Karl Marx

Big news over at SociologySounds.com! First we brought Jason Eastman on to the team as editor-in-chief, last week we added over 40 new songs to the database, and finally added a new statistical/methods category. Plus we have an all new set of sociologists rocking headphones.

If you’ve not yet seen the site, SociologySounds.com is the place educators can go to find music that illustrates sociological themes. With your help we already have over a hundred songs in the database and it’s growing by the day. Help keep it growing by submitting a song or tweeting about it. So much to talk about, but let’s start at the beginning.

Jason Eastman, Editor-in-Chief

I knew when I started SociologySounds.com that it was the right project, but that I was the wrong person for it. I love teaching, but a scholar of the sociology of music, I am not. That’s why I am thrilled to bring Jason on as the editor-in-chief of the project. Jason will bring his expertise from his research in the sociology of music to make sure that SociologySounds.com is the best resource for all sociology teachers. You can also expect your submissions to get posted much faster![1]

Jason is an assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University who studies the replication of inequalities through culture and identity. His dissertation research was on the ongoing Southern rock revival and he has written about masculinity in rock music among many other projects. You can find out all about Jason by reading his bio here. I think it’s safe to say SociologySounds.com is in much more qualified hands now.

We’ve Added Research Methods

Thanks to Sister Edith Bogue from the College of St. Scholastica for suggesting that we add a category for songs that illustrate research methods concepts. My favorite of her recommendations is the song “White Collar Holler” by Stan Rogers. It sounds like a coal miner’s blues song about a Xerox programmer from the a pre-Windows era.

She also sent me this gem from some UC Berkeley students:

Social Justice Top 40

Kimberly Harris Boyd from Piedmont Virginia Community College sent me a link to “The Social Justice Top 40” on the GlobalSolutions.org. It’s another great list of sociologically related songs. Thanks Kimberly for the great recommendation!

Sociology Rocks


Our sociologists wearing headphones crew has expanded by four new members.  Check them out above and download them all here.

Thanks Again

In just 6 months SociologySounds.com has turned into a fantastic teaching resource because of all of your help. We have well over a hundred songs and I know we can break the 200 mark by the end of the year. If you’ve got a song in mind, please share it with us. And thanks again to everyone who helped make SociologySounds.com a success!

  1. I am really sorry for the delays. There were many submissions that I was unable to post before last week. I believe all of your submissions have been uploaded, but if you don’t see yours please email me at Nathan@SociologySource.com  ↩

I am working on revamping my intro to sociology class from the ground up right now for the, long awaited, class pack 2.0[1] and it has me questioning, what topics are the most important to a 101 class? I’ve talked before about how I think a 101 class is like a Tapas restaurant, but the question is which bite size chunks of sociology must be included.

Looking through Teaching Sociology it appears I am in no way the first to raise this question. Many scholars have asked the question, “what should our goals be when teaching sociology?” I really enjoyed Hodges Persell, Pfeiffer, and Syed (2007) piece about what award wining and high ranking sociological teachers think is important[2]. Grauerholz and Gibson (2006) examined syllabi for common articulations of student learning goals and the means used to achieve them. Their work suggests that most sociologists incorporate readings, writing, and exams and that, “more active types of learning were less common” (Grauerholz and Gibson 2006: 5).

In “Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major Updated” McKinney, Howery, Strand, Kain, and White Berheide (2004:1) articulate our teaching objectives in language that is both poetic and inspiring:

The best thing sociology can do for undergraduate students, whether majors or not, is to teach them to learn effectively so that they can keep up with rapid changes in society, particularly in knowledge, and live meaningful, engaged, and productive lives. If we can achieve this goal and their on-going learning is based on a template of understanding the importance of social structure and culture—the sociological perspective—then we will have succeeded in providing an education worth having and in producing citizens and workers who will be of continuing value to their communities and employers.

But the question I have yet to find a strong discussion about and that I’d like to turn toward you all is, what subjects are truly critical for an introduction to sociology? For so many of our 101 students, this may be the only time in their life when they have the opportunity to learn and discuss the social issues of our time. What then, should we teach them? What must they be exposed to?

This question seems like it should be rather academic, pun intended. Many disciplines have a standard collection of topics that all introductory students must be exposed to. Sociology does not have such a thematic standardization and I for one say thank god! What makes sociology so interesting is how divergent a discipline it is. That makes it interesting, but it also has the potential to make it unwieldy.

