Teaching Resources

With a marriage amendment looming in Minnesota, I decided to spend a day on this issue in my Sociology of Families class. I wanted to present both sides of the issue without having to do it myself–because I could have hardly been neutral on the subject–so I had the students read short commentaries on the subject in class and evaluate the persuasiveness of the arguments.

This activity could apply to any contentious political issue that you would like to discuss in class, but are wary of sounding biased.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how I organized this activity in my class of 80 students:
(I allowed about an hour for this activity, but it could definitely have been longer.)

1. Before class, I collected several different commentaries from a major newspaper–half opposed to the amendment and half in favor of it. I paired one opposed with one in favor and stapled them together in a pack.

2. First, I split my class into groups of 4-5 and had each group read one commentary supporting the amendment and one opposing it–so each packet was being analyzed by two groups only.

3. I gave them 10 minutes or so read the commentaries, asking them to look for arguments that they found compelling or not compelling. I instructed them to underline and take notes on their handout, especially focusing on arguments that relate to themes we have discussed in class. For example, what have we learned in class that would serve as evidence to either suport or refute this claim?

4. Then, I had them discuss the articles with their small groups, and share which arguments they had focused on. This is the part that could have been a bit longer. Most groups appeared to be having spirited conversations about the articles.

5. Lastly, I asked them to share their analyses with the class. When they shared which arguments they had discussed, I prodded them to explain why they found that specific argument compelling or not compelling, and urged them to bring in material from class that would support their claim. (This part didn’t come as easy to them, which made me think that this would also be a great take-home exercise where they would have more time to reference their notes from previous classes). I took notes on their comments on the board, but I don’t think I would do that again. I feel it might have been a more fluid discussion without it.

Yesterday in my Sociology of Gender class, we had a discussion on the Contexts article “Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?” by Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Paula England (full text free on contexts.org). To get the discussion going, I showed clips of three journalists that the authors mention in the article–each with different perspectives on the sexual cultures of teen and young adult women.

As we watched, I had the students record the main arguments of the authors.

Then, after each video, I gave them 3-5 minutes to brainstorm about how the arguments relate to class material (especially the “Hooking Up” article, but anything from class) AND to brainstorm about personal observations (or “evidence”) that would either support or refute that argument.

VIDEO CLIPS:
1) Interview with Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both (2007).

 

2) Trailer for Jessica Valenti’s film The Purity Myth (2011), inspired by her book of the same title (2010)

3) Interview with Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005)

 

 

 

 

 

After watching all three, I had them get into groups of 2 or 3 and share their observations with the group. Then, as group, they were instructed to decide on three arguments total that they feel their group has the strongest “evidence” to support or refute. (This worked really well and when I cut them off after 10 minutes, many groups were still discussing). Give them a handout like this to record their group’s decisions:

ARGUMENT #1

Author’s argument:

 

Evidence to support or refute:

(from class material AND personal observation)

 



In May, we cross-posted a special edition of Office Hours from the all new Contexts Podcast. In this interview, Jessica Streeter speaks with Henry H. Brownstein   and Timothy M. Mulcahy,  co-authors of the Winter 2012 Contexts feature,  Home Cooking: Marketing Meth.

This podcast or feature article (check if your university library has access to Contexts) would work well on its own in any criminal justice or deviance course. But what really struck me while listening to this podcast is how similar their findings are to the show Breaking Bad.

For those not familiar with the show, Breaking Bad tells the story of a square high school chemistry teacher who, when diagnosed with lung cancer,  turns to a life of crime and begins to cook and sell meth to ensure his family’s financial security after he dies.

The authors of Home Cooking: Marketing Meth set up an interesting sociological question of why meth markets are so different from other drug markets. You could show an episode of the Breaking Bad in class and have a discussion about the social worlds of meth users and sellers compared to other drug markets. Or have students watch it at home and do their own analysis for a course paper.

For a comparison, check out “The wire goes to college” from the Summer 2011 issue of Contexts, an exchange between graduate students on the Contexts board and four scholars about the HBO crime drama The Wirewhich examined Baltimore’s drug trade.

Also check out Maria Kefalas book review of the New York Times bestseller Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, entitled “from the music man to methland.

Kew Village

 

Earlier this spring, TSP’s Sarah Shannon spoke with Robert Sampson about his new book, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.  Below are a few questions that could be used with this podcast in class!

 

 

1)    According to Sampson, what is a “neighborhood?”

2)    Provide a few examples of “neighborhood effects” that Sampson discusses in the podcast.

3)    Why did Sampson choose to study Chicago?

4)    What was the “Lost Letter” experiment, and what was the conclusion that Sampson drew from the results?

