Resources for Teachers

I Want You To Turn Off Your Cell Phone

“Ok, let’s stop for a moment. Everyone look up at me. Look up at me just for a second.” I politely ask my class. I wait for them until I have their attention. “Ok, this is an example of legitimate authority because as a teacher asking for your attention is widely considered a reasonable and non-coercive use of power. Thanks, you can stop looking at me now.” Unamused the class lets out a collective groan and a smattering of eye rolls.

Unfazed I continue, “You see, Weber argues that a leader only has authority when their use of power is perceived as legitimate. Legitimacy is not taken by the leader, but given by their followers.” They are fantastically unimpressed by this discussion, which is exactly what I was shooting for.

“A comparison should make legitimacy clear.” I pantomime my words as I say, “If I, instead of politely asking for your attention moments ago, reached behind my laptop here.” I pause to ensure that almost no one is looking at me before I continue, “pulled out a gun and said LOOK AT ME!!!,” I scream as loudly as I can pointing at the class with my fingers shaped like a gun. Students jump in their seats, throw their heads back with eyes wide. Spontaneous laughter explodes throughout the room. I stand motionless, gun shaped hand extended, waiting for their laughter to subside before I conclude, “That!.. That would be perceived as coercive.” Nervous laughter returns to the room and I say under my breath, “bet you’ll remember that on the test.”

Those “Damn Distractions”

My friends and teachers everywhere seem to be plagued by the inability to force students to put their “damn cell phones and laptops away”. Some teachers have responded by outlawing them in their syllabus, using force, some read poems about them to their classes, others temporarily remove students of their personal property until after class. However, despite all of the attention this issue gets, no one seems to have effectively curbed cell phone use. Perhaps we haven’t found the ideal combination of carrots and sticks or perhaps cell phones are indicative of a much larger issue.

Is it possible that we have lost or are losing our traditional and rational-legal authority? Don’t get me wrong, we still hold power over our students and our classrooms, but is their space left for us to use our power in ways that will be perceived as legitimate (and thereby seen as authority)? It would appear not (especially in regards to cell phone usage in the classroom). If students think using their cell phones is legitimate and reasonable, you can either convince them otherwise or force them to stop using them by fiat. The latter has consequences that don’t seem justified.[1]

“I’m not trying to win any popularity contests here,” you may be thinking. Neither am I. However, there is a limited amount of time in every class, a limited amount of student attention, and a limited amount of willpower. In this finite reality, I’m not sold on the idea that the time and energy it takes to get students to put away their phones is really worth it. If one student is pulled away from learning by their cell phone, does it makes sense to pull the rest of the class away from learning to stop and address it. Furthermore, if I use up some of the goodwill I’ve built with my class on nagging them to put their phone away, is that the best use of my power? Does that strengthen or weaken my relationship with my students?

Ding Dong Your Authority’s Gone

What are we to do about cell phones? Teach your ass off. Sociology is cool, interesting, controversial, and emotional. Use that to pull as many students as you can into the conversation. Use interactive teaching methods that will keep your students’ hands and minds too busy for cell phone usage. And then let go. Accept that you can stop cell phone use, but the costs aren’t justified by the rewards.

If we’ve lost our traditional or legal-rational authority, then all we have left is charismatic. Students will rarely listen to you because of your title as a professor (traditional) or because you hold their grade in your hands (legal-rational), but they will listen to you if they feel you care about them and about their learning (charismatic). Teaching with charismatic authority doesn’t mean you need to start doing stand up comedy or become an entertainer, but rather it means connecting with your students and showing them you care.

What I do

I hate cell phones and laptops in the classroom as much as anyone. So I’ve written a no technology clause into the class syllabus and I read it aloud on the first day. I will even show a clip about the myth of multi-tasking and talk about the research on the effects of texting on students grades. Then for the first two weeks I’ll give general reminders to the entire class when I see someone texting. After those two weeks, I never mention it again directly. However, I like to incorporate the reminders into class activities (for instance this Goffman activity).

I have yet to find anyone who has solved the cell phone problem in a way that doesn’t make them seem like a coercive and/or nagging parent. Our students think that controlling cell phone use is outside of our legitimate uses of power. The classroom has changed, students have changed, and so it should surprise no one that our authority has changed along with it.

