In the early and mid-70s the then newly established US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired a couple dozen freelance photographers to document environmental problems in the US for a project they called Documerica. These 15,000 images are now part of the national archives and available here. As the EPA budget, staff, and regulations are being severely slashed by Trump and the Republican controlled House and Senate, it is worth reflecting on some of the problems that the EPA has served to address to make our air, land and water cleaner and safer for humans and other species.

Below is a selection of illustrative images from the collection.

Original Caption: Mary Workman Holds A Jar of Undrinkable Water That Comes from Her Well, and Has Filed A Damage Suit Against the Hanna Coal Company. She Has to Transport Water from A Well Many Miles Away. Although the Coal Company Owns All the Land Around Her, and Many Roads Are Closed, She Refuses to Sell. 10/1973

Original Caption: There Is Some Local Opposition to Stripping the Land in Southeastern Ohio. Most People, However, Are Employed by the Coal Companies and Are Afraid Any Demands for Reform Will Cost Them Their Jobs. Off Route 800. 10/1973

Original Caption: Loaded Coal Cars Sit in the Rail Yards at Danville, West Virginia, near Charleston. Awaiting Shipment to Customers. It Is One of the Largest Transshipment Points for Coal in the World. A Constant Stream of Rail Cars Is Moved in and Out of the Small Town 04/1974

Original Caption: The Atlas Chemical Company Belches Smoke across Pasture Land in Foreground. The Plant Is Referred to as “Old Darky” in the Community Because Black Soot from the Plant Covers Everything Near-By. One Farmer Claims He Lost Several Cows Due to Soot and Chemicals from Atlas, 06/1972

Original Caption: Exhibit at the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development Held at the Marriott Motor Inn, Ann Arbor Vehicles and Hardware Were Assembled at the EPA Ann Arbor Laboratory. Part of the Exhibit Was Held in the Motel Parking Lot General Motors Urban Electric Car Gets Battery Charge. in the Background (Left) Is the Ebs Electric “Sundancer” 10/1973

Original Caption: Miner Wayne Gipson, 39, with His Daughter Tabitha, 3. He Has Just Gotten Home From His Job as a Conveyor Belt Operator in a Non-Union Mine. as Soon as He Arrives He Takes a Shower and Changes Into Clothes to Do Livestock Chores with His Two Sons. Gipson Was Born and Raised in Palmer, Tennessee, But Now Lives with His Family near Gruetli, near Chattanooga. He Moved North to Work and Married There, But Returned Because He and His Wife Think It Is a Better Place to Live 12/1974

Original Caption: Children Play in Yard of Ruston Home, While Tacoma Smelter Stack Showers Area with Arsenic and Lead Residue, 08/1972.

Original Caption: Trash and Old Tires Litter the Shore at the Middle Branch of Baltimore Harbor, 01/1973.

Original Caption: The Goergetown Gap, Through Which Raw Sewage Flows into the Potomac. Watergate Complex in the Rear, 04/1973.

Original Caption: Illegal Dumping Area off the New Jersey Turnpike, Facing Manhattan Across the Hudson River. Nearby, to the South, Is the Landfill Area of the Proposed Liberty State Park, 03/1973.

Original Caption: Dead fish at Pahranagat Lake, a wildlife refuge, May 1972

Original Caption: Decker Coal Company strip mine, 06/1973

Original Caption: Sign in a restroom along Interstate 25 south of Colorado Springs, Colorado, warns that water is undrinkable, 04/1974

Original Caption: Polluted Androscoggin River in the “Shelburne Birches” Area near the Maine – New Hampshire Boundary 06/1973

Original Caption: Outfall from Berlin’s Industries Produces Islands of Foam in the Androscoggin River 06/1973


Original Caption: Open Garbage Dump on Highway 112, North of San Sebastian 02/1973


Teach well, it matters.

Updated January 13th, 2017

In 1967 (seven months before his assassination) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech to the American Psychological Association at their annual conference. According to APA, the text of his speech was “reprinted in the Journal of Social Issues (Vol. 24, No. 1, 1968). While the speech was in galley proofs, the shocking and numbing news of his assassination was released.”

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The text of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech (see in full below) is unfortunately still all too relevant, even 50 years later. Quotes that caught my attention in particular include, “White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. … All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions-the Negro himself.”* Too much of US society continues to see the social, political and economic disadvantages of blacks as their own fault rather than the result of systematic and structural racism. Of late, ‘blaming the victim’ emerged in the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown among many others (see my previous post: RACISM AND THE POLICE: The Shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson). A piece in the BBC by Stacey Patton and David Leonard points out this errant logic when applied to historical and more recent cases of black victims of police or vigilante violence:

  • Emmett Till should not have whistled at a white woman.
  • Amadou Diallo should not have reached for his wallet.
  • Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie.
  • Jonathan Ferrell should not have run toward the police after getting into a car accident.
  • Renisha McBride should not have been drinking or knocked on a stranger’s door for help in the middle of the night.
  • Jordan Davis should not have been playing loud rap music.
  • Michael Brown should not have stolen cigarillos or allegedly assaulted a cop.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 2.38.11 PMLater in his speech, Dr. Martin Luther King states, “Negroes want the social scientist to address the white community and ‘tell it like it is.’ White America has an appalling lack of knowledge concerning the reality of Negro life.” Today, are we collectively doing enough to “tell it like it is”? Are we speaking to a wide enough audience? Do our students and the public that we engage still lack knowledge of the reality of persistent racial difference? Certainly. Should any student be able to graduate from college (or high school for that matter) without a thorough education of our society’s systems of race, gender, class, and sexuality? As academics we all have our areas of specialization, my doctoral training is not in race and ethnicity, but we can certainly find ways to address race and “tell it like it is” in at least one course we teach each semester.

