Teaching Resources

172/365  I Want to See the World

With Earth Day fast approaching, we’re seeing more stories about climate change (for example, see this sighting) and other environmental issues.  While there are many ways to study our environment sociologically, courses about environmental justice are becoming more popular.  Here we share a syllabus graciously provided by David Pellow at the University of Minnesota.  The description for his course, Race, Class, and the Politics of Nature, is provided below.  You can download the syllabus here:  Race, Class, and the Politics of Nature.

The phenomenon known as environmental racism has made headlines during the last three decades, in large part because the movement for environmental justice has placed this issue on the public agenda. This course introduces students to the theoretical and historical foundations of environmental racism and environmental inequality. We will examine and interrogate both the social scientific evidence concerning these phenomena and the efforts by governments, residents, workers, and community activists to combat it. We will consider the social forces that create environmental inequalities so that we may understand their causes and consequences. We will also consider ideas and practices that may lead to (1) a more equitable social distribution of the costs and benefits of markets and (2) more ecologically sustainable forms of production and social organization. Students will be expected to master several social scientific theories and concepts related to the subject matter. In particular, we pay close attention to the ways in which the concept of race intersects with gender, class, citizenship, indigeneity, and nation in order to better understand how systems of power and inequality are constructed, reinforced, and challenged.

As a way of teaching students about contemporary white privilege, many faculty members turn to the classic piece White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.  However, my peers and I have found that students often resist its content, in part because of the article’s date of publication.  The original piece was produced in 1988 making it older than many current college students. Nevertheless, it is clear that McIntosh’s article has a lot to teach contemporary students, if used the correct way.

The Activity

In order to thwart student’s immediate dismissal of McIntosh’s article as outdated, this activity encourages students to use their own knowledge and critical thinking skills to update the piece such that it fits with current race relations.  The activity consists of two parts taking place on two distinct days (unless you have a three hour block class): in part one students are expected to update McIntosh’s examples to match modern social patterns and, in part two, they add new, contemporary examples of white privilege to the list.  Please note, this activity is traditionally more successful if used later in the semester when students have reached some level of awareness of systemic racial discrimination.

Part One

For the first part of the activity students are expected to come to class having read McIntosh’s article.  Once seated, they are divided into groups of four to five students and handed a slip of paper containing eight of the twenty-six privileges. They are then asked to work together to select items on the list that they perceive to be outdated and/or want to discuss as a larger class.  Each group is responsible for choosing at least one item on their list and must be prepared to explain why they think the item is outdated and how they would change it to fit modern race relations.  After 20 minutes of small group conversation, we reconvene and discuss each groups’ chosen privilege to discuss.  As the instructor I am always prepared with current examples of blatant racial bias through anecdotes and statistics in all of these areas.  Discussion about intersectionality and geography are also important to extend the analysis of students on these issues.

Part Two

For the second portion of this activity, students are expected to add new examples of privileges to McIntosh’s list.  They are again placed in groups of four or five students and asked to brainstorm new items to place on the checklist.

Words of Caution

Over the past several years I have had great success using this activity to discuss the concept of white privilege.  However, there are a few common errors made by instructors that warrant words of caution.

One challenge with this activity, and in teaching in diverse classrooms, is to make sure that everyone is being intellectually challenged by the material without leaving any students behind. A second challenge is the tendency of professors to ignorantly exercise and reproduce the very elements of white privilege discussed in the article.  Students of color have distinct backgrounds and paths to a class on race relations relative to both their white peers and one another (some of the challenges faced by students of color in mostly-white classrooms are addressed in the chapter by Logan et al in this volume).  One of the most common transgressions committed by instructors is to, much like mainstream white society, assume that all people of a particular racial group have had similar experiences.  As a corollary, they often call on people of color to speak as “experts” for their racial or ethnic groups, a challenge mentioned by many students in the edited volume Making a Difference: University Students of Color Speak Out (Lesage, Ferber, Storrs and Wong 2002) and an experience many of my friends in college were forced to deal with.  Through this activity, and any activity in class, it should never be assumed that a person of color can speak for his or her race, much like it should never be assumed that a woman can speak for all women or a man for all men.

Featured on The Society Pages last week was an edited interview with Annette Lareau conducted last year by Jack Lam (sociology graduate student at Minnesota) and I on her updated edition of her famous book Unequal Childhoods (University of California Press).

You can listen to and download the entire interview from Office Hours.

We highly recommend using this book in your classes: check out our post on a possible class activity to tie in with the book.

Even if you don’t assign the whole book, we recommend referencing her updated findings. Lareau’s important arguments are essential to any discussion on childhood, education, and class.


Image by karen horton via flickr.com

I posted last month about The Society Pages’ Roundtable entitled Laughter and the Political Landscape  but realized I didn’t link to the Office Hours interview with Heather LaMarre. The interview is a great addition to the Roundtable because it addresses two main points that I think are crucial for using this in the classroom:

1. that political humor is not made or consumed exclusively by political liberals (11:15), and

2. she asks what effect this type of political humor may have on the way young people participate in politics? (17:52)

Image by david_shankbone via flickr.com

“The big question is going to be whether people under 30, since they’ve sort of grown up in this era of political satire and entertainment…are themselves as a generation developing a sense of humor about politics that’s good for democracy or a disgust about politics that’s bad for democracy? And that remains to be seen.”

What do your students think??