  1. We should also acknowledge that teachers are given varying levels of authority in the first place. The more dominant your social location, the more you are automatically extended authority. However, the point in this piece is that all of us are suffering from a decline in authority.  ↩

How do you prepare your students for your first test? I show my students this:

The video is, to be sure, ridiculous. The word Bronies and the very idea of grown men watching My Little Ponies is silly (meant in the least pejorative sense of the word).

However, the video is a great opportunity to talk about nearly countless sociological concepts; making it a great way to study for an intro test.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Bronies

To be honest I had only intended to talk about gender roles and norms, but as my students started critically analyzing the clip I got out of the way and let them run with it. Gender roles, statuses, values, norms, symbolic interaction, presentation of self, deviance, sanctioning, gender policing, failed performances, protecting the performer, homophobia, heteronormativity, sexuality, and sub-cultures were all brought up in our discussion of this video.

As they brought up new aspects to the discussion I would chime in with the sociological concept they were talking about. For instance when a student said, “No one sweats it when a girl plays with G.I. Joes, but heaven forbid a boy enjoys barbies or ponies. It’s like everyone’s waiting to point the finger at the sissy (she put this in air quotes).” “Sociologists call that gender policing,” I interjected.

The Bronies were a hot discussion topic. Students were falling over themselves to get the next word in. Bronies are an atypical class topic, but a sociologically loaded one.

I’m most proud of how my students dissected the name Bronies. “It’s like they had to ‘man up’ the name.” said one astute student. “Yeah, even though they are fans of a girly show they sure seem spend a lot of time talking about their manhood,” added another. We flipped through the myriad Brony pics found online and my students quickly pointed out how misogynistic many of the captions were. We concluded that for being an atypical expression of masculinity many Bronies are quick to reaffirm hegemonic masculinity.[1]

3rd Person Self-Reflection

When students watch the reactions of the teens in this video they have the opportunity to analyze reactions that they themselves would most likely have. This provides a pedagogical side door to teach self-awareness and critical self-analysis.

“What do you think about the reactions these teens had to Bronies?” is the question I lead with after the video ends. “They’re closed minded,” blurts out one student. “Yeah, they were really harsh,” says another. “Why do they care so much what other people like? I mean it’s not for me, but if you dig it, so what?” The students were largely pro-Brony and they eviscerated the teens criticism showcased in the video.

After we have thoroughly dissected the reactions of the teens in the video I turn the conversation back toward them. “When I was watching you watch the video I noticed a lot of you scrunched up your face in what looked like disgust, confusion, or revulsion,” I try to show them their reflection gently, but many of the students sit back in the chairs and folder their arms in defense. “Your body language seemed to be communicating to your classmates, ‘I’m no Brony! I wouldn’t be caught dead watching that show!’ What do you think about your own reactions?”

The students were surprisingly open to self-reflection and I think it’s because we had already analyzed the teens reactions. This video provided a sort of 3rd person self reflection. The students could see themselves in the teens and subsequently they could critically analyze their own thoughts/beliefs without being forced to claim them in front of their peers. I’d love to tell you I planned that, but it was more of a happy accident.


Analyzing videos like this is an excellent way to teach your students that sociology is not just a collection of random facts to be memorized and regurgitated on test days. Bronies teaches us that sociology exists EVERYWHERE. Unlike other disciplines, sociology is insanely useful in the day-to-day. I end our analysis with, “If you are able to see the sociological in the world around, even in videos about Bronies, you will almost certainly ace next week’s test.”

  1. After class another student emailed me this video where Bronies react to Teens React to Bronies. They self-proclaimed Bronies were much less misogynistic than the images we saw in class. So I don’t want to paint the Brony community out to be monolithic. You could say there is a lot of divers-orny within the Bronies. Sorry couldn’t help myself 🙂  ↩

Lecturers are educational performances. A well-designed lecture uses every piece of the presentation medium to maximize educational value. The timing and delivery of your slides is one of the aspects of a lecture that all of us need to control. A well-timed slide can make students laugh, be so poignant that it sucks the oxygen out of the room, or be the exclamation point that ends seals the argument your trying to make.

So why are so many of us blowing these opportunities by forwarding lecture slides with a mouse or keyboard?

Using a keyboard to progress your slides:

  1. Means you have to walk over to the computer or worse stand next to it for the entire lecture.
  2. Forces you to always be anticipating when you want to progress the slide so you can mozy on over…
  3. Makes you look like a moth near a light bulb. Flying to and away from the computer ad nauseam.[1]

Friends, I’ve found a better way to deliver your presentations and it’s called the Targus Presentation Remote AMP09US. For $40.99 you get a whole mess of awesome features including all of the basics (clicker functionality, laser pointer, etc.). But what sets this little fella apart from the rest are two key features.