Dr. Kings continues… “The decade of 1955 to 1965, with its constructive elements, misled us. Everyone, activists and social scientists, underestimated the amount of violence and rage Negroes were suppressing and the amount of bigotry the white majority was disguising.” Maybe not among social scientists, but the media and most politicians seemed complacent and strong in their belief that our society was “post-racial”. The protests in Ferguson and subsequently across the nation seemed to catch many off guard wondering why the black community was so angry.

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“Our most urgent task is to find the tactics that will move the government no matter how determined it is to resist.” As the #blacklivesmatter movement makes an effort to revive and strengthen the ongoing civil rights movement, creative tactics must emerge that find powerful points of leverage in social and political institutions. A Republican majority House and Senate, especially with Trump in the Whitehouse, are likely to be “determined to resist.” The NYPD has already demonstrated that it is “determined to resist.” Moving entrenched social and political institutions will involve exploring new creative tactics; tactics that avoid ‘permitted’ and ‘police approved’ demonstrations that are confined to ‘free speech zones’. There have been some truly disruptive tactics emerge so far…several instances of blocking rush hour traffic, as well as widely broadcast “I can’t breathe” t-shirts on NBA players, and the collective sourcing of teaching materials with  #fergusonsyllabus among many others.

While I end with a final quote I encourage you to take the time to read the full text below. Fifty years later and much of what Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of, much of what he called for social scientists to do, still rings true and still should serve as a call to action, a call to do more.

“There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation.” 

– Teach well, it matters.


. . .

The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr.

It is always a very rich and rewarding experience when I can take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with concerned friends of good will all over the nation. It is particularly a great privilege to discuss these issues with members of the academic community, who are constantly writing about and dealing with the problems that we face and who have the tremendous responsibility of molding the minds of young men and women all over the country.

The Civil Rights Movement needs the help of social scientists.

In the preface to their book, ‘Applied Sociology’ (1965), S. M. Miller and Alvin Gouldner state: ‘It is the historic mission of the social sciences to enable mankind to take possession of society.’ It follows that for Negroes who substantially are excluded from society this science is needed even more desperately than for any other group in the population.

For social scientists, the opportunity to serve in a life-giving purpose is a humanist challenge of rare distinction. Negroes too are eager for a rendezvous with truth and discovery. We are aware that social scientists, unlike some of their colleagues in the physical sciences, have been spared the grim feelings of guilt that attended the invention of nuclear weapons of destruction. Social scientists, in the main, are fortunate to be able to extirpate evil, not to invent it.

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. The present crisis arises because although it is historically imperative that our society take the next step to equality, we find ourselves psychologically and socially imprisoned. All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions-the Negro himself.

White America is seeking to keep the walls of segregation substantially intact while the evolution of society and the Negro’s desperation is causing them to crumble. The white majority, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change, is resisting and producing chaos while complaining that if there were no chaos orderly change would come.

Negroes want the social scientist to address the white community and ‘tell it like it is.’ White America has an appalling lack of knowledge concerning the reality of Negro life. One reason some advances were made in the South during the past decade was the discovery by northern whites of the brutal facts of southern segregated life. It was the Negro who educated the nation by dramatizing the evils through nonviolent protest. The social scientist played little or no role in disclosing truth. The Negro action movement with raw courage did it virtually alone. When the majority of the country could not live with the extremes of brutality they witnessed, political remedies were enacted and customs were altered.

These partial advances were, however, limited principally to the South and progress did not automatically spread throughout the nation. There was also little depth to the changes. White America stopped murder, but that is not the same thing as ordaining brotherhood; nor is the ending of lynch rule the same thing as inaugurating justice.

After some years of Negro-white unity and partial success, white America shifted gears and went into reverse. Negroes, alive with hope and enthusiasm, ran into sharply stiffened white resistance at all levels and bitter tensions broke out in sporadic episodes of violence. New lines of hostility were drawn and the era of good feeling disappeared.

The decade of 1955 to 1965, with its constructive elements, misled us. Everyone, activists and social scientists, underestimated the amount of violence and rage Negroes were suppressing and the amount of bigotry the white majority was disguising.

Science should have been employed more fully to warn us that the Negro, after 350 years of handicaps, mired in an intricate network of contemporary barriers, could not be ushered into equality by tentative and superficial changes.

Mass nonviolent protests, a social invention of Negroes, were effective in Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma in forcing national legislation which served to change Negro life sufficiently to curb explosions. But when changes were confined to the South alone, the North, in the absence of change, began to seethe.

The freedom movement did not adapt its tactics to the different and unique northern urban conditions. It failed to see that nonviolent marches in the South were forms of rebellion. When Negroes took over the streets and shops, southern society shook to its roots. Negroes could contain their rage when they found the means to force relatively radical changes in their environment.

In the North, on the other hand, street demonstrations were not even a mild expression of militancy. The turmoil of cities absorbs demonstrations as merely transitory drama which is ordinary in city life. Without a more effective tactic for upsetting the status quo, the power structure could maintain its intransigence and hostility. Into the vacuum of inaction, violence and riots flowed and a new period opened.

