The next time you teach, start class by asking your students to write about the recent history of any social issue of the moment. Help them generate a list of topics on the board. Climate change, marriage equality, racism in the legal justice system, mass shootings, the 13 year war in Afghanistan, Bronies, the #Selfie, anything they want. Nothing major, just a bulleted list of the key moments over the last 30 years. Give them 5 min.
If you’re feeling really brave try writing the recent history of all of these issues yourself. Personally, I know enough about these issues to know that I don’t know enough about these issues. I think I could muster the watershed moments in each, but not well enough to explain them to a class full of students.
After you go to your happy place, read through your students’ papers. I’m willing to bet that for the most part your students will be unable to provide even a rudimentary history of a social issue. Keep in mind that your students chose these issues, so in all likelihood you’re reading about the social issue that they feel they understand the best.
If your students don’t know the history of social issues, they will be forced to build their understanding of the social world on top of a framework devoid of historical context. If the sociological imagination lies at the intersection of biography and history, then how can we expect our students to develop as sociologists without a basic understanding of thier recent past?
The next time you find yourself thinking, “they just aren’t getting it.” Ask yourself, “do they know the first thing about the history of this issue?” Without a historical context no one can have a sociological imagination.
I would need to review the literature before I would be ready to teach it to a room of undergraduates. ↩
Obviously every class and every student is different. Some will struggle more than others. If you find you have a class of students who can all provide an accurate recent history of a social issue, then run down the rows of desks high fiving each one of them like a maniac. ↩
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could see what your students are saying about the community you live in? Well good news friends, there’s an app for that.
Meet Yik Yak. It’s a sort of anonymous twitter. You can post messages anonymously and then people can vote them up or down. But what really makes Yik Yak interesting is that you can only read the messages that were published by someone else near your current location. So for instance, if you open Yik Yak in the student union you’ll see different messages than if you open it at the library.
It might be easier to think of Yik Yak like a virtual bathroom wall were people scribble messages anonymously. And just like a bathroom wall it’s full of horrible, vile, and down right mean messages sent by people too cowardly to say them publicly. The app has received a lot of criticism because it’s been used by school children and college students alike to bully, harass, and shame students and teachers.
All that said, I think Yik Yak could be used as a pedagogical tool… if you’re courageous. Often I find myself trying to convince my students that racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are problems on our campus and in our town. Now instead of telling them that intolerance is a problem, I can show them it is. I plan to show them the words of their peers and the community they live in when I talk about racism, sexism, and homophobia. I’ll show them that some of the most oppressive messages receive the most up votes. Yik Yak will serve as an ice breaker and, I hope, neutralize the “we don’t have that problem around here” argument.
Why This Might Be a Terrible Idea
As soon as my students know that I am on Yik Yak I open the door for them to say the most hurtful things they can anonymously. I trust my students. I sincerely like and respect them as well. I think at this point in the semester we’ve established a strong enough report to do this. But that said, I don’t plan to load Yik Yak after class. I’ll give it a few days for any “Prof. Palmer Sucks!!!” messages to fade into the background. If you think your students have animosity toward you or are bigoted toward you because you are from a non-dominant group, you should really consider not using Yik Yak.
Of course Yik Yak messages are an unrepresentative sample. Oh, looky there, another concept that Yik Yak can teach your students.
The greatest sin a sociologist could commit is being boring… okay okay, abusing human subjects is the greatest sin, but being boring isn’t far behind. Sociology is, for a lack of a better word, sexy. No one storms out of actuary sciences class in a huff, but our students find our classes so emotional, so compelling, so challenging that they literally can not stand it and they run away.
On the four year anniversary of SociologySource.org I want to tell you what I’ve learned about making sociology accessible to the masses. Throughout all of my teaching, all of my work on SociologyInFocus.com, and the one-off projects I’ve done like the “Doing Nothing” video, I’ve been thinking really hard about and trying to develop my skills at communicating highly complex ideas with language that anyone could understand.
This is a guide for how to write so that your scholarly work finds an audience. This isn’t advice for how to write to get published in a top journal, in fact this might be the exact opposite of that advice. Ultimately, writing for social media is writing for a public audience. Therefore, it’s an act of public scholarship.
Talk to Me! – Acknowledge the Reader.
EXAMPLE: Many scholars today argue that when sharing your ideas with your audience the use of the third grammatical person places distance between the two parties whereas employing the first and second person delivers a reading experience that is superior in it’s intimacy with the reader
Talk to your reader. Write as if your reader is in the room with you.
Alternate your writing between the first person, “my research finds…” and the second, “your students will love…”
Ditch the authoritative third person voice as it is often the coward’s crutch. It’s the bravado we use when we fear that what we say won’t be taken seriously.
Show don’t tell. Don’t be afraid to slip into a narrative to allow your reader to experience the event first hand. “Telling” stories second hand is like serving a dinner guest pre-chewed food.
Just Say It! – Never lead with a disclaimer or qualifier.
EXAMPLE: I don’t want you to read this and think I am trying to be mean. I’m also not trying to say that this applies to all forms of writing. As I said above, these are just my opinions.
SHOOT ME IN THE FACE! Did you have something to say underneath all those disclaimers and qualifying statements?
Never lead with disclaimers or qualifying statements. Say what you want to say immediately and then, if you really must, give them your disclaimers/qualifiers.
Your first sentence exists to entice the reader to read the second sentence. Your first paragraph’s job is to intrigue your reader so they are compelled to read the second. And so on and so on.
K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Scholar!
EXAMPLE: Academic writers who use jargon and esoteric language are often preoccupied with communicating their cultural capital to their peers and because of this they sacrifice what could be a learning opportunity for a lay audience.
Mercilessly destroy jargon. If you absolutely have to use a piece of jargon, don’t just define the term. Introduce the term to your reader using an anecdote or other illustrative tool.
Nix the esoteric language. If a ten cent word can communicate an idea, don’t use a ten dollar word instead. You went to grad school; we get it.
The greater the pre-requisite amount of education a reader must have to understand your reading, the smaller your audience will be and the smaller your impact will be.
Jargon and esoteric language are the sacrificial offerings we place at the alter of public sociology.
Get in & Get Out.
Keep it succinct. If possible, keep any blog post to less than 500 words.
No! It’s Not All Important
Only present the reader with information that is essential for them to understand your larger points.
You have an expert’s mind, so to you it’s all essential. Try to remember back to when you were a novice to your subject. Try to remember how a “beginner’s mind” saw your subject and then write to answer the questions of the reader with a beginners mind.
Say something compelling, intriguing, challenging, inspiring, evocative, poignant, or otherwise interesting.
If what you write feels risky you’re on the right path. If it’s something that you sincerely believe or something that empirical research can back up, then take the risk and hit publish.
“The web has made kicking ass easier to achieve, and mediocrity harder to sustain. Mediocrity now howls in protest.” – Hugh Macleod
Don’t Let Perfection Be The Enemy of The Good
Don’t worry if your grammar isn’t perfect. I’m not a grammarian. I have no doubt that those of you who are could rip apart what I’ve written.
Focus on clearly communicating your ideas. It’s more important that you share your ideas with the world than it is to make sure your writing is 100% error free. Get in the arena and mix it up with people.
Your writing isn’t etched in stone. Remember that unlike print, you can immediately change errors as your readers point them out to you.
A Final Note
Not every scholarly publication needs to be written so that a the general public can read it. There is nothing wrong with scholars using academic journals to share highly technical and complex research with other trained social scientists. However, as a discipline we need to have a bias toward accessibility and cultivate a community of sociologists highly skilled in communicating esoteric research into human readable texts. And this community of explainers, communicators, and ambassadors to our discipline need to be seen as providing an invaluable service to us all.
Not all authors are treated equally. Non-dominant voices are often presumed incompetent and using an authoritative voice can be an effective counter-measure to this type of discrimination. This is not cowardice. However, as a whole academics over rely on the authoritative voice to deal with their fear that others will unmask them as a fraud or take their openness as a sign of weakness. ↩
Oh the hypocrisy! This blog post is 1,060 words long! ↩
“I feel like I’ve changed her life… I feel like I’ve screwed her life up,” Joel laments head in hands, fighting back the tears. Joel, a Mexican immigrant who is undocumented, is facing at least a ten year unlawful presence ban from the U.S. He planned on staying in the U.S. for just a few years to earn some money, but then he met Alyssa, “She’s my right hand, mi media naranja” (my other orange half or soul mate).
When Alyssa, a U.S. citizen, married Joel over ten years ago, they gave little thought to federal laws. They were both musicians and met in their church choir. Even though they were from two different countries they both grew up in small, rural communities and had shared values of faith, family and hard work. They married and had a baby. They lived the American Dream of home ownership and have another baby on the way.
They were told by their attorney to wait for immigration reform, as there is virtually no hope for their family to adjust Joel’s legal status under the current immigration policies. His only other option for adjustment of status was to return to Mexico for at least10 years.
“Where are my rights, my child’s rights as a U.S. citizen? I don’t think any American citizen should be separated from their spouse for this. We can’t even pay a fine.” Alyssa voices her frustration passionately.
Their reality shatters the popular myth that marriage to a U.S. citizen is a direct and easy pathway to citizenship. Alyssa’s experience, and the experience of tens of thousands of other U.S. citizens, supports the position that the full rights and benefits of citizenship are not extended equally to all Americans. Alyssa’s story demands that we reevaluate the assumed benefits of U.S. citizenship in mixed-status marriage.
Alyssa and Joel’s story and the stories of other mixed-status couples are rarely mentioned, especially the ways in which citizen spouses too become marginalized. During the last eight years I’ve talked with many mixed-status couples and U.S. citizen spouses consistently discuss several challenges.
Experiences of Marginalization
Nearly everyone the couple encounters, who knows about their immigration situation, says something along the lines of, “but you’re married, I don’t understand why you’re having all of these immigration problems.” Most people don’t realize that since 1996 that stereotypical “Green Card” marriages for undocumented spouses, especially those with extended unlawful presence in the U.S. or multiple entries, have become relatively outdated. In those situations, marriage alone cannot help someone without documentation adjust his/her legal status. As Abby, a U.S. citizen spouse said, “Nobody gets what it’s like.”
U.S. citizen spouses report that they’ve lost numerous benefits and rights. Here are just a few of the more common issues discussed. Because most employers require a spouse’s social security number to access benefits, citizen spouses aren’t usually able to share their employment benefits with their undocumented spouses. This is important as most undocumented immigrants do not have their own health insurance or a job that provides employer-based insurance. In some cases, couples have trouble even getting a marriage license. Couples report having to figure out which city or county will marry them without a social security number. U.S. citizens that would normally qualify for Earned Income Tax Credit are not eligible if their spouse has an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This was also the case in 2008 when the federal government sent economic stimulus payments to eligible families. Citizen spouses have even had trouble getting car insurance in their own names. Additionally, couples face restrictions and risks on travel. Most undocumented spouses don’t have a valid driver’s license, but some drive out of necessity (e.g., work, family obligations, etc.). Mixed-status couples cannot fly anywhere together and certainly cannot leave the U.S. together—at least not if they plan to return together.
These citizens feel betrayed by their country when their rights are taken from them.
Mixed-status couples including U.S. citizens experience tremendous distress. They can live a clandestine life in the U.S. but face chronic distress and fear that the rug will be pulled out from underneath them at any moment by falling into immigration detention or deportation proceedings. This is especially true for families that include immigrants of color living in anti-immigrant communities. And this doesn’t even consider the compounded stress and oppression experienced by same-sex couples who are also mixed-status. For many couples, every time they say goodbye they know it could be their last. Even for families that haven’t had a family member detained or deported, most of them know families who have experienced this trauma.
When a spouse has been deported (although some families are pushed out and leave on their own as the stress of living without legal status becomes too stressful), the family may relocate to that spouse’s country of origin or in a few cases, an entirely different country. For the most part, undocumented immigrants are migrating from developing nations, with few job prospects. Therefore, exiled families often see their incomes reduced dramatically. Access to quality education, healthcare, and concerns regarding public safety are often mentioned. The final option, and also the least desirable, is to live separate from a spouse and/or children in two different countries. For couples dealing with medical and economic issues, this becomes their difficult reality.
American families are having their families terrorized by U.S. immigration policies. No human is illegal, no family should live in fear, and every citizen should get to be with their other half of the orange.
April M. Schueths, Ph.D., LCSW is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia Southern University. Within the broad area of social stratification her research focuses on the intersection of race/ethnicity with social structures including family, education, and health. She has peer-reviewed articles published in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Latino Studies, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, and Teaching in Higher Education. She is the co-founder and editor of www.SociologySource.org, a site dedicated to sharing resources and ideas for teaching sociology. You can learn more about April at her website, www.aprilschueths.com. Editor’s Note: All names have been changed to protect anonymity.
Writing is hard. Actually pushing the keys on the keyboard is easy, but getting your butt in the chair is hard. For most people writing is second only to public speaking on their list of things they’d rather not do.
The secret to writing is starting. If you start writing early enough and thus give yourself plenty of time to work through your writing process, you are way more likely to write something you can be proud of. However, despite imparting this wisdom on my students I can tell that they wait until the absolute last minute to write my papers.
Before we lament “students these days!”, let’s think about why students procrastinate on writing papers. For many, they are just simply too busy with a full class schedule, work/family obligations, and their campus clubs/activities. There is little we can do about this first issue.
Even students with ample free time procrastinate on writing papers and this I blame on fear. They are afraid that they will bomb the paper. They are afraid they won’t know what to do and they’ll have to stare into the abyss of the blank white Word document screen. Their fear tells them that anything they write will probably suck, so what’s the point? Yes, they are afraid and that’s why they wait until the last minute.
They wait until something they are more afraid of shows up. The big fear is that they have waited too long and now they are certain to fail this paper which certainly means they will fail the class or worse (!) fail out of school all together. Gripped with the big fear their former anxiety seems small and they sprint as fast as they can to complete the paper at hand. As my friend says, no one thinks of their sprained ankle while they’re running for their lives.
How To Get Your students to Start Writing Earlier?
Make them start right now. Hand out the directions to your class paper and then give them 10 minutes to free write their ideas or draft an outline.
Last week I gave my students directions for their first paper in my Social Change class. After handing out the directions, I asked them to draft a three bullet outline right on the back of their directions. Then I asked them to circle on the directions the aspect of the paper they felt they were least prepared to write about. This week in class the first 10 minutes of class my students will do a free writing activity for each of the main components of the paper. The paper isn’t due until 2/28, but after this week they will have drafted notes, outlines, and scraps of writing that can be used in their paper. No one will have to start with a blank page.
Lower the on-ramp to the writing process by having your students start before they can even think of procrastinating. If you believe me that the hardest part of writing is the starting, then have your students start the writing process immediately.
Sometimes it’s not what is said, but what isn’t. Research done by Race Forward shows that when the media talks about issues of race and racism, they do not discuss the systemic aspects of the issue. Most often when the discussion turns to issues like incarceration rates, youth unemployment, immigration, etc., the news presents only an individual level analysis. Without the context of systemic racism, the viewer is left to draw conclusions about the individual. Personal responsibility and accountability are some of the only tools left in the toolbox when we myopically focus on the individual.
Last week Sociological Images featured a post of mine from last year on how the language we use often hides privilege. Inspired by Michael Kimmel I flipped the oft quoted figure that “women make 81 cents to every $1 a man earns” to “Men have consistently been paid more than their female peers, earning about $1.19 to every $1 of a woman’s wage”. Turns out, I did the math wrong.
As I read the comments under the post, my heart fell on to the floor. I was exposed. There it was in black and white, I’m an impostor. I’m a huckster. I’m a fraud.
A cacophony of self-loathing voices rattled my head. “Who are you to tell other people how to teach their classes?” “Your pathetic excuse for scholarship has made your friend look bad on her blog because she foolishly trusted you.” “See I told you this would happen. You need to be quiet and let the real academics handle this. You’re just a lecturer.”
To some readers this might seem like an extreme overreaction, but to many others it won’t. Everyday of my career I have carried with me these voices of self-doubt and I’m willing to bet that if you are truly in touch with your emotions, you have too. And I’m a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, citizen, [I could go on] male. I’m supposed to be the embodiment of authority, but even with all of my privilege I can’t ever feel comfortable.
I am not alone. I know that you feel this way too. Because of my impostor syndrome I’ve ducked opportunities; I’ve deliberately held myself back. I’ve held my tongue (believe it or not).
Why I’m Writing This & Why Aren’t You Writing Online?
Why aren’t more sociologists/academics blogging? At the very least, why aren’t more applied sociologists or social activist sociologists blogging? There is a giant platform to share you research, reach the people who could create social change, and/or engage with other researchers in your field. But yet, almost no one does it. Why?
I think the fear of being exposed as an impostor is a big reason more sociologists and academics in general don’t share their ideas and research online. Online there is no journal to bestow their authority to your words. There are no fact-checkers and/or peer reviewers. It’s just you, walking the tightrope without a net.
I am writing this today because I want you to tell the voices in your head that are constantly catastrophizing … you don’t die. Humble pie tastes awful, but it’s a tiny price for me to pay for all of the wonderful people I’ve met and the opportunities that’ve come my way because I started blogging. There is a portion of the world waiting to hear about your research, your teaching, and your perspective on the world. Take the risk. Start the conversation. It will be worth it.
With the Spring semester about to begin, I am deep in “course prep” mode. This semester I will be teaching American Society, a staple in the sociology department. I generally teach this class as a course on inequality, specifically debunking the myth that our society is a classless, egalitarian society. I divide the course into four segments on class, race, gender, and sexuality, with the final component of each segment working to tie these categories together and introduce students to the theory of intersectionality. We explore how science, medicine, family, religion, popular culture, media, education, and public policies (like marriage, health care, and immigration law) both create and propagate inequality. And we talk about whether institutions like these, which are often used to preserve the status quo, can instead be used to fight inequality. By the end of the semester, students are able to explain how social identity categories operate in the United States, and accurately link these categories to existing problems of inequality. It is my favorite course to teach, and generally students seem to enjoy the provocative discussions that emerge out of the readings and lectures.
This term, however, I am prepping the class in the midst of writing my dissertation, specifically a chapter documenting the men’s movement in the United States. This movement is comprised of diverse groups with different, often contradictory, goals. For example, the profeminist men’s movement works alongside feminist organizations, and aims to change masculinity in ways that improve the lives of both women and men. Profeminist men are well known for their work engaging men in anti-rape and anti-violence causes (for example,the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, or NOMAS). But not all of the strands of the men’s movement share these politics. Some, called the mythopoetic men’s movement (like the ManKind Project), are decidedly apolitical, advocating instead for personal, psychological growth and change. These men believe that changes in modern society have left men struggling, searching for decent role models of “true” masculine behavior. The solution for them is not necessarily working for social change, but helping men develop more fulfilling identities and relationships. And finally, there is the men’s rights (or men’s human rights) contingent (like A Voice for Men and the National Coalition for Men, or NCFM). This wing of the movement is highly conservative and reactionary. They see modern social changes, especially those brought about by feminism and other civil rights movements, as the cause of a great many ills for American men. They believe that the tables have turned so dramatically in our society, that now women have advantages over men. Issues tackled by these groups run the gamut: from concerns about false rape allegations and coercive military draft policies, to the unfairness of “ladies’ nights” and men’s lower health quality. The solution for these organizations is enacting legal and policy changes, especially through litigation. While they do not share goals or tactics, one thing they all share is a belief that current iterations of masculinity are limiting and fail to represent the diversity of men’s needs and desires.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with my class. Well, I like to push students to see inequality not just as a disabling force, but also an enabling one. In other words, while inequality is disadvantaging for many, it persists because it seems to “work” for a small (but powerful) few. But inequality is bad for everyone—this is a big message in my class. Highly unequal societies are less healthy and happy societies overall. That means that it is disadvantaging even for those who also benefit from it. Studying the men’s movement pushes me to think about ways to teach inequality that highlight its schizophrenic nature. Inequality is not just about those on the bottom rung, it also about each privileged step up the ladder. Even those in power are often unhappy, as evidenced by the men’s movement.
So when I teach gender inequality, I begin with what students expect: namely, with the assertion that ours is a male dominated society. That means that the qualities we value in one’s character, in leadership positions, in the public sphere generally, are those qualities associated with masculinity. Masculinity reaps rewards—we can see this in the gender wage gap, among other things. But then I go further. Whose masculinity reaps rewards, I ask? Upper class, white, heterosexual men’s masculinity is the masculinity that pays. That leaves out most men. Moreover, masculinity demands much from men, sometimes much more than it repays.
My favorite example is (American) football (see some great posts on the topic here, here, and here). It is definitively American and blatantly masculine. It creates heroes of its players, and provides fame and fortune. But, it is a warlike sport that ravages men’s bodies. Men battle on the field to demonstrate their physical ability, their courage, their competitiveness, just as in society where men compete with one another for dates, promotions, etc., all of which rests on their masculine performance. But this performance can be grueling. For football players, it brings broken bones, chronic pain, and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a condition in the brain, produced by repeated sub-concussive trauma, leading to early onset dementia, mood disorders, and memory loss. In society, the price men pay may not be as obvious as the scars and bruises that football causes; men pay for their privilege in shorter life spans (often attributed to risk-taking behaviors like fast driving and drinking, and lifestyle choices like eating red meat), stunted emotional development, and a lack of fulfilling relationships (because the characteristics that make good businessmen do not always make good friends or partners).
We do not have to turn to reactionary models like the men’s rights movement to make sense of why American men are unhappy and feel dissatisfied by their social roles, nor should we. We do not have to blame feminists or women for making things better for themselves, nor should we. In fact, any move toward greater social equality is good for everyone, even those whose power is threatened (or diminished). We can, however, take note of the facets of life where different groups (of men, of women, of immigrants, of workers, etc.) find flaws, and see how these flaws emerge out of unequal conditions. We will obviously find them among those most disadvantaged in society, but we will also discover them hidden behind social privilege. The solutions to these concerns will be found in dismantling structures of inequality.
How do you teach inequality? Have you discovered innovative ways to get students (at any level) to think about privilege and power? Or have you encountered resistance when teaching these topics, and if so, how do you manage that response?
Kimmel, Michael. 2013. Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. New York: Nation Books.
Rothenberg, Paula. 2014. Race, Class, and Gender in the United States. 9th Edition. New York: Worth Publishers. [this is the textbook I use for the class, which contains a variety of readings that lend themselves to the structure I’ve laid out]
And, for more on teaching and pedagogy, see Markus Gerke’s post here.
Amanda Kennedy is a founder and editor of Masculinities 101. She is currently completing her PhD in Sociology at Stony Brook University.
The 101 class is the public face of our discipline. Every year there are roughly a million students in the United States who take Soc 101, that is, if my publisher friends’ estimates are to be believed. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, 101 will be their only exposure to our discipline. Sure, they might hear about our research findings in the media, but chances are they’ll have no idea that it was a sociologist who produced the research.
So, who’s teaching the 101 courses at your institution? In many places 101 is taught by a hodgepodge of grad students, adjuncts, lecturers, and assistant professors. In every one of these situations we position on the front lines our least experienced educators (many of whom have never received any formalized training on pedagogy). Now, don’t let me be misunderstood. I reject the idea that years of experience correlates with excellence in the classroom. I’ve been cutting my grass since I was 10, but I’ve always done the bare minimum to avoid the ridicule of my neighbors. My neighbor’s yard, on the other hand, is the stuff that would make the angels cry. Wisdom in the classroom certainly has it’s advantages, but an inexperienced teacher who is passionate and focused on honing their craft can quickly make up for a lack of experience.
How do the faculty in your department think about 101? Is it something to be avoided like the plague? Is it a hazing ritual that you put newbs through so that senior faculty can get to teach their “real classes” (i.e. their upper division classes within their area of interest)?
Why Does It Matter Who Teaches 101
First, it matters because the introductory classes serve as the on ramp to the major. As reported by InsideHigherEd.com in their forth coming book How College Works, Chambliss and Takacs find that,
Second, it matters because of Krulak’s law which posits, “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.” Put simply, if the 101 class is the frontline of sociology, then the 101 teacher is the ambassador for us all.
Why Does It Matter Who Is the Public Face of Sociology?
Sociology has an image problem. As a discipline it’s not uncommon for the general public to think we are either explaining nothing more than common sense, not a “real science”, an academic arm of the socialist party, or simply radical liberal wackadoodles. For instance, take a look at the controversy that swirled around Patricia Adler last month. As reported by Rebecca Schuman on Slate, commenters to Adler articles said, “Sociology is a pseudoscience which has successfully pursued government subsidies in tuition dollars for decades… It is akin to getting a degree in practical witchcraft.”
As sociologists, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you that there are risks to having a poor public perception. In an age when our fellow social scientists have seen their discipline made ineligible for NSF funding, it’s hard to argue that the public’s perception of your discipline doesn’t matter. Plus, don’t we do research to create an impact in the world?
What Needs to Change?
We should take our introduction classes seriously. When we meet department cultures or individuals who belittle the role of the 101 class we should speak up and educate our colleagues. If less experienced faculty are teaching intro classes, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that they are well trained and have the resources they need to be successful. For while the viability of an individual professor’s career may hinge on publications and grant dollars, the viability of a academic discipline hinges on the ability to recruit students and impress upon the public the value it holds for them.
As my Internet friend Todd Beer says, “Teach well. It matters.”
Obviously there are some structural explanations for the concentration of non-tenure and/or less senior faculty at the 101 level. The pool of qualified applicants for a 101 course is much larger than the pool for upper division classes that require more specialized training and experience. ↩
The idea for Krulak’s law came from a quote by General Charles C. Krulak that Jeff Sexton was inspired to share on his blog, but was coined into a law by Seth Godin. Credit where credit due. ↩
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Resources & Ideas for Teaching Sociology from Nathan Palmer.