Doing some last minute planning for my Sociology of Gender course this summer, and happened upon a Toddlers and Tiaras episode (which I know is old news for most people!) but I had never actually watched it. Very interesting. And would be great for discussion in the classroom on the sexualization of children.

I started poking around Soc Images for some more resources and found so many helpful posts I had to share: on 7 years doing “All The Single Ladies”, girls modeling and sexualized toys, push-up swimsuits for young girls, and more sexualized modeling, , and a two year old in a Madonna cone bra.
 

Here’s a clip from Toddlers and Tiaras:

 

And a whole episode:

Here’s a clip many of you have probably seen of 7 year olds doing Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”

And another group of 7 year olds doing “My Boyfriend’s Back”

And, finally, here’s the cone bra:

20111009-OWS-Azcuy-10

In one of the latest episodes of Office Hours, TSP’s Sarah Shannon speaks with Stanford University Sociology Professor David Grusky about the social and economic effects of the recession.  This entire podcast could be assigned to students, though you could also considering assigning part of it (the first 20 minutes, for example).

Grusky and Shannon cover many topics in this 50-minute conversation, so there are many avenues for discussion.  Here are a few basic questions that cover some of the main points.

1)   How does the most recent recession differ from past recessions?  In other words, what makes it a “great” recession?

2)   How does the recession affect inequality in the United States?

3)   What are some of the responses to the recession, and how do they differ from responses to the Great Depression?

4)   Why does Grusky see a danger in the focus on tax-based solutions to the current economic problems?

5)   Grusky and Shannon speak specifically about college students several times throughout the podcast?  How is the recession impacting students?  Why is education an important part of this discussion?

Near the end of the podcast, Grusky mentions a website on recession trends that will be launching soon.  Stay tuned to learn more about that website and how it can be used in the classroom!

Last month, as a Special Feature on The Society Pages, Jennifer Lee (a sociologist at University of California at Irvine) provided our readers a sociological take on “Chinese mother phenomenon.”

Lee is responding to Yale Law professor Amy Chua’s highly controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011). In advance of the book, The Wall Street Journal published “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” In the article and the book, Chua argues that Western parents do their children a disservice by not raising them with strict and demanding expectations for achievement.

Lee’s is another piece that is definitely going on my Sociology of Families syllabus in the fall, but it would fit well in any Intro to Sociology class or any class on education, culture, or youth. I would assign both Amy Chua’s WSJ article and Lee’s Tiger Kids and the Success Frame. What I love about Lee’s piece is that it does not reject Chua’s argument outright, but explores it from a sociological perspective. She asks (and answers):

How do we explain the academic achievement of Asians, especially when the patterns defy traditional status attainment models?

This topic is especially suited for most undergrads (18-22 year olds) in that they have only recently left their parents home and generally do not have families of their own. This life stage puts them in a unique position to compare how they were raised with how they want to raise their own (hypothetical) children when it comes to educational achievement.

For further context, check out the audio review of Chua’s book and parenting method on NPR and an excerpt from the book, as well as a response from Amy Chua to reader’s questions and a response her oldest daughter (age 18) to the criticism her mom received after publishing Battle Hymn.

 

 

Sociological Images has posted a new course guide on the Sociology of Sports!

Check it out!

This is an assignment my mentor and sociology professor from Luther College, Char Kunkel, uses in her class.  Her description of the activity is below.  Following that I have assembled a little bit of feedback from her students about the activity.  I look forward to using it in my classes in the future!

GENDER NORM VIOLATION PROJECT

Norms are rules or standards of behavior shared by most members of a society or subgroup.  They are statements about how you ought to, or should, behave.  When appropriate behavior is defined differently for women and men, the expectations specific to each are called gender norms.  One way to find out what the norms are in any given situation is to violate them–i.e., break the rules.

The purpose of this assignment is to determine the boundaries of some contemporary gender norms and to discover and challenge your own boundaries around gender.  A secondary purpose is to give you the subjective experience of violating a self-defined gender norm – to give you “hands-on” experience.

Choose a natural (i.e., non-laboratory) setting in which to violate a gender norm.  Think through clearly what norm you’re going to violate–make sure it’s a gender norm.  Work with a confederate (either someone in class or a friend) and have her/him record the reactions to your norm violation as well as your behavior during the violation.  You may also convince your confederate to do the gender violation and you be the observer/recorder.  Sometimes the reactions will be minimal; other times it will be strong; remember, no reaction is a reaction!!!  Be sure to record all reactions while they are happening.  In addition, you must provide some physical evidence!!  In the past, students have used cameras, video and tape recorders, flyers, receipts, etc. to capture reactions and document the project.

Your report should be about 7-10 pages, typewritten, and should include the following:

1.  State specifically the gender norm you intend to violate.  Explain why or how it is a gender norm, and provide cultural context.

