data and then adjust according to what their early findings suggest. Social scientists shouldn’t, he argues, imagine they understand what causes the social problem, but rather they should assume they don’t and remain open to the data as it emerges. I’ve done Watts a disservice by making my summation of his argument a tad opaque; Watts discussion is very clear and I believe any first year student could follow it. Watts also provides illustrative examples of 6 approaches to studying social problems and enacting solutions. This chapter shows students that social scientists do more than describe the doom and gloom of social problems. Social scientists here are shown changing and improving the world around them.

Applied isn’t a four letter word

While I know it isn’t very “academic” of me to say so, I think it’s important that what we teach our students has some practical value in their lives. Your students want to know why they should care about sociology, especially when it’s not their major area of study. Watts’s equally showcases the basic and applied research tracts of sociology. Portions of the book focus on sociological market research, public policy research, and even, gasp, marketing research. The book is often listed in the business/leadership section of online bookstores. While that typically makes me skeptical, Watt’s work deserves the attention of all sociologists and their students. Focusing on business applications of sociology doesn’t cheapen the discipline or this book, in fact it will draw in a wider audience of your students. Furthermore, if you believe that market applications aren’t “real sociology”, then you should have lots of straw men that you can knock down all semester long.

As the summer goes on, I will be providing some activities and assignments based on Everything Is Obvious as I plan on using excerpts from the book in almost all the courses I teach this fall.


1. I say measured because Watts doesn’t over state the accuracy of empiricism. He acknowledges the limitations of what we can know empirically and provides countless examples of empirical studies that, while scientifically rigorous produced findings that were inaccurate, biased, and even sometimes, fictitious.

2. I can’t remember who I need to thank for the pig metaphor. If you know hook me up in the comments or contact me.

Meadow Run

You are charged with deciding the fate of Washford Meadows. A sleepy poor farming community of less than 200 people who have lived 2 hours outside of Metro Atlanta on family farms that have been passed down for generations. This land is some of the most pristine wilderness the state of Georgia has left to protect or at least that is what the wealthy urbanites of Atlanta, who are pushing for the state park to be created wrote on the marketing pamphlets. However, the residents of Washford Meadows have refused to sell and it appears that if a state park is to be created the government will have to use eminent domain 1 laws to take the land from the residents and they’ll only be compensated a 1/3 of value that their land is currently appraised at. You are selected by the governor of Georgia to decide Washford Meadows fate. You must chose to protect the wilderness by turning it into a state park using eminent domain or you may chose to let the residents of Washford Meadows keep their lands and leave the wilderness unprotected. Be prepared to defend your choice.

This is the conundrum I present my students in my environmental sociology class. Conundrums are an excellent teaching tool because they force students to own their value hierarchy and it represents a more real life situation where at least one party has to lose2. Furthermore, no matter what answers your students give you can always devil’s advocate against them making this a great small group exercise. The valuable environmental sociology lessons that are easy to pull out of student’s answers are the social construction of “wilderness”, the connection between humans and the natural world, and the role inequality plays in environmental policy.

Inherent in the plan to turn Washford Meadows into a state park is the idea that nature worth saving lies outside of urban areas. That nature is something “out there” that urbanites have to drive to go see. This loaded idea makes it easier for city dwellers to litter, dump oil in sewage systems, and any other type of environmental degradation, because, “hey, this isn’t the ‘real’ environment and besides this city is a dump. Who cares?” When students in the past have said something to the effect of, “we have to protect what little environment we have left” I asked them why Atlanta or even our own urban community wasn’t an environment worth saving? Along these same lines other students asked in class why the rich urban folks didn’t create more green spaces inside Metro Atlanta?

Washford Meadows also teased out how students viewed human needs and environmental needs. In class we had talked about how intertwined the two are, but how our culture and political leaders often present them as disjointed. “I’m all for saving the environment, but we can’t put environmental needs above human needs,” is a common statement students make. Pressing students to see how they’ve falsely dichotomized human and environmental needs can help everyone in class grasp this key concept of environmental sociology. This false dichotomy is present in most of the pro-business arguments out there today. We are told that we can grow the economy OR address global warming, for example. The frailty of this argument is laid bare after this activity.