Evil Chase?

The first of many roundtables on TSP explores how social scientists study social movements.  It would be a great complement to a discussion on social movements or a discussion of research methodology.  And, to give you more ideas on teaching social movements, Professor Ron Aminzade was kind enough to provide us with a syllabus he has used in the past.  The syllabus is from 2004, so adding this roundtable and some other new literature would be a good step.  Download it here!

Hey Teaching TSP readers. It’s Nathan Palmer from SociologySource.com. Kia and Hollie have been nice enough to give me a chance to tell you about SociologySounds.com a site that helps educators find sociological music to play in their classes. If you’re reading this fine blog, then I’m guessing you are as passionate about teaching sociology as I am. That’s why I can’t wait any longer to tell you about SociologySounds.

SociologySounds.com is the easiest way for you to find great sociological songs to play in your classes. Each song features lyrics that are relevant to the sociological topics you teach everyday. We sorted all of our songs by class topic making it a snap to find exactly the right song. Once you find a song you like, you can play that song for free right from SociologySounds.com. Best of all, you can recommend songs and we’ll include them in our catalog. We’ll even give you a proper shout out for each submission as a way of saying thanks![1]

Why You Should Use Music in Your Classes.

Playing sociologically relevant music before class starts is a fantastic way to set the tone. The right song can energize your students, create a poignant moment, or at least be thought provoking. Think of the music as priming your students for what your about to discuss in class.

A really nifty trick is to time the song so that it ends at exactly the time class starts. Then like a game of musical chairs your students know that when the music stops they need to be ready for class to begin. The trick is, you don’t even have to tell them you’re doing this. After a few classes classical conditioning kicks in and they automatically stop talking. If you are teaching 100+ students YOU MUST try this.

The idea for playing music to launch my class came from, of all places, comedy clubs and concerts. Comedians and bands use music to hype the crowd getting them ready for the show. Think of the excitement that washes over the crowd when the music dies, the stage lights go out, and everyone crushes to the front of the stage eagerly anticipating the first song at a concert. A sociology class is not a rock concert and you are not a comedian, but if you could get 1/10 of that excitement before you start class think of how different your class experience could be. I like to think of it as my entrance music before I enter the ring to do pedagogical battle[2].

This is, of course, just one of the many ways to use music in your classes and we are by no means the first to have this idea. There is a wealth of SoTL research on using music in your courses and I’d highly encourage you to use them in conjunction with our site. Here are just a few of the pieces available: Elterman 1983, Martinez 1994, Walczak and Reuter 1994, Martinez 1995, Martinez 1998, Ahlkvist 1999, Albers and Bach 2003.

The 100 Song Challenge: Join Us!

We are launching SociologySounds.com with a bold challenge. We want to hit 100 songs in our catalog in our first week. Help us reach our goal by recommending a song and spreading the word about us. Send an email to your department, Tweet it to your tweeps, post it on Facebook, or spread the word how ever you can.

We’ll be posting songs as fast as we can and you can follow our progress by checking our song counter. Thank you in advance for all your help![3]


  1. You can also opt to submit the song anonymously if you are shy or if you are embarrassed that you know of a Backstreet Boys song with a sociological message. It can be our little secret.  ↩

  2. Not really. I don’t see teaching as a battle nor my students as an opponent. But I do like the metaphor in that the music gets me hyped up to teach like I’m on fire.  ↩

  3. In case this is the first we’ve met and you are wondering who’s behind this venture or how it makes money: SociologySounds.com and it’s parent site SociologySource.com are public services put out by two sociologists from Georgia Southern University. Both sites make no money (in fact they cost money). We are just a couple of nerdy sociologists trying to give back to our community.  ↩

Paula Deen Enterprises
The recent post on Sociological Images about fat-shaming got me thinking about Paula Deen, the celebrity chef known for her Southern (and high-fat) cooking, whose recent disclosure of a diagnosis of Type II diabetes is causing much controversy.

The topic of fat-shaming is great for use in the classroom, because it’s most likely a new concept for most students, and can start a great conversation about stigma, the social dynamics of the obesity epidemic, and civil rights. To get the discussion going, you could show these “interviews” from The Colbert Report with Amy E. Farrell, a professor of American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at Dickinson College, about fat-shaming and her book Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. Despite the craziness that is Stephen Colbert, I think Professor Farrell gets the point across well.

 

 

I first heard of using music in classroom from Chris Uggen, but that didn’t surprise me, because he wishes he was a rock star ;) But, turns out that many great teachers are using this method to pull their students in and help them engage with the topic in a fun way. I guess I’m convinced! We wanted to repost two nice descriptions of this method:

2012/366/25 Drop a Needle
1. one from Sociology Source

2. and the other from The Sociological Cinema.

Check ’em out!

I know it’s bad….but I can’t resist: ROCK ON!

 

In need of some last minute ideas for your sociology 101 course?  Nathan Palmer has compiled a great set of lecture slides, activities, syllabi, and assignments that you can download for free!  Here is the link.

IMG_0192-2Amy Schalet’s new book Not Under My Roof explores teenage sexuality and teen pregnancy in the United States compared to the Netherlands.

She wrote about this subject in Contexts in the Summer of 2010 in “Sex, Love, and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover.”

 

We created an in class survey in October 2010 to go along with this topic. See our post here.

Also, watch Amy’s interview on CNN, via Sociological Images.