Urban riots.

Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. But most of all, alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, he is shocking it by abusing property rights. There are thus elements of emotional catharsis in the violent act. This may explain why most cities in which riots have occurred have not had a repetition, even though the causative conditions remain. It is also noteworthy that the amount of physical harm done to white people other than police is infinitesimal and in Detroit whites and Negroes looted in unity.

A profound judgment of today’s riots was expressed by Victor Hugo a century ago. He said, ‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’

The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.

Vietnam War.

There is another cause of riots that is too important to mention casually-the war in Vietnam. Here again, we are dealing with a controversial issue. But I am convinced that the war in Vietnam has played havoc with our domestic destinies. The bombs that fall in Vietnam explode at home. It does not take much to see what great damage this war has done to the image of our nation. It has left our country politically and morally isolated in the world, where our only friends happen to be puppet nations like Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea. The major allies in the world that have been with us in war and peace are not with us in this war. As a result we find ourselves socially and politically isolated.

The war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has seriously impaired the United Nations. It has exacerbated the hatreds between continents, and worse still, between races. It has frustrated our development at home by telling our underprivileged citizens that we place insatiable military demands above their most critical needs. It has greatly contributed to the forces of reaction in America, and strengthened the military-industrial complex, against which even President Eisenhower solemnly warned us. It has practically destroyed Vietnam, and left thousands of American and Vietnamese youth maimed and mutilated. And it has exposed the whole world to the risk of nuclear warfare.

As I looked at what this war was doing to our nation, and to the domestic situation and to the Civil Rights movement, I found it necessary to speak vigorously out against it. My speaking out against the war has not gone without criticisms. There are those who tell me that I should stick with civil rights, and stay in my place. I can only respond that I have fought too hard and long to end segregated public accommodations to segregate my own moral concerns. It is my deep conviction that justice is indivisible, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. For those who tell me I am hurting the Civil Rights movement, and ask, ‘Don’t you think that in order to be respected, and in order to regain support, you must stop talking against the war?’ I can only say that I am not a consensus leader. I do not seek to determine what is right and wrong by taking a Gallop Poll to determine majority opinion. And it is again my deep conviction that ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus, but a molder of consensus. On some positions cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?!’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience must ask the question, ‘Is it right?!’ And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right. And that is where I find myself today.

Moreover, I am convinced, even if war continues, that a genuine massive act of concern will do more to quell riots than the most massive deployment of troops.


The unemployment of Negro youth ranges up to 40 percent in some slums. The riots are almost entirely youth events-the age range of participants is from 13 to 25. What hypocrisy it is to talk of saving the new generation-to make it the generation of hope-while consigning it to unemployment and provoking it to violent alternatives.

When our nation was bankrupt in the thirties we created an agency to provide jobs to all at their existing level of skill. In our overwhelming affluence today what excuse is there for not setting up a national agency for full employment immediately?

The other program which would give reality to hope and opportunity would be the demolition of the slums to be replaced by decent housing built by residents of the ghettos.

These programs are not only eminently sound and vitally needed, but they have the support of an overwhelming majority of the nation-white and Negro. The Harris Poll on August 21, 1967, disclosed that an astounding 69 percent of the country support a works program to provide employment to all and an equally astonishing 65 percent approve a program to tear down the slums.

There is a program and there is heavy majority support for it. Yet, the administration and Congress tinker with trivial proposals to limit costs in an extravagant gamble with disaster.

The President has lamented that he cannot persuade Congress. He can, if the will is there, go to the people, mobilize the people’s support and thereby substantially increase his power to persuade Congress. Our most urgent task is to find the tactics that will move the government no matter how determined it is to resist.

Civil disobedience.

I believe we will have to find the militant middle between riots on the one hand and weak and timid supplication for justice on the other hand. That middle ground, I believe, is civil disobedience. It can be aggressive but nonviolent; it can dislocate but not destroy. The specific planning will take some study and analysis to avoid mistakes of the past when it was employed on too small a scale and sustained too briefly.

Civil disobedience can restore Negro-white unity. There have been some very important sane white voices even during the most desperate moments of the riots. One reason is that the urban crisis intersects the Negro crisis in the city. Many white decision-makers may care little about saving Negroes, but they must care about saving their cities. The vast majority of production is created in cities; most white Americans live in them. The suburbs to which they flee cannot exist detached from cities. Hence powerful white elements have goals that merge with ours.

Role for the social scientist.

Now there are many roles for social scientists in meeting these problems. Kenneth Clark has said that Negroes are moved by a suicide instinct in riots and Negroes know there is a tragic truth in this observation. Social scientists should also disclose the suicide instinct that governs the administration and Congress in their total failure to respond constructively.

What other areas are there for social scientists to assist the civil rights movement? There are many, but I would like to suggest three because they have an urgent quality.

Social science may be able to search out some answers to the problem of Negro leadership. E. Franklin Frazier, in his profound work, Black Bourgeoisie, laid painfully bare the tendency of the upwardly mobile Negro to separate from his community, divorce himself from responsibility to it, while failing to gain acceptance in the white community. There has been significant improvements from the days Frazier researched, but anyone knowledgeable about Negro life knows its middle class is not yet bearing its weight. Every riot has carried strong overtone of hostility of lower class Negroes toward the affluent Negro and vice versa. No contemporary study of scientific depth has totally studied this problem. Social science should be able to suggest mechanisms to create a wholesome black unity and a sense of peoplehood while the process of integration proceeds.