Inequality is also a in play in this scenario. Wealthy, educated, politically connected urbanites are using their influence to take land from the impoverished families living on Washford Meadows. My students have really grasped the connection between inequality and environmental policy when I frame the connection with this scenario. Students decry the treatment of the poor families, but balance their treatment against the interests of the many vs. the few. It is easy to get students to debate individual land owner rights versus the interests of society and the rights of nature.

This activity has worked really well for me and even if you don’t teach environmental sociology it can serve as a model for teaching using conundrums. I’ve attached a copy of the handout I gave my students for this discussion. Download it here.


1. This isn’t how eminent domain laws work, but the idea of eminent domain is well understood by students. After the activity I tell my students about the inaccurate portrayal of eminent domain laws.

2. If there is a downside of this activity it is that it forces dichotomized thinking. So its crucial that when students think of ways the two parties could compromise (e.g. a conservation easement), that you strongly reinforce the creative thinking.

Waiting to assess student learning until the first test 5 weeks into the term is setting your students up for failure. It’s too easy for your student’s to nod along during the first few weeks of class because as the saying goes, “everyone’s a sociologist”1. I’ve found that students, especially Mr./Ms. Nods-a-lot, are shocked when they do terrible on the first test. If that first test is worth a third of the total class points, then a terrible performance can be a deathblow to a student’s grade.

Good assessment then, comes early in the semester and frequently. By having frequent small assessments you can distribute the points across a set of assessments which lowers the points and the stakes of each individual assessment.

Last year in my Intro to Sociology classes I had weekly quizzes every Monday over the previous week’s readings/lessons. Instead of a multi-chapter exam we had several single chapter quizzes. The quizzes were all administered on GSU’s online learning management system (a variant of Blackboard). The benefits of online quizzes are that they are automatically graded by the server, so this is a solution that can scale (I had 350+ students last semester). The downside is that exams have to be open book and unfortunately open classmate (even though this is explicitly outlawed in the syllabus). However, this can be overcome, by 1. not releasing the graded quizzes until the quiz availability period has closed 2. having a large pool of questions that each student only gets a few out of and 3. asking application questions that can’t easily be Googled or looked up in the textbook’s index.

Online quizzes aren’t right for all of my classes, especially the advanced courses. However, small frequent assessments are a part of all my courses. In a upper division course I often pass around 3×5 notecards and ask students to answer a short direct question that only students who’ve read could accurately answer. The 3×5 note cards are easy to flip through and I like to pull out the best answers and through them up on the document camera2. Also, a 3×5 note card promotes succinctness and doesn’t burden me with a ton of grading everyday. I also like to have students write short application papers that require them to really understand the concepts discussed in class. I simply grade these with a ✓, ✓+, or I write “come see me” on their paper. In a class of 35 I typically only have 5-10 students who I need to chat with and after class they bunch around me and we talk it out. The important point is that they find out early on that they aren’t getting it and this lesson doesn’t cost them a whole letter grade.

To be clear, frequent small assessments can not replace more nuanced forms of evaluating student learning. Even in my 350 student classes I had my students take an essay test and write a 4-5 page paper. It was excruciating to grade them all, but it can be done. If you feel forced into only assessing student learning via multiple choice tests, you can still incorporate frequent small quizzes into your classes without too much additional work.

So to wrap the last two posts up. Good assessment provides students with as much feedback as you can give them, early in the course, and gives them an opportunity to recover from early poor performances.


1. “Everyone is a sociologist” is bull, yet “everyone thinks they are a sociologist, but they relay on anecdotal evidence, “common” sense, and self-serving logic” is fair.

2. A good idea is to pair a 3×5 card question with a small group discussion to start class and then you have the time to flip through the cards and pull the best ones out. My students love it when I provide them with real time feedback.