For example, as someone who teaches Environmental Sociology as an upper division class, it can be challenging when students have had absolutely no exposure to thinking about the connection between the natural world and the social. I’m not suggesting that we mandate environmental sociology into introductory level soc classes, but rather, making the point that sociology students can have vastly different experiences from one teacher to another and that this has to have consequences.

What I’d like to ask you is, “What subjects are so important that you feel obligated to teach them to your 101 students?” I invite you to share you thoughts in the comments below, but I also thought a quick survey might get us some good non-random, non-generalizable data about what our community thinks. For lack of a better idea, below is a list of the chapters I found in the five 101 books I had in my office.


  1. Grauerholz, Liz and Greg Gibson. 2006. “Articulation of Goals and Means in Sociology Courses: What Can We Learn from Syllabi.” Teaching Sociology 34(1):5–22.
  2. Hodges Persell, Caroline, Kathryn M. Pfeiffer, Ali Syed. 2007. “What Should Students Understand after Taking Introduction to Sociology?” Teaching Sociology 35(4):300–314
  3. MicKinney, Kathleen, Carla B. Howery, Kerry J. Strand, Edward L. Kain, and Cheterine White Berheide. 2004 Liberal Learning and the Sociology Majory Updated: Meeting the Challenge of Teaching Sociology in the Twenty-First Century. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

  1. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve cooked up for the CP2. I’ve spent at least 40 hours already working on it and I think you are really going to dig it. I am really truly sorry for the delay. Also, thank you to everyone for the words of encouragement over this last year as I’ve worked on it. More soon.  ↩

  2. Also interesting was the study’s finding that many of the senior faculty they asked to participate declined because they had almost no recent experience teaching an introductory class.  ↩

The Lorax
The Lorax speaks for the trees, but does anyone else?

I participated in a research project that analyzed all 292 Caldecott Award winning and honoree books from 1938–2008. Our goal was to document the messages children were receiving about the natural environment and the animals in it. Put concisely, we found over time a decline in images of the natural environment and subsequently a decrease in the presentation of wild animals. Our findings suggest that the setting of children’s picture books have moved in doors (Williams, Podeschi, Palmer, Schwadel, Meyler[1] 2012).

Children’s picture books are particularly straightforward in their moral messages, therefore they are ripe for a content analysis. Many other researchers have analyzed Caldecott books to see if they have reflected changes in culture, for instance Pescolido, Grauerholz, and Milkie (1997)[2] looked at the presentation of African Americans before and after the civil rights movement.

Teaching Content Analysis

The near ubiquity of Caldecott books in public libraries paired with the straightforward messaging inside them, make it easy for teachers everywhere to have their students perform a content analysis similar to the one we published. I’ve found that content analysis is an great way to teach research methods, cultural production, and media messaging. Students consume media all day, but they are rarely asked to stop, analyze it systematically, and then draw conclusions based on the data they collected.

I’ve put together an assignment that asks students to find a Caldecott book, perform a simplified version of the analysis we performed in our research, and analyze their findings. This is a very rudimentary assignment that would work well for a high school or university level intro to sociology class. It could also be easily adapted for more advanced classes.

Download the assignment directions here: Word | Pdf
Download the “Calldecott Data Entry Sheet” portion of the assignment here: Excel.

  1. Williams, J. Allen Jr., Christopher Podeschi, Nathan Palmer, Philip Schwadel, Deanna Meyler. 2012. “The Human-Environment Dialog in Award-winning Children’s Picture Books” Sociological Inquiry 82(1):145–159  ↩

  2. Pescosolido, Bernice A., Elizabeth Grauerholz, and Melissa A. Milkie. 1997. ‘‘Culture and Conflict: The Portrayal of Blacks in U.S. Children’s Picture Books Through the Mid-and Late-Twentieth Century.’’ American Sociological Review 62:443–64.  ↩

Framing is arguably one of the most crucial concepts our students can learn. Framing and social construction are inextricably connected processes. Only when you understand how frames are used to manipulate (and create) the public’s perception can you fully critically analyze social issues. If you don’t understand framing, it’s really easy to be taken by a well crafted message, regardless of how warranted and measured its claims are.

The problem is, students struggle with the concept. Framing is almost a meta-process. It’s something that often happens in between the lines. When done well it’s subtle and covert.