As one example of this gap in research, there are no studies, to my knowledge, to explain adequately the absence of Negro trade union leadership. Eight-five percent of Negroes are working people. Some two million are in trade unions but in 50 years we have produced only one national leader-A. Philip Randolph.

Discrimination explains a great deal, but not everything. The picture is so dark even a few rays of light may signal a useful direction.

Political action.

The second area for scientific examination is political action. In the past two decades, Negroes have expended more effort in quest of the franchise than they have in all other campaigns combined. Demonstrations, sit-ins and marches, though more spectacular, are dwarfed by the enormous number of man-hours expended to register millions, particularly in the South. Negro organizations from extreme militant to conservative persuasion, Negro leaders who would not even talk to each other, all have been agreed on the key importance of voting. Stokely Carmichael said black power means the vote and Roy Wilkins, while saying black power means black death, also energetically sought the power of the ballot.

A recent major work by social scientists Matthew and Prothro concludes that ‘The concrete benefits to be derived from the franchise-under conditions that prevail in the South-have often been exaggerated.,’ that voting is not the key that will unlock the door to racial equality because ‘the concrete measurable payoffs from Negro voting in the South will not be revolutionary’ (1966).

James A. Wilson supports this view, arguing, ‘Because of the structure of American politics as well as the nature of the Negro community, Negro politics will accomplish only limited objectives’ (1965).

If their conclusion can be supported, then the major effort Negroes have invested in the past 20 years has been in the wrong direction and the major pillar of their hope is a pillar of sand. My own instinct is that these views are essentially erroneous, but they must be seriously examined.

The need for a penetrating massive scientific study of this subject cannot be overstated. Lipset in 1957 asserted that a limitation in focus in political sociology has resulted in a failure of much contemporary research to consider a number of significant theoretical questions. The time is short for social science to illuminate this critically important area. If the main thrust of Negro effort has been, and remains, substantially irrelevant, we may be facing an agonizing crisis of tactical theory.

The third area for study concerns psychological and ideological changes in Negroes. It is fashionable now to be pessimistic. Undeniably, the freedom movement has encountered setbacks. Yet I still believe there are significant aspects of progress.

Negroes today are experiencing an inner transformation that is liberating them from ideological dependence on the white majority. What has penetrated substantially all strata of Negro life is the revolutionary idea that the philosophy and morals of the dominant white society are not holy or sacred but in all too many respects are degenerate and profane.

Negroes have been oppressed for centuries not merely by bonds of economic and political servitude. The worst aspect of their oppression was their inability to question and defy the fundamental precepts of the larger society. Negroes have been loath in the past to hurl any fundamental challenges because they were coerced and conditioned into thinking within the context of the dominant white ideology. This is changing and new radical trends are appearing in Negro thought. I use radical in its broad sense to refer to reaching into roots.

Ten years of struggle have sensitized and opened the Negro’s eyes to reaching. For the first time in their history, Negroes have become aware of the deeper causes for the crudity and cruelty that governed white society’s responses to their needs. They discovered that their plight was not a consequence of superficial prejudice but was systemic.

The slashing blows of backlash and frontlash have hurt the Negro, but they have also awakened him and revealed the nature of the oppressor. To lose illusions is to gain truth. Negroes have grown wiser and more mature and they are hearing more clearly those who are raising fundamental questions about our society whether the critics be Negro or white. When this process of awareness and independence crystallizes, every rebuke, every evasion, become hammer blows on the wedge that splits the Negro from the larger society.

Social science is needed to explain where this development is going to take us. Are we moving away, not from integration, but from the society which made it a problem in the first place? How deep and at what rate of speed is this process occurring? These are some vital questions to be answered if we are to have a clear sense of our direction.

We know we haven’t found the answers to all forms of social change. We know, however, that we did find some answers. We have achieved and we are confident. We also know we are confronted now with far greater complexities and we have not yet discovered all the theory we need.

And may I say together, we must solve the problems right here in America. As I have said time and time again, Negroes still have faith in America. Black people still have faith in a dream that we will all live together as brothers in this country of plenty one day.

But I was distressed when I read in the New York Times of Aug. 31, 1967; that a sociologist from Michigan State University, the outgoing president of the American Sociological Society, stated in San Francisco that Negroes should be given a chance to find an all Negro community in South America: ‘that the valleys of the Andes Mountains would be an ideal place for American Negroes to build a second Israel.’ He further declared that ‘The United States Government should negotiate for a remote but fertile land in Equador, Peru or Bolivia for this relocation.’

I feel that it is rather absurd and appalling that a leading social scientist today would suggest to black people, that after all these years of suffering an exploitation as well as investment in the American dream, that we should turn around and run at this point in history. I say that we will not run! Professor Loomis even compared the relocation task of the Negro to the relocation task of the Jews in Israel. The Jews were made exiles. They did not choose to abandon Europe, they were driven out. Furthermore, Israel has a deep tradition, and Biblical roots for Jews. The Wailing Wall is a good example of these roots. They also had significant financial aid from the United States for the relocation and rebuilding effort. What tradition does the Andes, especially the valley of the Andes Mountains, have for Negroes?

