culture

Photo of a sign that says, “polling place” in three languages. Photo by Andrew Mager, Flickr CC

With so many concerns about voter suppression in the 2018 midterm elections, now is an excellent time to highlight the important role that social science can play in public debate and in our classrooms. Today’s suggestion for Teaching with TSP is a group exercise using King and Roscigno’s special feature on the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act that can be done during class followed by a discussion with the whole class. I used this exercise in my lower division Race & Ethnicity class, but it could easily be used in other lower division classes like Introduction to Sociology or Social Problems, or in an upper division Political Sociology class with some additions and modifications (which I’ll explain below). This exercise is ideal for a course in a general education curriculum that meets a social sciences requirement where instructors are often tasked with teaching students how to assess different kinds of information, evaluate evidence, and understand biases. I like this exercise because it leaves room for students with differing levels of ability, and because it directly and constructively engages students who hold the belief that everything taught in Race & Ethnicity or other sociology classes is “biased” or based on “differing opinions” without attacking them.

Materials:

You bring:

  • Printed copies of the article (1-4 copies per group)
  • Whiteboard and a bunch of markers

Students bring:

  • A copy of the book or other text you have recently read in your class
  • Pen and paper

Instructions

  1. Place the students in groups of 4-5 and give each group at least one copy of the article. Make a section on your white board for each of the different terms: 1) an opinion, 2) an empirical fact, and 3) a social scientific claim. Ask students to read through the entire article and, as they go, to identify two of each: an opinion, a fact, and a claim. They will need to write each of these on the board as they find them. You may want to make the rule that no repeats are allowed since that sometimes helps people work a little more quickly in groups (but this may not work if you have a larger class and a lot of groups).
  2. As students fill the board and work through the exercise you can choose to either let incorrect answers stand or you can go talk to the groups and ask them to fix those answers in the moment, depending on the dynamic and size of your class.
  3. Students are likely to come up with good questions about the difference between these three terms for you and each other while they work through the exercise, keeping in mind that part of what may be new here for college students is the addition of the “social scientific claim.” While K-12 does teach a related skill, it tends to focus on fact vs. opinion, which leaves evidence-based arguments in a confusing gray area for many new college students. Furthermore, many of us know that observable empirical facts in sociology are often nonetheless controversial. This exercise opens up that fact for conversation directly from an unexpected angle.
  4. Groups that finish early complete the same exercise using the most recent course reading, until all groups have at least finished the main exercise.
  5. Gently correct or clarify anything from the answers on the board. Transition from small group activity to large group discussion by asking “What do you notice when you look at the answers on the board? Does anything jump out at you? Anything surprise you? Confuse you?” This gives students a moment to reflect on what all the groups did. By asking students to choose the direction, you allow them to take ownership over the activity and lead the discussion in a direction that’s interesting to them, and the result is a more engaged, productive discussion that will allow students to tell you what they know and don’t know about the topic and what they want to know more about. More ideas for discussion are below, along with possible modifications to the exercise.

Discussion Guide

  • Is voter fraud a problem? (Establish that given this article and exercise the students understand that it is not a problem.) Why do you think so many people think it IS a problem? Did you think it was (more of) a problem before today?
  • Explore students’ reactions to why voter ID and other voting access laws are being changed, especially since voter fraud isn’t a problem. Do they agree with the authors? Are they unsure of the reasons? Can they develop their own sociological hypotheses?
  • Discuss the history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Movement. What did students learn that was new? Do they have questions or reactions? Is there a reason these changes are happening now?
  • What is the role of social science and sociology in politics?

Possible Modifications

  • Students could be asked to update this piece or to make it local by researching the requirements to register and to vote in their own state.
  • If you are in a state with voter ID legislation, students could research who introduced and supported this legislation, what challenges have occurred to it, and the judicial opinions that have been issued.
  • Either of these could be done as part of a class activity or as a homework assignment.

Additional TSP Reading on Voter Suppression

How Voter Suppression Shapes Election Outcomes

Strict Voter Identification Laws Advantage Whites—And Skew American Democracy to the Right

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

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.

 

Lunchtime for Hoodies

Jen’nan Ghazal Read explores views of Muslims in her article Muslims in America in the Fall 2008 issue of Contexts. You can read the full text here! This is great article to assign in any class on race, culture or politics. Use the discussion questions and activity below to incorporate this article into your class.

Also, listen to Jen’nan Ghazal Read talk about these issues on the Contexts Podcast Office Hours.

 

1)    How do the political views of Muslim Americans compare to the rest of the American religious public?

2)    Why might Muslims, who ideologically align with most of mainstream America, still be considered “outsiders”?

3)     Can you think of other groups that are similarly considered “outsiders” in American society today?