Hit them hard, early, and often. That’s how a good teacher assesses learning. Might sound mean, but I think the “standard” 3 tests 1 paper class is actually meaner. To be honest assessing student learning is one of the things I struggle with the most, but knowing when to assess and how high to set the bar is crystal clear to me. This week I’ll be discussing what I mean by hit them hard and next week I’ll cover the early and often portion.

I call my approach to grading, rather dramatically, “instilling the fear of god.”1 As soon as possible you need to assess student learning, grade it uber-strict, and provide lots of written feedback that tears down every thing that could be improved. While you should be a tough grader in regards to the number of points you give the students work, your written feedback should be graduate level detailed. Tell them everything they could improve and show them in your written feedback that expect the world from them. To be as explicitly clear as possible, don’t give all your students Ds and Fs, but write feedback all over their work.

For this to work and if you want to avoid a student revolt, you have to repeatedly offer support to your students. When I hand back the first assignment to students I tell them that,

“This first assignment wasn’t exactly what I am looking for and many of you are going to see that you got a grade that you aren’t used to getting. But I want you to know that I will be happy to meet with each one of you during office hours or by appointment to go over your assignments and help you develop strategies to do well in this course. Keep in mind this is just the first assignment and I know that all of you can do very well in this course if you put in the hard work.”

After I hand the papers out I typically get a handful of panicked students and I sit down with them and go over my feedback in detail and provide LOTS of encouragement. My feedback hits like a ton of bricks, but my face-to-face interaction is all “you can do this”. You need the right balance of challenge and support for this to work. If you are going to go nuts on the challenge side of things with your written feedback, then you have got to be enthusiastically supportive in your face-to-face interactions.

“I don’t have time to give graduate level written feedback on every assignment,” you may be thinking right now, but hear me out. To reap the benefits of this approach you only have to do this one or two times at the beginning of the semester (And keep in mind this is typically when faculty are least busy). Your setting a tone of excellence and ideally you are implanting that uber-strict grader voice in your students heads. The approach is to “instill”, or maybe implant is the right word, the expectations you have for your students. I’ve found once students know what you expect of them, they will start to expect it of themselves.

Maybe I sound like a jerk and you are hoping that if you can “win over” your students with kindness they will like you and want to work hard for you. Maybe that’ll work, I dunno. However, keep in mind that my approach is to be Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hide. Be tough in your written feedback and supportive in your verbal feedback. Also, It’s better to have your students think you’re a bad ass and then ease up on them then it is to be a softy and then be like, “come on guys!” about their rigor. Flex early, not late.


1. Now this sounds like I have delusions of grandier and a hierarcial approach to teaching, but remember it’s just a catchy name to make it easy for me to remember.

Small Caesar Salad at Kapp's Pizza Bar & Grill

“This is a lot of work to do in just a few weeks!” says a student in a summer school course. “You can’t possibly expect us to get through all of this reading in less than 2 months?!?” says a student in an accelerated learning program. Many students eyes bulge out of their heads when they read our summer syllabi. What we have here is a failure to communicate and negotiate expectations.

“But Nathan, my academic rigor is not something I negotiate with my students!” you might be thinking. I agree. I don’t negotiate where I set the bar, but in a way we all negotiate how our class will perceive or interpret the placement of the bar. When I’ve taught summer and accelerate learning courses I’ve use a story, analogy, or parable1, of sorts to try to win students over to my way of thinking. Here it is:

A man sits down at a fancy restaurant. As he places a cloth napkin in his lap the waiter takes his drink order. “Tonight we have a lobster bisque, tomato basil soup, or a salad. Which would you like sir?” the waiter says clutching a small notebook and pen. The man thinks for a moment and replies, “I think I’ll have a caesar salad.” “Yes sir, right away.” A moment later the waiter places the caesar salad on the table. As the first forkful of leafy greens enters the man’s mouth his face scrunches and he spits out the bite of salad. “Excuse me miss, but this is the worst bowl of soup I’ve ever tasted!” The waiter’s reaches out to take the salad away as she says, “Oh, I am so sorry sir. I thought you ordered a caesar salad.” Indignantly the man says, “I most certainly did order a caesar salad, but this tastes nothing like soup.” The waiter turns cocks her head to the left, “Sir?”