And I assert at this time that once again we must reaffirm our belief in building a democratic society, in which blacks and whites can live together as brothers, where we will all come to see that integration is not a problem, but an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

The problem is deep. It is gigantic in extent, and chaotic in detail. And I do not believe that it will be solved until there is a kind of cosmic discontent enlarging in the bosoms of people of good will all over this nation.

There are certain technical words in every academic discipline which soon become stereotypes and even clichés. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. You who are in the field of psychology have given us a great word. It is the word maladjusted. This word is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is a good word; certainly it is good that in dealing with what the word implies you are declaring that destructive maladjustment should be destroyed. You are saying that all must seek the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.

But on the other hand, I am sure that we will recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.

In a day when Sputniks, Explorers and Geminies are dashing through outer space, when guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can finally win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence, it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. As President Kennedy declared, ‘Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.’ And so the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a suspension in the development and use of nuclear weapons, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and eventually disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. Our earthly habitat will be transformed into an inferno that even Dante could not envision.

Creative maladjustment.

Thus, it may well be that our world is in dire need of a new organization, The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women should be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’; or as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of his vacillations finally came to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; or as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history, words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. And that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ And through such creative maladjustment, we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

I have not lost hope. I must confess that these have been very difficult days for me personally. And these have been difficult days for every civil rights leader, for every lover of justice and peace.

. . .

* I stick with his direct quotes but the language becomes a bit outdated at times. “Negro” is not a socially acceptable term as much as black and/or African American. Interestingly, the US Census continues to use “Black, African Am., or Negro”.

I and several others sociologists were recently invited to write reflective pieces on the election of Trump. You can read the full text of all the pieces here in the newsletter of the American Sociological Association, Footnotes.

Below are snippets of the engaging pieces:

Climate Change and the Election by Todd Beer

“2016 will be the hottest year on record with every month thus far setting an average temperature record high. As a discipline, is the span of our engagement in the issue broad enough and deep enough considering the predicted consequences of inaction? Climate change received just six minutes of attention in all three presidential debates. As a discipline, are we giving it more than that?”

Islamophobia and the Trump Campaign by Charles Kurzman

“During the presidential campaign, one survey firm (Public Policy Polling) fielded the question, ‘Do you think the religion of Islam should be legal or illegal in the United States?’ In October 2015, 36 percent of Republican respondents said Islam should be illegal,  … If these samples are representative, then around half of Republicans — who normally support religious freedom — are unwilling to grant this freedom to Muslims.

Where did this animosity come from? …” read more to find out

How Sociology Helps to Process the 2016 Presidential Election by Lisa M. Martinez

“In response to my students and the audience members, there is a lot we can do. For starters, we can use the tools of our discipline to understand and analyze the factors that led to the deep divisions in our country. We can translate what we know into informed action whether this occurs through political strategizing or activism. We also have an obligation to our students to teach public sociology and bring social issues to light. Through our scholarship, we can counter racist and xenophobic scapegoating by providing counter-narratives around the pain marginalized communities will and are experiencing. We can also focus our energies on social movements, disruption, and resistance. But we must also engage in long-term planning by mobilizing, registering voters, and getting out the vote in 2018 and 2020. …” read more

Masculinity, Inequality, and the 2016 Presidential Election by Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe

“Sociological research and theory on masculinity and gender inequality explain, in part, the success of a man who uses “locker room talk,” regularly objectifies women, calls them “nasty,” and looms over them in a way that is recognized as dangerous by survivors of violent relationships or sexual harassment. The easy answer is that men are voting for the continuation of an unequal gender system that privileges them. …” read more

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Additional resources and initial thoughts from sociologists on the 2016 election can be found on the ASA blog, Speak for Sociology.


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Teach well, it matters.

Our mantra here at Sociology Toolbox, has never been more important: TEACH WELL, IT MATTERS.

One this last day of 2016, the view from the top floor of the world headquarters of Sociology Toolbox is overcast and gloomy  – both literally and figuratively: Trump is a few weeks away from being inaugurated, police in the U.S. continue to kill unarmed citizens, climate change continues without being sufficiently addressed, the consensus on what constitutes a “fact” seems to be slipping away, and a Trump presidency seems likely to lead to so many things taking several significant steps backward. On the upside, massive protests are already being planned and communities fighting to preserve and strengthen equal rights, greater income equality, environmental protection, religious freedom, richer democracy, women’s rights, access to healthcare, racial justice, and so much more have an opportunity to work together like never before.

After joining the Community Pages of The Society Pages in late January, we have had an unprecedented year of traffic on the blog with nearly 250,000 pageviews in 2016!


Thanks to all those who reTweeted, liked and shared on Facebook, and forwarded links to their friends, students, and colleagues. I’m honored that people have found these resources useful, interesting, and some have even adopted them in their classrooms!

Here’s a look back at our posts in 2016:

We started the year with a look at the 2015 data on the police use of lethal force in the US. We will update this in early January with 2016 data. Here you will also find a link to open access bar charts and tables on the data to use in your classroom, blog, or discussion. This was by far our most visited page!