First, the remote has an internal switch that auto-magically adjusts the remote to presenters using a PC, a Mac using Keynote, or a Mac using PowerPoint. If you are a Keynote user then you know how rare it is for a clicker to interact properly with the Mac only presentation software. The Targus is specifically a must for you Ms./Mr. Fancy Pants Keynote User.

The second awesome feature may not overwhelm you until you use it yourself. One of the buttons at the top of the remote makes the screen go black. This is great if your students are furiously writing down what you have on the screen and you want them to stop and listen to what you’re saying. I rarely use text, so when I do my students think they must represent pearls of wisdom (a.k.a. what’s on the test) and many of them immediately stop listening.

Beyond it’s functionality, the Targus is a very well designed piece of technology. The USB dongle that receives the remote’s commands from up to 50 feet away is cleverly tucked in battery case so that you can not lose it when in transit. The remote also only uses a single AAA battery, but has a space for a second backup battery so that you will never be caught with out juice for your clicker. There is also a key-lock button that will keep you from doing anything wonky while the remote is in your hand.

Department chairs and college administrators listen up. You should buy one of these devices for all of your faculty because it will improve their teaching effectiveness.

Faculty, lecturers, and presenters of all stripes, you should buy one of these if you cannot get your employers to do so. Having clickers is a must for anyone using presentation software like PowerPoint or Keynote.

  1. I’m totally empathetic to teachers who have to or choose to live without clickers. I only bought my Targus clicker a month ago, but it’s made a world of difference for me and I know it would for you too.  ↩

What is social change? An important question for the first day of a social change course (which I’m teaching for the first time this semester). A quick way to get your students to think about social change is to ask them, “How would a child born today experience the world differently than you have?” Twitter, iPhones, Barack Obama, smoking bans, and TSA airport screens were the most common responses when I did this recently. It’s important to push your students to think as broadly as possible; if the responses are all focusing on technology, push them toward changes in the family, the economy, or religion.

Download the handout here (Word | Pages | pdf)

When I talk about social change in any of my courses I like to use the video below of comedian Louis C.K. railing on all of us for being so dissatisfied by the amazing technology we use daily. It gets students thinking about how much the technology we use everyday has become increasingly complex in a relatively short time period.

Note About Video: The video is not for every teaching style. Louie C.K. is relentless in his criticism and he plays up his vitriol for comedic effect. After playing the video, I like to ask my students if they feel he was too harsh and then discussing briefly the role of comedians in our society. I’ve found, by in large, that students believe I am being overly cautious and most see nothing wrong with Louie C.K.’s approach.

I follow up this “Kids these days” line of questioning by asking students to think about what are the social forces that drive change.

Finally I conclude by asking them to try and connect social changes with micro-changes in their lives. The handout starts by asking them to identify ways the “American family” has changed over the last 50 years. Then I follow that up by asking them to think about how these macro-level changes have affected their lives personally. I was impressed by how well the students were able to place their “personal biography within their historical context” (paraphrasing). Developing the sociological imagination on day one is not a bad way to start a semester, if I do say so myself.

Students hate group projects because… wait for it… students hate students. That’s right, students hate one another, but only when their fates are intertwined. Weak excuses, blown meetings, unrealistic expectations, and ridiculous requests for hand holding from students[1], these are the things that we as teachers deal with on a regular basis, but students are not accustomed to this side of their compatriots.

But here’s the strange part, while students may hate group work and freeloading students, they will almost never do anything about it. For the longest time I’d have my students evaluate one another after a project using a 1 to 10 point rating scale. Then after a few semesters of getting nearly all 10s most of the time I came to my senses. I mean, even students who passionately complained about their group mates, would give straight 10s to their freeloading peers. To negatively impact a classmate’s grade is apparently akin to snitching for many students.

So how do you hold students accountable for their contributions and promote a good collaborative process? A well designed assessment helps. Below I describe the assessment I use in my classes which you can download here.