 

ACTIVITY: The author provides demographic information on Muslim Americans. Download the Pew Center Report used in the article and write a summary of any information you learned that surprised you or that
you think should be more widely known.

 

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U.S. families have adopted tens of thousands of children from other countries in the last decades (many of whom are sitting in our college courses).

International adoption is a great topic for a class or lesson on race and culture because, for international adoptees and their families, race, ethnicity and culture often do not line up neatly.

We recommend the Culture Review “Culture Goes to Camp” by Lori Delale-O’Connor in the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts to get a conversation going in your classroom about ethnicity and culture–and the challenges international adoptees may face with merging the two in their own identities.

To use this article in class, have students search the web and read up on culture camps like the ones discussed in the article and address these questions:

1) What types of activities are advertised on the websites? Put yourself in an adopted child’s shoes. How do you think a child would experience these “cultural” activities?

2) Imagine you adopted a child from another culture. Do you think that you would encourage activities like a culture camp? How important do you imagine it would it be to you to have your child “stay connected to his/her roots”? Why?

3) What culture do you identify most with? Is the culture of your ancestors important to you or present in your life? Did your parents encourage you to learn about it?

http://www.culturecamp.net/

http://kccmn.org/

http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/calendar.php?cal=camp

K-OS on The Come Up Show

It’s one of the most contentious words in America. Who can use? Who can’t? Should its meaning change when used by different people? It’s considered a curse word by a large segment of the United States and is prohibited from our major media and entertainment outlets–except for hip hop. Geoff Harkness explores this issue in his article “Hip Hop Culture and America’s Most Taboo Word” (Contexts, Fall 2008). We’ve put together some ways to use this article in your class on race, music, or popular culture:

  • Use these questions to start a class discussion:

1)    What social factors and cultural ties help explain the bonds Latino and black hip-hoppers express in this article?

2)    As its music and culture has become more mainstream and moved across class and racial boundaries, how has hip-hop changed?

3)    Like the “n-word”, groups sometimes “reclaim” words that are used as slurs to turn them into points of pride. Discuss the history and evolution of words like “ghetto,” “redneck,” “queer,” “faggot,” and “bitch.” Why have people sometimes chosen to reclaim derogatory words like these?

4)    Some words are loaded even if they seem neutral. Consider words like “feminist,” “patriot,” “communist.” What meanings and implications are built into these words? Can you think of similar words that evoke strong feelings?

 

Below is the last (for now) post from our guest blogger, Nathan Palmer.  Nathan’s work can be followed at www.sociologysource.com

Does race still matter? This is my day one question for students in my race & ethnicity courses. Many students walk into my class on the first day thinking that racism, prejudice, and discrimination are issues that were solved in the 1960s. Frequently I hear, “”well things aren’t perfect, but they sure are getting better all the time.”  Countless students have said to me, “How much racism can there be if we have a Black president?” While I see this line of thinking more often from my white students, I have had many students of color share this mindset. Using very recent current events can convince students that racism is not a thing of the past but a very real part of our present.

Even students who believe and know that racism is alive and well are typically unaware of the numerous current events that many feel are clear examples of racism. Students are surprised to hear that just this August a Mississippi middle school barred students of color from running for class president. Most students have not heard about the controversy surrounding the firing of Shirley Sherrod over claims of racism. Students are unaware that two ROTC students spread cotton in front of the Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri in February. They are shocked to learn that, also during this past February, a student hung a noose in the UC San Diego library and shortly thereafter a UCSD fraternity put on a “ghetto themed” party called the “Compton Cookout” where guests were invited to dress like thugs and “Nappy Headed Hoes.” I tell my students that this is by no means an exhaustive list. You could also discuss the recent Arizona Immigration laws, or the recent controversy over “Dr. Laura” using the N-Word multiple times on air.

As we go through each of these news events and facts I say over and over again that I am not saying each of these events is evidence of racism. I am simply showing them examples of what others have called racism. This is crucial, because it avoids any debate about the incidents and it keeps students from feeling bullied or steamrolled. Also, students are savvy enough to draw their own conclusions.

I wrap up the discussion by asking my class, “If racism is a thing of the past, why is it in the news so frequently?” “If we have civil rights laws on the books and a Black president, why do we continue to talk about the dead issue of racism?” Needless to say, my students always seem to see the ridiculousness of these questions.



NYC Pro-Muslim Rally Marching On Sept. 11th, 2010

The following case study could accompany any readings or discussion on religion, culture or rights.  For example, it could be used with Jen’nan Ghazal’s “Muslims in America,” which is available through Contexts online.

Lisa is a new professor at a large public university.  Her class just finished a unit on gender, and her students are taking an essay test. Lisa sits near the front of the room and keeps a watchful eye over her students.  The classroom is completely silent except for their pencils scribbling furiously.