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-23-36-pmThis was followed up with three related posts. The first a discussion among three scholars on the response of many people to the data showing that Blacks are disproportionally victims of police use of lethal force:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-34-22-pmA call for more interdisciplinary research on race and the police use of lethal force:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-36-44-pmAnd an assignment introducing the basics of Excel using data on race and the use of lethal force by police:


We took a sociological look at the Super Bowl – there’s so much more to it than the game:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-41-04-pmEveryone assumes that college is the ticket to greater income equality in the US. Check out this post to see how it often ends up reproducing class:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-42-30-pmIf you and or your students need a basic introduction to climate justice, here is an analogy that you may find useful:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-44-30-pmWe developed a handy list of questions to help students develop critical thinking skills and come to class prepared to be more actively engaged in discussion:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-47-04-pmWe celebrated the Cubs’ amazing season and World Series victory with a guest post from a colleague and anthropologist, Holly Swyers:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-48-02-pmDrawing from my own survey research with the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance and corresponding with the UNFCCC COP22 meeting in Morocco, we wrote about the “trust gap” among climate change civil society organizations in Africa toward high-emitting nations of the global North:

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-50-00-pmAnd lastly, we looked at how the US is a laggard in electing a woman to the top political office and why people were immediately protesting president-elect Trump:



Thanks again to all the readers! Be sure to follow us on Facebook to keep up with our great new posts in 2017!

Teach well, it matters!

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Protests against the outcomes of the 2016 presidential election emerged as soon as the electoral map indicated Trump’s victory. Critics have called for protestors to accept the results of our democratic elections, to quit whining, and give Trump a chance.


I certainly don’t speak for all protestors, but here is why I will be out there again this weekend with my family and some of my current and former students:


Trump’s rhetoric, both implicitly and explicitly, went far beyond political ideological differences and openly attacked our long-established and hard-fought social norms of getting a long way toward individual equality regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality. Without a doubt, there remained and still remains very consequential inequalities along these lines, and yes many of these norms of equality had been accepted in public opinion only superficially without the support of institutional change needed to generate actual equality. However, collectively, society was AT LEAST headed in the right direction, making great strides over the last four or five decades to eliminate racism, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. People who are openly racist, homophobic, sexist and bigoted are socially sanctioned, fired from their jobs, suspended from schools, forced to resign from political office, charged with hate crimes, or seen as “backward”.  It needs to stay that way. We have no assurances that it will. We will not sit back and wait and see.


Putting a person into the most powerful office in the land who:

  • was slow to reject the endorsement of the KKK and White nationalist leaders, let alone having a platform that fails to contain enough explicit policies to deter such an endorsement
  • was recorded saying that you could just grab women by the pussy and they would like it
  • talked of banning the entry of ALL Muslims from “terror prone” countries
  • threatened to make all Muslims in the US register
  • made sweeping generalizations about Mexican immigrants being primarily rapists and drug dealers
  • mocked a disabled reporter
  • referred to his opponent as a “nasty woman” and regarding women in general said you have to “treat ‘em like shit”
  • implied that his supporters at rallies were right to violently reject peaceful protesters
  • read an even more extensive list and details on the quotes here

…stands as an endorsement of those beliefs, words, and behavior.


As a couple of Tweets noted:




When confronted by the media, Trump often said he didn’t mean it, denied saying it, or claimed it was being blown out of proportion. He did this only AFTER the media called him out. There was never any self-awareness that he was breaching the deep social norms of equality and human decency.

This rhetoric has been emboldened by his election to the presidency. Both the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center ( which tracks hate groups in the US) have documented a spike in hate crimes since the campaign began and the election results were announced.



These protests will remind him and others that this behavior is not acceptable, is reprehensible, and will not be tolerated. These protests will let our kids know that we will not stand by idly and allow such rhetoric to be institutionalized.


Many analysts explained the surprise and shock that liberals/progressives felt as a lack of attention to the plight of the rural poor and underestimating their discontent. I disagree. I think we were all surprised because we thought that, despite our political differences, there was no way that the United States, in 2016, would be okay with Trump’s bigotry and sexism, no matter what his other policies were. Seven out of ten Trump supporters said they preferred the US in the 1950s. I read this as longing for a time when white men had even greater institutional and societal advantage, when Jim Crow laws entrenched racial segregation, when sexual harassment was allowed and women were confined to menial roles, if any, in the labor force.


We will not allow the rhetoric and behavior of Trump to become the new normal, whether he is the president or not.


That is why I will call him out on social media. That is why I will march proudly with my young daughter on my back. That is why I will be with my family at a protest this weekend and many more in the next four years.


Teach well, it matters.



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Related posts:




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Even before the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the US, few members of civil society throughout Africa expressed a great deal of trust that the United States would fulfill its commitments regarding climate change. Data from a survey earlier this year (2016) of members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) show that African organizations addressing climate change have little trust in the rest of the world regarding the reduction of emissions to maintain average global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius – with the US receiving the lowest level of trust.


In Figure 1 above, we see that a majority of PACJA members have low levels of trust for major emitting nations or regions, and trust of their own countries or the Sub-Saharan African region as a whole to sufficiently reduce emissions in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius fails to reach a majority. Four out of ten respondents (41.5%) indicated that they trusted their own nations “quite a lot or a great deal” to reduce emissions. Of the high-emitting nations/regions included in the survey, the EU received the highest level of trust to reduce emissions with 31.3% of PACJA members surveyed indicating quite a lot or a great deal of trust. China and the US were afforded the least amount of trust, with only 20% and 16.7% of PACJA members surveyed respectively indicating they had high levels of trust for the nations.