The Point: Don’t order a salad and complain it doesn’t taste like soup.

I tell my students that registering for a summer or accelerated learning course and complaining it goes to fast is like ordering a salad and complaining it doesn’t taste like soup. Of course the class is set to a rapid clip, that’s what you ordered. “If you want to take this class at a more leisurely pace, I will be teaching this in the fall,” I usually tell them. It’s crucial that you emphasize the humor in the parable. If you sound like an angry parent shaking your fist in the air saying, “kids these days!” you will only push your students away. Almost always, my students laugh at the story and jump on board with the expectations I’ve set


1. I can hear my literary colleagues bristling at my inaccurate use of the term parable. Apologies in advance.

“No one wants to date YOU!” I tell my students. “You can’t get anybody looking like you look, sounding like you sound, or acting like you act. Oh no.” Students brows scrunch up with a healthy mix of confusion and offense. I take a long pause and watch my students writhe in their seats before I say, “If you act like you on a first date, you can bet it will be your last date. You have to send your representative to a first date. Your representative is the ideal version of you.” With this we start a conversation about Goffman’s Presentation of Self and the ideal. 1

Dating is ripe for sociological analysis because it is full of unspoken norms, tension, and false presentations of self. It is easy to see the social construction of reality on a date because we are expected to construct a reality about who we are, about the world around us, and we are expected to construct a romantic experience for our partner. Dates, especially first dates, are a break from normality, so it is easy to see the familiar as strange- because first dates are strange. After I let my students know that I think they are love worthy, date-able people, I ask them to break up into small groups and answer the following questions.

When on a First Date:

  1. What would you not tell your date about yourself or what would you not bring up in conversation?

  2. What would you emphasize about yourself in conversations?

  3. How might you behave on a first date that is different from how you behave normally?

  4. How would you dress or present yourself physically?

After 10 to 15 minutes in small groups I ask the class to come back together. We review Goffman’s Presentation of Self and what he had to say about the ideal. I then ask the student to share their answers My goal here is to help them see Goffman in their responses. Students report that they dress nicely, use their manners, don’t talk about ex-partners or their problems, and never under any circumstances get angry unless they want to end the date immediately. I suggest to students that dates are an easy way to see how staging, costuming, and dialogue unfold like a well rehearsed play. Students universally agree. The ideal self (what I called our representative) goes on a date with another representative and they both work to create an ideal date. The artificiality of a first date makes it easy to see the effort put into constructing reality, but the goal of this exercise is to get students to see similar efforts to construct reality not just on dates, but nearly everywhere in society.

I wrap up the discussion by suggesting that there is a period in any romantic relationship where you actually haven’t fully met your partner. I joke with my class, “if you haven’t got into an argument with your partner, then you haven’t really met them yet.” Students heads nod and invariably a student or two tells a story of one of their friends who is getting married after only dating their partner for a short time. At least anecdotally, this seems to be a common occurrence for 20 somethings. This last semester one of my students rephrased my words-of-caution for young lovers. He said, “If you haven’t heard your partner fart then you shouldn’t marry them, because you haven’t met them yet.”


1. As my hip readers will already know, I stole the “no one wants to date you” bit from Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker.

Cheating is rampant on college campuses. You should be prepared. Assume the best in your students, but be prepared for the worst in students. Fortunately good class design can help minimize the instances of cheating and clear cheating policies make it easy to deal with students when you find a student dabbling on the dark side.

1. Ask smart questions

“Write a 2 page summary of Marx’s Communist Manifesto,” is a terrible question in the Internet age. Ask this question and you should expect lots of copy/pasting. Smart questions today are specific, complex, and if possible related to something discussed in class.

Specificity is your friend. I often ask students questions like, “How does Prudence Carter define non-dominant cultural capital in Keepin’ It Real” There are very few correct answers to this question and if students Google “Non-Dominant Cultural Capital” they are very likely going to get an answer that does not sound like Carters which means they will either raise my suspicion and get caught or at the very least get a bad grade for an incorrect answer.