2.  State in clear details exactly what you did.  Report any variations in your procedure.  For example, you may try your experiment in one setting, then in another.  You may compare different variations of the same norm violation, or change the degrees of violation.  Give all the details of the violation process.

3.  Describe your experience subjectively in two different ways:  (1) your feelings as you prepared and engaged in the norm-violating behavior;  (2) your feelings about how other people reacted to you.

4.  Report in great detail the general and specific reactions of others to your behavior. Provide the observations of your confederate.  If you get no reaction at all, or a mild reaction, report that.  Report on the effects of any variations in your procedure, and what you think the significance of any (or no) reaction is.

5.  What did you learn from this assignment?  About yourself?  About your culture?  How does a theory of gendered embodiment help you understand your experience?

**Don’t do anything illegal.  Stop whenever you are too uncomfortable with the situation.  If you explain your behavior to anyone–report it.  Be creative!

Students react very positively to this assignment and find it to be incredibly eye opening.  Here is feedback from a couple of people who have done this activity:

The impact Char’s gender norm violation activity had on me had more to do with providing insight for how people who are gender variant are treated than on how I understand my own gender identity. – which I suppose was the point at the end of the day. I became hyper aware of how I was not performing a masculine gender well enough, in comparison to those around me. However, I also experienced first hand what it was like to have my gender policed when I was using a public bathroom.

What was more extraordinary for me was that the only thing I did differently was try to hide the fact I had long hair. I wear pants, and I wear loose fitting shirts, and I try to dress in a way that does not emphasize the fact that I have breasts on a regular basis. So, I present myself as being more masculine by the way I dress, in general.

However, I have never been told that I was using the wrong bathroom before. This was very shocking and very confusing for me. I felt that the rest of the people I interacted with knew I was a woman, and here, in the women’s restroom, I was told that I needed to use the men’s room. Who knew the length of my hair would be something that could cause so much drama for a person who had a full bladder?

So, in short, this experiment gave me brief insight and sparked interest in learning more about how gender variant people experience the world around us…not to mention working to be the best cis-gendered queer ally I can to all my gender queer friends. – Meghan Karels ’04

This activity taught me a great deal about gender norms and values in our society.  I found it invaluable and far superior to simply reading about social expectation.  Learning this way enabled me to better empathize with those whose sex and gender do not relate as society expects.  I also feel better empowered to challenge people who ignorantly continue the perpetuation of gender normativity. – Anonymous

Trayvon Martin’s death has drawn a great deal of attention from people throughout the United States.  Our own Sociological Images has written about the tragedy in three distinct posts (all found here).

This event occurred while my introduction to sociology courses were discussing race.  My students, logically, brought up his murder when we were discussing racial formation and racial stereotypes.  This turned into the most engaged, energetic and lively discussion we had all semester.

Students were, as they should be, angered.  They were frustrated with a society that allowed such tragedies to happen and disappointed that more people were not demanding Zimmerman be prosecuted.  I’m willing to go on a limb, however, and suggest not all students will feel the same way.

Despite my students’ passion, they brought up a variety of questions I believe their peers (and broader society) will have:

1) If Zimmerman is latino, is the case still about race?

Absolutely.  This question led our class to have a great conversation about the internalization of racial stereotypes and the impact of institutional and interpersonal racism on individuals.  We watched “A Girl Like Me” and discussed Kenneth Clark‘s original doll experiment.  (A group of my students are even setting out to do the same activity with children who are not black.)

2) Why would Zimmerman suspect Trayvon of suspicious behavior at all?

This question led to a great conversation about the impact of stereotypes on the perceptions we have of one another.  Using labeling theory, our class was able to discuss the way in which society ascribes particular labels to people based on the variety of statuses we embody.  These labels affect the way that people perceive us and the ways in which they interpret our behavior (such as the wearing of a hoodie).   In order to lead a discussion on labeling by race and gender, we watched the following clips from my favorite teaching show, “What Would You Do“: the bike theft, and racism in America (parts one and two).  Students immediately connected the material to the Trayvon case and their own lives (I had them do an in class writing on how they have been effected by labeling).

3) Why isn’t Zimmerman being charged?

Students, particularly those from states that do not have “Stand Your Ground” laws, are particularly puzzled by the fact that Zimmerman was not arrested.  Teachers who wish to discuss this topic can explore the history of these laws here.  My students, generally, were appalled by the interpretation of these laws (as addressed in that article) and their expansion.  Many expressed personal fear, and others remarked that, had Zimmerman been black, he would have been arrested immediately.

I encourage you to have conversations about Trayvon Martin in your classroom – not to exploit his death but to make students aware of the prevalence of such cases.  Hopefully, our students will one day be in positions in which they make and enforce laws and policies that will treat all people equally.