In class I will show my students a commercial, or some other curated message, and together we critically analyze each piece of the message. We work together to identify all of the symbols and frames used. Slowly, one by one, the class begins to nod along as we go through it until finally most of the class leans back in their chairs and smiles that, “A ha!” smile. However, the moment I ask them to do it on their own they struggle to see anything beyond the surface message.

The deep analysis of cultural messages is hard to teach and hard to learn precisely because cultural messages and frames hide in plain sight. So instead of starting the learning process by trying to give students the eyes to see their surround in new ways, I think it’s better to start with something much easier to see and then try to bring the skills gained back to the student’s everyday life.

I Need Your Help

The activity I am about to tell you about I’ve never been tried before. Unlike most posts on SociologySource, I won’t be talking about a project that worked smashingly for me. Rather, this is a call to our readers for help. I see a problem, I have an idea for a solution, and I need YOUR help to execute it.

Using Cover Songs to Teach Framing

Music provides a handy metaphor for framing. When a band or artist covers a previously popular song in a way that is all together different it demonstrates how the same base material can be framed in very different ways to create starkly contrasting affects. At the end of this post I have some examples of just the sort of covers I am talking about.

I want to design a simple in-class (and/or homework) assignment that asks students to read a bit about issue framing and then analyze two starkly different versions of the same song.

Here’s What I Need

  1. Song Recommendations.
  2. Help me find songs that have dramatically different versions between the original and the cover version. The Holy Grail would be a song with two versions that are diametrically opposed. For instance a song that is very stereotypically masculine and aggressive paired with a version that is stereotypically feminine and passive. I’m looking for contradictory versions of songs that illustrate a sociological concept (gender, race, class, sexuality, etc.)

  3. A great, short, intro level article or piece about issue framing.
  4. I have never found a concise discussion of framing that I’ve liked for an intro level class. It’s a complex idea that is hard to succinctly describe in simple terms. If you have an article or short piece that you’ve had success with I’d love to read it.

Want to help?

Send me your recommendations to me via Email: Nathan@SociologySource.com, hit me up on twitter (@SociologySource), or post it on our Facebook page.

All contributors will be given credit by name. Thanks in advance!

Example Songs

Below are just a few examples. The original version followed by the cover.


Artist: Willow Smith

Artist: Jimmy Fallon (as Neil Young) feat Bruce Springsteen


Artist: Nine Inch Nails

Artist: Johnny Cash

“Suspicious Mind”

Artist: Elvis Presley

Artist: Dwight Yoakam[1]

  1. This song is a giant guilty pleasure of mine. The repeating guitar hook gets me every time. And I love how instead of saying, “I can’t walk out” Yoakam says, “iKaWaOu” in one syllable. My mother is an Elvis fanatic, she named our 3 cats Elvis, Pricilla, and Colonel Parker. TMI?  ↩

Find a discussion of todays article written for a student audience by yours truly over at SociologyInFocus.com

Maybe it’s the Just World Hypothesis or maybe it’s the dichotomization of racism, but for whatever reason, students are quick to claim they’ve been cured of racism.[1] Racism, it would appear, is a big problem… for other people. Or older generations. Or other parts of the country (like in the South). According to many students, racism is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not a problem for them.

I’ve talked at length here at SociologySource about the need to teach our students that racism is more than overt hateful acts committed by ultra bigots. Racism (and all prejudice and discrimination for that matter) need to be conceptualized as problems “good, moral, and honest” people have. Furthermore, when we conceptualize all prejudice and discrimination as being big events carried out by mean people, we marginalize the day-to-day experiences of socially non-dominant peoples.

The concept of microaggressions helps my students understand the more everyday side of racism. Microaggressions are defined by Solórzano et al. (2002) as, “subtle verbal and non-verbal insults directed at non-whites, often done automatically or unconsciously” (Pp. 17)[2]. This conceptual framework also does a great job of separating the intent of an action from the impact that action has.

Franchesca Ramsey’s Sh*t White Girls Say About Black Girls is one of the best illustrations of the microaggressions concept[3]. Ramsey satirizes white microaggressions in a way that is both painfully funny and painfully honest.[4]

When this video came out it quickly went viral and then was parodied by a number of white actors who thought it was racist to point the finger at white women. The article “Not Everyone’s Laughing At ‘Sh*t White Girls Say To Black Girls’” by Tami Winfrey Harris at Clutch magazine does a fantastic job of reporting the backlash and critiquing the false equivalence of microaggressions targeted toward whites. Winfrey Harris uses microaggressions to analyze both Ramsey’s video and the backlash to it in her article and draws attention to the blog Microaggressions.com. This is a fantastic site of user submitted stories of microaggressions they have experienced in their everyday lives.