Suddenly, one of her students stands up and faces a corner.  He starts to bow, and Lisa realizes that he is praying.  Many of the students look up and start watching him instead of continuing their exam.  Lisa can tell they are distracted, but she also believes that the student has religious freedom. Thus, she decides to pretend that nothing is happening.

After class, a few students approach Lisa and complain about the student who was praying.  They say that they were seriously distracted during the exam and would like 10 more minutes to work on it.

Questions:

  1. What should Lisa do?
  2. Did Lisa make the right choice to ignore the student instead of asking him to stop?
  3. Should a student be allowed to observe her or his religious rituals during class?   Should this differ around the world?  By the type of school?

This learning activity was written by Jasmine Harris-LaMothe, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Sociology department, to accompany “Roll Over Beethoven, There’s A New Way to Be Cool” by Richard A. Peterson in Contexts Summer 2001.

For generations, preference for “high” culture included an interest in cultural mediums not readily available to the masses and signified a marked difference between the elites and everyone else. Today, “elite” status requires a familiarity with more – not just higher – forms of culture. This has significantly changed the way fine arts are depicted in the media and thus understood by the public.

Fill out the questionnaire below on your demographic information and your taste in fine arts. After you’ve completed the questions, turn to the neighbor and discuss your answers.

1.     Male or Female
2.     Age
3.     Where is your hometown?

Answer never, rarely, sometimes, or often to the questions below:

4.     How often do you read a book for pleasure? ___________

5.     How often do you go to the movies?__________

6.     How often do you read a newspaper?___________

7.     How often do you watch the news on television?____________

8.     How often do you watch other types of live (non-DVRed) television?_____________

9.     When was the last time you visited an art museum?____________

10.  When was the last time you visited the theater?_____________

Provide your top three answers to the questions below:

11.  Who are your favorite musical artists?

12.  What are your favorite musical genres?

13.  What are your favorite plays?

14.  What are your favorite ballets?

15.  What are your favorite operas?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  • Are you and/or your partner cultural “omnivores” or “univores?”
  • Are your tastes reflective of your demographic information?
  • Do you think your answers are reflective of changes in medium preferences among the greater population?
  • What implications do the aforementioned changes in medium likes/dislikes have for the future of mass media as a whole?
  • This is a case study that could accompany any discussion on rights and cultural relativism.  For example, it could be paired with any article in Contexts that deals with religion, culture, etc.  Another option would be to use it with “Keyword: Culture” by Joseph R. Gusfield in Contexts, Winter 2006.  Click here for a pdf version of the case study.

    Kelly is discussing women’s rights with a group of her friends before their International Law class starts.  As an avid feminist, she prides herself in her belief that women and men are equal.  She says to her friends, “I feel sorry for the women that feel like they have to submit themselves to men.  I mean, look at Muslim women.  Why should they have to cover their heads or faces?  They are beautiful.  It’s a violation of their human rights to be treated as inferior to men.  Why should they have to wear one if men don’t have to?” 

    Several of Kelly’s friends look uncomfortable and motion with their eyes to the right of Kelly.  She glances over and realizes that Salma, who is originally from Kenya, is sitting next to them wearing her hijab.  Thankfully for Kelly, their professor enters the room and begins the day’s lecture. 

     After class, Salma approaches Kelly as she putting her things away in her backpack.  Salma explains that she heard Kelly’s conversation and that she wears a hijab because in her culture it is empowering.  To her, a hijab is a sign of her submission to Allah.  It also makes it so that men judge her by her personality rather than by her appearance.  Surprised, Kelly apologizes.  Yet, she is confused.  She thought hijabs were degrading and a violation of women’s fundamental rights.  How could two people view women’s right so differently?

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Do you agree with Kelly that hijabs violate women’s rights?
    2. If human rights are universal, how do we account for cultural differences?
    3. Are human rights and cultural relativism fundamentally incompatible?  Which one is more important? 
    4. Who has the power to decide how human rights are interpreted? 

    We’ve been big on videos lately, but what can we say: online video is booming.

    You may be familiar with TED: a conference about Technology, Entertainment and Design, though really there are talks on just about every topic. The best part: the talks are all online for free.

    Most of the videos are around 20 minutes, so they’re perfect for watching in class or as assignments. Here are just two that I’ve watched recently as examples:

    First, here’s Barry Schwartz on the decline of “wisdom.” It’s a bit of a rant near the end (in my opinion), but the first half provides an interesting critique of our modern faith in rationality and incentives and is great to compliment lectures on either bureaucracy or on rational choice:

    Second, here’s a talk by Hans Rosling on “Third-world myths,” which is worth watching just for the captivating display of data alone. It’s great for a discussion of globalization but also, because the graphics are so good, for courses on research methods and data presentation. You can also see more of these graphics at gapminder.org: