“Have a great break and if you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a great Thanksgiving.” This is what I always say to my students at the end of our last class before the Thanksgiving/fall break. Without fail a student will ask me, “Who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving?” When I suggest that Thanksgiving has a much different meaning for Native Americans & other colonized peoples my students either nod or roll their eyes at me. In my experience the students I have worked with are largely unaware of issues among Native American communities today. For many students the history of Native Americans ended with the government executed genocide. Students in the U.S. desperately need to learn about modern day injustices that Native Americans are currently living through. There is arguably no greater or more overt injustice than what is happening in Whiteclay Nebraska.

The town of Whiteclay, NE has only 14 people in it. Yet it has 4 off sale liquor stores that sell 4.5 million cans of beer a year (approx. 12,500 cans per day). Whiteclay borders the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota, where alcohol is banned outright because of many issues with alcoholism. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a sovereign nation that is located on the South Dakota side of the Nebraska-South Dakota border. These 4 predatory liquor dealers make millions of dollars each year off of the Oglala’s and the social costs of their business are experienced on the Pine Ridge side of the border.

However, the overt and unquestionable injustice here is that the town of Whiteclay has no legal place for these 12,500 cans of beer to be consumed each day. You can’t drink the beer at any of the off sale liquor stores. You can’t drink it in your car or on the street. And you certainly can’t drink alcohol let alone possess it on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Despite evidence of daily illegalities there has been almost no police intervention. The state government of Nebraska enjoys the excess taxes from Whiteclay and yet claims to not have the funds to adequately police the area.

www.BattleForWhiteclay.org is chock-full of resources, information, and videos on this subject. For more info start here. All photos here were provided by BattleForWhiteclay.org.

As an educational piece Whiteclay is especially useful because it bridges the gap between historical and modern injustices carried out by the U.S. government. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation contains the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre where between 150 and 300 Lakota men, women, and children, who were being disarmed by the U.S. 7th Cavalry, were killed. Forensic evidence suggests that many of Lakota were shot in the back and its widely believed they were unarmed.

Today the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is one of the poorest communities in the United States with extreme unemployment and abject poverty abound. Quite simply, this is a community that cannot afford to export millions of dollars across the border into Nebraska, nor can it provide support for the Lakota in need of treatment for alcoholism.

There are some excellent videos available to bring this issue into vivid detail for your students. I can’t recommend enough the documentary directed by Mark Vasina, The Battle of Whiteclay, which is loaded with activist interviews and footage of the protests and legal challenges that surround this crisis. Viewers get brought up to speed on the historical foundation of this issue and then get to see the crisis first hand. My students were appalled by the footage of Whiteclay where people drink alcohol openly in public and lay passed out on the side of the road. One poignant scene captures a woman as she confronts her brother who has taken and sold her car for money to support his disease. The last half of the film goes from courtroom to courtroom as advocates of the Pine Ridge Reservation try to get law enforcement to take action in Whiteclay or even simply ban any more licenses from being awarded to the tiny town.

I have created both a viewing guide/note sheet for the film and created directions for a paper that asks students to explore the crisis and why it is allowed to continue.

The Hidden Massacre of Whiteclay is a YouTube video that was created by the students of Omaha Creighton Prep. The video (shown above) is an excellent brief introduction to the issues.

To understand the present you need to understand its connection to the past. Native Americans across the United States are experiencing continued injustices. This Thanksgiving I will be thankful for my friends and family, but I cannot celebrate the history of genocide and injustice associated with Thanksgiving that continue to hurt Native Americans today.

Have you ever got an email that looks like this:

I am always astonished at how poorly some students communicate. More often than I care to remember, students will send me an email that doesn’t include the very basic information that I would need to help them with what ever problem they are experiencing. I know that you too are experiencing this problem, so I created a website to make it really easy to help our students learn the basics of email.

I give you APoliteReminder.com. It is a simple, straightforward website that saves you and I from having to repeatedly educate students on the fundamentals of communication. Furthermore, it is a POLITE reminder. The text is written in a way that doesn’t denigrate students or try to embarrass them. We need to educate our students not alienate them.

So check out APoliteReminder.com. Tell your students about it. Tell your friends about it. And lets make the Internet a more effective medium to communicate with.

Img: layoutsparks.com

“If two dudes kiss at a party does that mean they’re gay?” Sexuality and gender collide in this question. The social construction of both gender and sexual orientation lay naked. Sexual orientation becomes conditional not on exhibited behaviors, but conditional on the societal response to the exhibited behaviors. In the response to this simple question students can see how sexual orientation, which for many of them has up until now has been something that is determined solely by biology, can be something that is determined socially.

I have designed a “pop quiz” that asks my students to read a short story of two young heterosexual students who after a night of over indulging on alcohol end up kissing one another after a group of their peers repeatedly chanted, “Kiss, kiss, kiss!” The story ends the next morning when one of the two young people wakes up to their cell phone ringing off the hook. Someone recorded the kissing and put it on Facebook.

You can download the pop quizzes here.

After reading the story the students are asked to write down what they think the consequences will be for the young people in the story. They are asked if they think the friends, family, and local community will think these two young people are homosexual.

What my students don’t know is, there are two versions of the story. Identical in every way except for the names of the two young people. One version talks about Jasmine kissing Alyssa & the other talks about Darius kissing Cole.

When my students have finished answering the questions I ask them to raise their paper in the air if they wrote down that they believe the community surrounding these two young people would think after seeing the video that they are homosexual. I collect the papers and ask the class to share any thoughts they have. While they talk I separate the pile of quizzes into two piles, one for the male names and one for the female names.

Without fail, far more students think that Darius and Cole will be thought of as gay by their friends and family. Every time I have done this activity the results are almost 2 to 1. Twice as many students think that men kissing at a party will be consider gay than women kissing at a party.

When I tell my students that there were 2 versions of the reading they’re shocked. They laugh and shake their heads. I tell them that twice as many students thought the men were gay than thought the women were lesbian. I tell them that I almost always get this result and I ask them why? This starts a long discussion on the social construction of sexuality and gender construction.

After this activity we begin a discussion focused on deconstructing gender and sexuality. I have my students read Masculinity as Homophobia by Kimmel or Dude, You’re a Fag by C.J. Pascoe to give them the eyes to see how expressions of gender are socially constructed. Both of these outstanding texts make it easy for students to see both how society narrowly defines masculinity and femininity and defines the two in opposition of one another.

I administer this pop quiz during my week long discussion of sexuality and specifically after the class discussion of the Kinsey Continuum of sexual orientation. The Kinsey Continuum is based on the national research Alfred Kinsey did on the sexual thoughts and actions people had in 1948. Kinsey found that the men who admitted to engaging in sex acts with other men, or fantasizing about doing so, or admitted being aroused by gay pornography almost always reported that they were heterosexual and not gay. The Kinsey Continuum is great, because it shows the disconnect between self-identified sexual orientation (a social construct) and the desires, behaviors, and fantasies of an individual (an empirical construct).

With a solid understanding of the social construction of gender and sexuality students are ready to see how sexual orientation is socially constructed and how narrowly defined masculinity is more intolerant to non-conforming gender expressions than is femininity. As a society we are more accepting of gender non-conformity in women.* Especially when the non-conformity is expressed in a way that delights heterosexual men. Two young women kissing at a party while surrounded by young men chanting, “Kiss, kiss, kiss,” is seen as non-threatening to our narrowly defined masculinity; scenes like this can be viewed as reinforcing narrowly defined heterosexual masculinity. My point here is not to judge expressions of sexuality and gender, but rather to demonstrate the flexibility of female sexuality and the rigidity of male sexuality.

*I feel compelled to acknowledge the violence and hostility that lesbians and other women who express their gender in non-conforming ways experience everyday. I feel it’s safe to say that narrowly defined masculinity is overall more hostile to non-conforming expressions of masculinity, but it’s not a competition. The larger problem here is the constraining of self-expression regardless of which sex is expressing it.

Kimmel, Michael S. 2000. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” Pp. 213-219. Readings for Diversity and Social Justice: An Anthology on Racism, Antisemitism, Sexism, Heterosexism, Ableism, and Classism, edited by Maurianne adams, Warren J. Blumenfeld, Rosie Castaneda, Heater W. Hackman, Madeline L, Peters, Ximena Zuniga. New York, NY: Routldege.

Pascoe, C.J. 2007. “Dude, You’re a Fa: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School.” University of California Press.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a roster of all your students names and photos. Something you could turn to as your handing back papers; avoiding that awkward moment were you show your students you don’t know their names. Wouldn’t it be great if after a conversation with a student you could look and see what their name is, what their major is, etc. I am sure that many of your institutions have some form of this, but I have never found one that had all of the things I wanted.

Luckily for us we live in the age of Google Docs. Using the “form” functionality in Google Docs you can create online surveys that will collect data and save it to a spreadsheet. I have set up what I call the “student info sheet” to collect pertinent student information at the beginning of each semester. What’s great about this is you can send the survey in an email to your students and then they can fill it out and submit it without ever leaving their email client. Alternatively, you can just email them the link or you can embed it on any webpage, like Blackboard. I’ve embedded an example survey at the end of this post. Feel free to try it out. Also, you can download the text of the survey here.

As nice as it is to have all this information about your students it would sure be a whole lot better if there were some photos attached to it. To handle this I have my students email me a photo of themselves with the subject line reading “Photo of _______ ________”. Then I can just search for their name and find the photo I am looking for. If you are worried about email file sizes, you can have your students send the pics to the gmail account you created when you signed up for google docs. There is gigabytes of space to burn with this email service.

But how do we connect the photos with the spreadsheet? Well you have two options 1) you can download the Google Doc spreadsheet of your survey results into Microsoft Excel and then just paste each photo into the appropriate row or 2) you can use a database program. I use a Mac computer and the best database program I’ve found on this platform is Bento. Bento is a dead simple drag and drop database for people, like me, who hate fiddling around with complicated database programs. It is $49, but it synchs with my iPhone and iPad. What I love about Bento is that I can have my photo databases wherever I am as long as I have my phone handy. While I like Bento, there are many database options that for the PC and Mac that are both cheaper and a lot more expensive. Pick the database that works for you.

Beyond the usefulness of the photos, the database has really helped me understand my students. Somehow knowing a students major, or the way they learn best helps me empathize with them. There is a tendency to assume that the reason someone is acting a certain way in your class is because either they hate you, your class, or the subject. However, there is usually another reason for their behavior and I’ve found students will share this reason with you if you ask.

“How many people do you know who openly consider themselves to have a racial bias in their worldview? How many people do you know who consider themselves racist?” Tough questions for a early morning sociology 101 class. The class sits silent. Furrowed brows and questioning looks greet me as I continue, “Well then. Isn’t it strange that in a world where almost no one considers themselves racist we see vast racial disparities? If there are almost no racists, then who is responsible for creating racial inequality?” This is how I start my week long discussion of institutional racial discrimination.

In my Soc 101 classes I teach race over the course of three weeks. Week 1 focuses on the social construction of race, how race is still an issue worthy of our time, and individual prejudice & discrimination. Week 2 is spent on providing students with evidence of institutional discrimination. We conclude our discussion of race by watching The Color of Fear and discussing how we can end or mitigate racial disparities.

The Axes of Discrimination

I break down discrimination across two axes or spectrums. The first axis addresses how discrimination can range from overt or intentional acts all the way to subtle or even unintentional acts of discrimination. The second divides discrimination between individual acts of discrimination and institutional discrimination. Students can always help me with subtle and overt examples of individual discrimination, but are stumped to think of a form of institutional discrimination. The overt institutional discrimination example I have above is a sign outside a Sundown Town which formally barred people of color from being within city limits after dark. A more subtle example of institutional discrimination is the use of standardized tests to justify educational inequality.

The Importance of Institutional Discrimination
Institutional Discrimination is the unequal distribution of rights or opportunities to individuals or social groups that results from the normal operations of society. This is the bias in the system that comes from how our society is structured. Institutional discrimination is not the result of some bigot using his or her power to hurt minority groups. These are disparities that are created by people who are doing what they are supposed to. From this vantage point it’s easy to see how people could be totally oblivious to the fact that they are creating inequities. The people who carry out the policies that discriminate often do not intend to hurt minority groups and see themselves as moral upstanding citizens.

But this is only half the story. Now we know how people could be oblivious to the institutional discrimination they create and enforce, but now we need some evidence that institutional discrimination is creating real racial disparities. I spend an entire 50 minute class providing evidence that contemporary institutional discrimination exists for minorities in our economy, in housing, in our education system, in the legal justice system, and in our community. You can download my lecture notes and see all of the empirical findings of sociological research that I share with my students. Below I share some of the highlights:

Institutional Discrimination in the Economy
Gif Created on Make A Gif
Students are floored to realize that the boards of the Fortune 1000 corporations are so gender and race biased.

Institutional Discrimination in Housing
I show the video Race the Power of an Illusion 3: The House We Live In, which sets the bar for outstanding sociological films and for the lengthiest title in history. The video clearly and concisely explains how the federal government sanctioned the suburbanizing of the US racially via redlining, blockbusting, and residential steering. Truly a must see film for every sociology student & teacher.

Institutional Discrimination in Education
I have a couple of great YouTube clips and activities for educational inequality which I wrote about previously in a post you can read here

Institutional Discrimination in the Legal Justice System
In addition to the research findings I share with them about racial profiling (listed in the lecture notes), I also do the Racism and the Death Penalty activity I discussed a few weeks back.

Institutional Discrimination in Our Community
Finding recent local examples of institutional discrimination can be challenging, but the Kids Count study is a great resource for educators in the U.S. Each year The Annie E. Casey Foundation collects data on various social indicators of childhood wellbeing. If you go the to “data by state” page you can find excellent data about the state you are teaching in. I am currently teaching at Georgia Southern University, so the facts I shared with my Georgia students are below:

  • Leading cause of teen deaths (age 15-19) by race and gender: White females & males: car accidents, Black females: Medical issues, Black males: Homicide
  • The Infant mortality rate for Black infants (12.7 per 1000) was three times that of Hispanic infants (3.7 per 1000) and nearly twice that of White infants (6.5 per 1000)
  • Black (21%) and Hispanic (22%) students are more likely to fail state reading tests than their White (8%) or Asian (7%) counterparts
  • Black (18%) and Hispanic (16%) students are twice as likely to fail state math tests than their White (7%) counterparts
  • 88.2% of Asian students graduated from high school on time, followed by 77.5% of White students, 65.5% of Black students, and 60.3% of Hispanic Students in 2007

“Will This Stop Racial Disparities?”
When I was in elementary school I remember we had a multi-cultural day every year (which begs the question, what were the rest of the days if not mono-cultural days). All I remember from these multi-cultural days was that we were told, “Everyone is equal” and we always learned about the Civil Rights Movement as though it had solved or ended racial discrimination and disparities in the United States. I don’t think my multi-cultural education was an aberration. Recent publications suggest that this type of, “We’re all friends/Everyone is equal” education is pervasive in the U.S. and ineffective. This type of education promotes a individualistic focus on race, racism, prejudice, and discrimination. It tells our young people that to end racial inequality all each of us needs to do is quit being a bigoted jerk. A lengthy discussion of systematic and institutional discrimination crimination is the only remedy to this narrowly focused multi-cultural education.

After our 50 minute tour of institutional discrimination in all its forms I put the slide above up on the screen and ask my students, “Will this stop racial disparities?” After a beat, a chorus of no’s come from the class. We spend the next week exploring systematic solutions to the systematic problems of institutional discrimination.

“I wish there was something I could do,” I found myself saying after I heard of another suicide of a bullied gay teen. And then it hit me like a whack on the side of the head. I have a flipping class of 200 students. Why not put that to some social use? It’s true that this project was not on my syllabus at the start of the semester and it will require that I take some time out to develop the project, but THIS is sociology. It’s not some abstract concept in a book, its public sociology; sociology that could make a difference.

I have been troubled in recent weeks by the number of campaigns to end ______ that don’t actually mitigate the social issue in any real way. I have wanted to write on my Facebook status that, “I like it on something that can actually make a difference in breast cancer.” (Read this if that makes no sense to you 🙂 I feel that if we construct an activity like this well, we could demonstrate to our students how to take social action in ways that actually create a impact in their community.

I try to avoid being an activist teacher in my classroom because I find it alienates more studesnts than other approaches, so this project would have to be something students could elect to do if they wanted. For this to work it couldn’t be heavy handed or feel forced. This project would be an option for motivated students who wanted to do something unique.

The activity that I came up with (Download it here) is what I call a “Pitch Me” project. I set out some clearly defined outcomes, for instance that it needs to be public and it must incorporate sociology, but after these guidelines are met they are free to run wild. Students email me a pitch that includes all the relevant details and then we collaborate to develop the idea in to a satisfactory project. What I love about this project is that it asks students to solve a interesting problem and lead which is the goal I talked about last week.

Please feel free to download, modify, or share these directions in anyway that you feel could make a positive difference. If you use this idea or develop one like it, let me know and we can share our students work on this site after the semester is over. Together I believe we can really make a difference in our communities and across the planet. Thank you in advance for considering it.


“How could I provide better customer service to my students?” This is the question I kept asking myself after reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. Hsieh (pronounced like Shay) is the CEO of Zappos.com, an apparel company that is renowned for their dedication to serving customers. When I started the book I thought, “well this will be an interesting read, but I am lucky I don’t do customer service.” By the time I finished this book, my whole view of teaching changed. Hsieh’s work provides two worthwhile insights for teaching that I cover here. First, I argue that teachers do provide customer service and second, what makes people happy.

Providing Customer Service:
I reject the consumer model of teaching flatly. I am not an employee of my students. What happens in my classrooms is not a transaction. Good classes help students develop in personal and professional ways. Great teachers focus not only on the material, but on guiding students through a process of learning and personal growth. So before we can go any further with this discussion I need to disentangle customer service from consumerism and capitalism. A more useful definition of customer service, for teachers, is creating professional connections with students that acknowledge their humanity and uniqueness. Customer service then is the opposite of a teacher-student relationship where the only thing a teacher knows about the student is what their grade book tells them.

I can provide customer service to my students by knowing what their educational dreams are and directing them to resources that can help make them a reality. I can provide customer service by committing myself to learn each student’s name (currently I have ~200 students, FYI). I can provide customer service by learning each of my student’s names and at least knowing some basic information about them. Responding to email in a timely manner is customer service. Being in your office during office hours is customer service. Providing clear directions for all of your assignments and using rubrics when grading is customer service. Providing rich feedback on written work is customer service. I can provide customer service by avoiding terse language in emails and showing patience when I answer a question for the hundredth time.

How to make your students happier:
Making students happy is simultaneously something that many faculty would say is, “not my job” and other faculty would say is the holy grail they’ve been searching for their entire professional lives. You can’t make everyone happy, but in Hsieh’s book he reviews some of the basic findings happiness research provides. Psychologists of happiness find four main situational aspects that lead to happiness. 1) Perceived control, 2) Perceived progress, 3) Connectedness, and 4) Being part of something bigger than yourself. I’ve been thinking about ways I could structure my class to increase each of these.

Perceived Control
The clearer you can be with what you expect of your students the more control they will perceive. Clearly defined assignment directions and a clear syllabus are good steps in the right direction. Grading rubrics also promote student efficacy. I am also a big fan of providing my students with multiple options on any assignment. There is certainly more work in creating multiple assignment directions, but it’s nice to not have to grade 200 copies of the exact same project. Also, it lets students pick assignments that most interest them.

Perceived Progress
Giving your students timely feedback on graded work is the best way I can think of to promote a sense of progress. I, like many of you I’m sure, use an online grade book so that students can see their course grade in real time. I make it a priority to get feedback to my students within a week.

This is the toughest one for me. I am experimenting with creating a Facebook group page for my course, but I have found students don’t really communicate as much as I would like on the page. We can, of course, do group activities and small group discussions, but this isn’t enough for me. I think this is the aspect of happiness that if done right could pay the greatest dividends for us all.

Being part of something bigger than yourself
Sociology as a discipline lends itself well to connecting to the larger community outside your classroom. Local current events can bring sociological topics to vivid life. Service learning opportunities can literally take sociological concepts out of the classroom and into the “real world”. You can also create projects that require your students to take an activist stance in their community.

“But it’s not my job to provide customer service or make my students happy,” you may be saying. Agreed. It may not be your job, but it’s your opportunity. It’s your opportunity to bring your art to your audience in a way that will create a lasting meaningful change in their lives. It’s hard to do and the constraints we all face make it even more difficult, but this is what we should all be aspiring to.

What do you think? How do you provide customer service or set your class up to make your students happier? Tell us below in the comments.

Note to Readers: I thought we’d take a break from our normal posts to talk about a few recently released books and how they impact teaching and specifically my teaching philosophy. I want this to be an open discussion, so I have turned on the comments below. Alternatively you can email your thoughts to me at Nathan@sociologysource.com.

Recently I read two books that have changed my approach to teaching. The books Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and Linchpin by Seth Godin are not about teaching or education really. They are about giving your art to the world. Godin’s book begs you to silence the voice of resistance inside you that wants you to hide your art. Hsieh’s book wants you to see that your happiness lies within your art and within those you give your art to. For the first part of this two part series I will focus on what I learned from Godin’s Linchpin and how it has changed my game. On Friday in part 2 I will focus on how we can create a happier classroom and increase our educational outcomes in the process.

The world needs your art:
I consider teaching my art (as I am sure many of you do). I spend almost my entire waking life thinking about ways to make my classes better. It’s my passion and some close to me may say my obsession. I call it my art not because I think my classes are so amazing; I have had amazing classes and I have had mediocre classes. I believe teaching is art when you can make connections with another human being. It is art when students leave class a changed person. When you breakdown the complex and esoteric so that students can understand it in simple terms, it’s art. I have never made a masterpiece yet, but like anyone who considers themselves an artist, I will be chasing it for the rest of my life.

You are an artist. The world needs you to believe in your art. Then the world needs you to share it with as many people as possible. This is the central message of Godin’s Linchpin. I don’t need to tell the readers of this blog that teaching sociology can change lives and be the catalyst for social change in your community. What an amazing and imposing opportunity this is. Thank you for taking this challenge. I am sure you don’t hear this enough.

What should we be teaching in our classrooms?
The most directly relevant part of Godin’s book is his discussion of what should be taught in classrooms at every level. Godin argues that there are two types of classes (read more about it here):

Type 1. You can take a class where you learn technique, facts and procedures.
Type 2. You can take a class where you learn to see, learn to lead and learn to solve interesting problems.

After reading this I had to take stock of what I am doing in my classes. I was working really hard to open students eyes to the larger world around them, but I wasn’t teaching them to lead and I wouldn’t say the problems I was having them solve were… interesting. I still don’t have all, let alone some, of the answers. Today I am just posing the questions.

For example if, like me, you give close book multiple choice tests then what are you preparing your students for? Is there ever a scenario in day to day life where a person has access to a whole bunch of useful information for solving a problem, but then at the moment when it is most needed it is taken away? How do you solve problems in your life? I use Google, research, books, colleagues, and anything else I can find. If this is your reality too, then why don’t we test students differently?

Another problem with multiple choice tests are they tend to test lower order learning. Multiple choice is great for testing definitions, facts, names, and dates, but it’s really hard to write multiple choice questions that ask students to apply concepts or evaluate problems. It can be done, but it rarely is.

I tell my students that when they are being interviewed for their future jobs the main thing the HR staff will be trying to figure out is, can this applicant lead and solve interesting problems. I am using “interesting problems” in the broadest sense possible here. They will not assess if the student can memorize a whole bunch of facts, names, and dates and then mind dump it on paper. That passive form of learning is useless in the larger world.

Working within our constraints:
“But I teach classes of 100 or more students.” I feel ya, I do too. Which makes teaching leadership and creative problem solving all the more challenging. However all art is created within constraints. Virtuoso artists thrive under constraints. Shakespeare flourished underneath the very tight constraints of sonnets.

The trend in higher education is for classes to get larger and larger. We can either complain about it and reminisce on better days or we can work within our constraints and deliver our art. Given that I’m a long way from retirement, I vote for the latter.

So what do you think? How are you getting your students to learn to see, lead, and solve interesting problems? How are you overcoming your constraints? Please feel free to comment below or email me directly at Nathan@sociologysource.com.

Who is your powerpoint presentation created for? That is, who benefits most from what you put on the slides? Do you put everything a student would need to know to do well on exams? Probably not. When you know a topic like the back of your hand do you put a whole lot of fine details on your slides? Most people don’t. Then who are bullet point slides designed for? Not our students/audience, but for you the presenter. It’s no wonder then that students eyes glaze over by the second slide.

Cognitive Overload:
Bullet point slides ask your students to listen to you, read what they see, and write it down in their notebook. Listen, read, write simultaneously. But the truth is, no one can really multitask, you can only do 3 things half heartedly. You know what I am talking about; the classroom gets silent when you progress your slides forward. If you want to ask a question you have to wait until everyone gets the slide copied in their notes. Bullet points force your students to ignore you. So then are your presentation slides an aide to your instruction or are you an aide to your PowerPoint’s instruction. You can reclaim your class, if you want to.

The Potential in PowerPoint.
Your lecture slides could captivate your students. They could communicate in a simple, straightforward manner a complex concept by using an image or metaphor. Instead of bullet points telling students about a current event, you could show them what it looked like. You could use your slides to convey the emotion connected to your concepts. Your slides could make your students laugh or want to cry. The potential is so amazing that it is near criminal that so many of us are leaving this opportunity on the table. See & download my examples below:

Current Events:

This slides doesn’t tell your class about the two students who spread cotton in front of the Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri, it takes them there. It shows them the smug look on the perpetrators face when they were arrested.

Presenting Concepts Visually:

Social Stratification as explained through rock stratification.

Racial Injustice


Conveying Emotion:

This photo shows the grieving mother of a Muslim American Solider Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan who was killed in Iraq serving his country. I use this photo when we talk about Islamophobia and what it means to be an American.

Graphically Explain Data

“But, My Students Expect To See My Notes”:
This could be put another way: “But, my students expect me to tell them what’s on the test.” This is a dangerous teaching model. It makes you “the expert” with all the information. It also encourages diametric thinking (i.e. that there is only right information and wrong information.) Students with this mindset will hate group work, because why would they want to talk to non-expert students when there is a sage in the room? Students at this level of thinking cannot understand how answers can be partially right or how complex certain situations can be. If you want to encourage higher level thinking you have to break students out of this model and changing your PowerePoints is a straight forward way of doing just that. If you don’t change them, you should ask yourself, “what type of thinking am I preparing my students for?”