Pairing Ramsey’s video, Winfrey Harris’s article, and Microaggressions.com seemed like too potent a pedagogical opportunity to not use in my classes. I put together a quick written assignment for students to do before coming to class that will hopefully start a vibrant discussion on racism and microaggressions (Download it Word | pdf). Unlike most of the things I post here at SociologySource, I haven’t tried this one yet, but I plan to this fall.

If you’ve taught microaggressions before or if you have any suggestions/additions to this project hit me up on Twitter @SociologySource, on our Facebook page, or email me at Nathan @ SociologySource . Com.

  1. To be clear, I do mean all students. While white students have been, in my experience, more likely to celebrate the end of racism, I have found that students of all racial ethnic groups espouse that same idea. Some students only argue that they are cured of racism and others argue that racism is no longer a real social problem.  ↩

  2. Solórzano, Daniel G. and Delgado Bernal, Dolores 2001 ‘Examining
    transformational resistance through a Critical Race and LatCrit Theory Framework: Chicana and Chicano students in an urban context’, Urban Education, vol. 36, no. 3. pp. 308–42  ↩

  3. The video is fantastic, but it’s not for everyone’s teaching style. I would also be more inclined to show it to an upper level or graduate level class. If you are going to show it to an intro to sociology class, I would highly recommend a large amount of time for class discussion and decompression.  ↩

  4. Do keep in mind that I am neither Black nor a woman, but I have heard something similar to most of the statements Ramsey makes. The video rings true to me. Just saying.  ↩

I took American History at a community college the year after I graduated high school. Everyday my teacher, Mr. Little[1], wore the same dirty, sweat stained, pinstripe, oxford shirt that wrapped tightly around his large stomach. He would grip the sides of a brown lectern that sat on top of a cheap folding table toward the front of the classroom for the entire hour and fifteen minutes as if he would fly off the earth if he let go.

He plowed through his lecture notes in class-long monologue, barely ever looking up. So the entire room was taken aback when he stopped mid-lecture, wiped the sweat off his greasy forehead, and asked, “What do you think of Christopher Columbus? It is, after all, Columbus Day.” To my surprise a number of students raised their hands. The conversation was rather complimentary sounding something like the shadow of an eighth grade history report of Columbus.

The class was nearly entirely white (something not uncommon in Lincoln, NE). I distinctly remember there was one student who looked to be Native American, but given I never asked him to self-identify, I can’t be sure. The presumably Native American student sat toward the back of the room and was quiet. He was always early to class, like I was, but he never joined in the pre-class conversations, not even the gripe-fests that went on before Mr. Little showed up.

About 5 minutes into the discussion of Columbus, Mr. Little turned toward the Native American looking student, pointed in his direction and said, “You.” Mr. Little waited for him to make eye contact before continuing, “You’re Native right? What is the Native American perspective on Christopher Columbus?” The student struggled to find words. I wanted to pull my head into my body like Sammy (the box turtle I had growing up).

From that day foreword I profoundly understood that speaking should be optional in class discussions. I’m not saying you shouldn’t require student participation, but rather you should always allow you students to decide when and where they want the spotlight put on them.

Mr. Little probably thought he was being inclusive. He probably thought, in a perverse way, that by reaching out for this student’s opinion he was being “pro-diversity.”[2] However, Mr. Little was being anything but. Asking a student to speak on behalf of their social group (be it race, class, gender, etc.) is akin to saying “you people are all the same”. There is no “Native American perspective” because Native Americans are not monolithic. This is a common way that trying to be “inclusive” to non-dominant students backfires and only reinforces their “otherness”.

In my classes no one is allowed to throw the spotlight on another student. Especially not in an open class discussion. No one is expected to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. If you have something to say I pray that you will, but it’s not my place to force the stage upon you.

  1. Not his real name.  ↩

  2. Whatever that term means.  ↩

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.  ↩

Growing up I heard Rush Limbaugh from the radio in my father’s truck everyday. I took sociology my senior year of high school and on the day we talked about feminism, I said sincerely, “oh, I love feminism. I’m a total feminazi.” I looked around the room to cocked heads and furrowed brows. After a long pause I said, “amirite?… what?”