1. Rank Your Peers

Asking students to rate each other doesn’t work because giving a 10 to a freeloading student doesn’t harm anyone. However, if you ask students to rank each group member in order of their contribution you can force students to be more honest. I’ve found students struggle with ranking students in the middle (i.e. who should be 3rd and who should be 4th), but ranking the most valueable contribtuion and the least is relatively easy. So keep that in mind when reviewing student’s assessments

2. I Statements

Sometimes the distance between the greatest contribution and the smallest is really not that vast. If everyone worked their tails off, then the top ranked student and the lowest ranked student are artificially separated.

To get an idea of what everyone contributed I ask my students to write a brief description of their contributions to the group. I tell them to use “I statements” to describe what they contributed. For example “I designed and wrote the entire survey and then got 15 people to complete it.” For students who didn’t do much of anything it will be really hard here to “fake the funk” without lying.

I statements are handy here, because if you ask students to describe the contributions of others they are much more likely to see them inaccurately or at the very least subjectively. Furthermore, if the group went south and everyone dislikes everyone else, asking them to talk only about themselves side steps any complianing about their peers that they would like to do. I want to know what happend in their group, but when grading hearing about in-fighting isn’t really helpful.

3. I Deserve – because –

I finish up the assessment by asking them to grade their contribution on a A-F scale and then to persuade me why they deserve this grade. I tell them that if they do a poor job of persuading me, then they will almost certainly not receive the grade they feel they are due. I’ve found that students are much more likely to be honest here if they have to back it up. It’s easy to say, “I deserve an A”, but it’s hard to back it up if you didn’t do anything deserving.


I don’t assign points to any single component of the assessment because I don’t want to comit to a single element of the it more than any other. Each piece of this assessment helps me get a picture of the overall contribution of each student. If you are looking for a non-subjective way to assess your students contribution, then this isn’t the approach for you. However, if you really want to hold students accountable and reward students for their efforts, then this is the way to go.

Lastly, I highly recommend reviewing this evaluation at the begining of your group project. Let the students know how they will be assessed and hopefully the promise of accountability will spring them into action and facilitate good collaboration.

  1. You may read this and think, “wow this guy really doesn’t like students,” or worse, “this guy must work with some of the most awful students in the world.” Niether is the case. I have the privilege of working with hundreds of students a semester and it should surprise no one that out of this large number, a few students have a bad semester or act in way that doesn’t reflect their true character as a student. I work with excellent students, but they are human too and have off days just like we all do.  ↩


Hey everyone,
I’m sick and can’t muster the energy to write a full fledged post.  So instead I’m going to share with you my directions for a super easy extra credit opportunity.  Over at where, full discloser, I’m editor-in-chief we have a pile of awesome sociology articles that pair a sociological concept with a current event or personal anecdote.  Each article ends with 3-4 questions that ask your students to Dig Deeper and explore how the sociological concepts discussed in the article affect them and the world they live in.  You can think of as a sociology micro-reader or as I like to say, a sociology reader for the Twitter generation.
I’ve cooked up some simple directions that you can download here that ask students to briefly summarize the article, answer the questions, and print/turn it in.  Super easy.  Totally free.  Heck yeah!
Be back next week with 100% less cooties.



“Can I add my opinion into this paper?” is a common question in all of my classes. Opinion, as defined as a student’s perspective on a social issue that is informed by empirical social research is always welcome. However, sometimes students just want to tell you what they think and skip that whole backing-it-up part. I always tell my students they, “can have any opinion they can back up with evidence.” But sometimes students just want to tell the reader what they think to add some flavor to the piece they’re writing. Opinion has it’s place in academic writing, but how do you get students to go easy on opinions in their writing? I use cilantro.

It is both

“Opinions are like cilantro. Add a little and it’ll taste awesome, but give me a bowl full of cilantro and tell me it’s a meal? I’m not eating it.” Another, more technical way to put it, “Opinion is great in addition to empirically supported thought, but it’s not a replacement for empirically supported thought.1

Another food metaphor I use answers the ever present, “How long should I make this essay?” question. On essay tests and papers, students typically ask this question but what they are really asking is, “How many words do I have to write to get an A?” I used to always give students a wishy washy answer that some long papers are full of fluff and some short papers are able to get right to the point. Students seemed wholly unsatisfied by these answers. So now I say, “I want your writing to be like French food: small, dense, and rich. Jam a short essay chalk full of concepts, data, and critical thinking and you can be brief.” Being succinct is a valuable skill and when students deliver an essay worthy of the French food metaphor it’s a delicious thing to grade. Bon appétit!


1. Both of the food metaphors I use were taken from the musings of one Merlin Mann. I repurposed them for the classroom, but he said them first. Props to him and I’m a huge fan of all of his work.

“What is the story behind your name? Turn to your neighbor and tell them how your parents chose your name,” I say at the start of class1. Students love answering this question. When I ask if anyone wants to share a flurry of hands go up.

The story behind every students name is a 100% personalized one. Sometimes it’s a simple story (e.g. named after a TV character their mother adored) and sometimes its a complex Rube Goldberg like series of events that lead to their naming. Regardless of how their parents came to their name, the students present their naming as a completely individual choice made by their parents2. No one ever says, “Lindsey was really popular at the time of my birth and my parents just wanted to fit in”

To hear students tell it the child naming process is unique from one family to the next. They seem to have perceived their relationship with their parents as one of a kind and wholly removed from the larger society. This is exactly why using child naming as an example of culture and social forces. Research by Stanley Lieberson in the book A Matter of Taste (summarized well in this NYT article) suggests that parents balance the desire to have a unique name for their child with the desire to not have a name that is wildly divergent from the rest of children in their culture. Most parents wouldn’t name there child alkdjfsoic. However, parents want their child to be recognized as special or as a unique human being, so they also don’t want to name their child something too generic or too common.

What emerges from this naming process is a trend. Many names go in and out of fashion; trending up in popularity and then back down. An easy way of illustrating this to your students is to use the US Social Security Administration’s “Popular Baby Names” database. This easy to use website allows you to search any name and see how it ranks against the 1000 most popular baby names. For most students their names go from out of fashion in the decades before their birth, then they become popular right around their birth, and then fall out of popularity again. Below are some examples from 3 friends of SociologySource. Thanks to @soziologikus (aka Werner), @danielledirks, @sober_sociology (aka Paula), and @yogspiers (aka Eugene).

NOTE: The Y Axis is the rank order of the name.
Lower values equal more popularity.

Danielle's Name Over Time

Eugene's Name Over Time

Paula's Name Over Time

You are a savvy sociologist so you are probably thinking, “But wait, what about the times it doesn’t work?” Indeed you are right. It doesn’t always work, as Werner (i.e. @soziologikus) shows us. Werner was not inside the 1000 most popular US names3. When the database doesn’t register a name it provides us with an opportunity to teach students about social demographics and data collection.

I ask my class to break up into small groups to critically think about how the data was collected and how that might impact the ranking of the name in question. Students are quick to point out that if this database contains the first names of all the people in the United States, then it has a bias toward white Americans. This discovery affords us the opportunity to talk about oversampling and also the changing demographics of the United States.

What I want my students to take away from this activity is not that there are rules that everyone follows verbatim when naming children, but rather I want them to see how a personal choice is guided by social forces. The fact that at times this database provides contradictory evidence only demonstrates the complexity of human behavior.


1. I learned about this excellent ice breaker from April Schueths. Thanks.

2. There is one big exception to this rule. Some African American students in my classes report that their parents selected their name so that, “people couldn’t tell I was Black until they saw me in person.” I typically talk about name discrimination on job applications and resumes during my section on racial and ethnic discrimination, but the findings suggest that name discrimination is a very real problem in the United States. It’s interesting, however, that when I ask these same students to tell me how their parents ultimately selected their name students tell a very personalized narrative. So even for students who have seen how larger social forces (e.g. racism) affect personal decisions, the final decision stills focuses on individual level variables.

3. Werner was not born in the United States, so this probably explains his absence from the top 1000 most popular baby names.

Social Solutions

Social Problems has problems. The class title alone, “Social Problems,” is pessimistic and despair inspiring. On top of that most texts (and most classes if we want to keep it real) are 99% focused on diagnosing the problems our society faces and their social causes. Furthermore, we reify social problems when we disconnect them from everyday “real” world students live in. Should we really be surprised when students call the course Doom & Gloom 101? In a cruel irony, social problems taught this way [paralyzes students] with despair, mystifies the causes of social problems in our students’ lives, and subsequently reproduces or at least exacerbates the social problems the course was designed to tackle. Damn.

To fix social problems’ problems I’ve devised a semester long project that will empower your students to identify, analyze, and solve a social problem facing their community. Furthermore, this semester long project requires students to critically analyze empirical research, synthesize their analysis, and frame their findings in a way that is accessible to the public. Pairing this activity with a “social solutions” mindset inspires students to be activists in their community.

Nuts & Bolts of the Project

The semester long project is really five separate, but interlocking assignments. Two of the assignments are group projects and three of them are individual assignments. I break up the class into groups of five students. Students are then charged with finding a social problem they are all interested in learning more about. Students can pick any social problem they like, but it must be 1) social in nature and 2) they have to be willing to adopt a system-blame approach to the problem as opposed to a person-blame approach.1 After students settle on a topic I sit with them and help them develop their idea and supply them with any sociological jargon that may be helpful in their search for scholarly resources.

Students hate group work because of freeloaders, so these assignments are designed for students to be graded for their independent work before they are asked to use it in group work. For instance, students work together to create a group “fact sheet” based off of 10 peer reviewed sources. Before they start this group project each student must turn in a “Sources & Synopsis” assignment that asks them to find two peer reviewed sources and write a one page synopsis about it. That way when the five students meet to work on the fact sheet each student must have two sources in hand and be ready to share a synopsis of the article.

Overview of Assignments


Course Project Overview Slide

  1. Sources & Synopsis
    This first assignment asks students to find two peer reviewed sources about their sociological topic. This assignment affords me the opportunity to teach students about the peer-review process, how to do scholarly research, and how to think about their social problem in sociological terms (i.e. the jargon & concepts used in sociological research).

  2. Group Fact Sheet2
    The second assignment has the five students pool their peer reviewed sources together and create a “fact sheet”. The fact sheet is designed to be accessible to the general public while maintaining a solid ASA citation form. Students are encouraged to include images and present their information in a visually appealing way. The fact sheets must include information about the social problem, debates or conflicting information within the scholarly community, and (most importantly) (Inter)National, State, and local resources so that a reader of the fact sheet could do something to mitigate the problem if they were so inspired by the fact sheet.

  3. Social Institutions Analysis
    Where does this social problem come from and what could be done about it at the macro level? These are the two base questions of this assignment. Students are expected to dive into their system-blame analysis and explain how our social institutions create, reinforce, and exacerbate their social problem. I ask students to think like a conflict theorist and identify the benefactors of their social problem and the oppressed. You could ask students to use any other theory, but I find that students in this low level class struggle with finding their own theory and seem to have the strongest grasp on conflict theory. What I like about this assignment is, for students to do well on this assignment they must have truly read their scholarly sources, understood them, and then drawn their own connections between them. This paper really tests their ability to synthesize and evaluate their sources.

  4. Finding Local Solutions & Taking Action
    Now that they understand the social and institutional causes of their social problem, students are asked to take action in reducing their social problem. They have to come up with a course of action independently, pitch it to me, and then carry it out by semester’s end. The social action needs to only satisfy two criteria. 1) it reduces their social problem in a meaningful way and 2) the action is verifiable. In the past students have led food drives, volunteered at domestic violence shelters, created a pamphlet on ways to avoid drinking and driving, and even carried out a letter writing campaign. Students then write a paper about their experiences and why they feel it made a positive impact.

  5. Group Presentation
    The project wraps up with a group presentation where students inform their peers about their social problem. Students relay the information they collected for their fact sheet, their social institutions analysis, and they discuss the social action they took. I have students do this during finals week.

A Couple of Issues

This isn’t a paint-by-numbers assignment and despite all the pedagogical value assignments like this have, some students hate choose-your-own-adventure assignments. I implore my students to see that the world they will graduate into doesn’t need people who can follow directions, but leaders who can create their own directions. Most students passionately accept the challenge, some hate my guts. Such is life.

You should also be aware that students may inadvertently recreate the oppression they seek to ameliorate. If students fall into a person-blame approach it’s easy to take points away because they didn’t follow the directions, but sometimes it’s not that cut and dry. I had a group of students lead a letter writing campaign targeting the Georgia State lawyer responsible for prosecuting child support non-payments. On the surface it seems like a good thing; make dads accept the financial responsibility of parenthood. However, it also disproportionately vilifies low income men. Some men don’t pay child support because they are deadbeats, some don’t pay because they are unable to. I had my students address this issue in their papers and I asked them to present an argument from both sides of this issue. They did an excellent job and I think learned a great deal from it.