I tell my students all the time, “If you want a different type of class, then you have to be a different type of student. I promise you that I will do everything in my power to be a different kind of teacher and make this a different kind of classroom experience.” Different in, different out. If you want a different experience with your students you have to try different things. I say so what if your students expect bullet point slides. Give them a well thought out, interesting, challenging class and they won’t complain that you didn’t follow some unwritten rules.

How You Can Do It:
I use Google Image search and Flickr’s Creative Commons search to find most of my images. These are free resources that you can use as long as you credit the owner or creator of the images (what’s know as attribution in creative commons lingo). Another option that I use a lot is iStockPhoto.com which is a website that has thousands of professional royalty free images for around $5 each. This is less attractive, but if you buy images that can be reused in many classes it can lesson the pain.

This post and all of my lecture slides were inspired by Garr Reynolds’s Amazing book Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Lastly, I don’t use PowerPoint because I find that program infuriating. If you have a Mac you should at least try Keynote. It makes it dead simple to produce snazzy lecture slides in less time than it takes to fumble through PowerPoint.

Hegemony is supremely relevant to our students’ lives, it’s central to almost everything sociology has to teach them, and yet it is extremely hard to explain simply. Asking students to understand and recognize hegemony is like asking a fish to understand and recognize the water that surrounds it. Hegemony works precisely because it goes unnamed and largely unseen. How do you teach students to see the invisible?

Hegemony, as Gramsci defined it, is a very complex concept. The first step to helping your students grasp the concept is to define it much more narrowly. I define hegemony in my classes as the ways those in power use their power to control public perception in a way that ensures they will stay in power. Drat. Even that is not too clear cut. Here is an even simpler one: Hegemony is the way rich people get poor people to think and behave in a way that will keep the rich rich and the poor poor.

Thankfully, I have a metaphor that I use in my class that helps my students jump on board the hegemony express.

The Titanic Metaphor:

The sinking Titanic provides a great metaphor for hegemony. Many students have seen the movie and are well aware that many of the less affluent people on the bottom decks of the ship were unable to get off the ship and drowned. In the movie the ships crew seals a door shut to prevent the less fortunate passengers from making it to the top deck, thus ensuring the rich easier access to the lifeboats. This is a powerful metaphor for social stratification and competition for scarce resources.

I ask my students to then imagine what if the people on the lower decks of the Titanic decided that it was in their best interest to seal the doors on themselves, sit, and patiently wait for death. I tell them that if the people on the lower decks had been convinced by the people on the top decks that it was in their best interest to do this, this would be hegemonic.

When talking about any form of inequality or exploitation my students always seem to assume that I am talking about some other unfortunate group of people. Indeed many of my students do come from privileged backgrounds, but all of them have been exploited by those with more privilege and advantage than they have. To help show them what I am talking about I show them the chart below*:

I ask my students, “Why do you have to take the SAT if the test is basically a test of your families income?” I ask my students to tell me what the SAT is supposed to be testing and many are quick to say intelligence or ability to be successful in college. Then I ask my students to write on a piece of paper how the SAT is a form of hegemony. Students can easily see how the SAT is used to hide privilege and convince students of lower socioeconomic classes that they are not smart or not worthy of competing for a spot at Harvard or Berkeley. The SAT is the rationale that is used to get the lower classes to sit down and not compete for the educational opportunities on the top deck.

When students assume they are not the exploited that is a example of the very hegemony that I try to teach them about. It’s hegemonic when the students who suffer from inequality are convinced that they are the benefactor of that inequality.

*Chart was taken from an amazing article by Gregory Mantsios called Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study, Eighth edition