I was then and am now, a feminist. I was also wildly unaware of how my social location was affecting my world view. If Donald Trump started a Mr. Socially Dominant pageant I could enter. I am white, male, heterosexual, upper middle class, able-bodied, and young (despite what my students say). When I said feminazi in class, I truly believed the other feminists in the room would recognize the term and embrace me as one of their own. I had a lot of unlearning to do.[1]

I’ve spent my entire life awakening to the world around me. Awakening to the experiences of people who don’t enjoy the privileges that are automatically extended to me. Typically I’m only guessing and typically I’m wrong, but I’ve been fascinated for years by the question, “what must it be like to not be in the dominant group?” In asking this question I’m really asking what is it like to be myself. To live with privilege.

If you teach sociology, then I don’t need to tell you that teaching privilege is hard, especially if you are teaching it to students of privilege. Because social privilege is extended automatically and often unconsciously, telling someone they have privilege is like trying to convince a fish they are surrounded by water. It would appear that the greatest social privilege the dominant group enjoys is the privilege to enjoy their advantage without having to be aware they are receiving it.

Sleeping Walking Through Racism

One of the privileges of being white is that you do not have to think of your experience as being unique or distinctive to your racial group. Many students, but particularly white students, when asked to identify their race will say, “I’m American”. When I teach culture it’s not uncommon for a student to raise their hand and say something like, “I feel like I don’t have a culture. I see all of these other people eating special foods, dancing at celebrations, and stuff like that and I wish I had a culture too.” Of course this is ridiculous, if we air dropped them into a foreign country where no one spoke their language, at their foods, or celebrated their holidays then their culture would jump up and slap them in the face.

My point is, being the default, the neutral, the unremarkable leads the dominant group to sleepwalk through their unique cultural and racial experience. We can see evidence of this sleepwalking in the common reactions white students have toward racism.

“There’s no solution to racism, we’d have to think about it all the time!”

Over and over again I’ve heard my white students say verbatim or in essence, “there is no solution to racism”. Which I, up till now, took to mean “there is no way we can mitigate racial inequality”. However I now believe I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. What I think my students are saying is, “there is no way to make race go away.” But why does race need to go away?

Being “colorblind” is popular because it simplifies the world. “If we could just stop talking about race- if we could stop thinking about it, then we could just move on” is a common refrain my “colorblind” students espouse. From the perspective of someone who actively ignores race, discussions of or any acknowledgement of race creates the problem. To solve racism, the colorblind believe, everyone just needs to join me in not thinking about race. Of course, the dominant social group would say this, because they are already the default in society. By giving up the word race, they are in effect ignoring all non-dominant racial groups.

Sleepwalking students want racism to go away. When you’ve effectively convinced them that racial inequality is real, they get caught in a moral cognitive dissonance. A good person doesn’t allow injustice to go on in their community, so if they accept racism as real, they are forced to do something about it, redefine themselves as a bad person, or mitigate the cognitive dissonance. This usually entails denial, rationalization, or throwing their hands up in defeat.

Over the years a few of my white students have said a non-colorblind world would be unfeasible because, “we’d have to think about race all of the time!” They are half right. We have to teach our students to embrace the complexities race, class, gender, etc. bring to our lives. Race has to be important enough that we honor everyone’s uniqueness, but not so important that we discriminate based upon it. I said that in my classes recently and a student groaned loudly and said, “well that’s not hard at all is it?”

I’m fond of saying anger is a common side effect of learning. When you awaken a sleepwalker they abruptly realize that the dream world they were just in is a fallacy and the harsh realities of being lucid to the world around them can make them angry. They want to go back to sleep. They want to return to the simple and comfortable dream world you pulled them from.

If I had one take home message for my101 students it would be, “The world is far more complex than we are lead to believe; embrace the complexity.”


To be uncomfortably honest I see myself in these responses. I know them from an insiders point of view. Being a part of the dominant group means you receive a life-long training in the justifying rationales that tell you everything is ok- everything is as it should be. It’s surprisingly easy to be lulled to sleep on the issues of inequality.

I angered people my senior year when I declared myself a feminazi, but I learned a lot about my social location, worldview, and my blind spots. In the years that have passed since that day, I’ve tried to open my eyes wider. I’ve tried to wake more fully, but I still have a ways to go.

  1. And I still do. I live in a biased unequal world that privileges me everyday.. How could I not have a lot of work left to do?  ↩

Writing letters of recommendation (LOR) can be a tedious and time consuming process if you let it be. Boiler platingLOR text is unethical in my opinion. However, the divide and conquer strategy that I’ve discussed throughout the Getting Through the Hay Series can still be applied here even if each LOR you write is unique.

To Whom It May Concern Written on Typewriter

We can easily split up this task up between the part requiring humanity and the parts requiring tedious busy work. The honest writing about the personal and professional qualities of the student requires humanity on your part. Looking up the proper name of the school or institution receiving the letter or gathering info about the students accomplishments on campus, is busy work and should be done by the student requesting the LOR.

To this end, I created a Word document that I require my students to fill out completely before I’ll write a letter on their behalf. It’s a series of questions including, “Why did you ask me to write on your behalf?” and “What would you, ideally, like me to discuss in your letter?” This takes the guesswork out of the process and dramatically reduces the time to completion.

I get a lot of these, so I used Gmail’s Canned Emails to save a pre-written response email to a LOR request. I placed the email on a server, so that I can hyperlink to it in my email’s text. This keeps me from having to even find and attach a file. Also, it allows you to use the same file and link location in your emails. Here is my Canned Email:

I’d be happy to write a letter of recommendation for you. However, before I write on your behalf, I’ll ask you to fill out this letter of recommendation request form. This helps me write the best letter possible, so please return it to me ASAP. You can download the request form here: http://gsu-bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/Letter_of_Recommendation_Form.doc

Please fill out this Word document in the spaces provided and then attach it to your reply email.

Let me know if you have any questions or if I can help in any other way.

Prof Palmer

Below is the letter of recommendation request form:

Letter of Recommendation Request Form

Email is the digital equivalent of weeds. You can spend all day dealing with it, but tomorrow there’ll be more. There is no trick I can give you to reduce the size of your inbox, but I do have a few strategies for minimizing the impact email has on your day[1]. The first is to follow the divide and conquer approach described in the first post in this series. But after you’ve done that here are 5 more quick strategies.

1. Always Be Closing

Unless you are trying to develop a connection with a student, try to end the conversation with every email. If you can end a conversation in one email rather than bouncing emails back and forth, you’ll save [bookoo] time.

2. Craft Your Emails & Syllabus Carefully

Some students ask you questions that are clearly covered on the syllabus, but a lot of students ask questions because what you said in class, written in a class-wide email, or printed on paper isn’t as clear as it could be. Always be thinking, “will students email me questions about this?” as you’re writing or saying anything. You can’t nip all of them in the bud, but a majority of them can be.

3. Not For Them, But With Them

Students like to ask you to do things for them, but you should say no. Instead offer to do it with them. The classic example of this is the question “will you read this 10 page paper and give me feedback before it’s due so I can know if I need to keep working on it?” This is a one way time transaction. When asked I reply, “I’d love to go over your work with you, but I prefer to do it face-to-face. Please feel free to stop by my office hours or let’s set up a meeting soon so we can really pour over your work.” This approach dramatically speeds up the process because you don’t have to write everything down. The old adage, “I can’t be working harder than you,” is the driving logic behind this approach.

4. Let Students Answer Each Other’s Questions

Give your students a way to answer their own questions online. Most LMSs have a discussion board feature that can easily be turned into backchannel for student interaction. My students use this all the time and I patrol it frequently to be on the look out for crises as they bubble up.

5. Use Keyboard Shortcuts

If you are using Gmail (and god love you if you aren’t/can’t) you owe it to yourself to learn the keyboard shortcuts. These make it a snap to reply to emails (just push r), archive an email (push e), move up or down your inbox using j and k, etc. It may take you a minute to learn to incorporate them into your workflow, but they are a huge time saver (especially [ and ] which archive and move up and down your inbox). Read this if you want some help on setting these up on your gmail account.

If you’re not careful, email can eat your lunch, but it doesn’t have too. You need to find the strategies that work best for you. These are just a few that have worked for me. I’d love to hear what works best for you in the comments below, on Facebook, Twitter, or send email to Nathan@SociologySource.com

  1. Just as a reminder, I have over 300 students every semester. So the advice I have may not apply if you teach at a smaller school or a school with much smaller class sizes. However, I think that all of us struggle to keep up with our inboxes.  ↩