Reducing emissions is not the only thing in the current Paris Agreement. Climate finance is also part of the global negotiations as so-called developing countries seek assistance from the nations that have contributed the most historical emissions to the climate change problems we currently face.

Figure 2, below, shows that there are slightly higher levels of trust regarding the provision of new and sufficient finance to help nations adapt to climate change compared to the sufficient reduction of emissions in Figure 1. Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) is trusted quite a lot or a great deal by a majority (59.8%) of PACJA members to provide finance. Germany also is relatively trusted, although not by a majority (39.5%). The UK, France, Japan and the US, all receive low levels of trust from PACJA members. Only 1 in 5 indicate high levels of trust of the US to provide sufficient climate finance.


Lastly, Figure 3, below, analyzes the level of trust regarding the transfer of technology from highly advanced industrial nations and regions in order to sufficiently reduce emissions. Similar patterns of trust as seen in the provision of finance are evident. Again, Scandinavia is the most trusted region, with 64.7% of PACJA members reporting quite a lot or a great deal of trust that Scandinavia will provide sufficient transfers. The US remains a laggard, with only 26.1% of PACJA members affording the nation high levels of trust. More than half have very little to no trust of the US in this regard.


Trust is essential in international relations. Successfully addressing climate change on a global scale requires nations and civil society actors to work together to implement mitigation and adaptation projects at every level from the local community to the transnational. The existing “trust gap” needs to be closed through concrete actions by high emitting nations led by the state.

This trust will be further tested with the election of Donald Trump, who has referred to climate change as “made up”, included withdrawing US commitments of climate finance in his “First 100 days” plan, and has indicated a desire to revive the waning coal industry. None of that is good news for global climate change or increasing the level of trust of the US to take sufficient action. Trump has even suggested that he may withdraw US participation from the Paris Agreement by pulling out of the UNFCCC treaty altogether.




Teach well, it matters.

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*This data comes from the 2016 PACJA member survey of civil society actors throughout the continent. Data was collected from a random sample of current PACJA members in March and April of 2016. Respondents represent 36 countries.

This is entry is drawn from a larger report written with Mithika Mwende, Secretary General of PACJA. Contact the author, Todd Beer, with interest in the more complete report.

The US failed to elect its first female head of state.

Much can be learned about one’s own society by comparing it to others.  A good part of the rest of the world has been electing women to the most powerful office in the land for decades. There are currently 17 women heads of state including Nepal, the Marshall Islands, Namibia and Poland. More than 50 other nations have chosen a female head of state prior to 2016.


1960 – more than 50 years ago, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female prime minister of Sri Lanka.

1966 – Indira Gandhi  was elected the first female prime minister in India.

1969 – Golda Meir became Israel’s first female prime minister.

A full timeline of all elected female heads of state can be found here.


and here



Parliamentary positions of power for women also vary greatly throughout the world:

From UN WOMEN, “As of June 2016,  only 2 countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 63.8 per cent and Bolivia with 53.1 per cent; but a greater number of countries have reached 30 per cent or more. As of June 2016, 46 single or lower houses were composed of more than 30 per cent women, including 14 in Sub-Saharan Africa and 11 in Latin America [9]. Out of those 46 countries, 40 had applied some form of quotas – either legislative candidate quotas or reserved seats – opening space for women’s political participation [10]. Gender balance in political participation and decision-making is the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.”


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So while the US continues to seek the milestone,  other societies have long had a woman in the most powerful political office in their nation.

Teach well, it matters.


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Also see (click on the images below to go to respective pages):


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At about 9:00 on the night of Monday, September 12, 2016, two different group texts started on my phone at almost the exact same moment, both starting with the same words: “5 more outs!” For the next twenty minutes, I found myself engaged in what seemed to be a spirited discussion of the television show Dancing with the Stars, but that was not why anyone involved was texting. We all knew we were following the Cubs game in St. Louis, where Kyle Hendricks had a no-hitter going, and we all wanted one another to know that we knew what was happening. None of us, however, wanted to jinx the game. If there were any doubt about our motives, the string of curses that came across my phone when Hendricks gave up a home run in the 9th dispelled it.

This is a manifestation of community. The people I was texting with were people I would have been sitting with in the bleachers of Wrigley Field had the Cubs been home. On a night when it looked like there would be a little Cubs history made, we reached out to each other from our living rooms to virtually recreate our center field crew. On facebook, a few minutes after the home run, dozens of other ballpark friends began posting, making visible both their previous superstitious silence and their connection to one another. Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 3.20.10 PM

I have written elsewhere about the bleacher regulars of Wrigley Field and their strongly felt community (Swyers 2010). In 2016, as the Cubs put together a dominant season, I am not surprised that people keep asking me about how the community is reacting. I think they are disappointed when I respond, “Cautiously.”

In a town that has been making noises about the World Series since the surprising 2015 Cubs made it through two playoff rounds, it seems odd that a group of people who are highly identified with the Cubs are saying things like “anything can happen in a short series.” Rather than giddily predicting the end of a decades long World Series drought, many bleacher regulars are dancing around the question as cagily as my texting companions avoided discussing Kyle Hendricks’s no-hitter-in-progress. In the face of potential success, there appears to be a closing of ranks, mutterings against “band-wagon fans,” and a good deal less visible enthusiasm than an observer might reasonably expect. This surprising response from the regulars offers an opportunity to examine how community builds on superstition and ritual and suggests ways of teaching undergraduates new ways of engaging with difference.