“How does Shapiro define institutional discrimination in The Hidden Cost Of Being African American? In your answer use examples from the video The House We Live In we watched in class.” This is a question I’ve asked my students to answer in the past. This is a good question because it asks students to apply a concept to something else. I could have asked the students to define Institutional Discrimination, but there are over 8 million webpages that students could copy/paste a definition from. By asking students to apply, compare, contrast, etc. multiple things, students are less likely to be able to find a ready made answer online and thus less likely to cheat.

2. Set clear expectations

Almost every time I catch a student quoting without attribution *cough* copy/pasting off of the net *cough, cough* the first thing the student says to me is, “I had no idea I could cite a source for this paper!”. Many of my students seem surprised when I tell them they could’ve just cited the website or article they quoted and they wouldn’t evaded receiving an F. While I wouldn’t give a good grade to a paper that cites Wikipedia, I wouldn’t call judicial affairs if they cited the Wikipedia article they quoted.

At the beginning of the semester I spend 15 minutes talking about what constitutes plagiarism and how it can be avoided. I provide my students with resources on campus and tell them, “If you are worried that what you’re doing may be plagiarism, come talk to me” 1 After we read the Academic Integrity section of the syllabus I say to my students,

“I became a professor because I wanted to help students reach their dreams, not because I wanted to possibly get them removed from school. It bums me out when I report students to judicial affairs, but I will. Last semester when I told cheating students I had reported them to Judicial Affairs they looked at me with astonishment. Don’t make their mistake. If you cheat, I’ll likely catch you and the consequences will be severe. Please don’t make me do this.”

3. Frequently reinforce your commitment to academic honesty

It’s not enough to tell you students once. Before any major assignment or test I remind my students what constitutes plagiarism or cheating and the severity of the consequences if they are caught. You don’t want your students to become paranoid, but you also don’t want them to become complacent.

It’s also a great idea to explore cheating as a social problem in your classes. When discussing deviance I’ve had students read Situational Ethics and College Student Cheating (1990 LaBeff, Clark, Haines, and Diekhoff)2 which describes how students use neutralization to maintain a positive sense of self despite engaging in behavior they know is wrong. My students love this article and they really love having an open class discussion about cheating. Of course they precede every statements with, “Well one of my friends told me…” I typically end this class discussion by asking students how prevalent they think cheating is on campus and what they think the consequences should be for cheating. At the end of the discussion I remind them of what the consequences are for academic dishonesty in this class.

4. Write a clear academic integrity statement

In your syllabus you need to define what academic integrity is, why it’s important, and what the consequences are for a student’s lapsed academic morals. I provide students with a link to the student handbook where they can see examples of what constitutes academic dishonesty and what consequences I am contractually bound to enforce.

Great teachers debate on how a academic integrity statement should be phrased. I’m inclined to be as explicit as possible when defining the consequences of cheating, but other teachers use more vague language to afford them flexibility in how they consequence dishonesty. 3 By allowing flexibility in your academic integrity statement you are free to make case-by-case decisions, but you also open yourself up to appearing to favor some students over others. An ambiguous academic integrity statement sees shades of gray and students may challenge your subjectivity in enforcing consequences. On the other hand, if you paint yourself into a corner with strict language you may end up delivering consequences that you do not feel are appropriate given the students circumstances. Both approaches have issues and limitations.

5. Enforce it equally

Students will respect you if you are fair. Before you make a deal with any student you should be sure you are ready to make that deal with any other student in the class in a similar situation. The value of a clear academic integrity statement is it does tie your hands and only requires you to carry out the consequences you promised all of your students you would. Students talk to one another to compare notes on you. If you are unequal with your treatment of students, it will cost you one way or another. I often say to students, “__ I really like you and it pains me to do this, but I did this to other students in your same situation. If I didn’t do the same thing right now with you I’d be playing favorites, I could lose credibility with the rest of my students, and maybe even be seen as unprofessional by my colleagues. I hope you can understand the bind I’m in. I know this isn’t the answer you want to hear, but I hope you can understand where I’m coming from.”

6. Enforce it with kindness and empathy

Teaching is about building students up not tearing them down. When you enforce consequences on a academically dishonest student don’t “teach them a lesson” or vent your frustration on them. This is disintegrative shaming and it will only push the student away and make them more likely to fail your class and/or drop out of school. Also, if you make them hate you, don’t be surprised if they do everything in their power to challenge your policies, the enforcement, etc. I feel ethically obligated to reintegrate students who’ve cheated.

When you meet with a student to discuss their academic dishonesty show them compassion. Tell them, “I know this isn’t reflective of who you are as a person. This was out of character with who you are.” Even if that’s not true, telling them this may be a self-fulling prophecy and that’s the best we can hope for. Next you have to tell the student how they can recover from this negative choice. No matter if a students gets a zero on a paper or an F for the class I always tell them what options they have and how they can get back on the path. You have to convince them that the consequences you’re enforcing are not a deathblow to their education.


1. This is as effective as parents telling their kids to come talk to them if one of their friends wants them to drink, use drugs, or have sex. However, I still think it’s important to show you are available to them.

2. LaBeff, Emily E., Robert E. Clark, Valerie J. Haines and George M. Diekhoff. 1990. “Situational Ethics and College Student Cheating.” Sociological Inquiry 60(2):190-197

3. My current academic integrity statement on the syllabus in the Soc101 Class Pack is far too ambiguous and it will be one of the first things changed in the Soc101 Class Pack 2.0 So unfortunately this part of the post is more of a “Do as I say, not as I do” until the next class pack launches this summer.

Announcing the Soc101 Class Pack 2.0

The Soc101 Class Pack has been a huge hit with more downloads than I could’ve imagined and it was covered by The Sociology Lens, and the Office Hours podcast. Because of all the success I’ve decided to double down on the Soc101 Class Pack adding more features, all new content, and a whole lot more support for you. The Soc101 Class Pack 2.0 will launch this summer and as always it will be completely free. I will have many more details about class pack 2.0 in the coming months.

Today, I want to announce the first detail. The Soc101 Class Pack 2.0 will use Dalton Conley’s intro textbook You May Ask Yourself. I read at least 15 intro textbooks and can safely say that Conley’s is the best text for this project. Conley’s irreverent style and use of pop culture to explain sociological concepts is extremely effective and the text’s price (around $60) literally can’t be beat. While I could tell you more about it, why don’t I let Dalton speak for himself. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dalton and I asked him about how he teaches intro to sociology and how he sees You May Ask Yourself supporting good teaching.

To download right click here and select “save file as”

“We’re just going to have to do more with less,” this is the mantra of academic administrators across the country. If you’ve read The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed in the last few years then you know the topic of living with budget cuts is evergreen. The times they are a changing and as budgets constrict teachers are expected to teach more students and more courses with less resources. You’re just going to have to learn to do more with less. But you know this mantra is nonsense. No one does more with less.

Doing More with More:

The power of community and collaboration should not be news to professional sociologists. Colleagues in departments across the globe share syllabi, resources, and teaching ideas with the peers in their department without any reservation. Not doing so is widely seen as being uncollegial. While the value and RIGHTNESS of this sharing is so obvious at the departmental level, many academics are wary about sharing with their peers online.

However, in the “doing more with less” reality we find ourselves in the only way to ease the pain of constricting resources is to work together nationally and globally. If sociology educators used Internet technology as a platform for sharing resources with our peers across the planet, we could broaden our collective resources and do more with more.

Many of us need to expand our conception of being collegial and who we perceive as a peer. If you are a professional sociology educator reading this, then to me you are my colleague. Sharing my resources with you only makes sense to me and I hope that my giving will inspire you to give to the community as well. You can get involved by participating in any of the following.

The Movement’s Already Afoot. Join Us.

Online Resources:

  1. Join the Teaching Sociology Google Group/Listserv

    The Teaching Sociology Google Group/Listserv is a community of postsecondary sociology educators who share resources, ideas, ask and answer questions about how to teach sociology. It’s a great place to find activities for your classes, best practices for teaching, and much more.

  2. Share your teaching resource on ASA’s peer-reviewed TRIALS online

  3. Share online videos and find new ones for your classes at SociologicalCinema.com

  4. Share a teaching resource right here on SociologySource.com

Offline Resources:

  1. Join the ASA section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology

  2. Share your teaching resource with the Teaching Sociology Journal

“Did you ever think that all this talk about me being an alcoholic led me to start drinking in the first place?” “No dad1, you’re an alcoholic that’s why we are always talking about it.”

Every semester at one point or another a student will raise their hand or send me an email to ask, “Did you ever think that things aren’t really this bad? Maybe sociologists create the problem by telling us things are so bad. Like the self-fulfilling prophecies we talked about in class.” When pressed these students typically state that, “the world is not as bad as you make it sound, so maybe the problem is you looking in the first place.” If you’ve taught for any period of time, you’ve heard this and you’ll hear it again very soon, so having a prepared response on hand will pay dividends.

Your Temporal Order is Backwards Dad

Talking about dad’s drinking didn’t make him start drinking. Dad started drinking and then we all started talking about it. Sociologists talking about social problems didn’t make them exist in the first place. Social actors made decisions, the consequences of those decisions created evidence then sociologists collected it, reported it, and then we talked about it in class. While this may be obvious to you, it’s not always to our students. As they learn I’ve found the alcoholic dad metaphor really helps them.

Social Location and Your World View:

Why do students say “things aren’t as bad as sociologists say they are”? Simple, because in the world they walk in things aren’t that bad. Typically, but not always, the students who say __ social problem isn’t a big deal are enjoying being a member of the dominant group in regards to the social issue in question. So Whites are prone to disbelieving racism, middle & upper class students discredit institutional explanations of inequality, and heterosexual students question if homophobia is really a big deal.

I use a set of socratic questions to address this. I ask my class, “Let’s say that I was totally sexist toward the men in my classes. Who would be the first to notice this fact?” “Men,” half the class says in unison. “Okay, so imagine that a male and a female student are talking after class and the female students says, ‘I just love Professor Palmer’s class!’ to which the male student replies, ‘Are you crazy? I hate him. He’s so unfair.” Heads gradually start nodding as I go into the story. “Is it possible that the female student might say, ‘you’re making a big deal out of nothing. He’s always been fair to me.’?” Lots of heads nodding now. “Yeah and maybe the female student might say, ‘I can’t believe you’d pull the gender card. You’re either seeing something that’s not there or you’re just too sensitive, but I think your real problem is your approach to the class not Professor Palmer.’” As you know, this is a common reaction when a minority person claims that they’ve been discriminated against. Creating a straw man out of this argument and then knocking it down in class typically inoculates the class from using this argument later in the semester. Furthermore, student who use this logic later in the semester find that their peers jump all over them with the tool kit they picked up from this discussion.

This isn’t sociologists’ opinions

I also reinforce that students aren’t making social problems happen because they aren’t making up these ideas in their heads. I remind students that the sociological research we read in class is empirical and peer reviewed, not simply the opinions of some ivory tower jerks.

“Why Don’t You Move To Europe if You Hate the US so Much!”

If you discuss the social problems facing the United States well enough you are likely to hear an angry student tell you to kick rocks. Hear again the alcoholic dad metaphor can help. Saying “well if you don’t like the problems this country has than you can leave” is akin to saying, “well if you don’t like my drinking so much why don’t you just go find another family.” When I feel I am about to incur my students ire I bring up this metaphor and say, “I could leave or dad could go to rehab. Just saying.” My students laugh and typically the tension is released. I tell my students that I love this country enough to do something about the social problems. And then I belt out a version of “I’m proud to be an American” and all is well again.


1. My dad is not, nor has he ever been an alcoholic. He is, however, a great sport about letting me use him in metaphors. Thanks dad!