1. I tell my students during the first week of class that both a person-blame and a system-blame approach have value. That regardless of the social problem there are systemic causes and issues of personal responsibility. I argue that systemic causes are more significant than many students think they are. I also explain that this class is focused on Sociological analyses of social problems and therefore we will almost exclusively focus on system-blame approaches. I end by saying that there is no shortage of person-blame in the media, politics, and the news, so they should have no problem finding a venue for their person-blame energies.

2. Have to thank Laci Fiala, Katie Slauson-Blevins, and April Schueths for this assignment. I lifted whole portions of these fine teachers excellent assignment. Thanks!


My hands shake before I talk about the darkest aspects of social injustice. When I talk about rape and intimate partner violence my throat goes dry. When I teach the topics of prejudice, discrimination, intolerance, and hate my voice becomes somber. For some of my students social injustice is something “out there” floating in the ether, but for others social injustice is something that they deal with everyday; it’s painfully real. Inequality and injustice are not simply academic ideas, but they are lived experiences. We have to teach in a way that is reverent to our students lived experiences, makes room for student anger, but guards against debilitating rage. In the third and final part of my review of Nancy Davis’s article Teaching Inequality: Student Resistance, Paralysis, and Rage1 we will explore how anger can be useful in the classroom, but how rage can be destructive.

Anger is a normal reaction to discussions of injustice and inequality, especially for students who’ve been personally negatively affected by it. When anger grows into rage it blinds students, narrows their perspective on the issue, and students begin to think about inequality in extremely reductionist ways. Davis suggests that when student become enraged and reductionist thinking takes hold,

…everything wrong in the world is attributable to patriarchy or white racism or capitalist hegemony. Men are reduced to a gender with no redeeming qualities and women are regraded as blameless in the maintenance of gender stratified societies. A blindness to the complexities of hierarchical societies and to the multiple forms that stratification takes may result.” p. 236

Enraged students may direct their anger at the nearest student from a privileged group. One male student becomes the figurehead for all that is wrong with patriarchy or a single white student comes to represent racism in it’s entirety. An enraged class is a hostile one that doesn’t allow any divergent thoughts, opinions, or worldviews to be heard. Rage is a righteous anger that assures its holder the way they see the world is accurate beyond a shadow of a doubt. An enraged student has no room for growth or learning.

Making Room for Anger, Guarding Against Rage

Given that anger is normal and a powerful motivator, good pedagogical design doesn’t try to avoid student anger, but rather it tries to use it to encourage learning. In my experience student anger is most commonly expressed by students during a large class discussion. When students want to share their firsthand experiences with injustice and inequality you have to let them be heard; you have to acknowledge that this is their lived experience and how they’ve come to understand it. Using a “two minute paper” to let your students write down their thoughts and feeling about the class discussion allows students to express and work through their feelings. Furthermore this self-reflection can lead to a great deal of learning and self-discovery.

When I’ve had a student become enraged I found that the students are typically unaware that their anger has escalated. If a class discussion gets particularly heated I will always reach out or “check in” with angry students. Typically I will email the student after class so that they have some time to cool off and they are allowed time to think about how they will respond to me. It’s not uncommon for students to reply back, “Thanks for asking, but I’m fine. I love this class and I love talking about _.” In my reply email I will tell the student how much I appreciate their honesty and passion for the topic and ask them to help me make the classroom a place where all voices can be heard. Ideally this turns a potentially volatile student into a student who is supportive to and encouraging of his or her peers.

In my classroom I work to foster an environment that is accepting of all students regardless of where they are at developmentally. Only in the social sciences do students snap on a peer for being uninformed or incorrect. Before a high risk class discussion I tell my students that if in a calculus class the professor asked, “who can tell me how to solve the problem on the board?” And a student rose their hand to incorrectly say, “I, uh, think you take the anti-derivative…?” None of their peers would turn around and say, “WHAT!?! Are you kidding? Didn’t your parents raise you right? Clearly you take the derivative. God some people are ignorant!” No, in a calculus class it’s okay to not know the answer. It’s okay to still be learning. After I tell my students this story I ask them to allow their peers to learn here and to let this room be a space for learning.

Discussing inequality is one of the most challenges aspects of teaching sociology. After reviewing Davis’s article over the last three weeks I hope that you will feel more prepared for the issues surrounding inequality when they arise in your classes.


1. Davis, Nancy J. 1992. “Teaching about Inequality: Student Resistance, Paralysis, and Rage” Teaching Sociology 20(3) Pp. 232-238.