Community is one of those words that students use unproblematically and seems to defy definition in formal terms. As Raymond Williams notes in Keywords, the word is both “warmly persuasive” and “seems never to be used unfavourably” (1983: 76), even though it contains within it an assumption of exclusivity.

How do we know when a group is a community, and is it a community just because it calls itself one?


Clearly the idea of a community has emotional weight, and one way to help students get toward a more analytical approach to community is to open a discussion about the things that produce emotional connection in community. The classic angle, and one I have used myself, is to turn toward Durkheim (1995) and collective effervescence. The problem with such effervescence is that while it is easy for students to identify moments when they felt swept away by a crowd, it is a leap from the excitement of a music festival or a sporting event to the idea that lasting ties are created by that energy.

I suggest an alternate route to thinking about emotional connection: that achieved by superstition.

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 3.39.58 PM

A classic and easily accessible text for thinking about superstition is George Gmelch’s oft-reprinted “Baseball Magic,” an adaptation of his 1992 article, “Superstition and Ritual in American Baseball.” Gmelch, a former professional baseball player turned anthropologist, gives an insider view of the rituals of baseball players, offering delightful gems like, “Infielder Julio Gotay always played with a cheese sandwich in his back pocket” (2000: 2). He ties his stories to the theories of magic and religion developed by Bronislaw Malinowski in the 1920s during his fieldwork among the Trobriand Islanders. Malinowski, countering claims that non-Western peoples lacked “science,” pointed out that Trobrianders in the 1920s ran their lives largely by empirically tested strategies, relying on magic only to control the “domain of unaccountable and adverse influences, as well as the great unearned increment of fortunate coincidence” (1948: 12). In other words, for the Trobrianders, magic was about controlling luck, or weather, or any other part of making a livelihood was outside of their control as good gardeners, navigators, and fisherfolk.

Gmelch points out that baseball superstitions work the same way; a batter can hit a ball sharply, but will it get through the infield or turn into a double play? The ballplayer can control his own bat, but not the actions of the other men on the field. For that, he turns to magic.


Students understand this easily. Ask them about their rituals on test days, or on their own sports teams, or witness their own self-imposed seating patterns in any given classroom.

But what does this have to do with community?


To grasp this we need to look back to the bleacher regulars, their non-discussion of the no-hitter, and their ongoing caution in talking about the postseason. As fans, there is relatively little the regulars can do to control the outcome on the field, so the role of “magic” is clear. If they want the Cubs to win, they need to come up with their own rituals to try to influence what is happening on the field. The long-held superstition in baseball that mentioning a no-hitter in progress will immediately result in the opposing team getting a hit is a good example. Most bleacher regulars participate in the superstition, to the point that when someone has a no-hitter going against the Cubs, regulars will chant “no-hitter, no-hitter, no-hitter” if at the game, or, if not, they will text each other and post to facebook single-mindedly about the no-hitter until the Cubs get a hit. This is not something that is discussed or planned; it just happens. When the no-hitter is broken up, the regulars will claim, “We broke it up.”

By participating, the regulars are demonstrating that they know the never-spoken rules and understand the ritual: they are showing they belong to the community and matter to the team.

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 3.39.45 PM

As superstitions and rituals go, though, the way regulars behave around no-hitters is pretty transparent to baseball fans. Any semi-serious fan of any baseball team could figure out what was going on and participate if they chose. It is the smaller, highly localized rituals that separate communities from one another. I mentioned that the opening text for both my Monday night group text sessions were the same: “Five more outs.” In 2016, any time the Cubs were home and I was not at the game, my friends at the ballpark texted me every time the Cubs got the first out in the 8th inning with those exact words. The message was a reference to the 2003 playoffs, where the Cubs were five outs away from the World Series in a game against the Marlins. In what feels like hubris in hindsight, the entire ballpark – in fact, the entire neighborhood around the ballpark – was chanting the words “FIVE MORE OUTS!” That was when the infamous Bartman play happened (, and the Cubs failed to advance. That game is the closest the Cubs have come to being in a World Series since 1945, and the phrase “five more outs” has developed ritual significance for many regulars, a reminder of what happens when you count a win before the game is over. By texting “five more outs,” regulars had found a work-around to counter the superstition about not discussing the no-hitter. The very local ritual produced the excuse to start a conversation that by superstition could not have started otherwise, even if the resulting conversation had to be about anything other than the game in progress.

Once again, everyone involved understood this without anything being said about it. It is in what was not said that we see the community. The shared history, experience, and values of the centerfield regulars meant that they could share a moment that only people who were part of the community could really understand.

So it is with the 2016 Cubs season. For regulars who have invested at least a decade in following the  team, 2007 and 2008 are healthy reminders that good Cubs teams can get to the playoffs and not win a single game. For those with longer tenure in the community, 2003 still tastes bitter – it is possible to get so close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Plus, if we can get credit as fans when we win, how much blame do we harbor for that “five more outs” thing? Still older regulars can recount 1984, when everyone, including Ronald Reagan, jumped on the Cubs bandwagon, and San Diego responded by being “Cub-busters” (, rallying from 0-2 to win the five game National League Championship series. Heck, I wasn’t even born yet, but I can give you a rough summary of 1969 based exclusively on what I’ve been told between pitches at the ballpark in the past 20 years. A regular is likely to have all that in mind when someone enthuses about how amazing the 2016 Cubs are. Yes, it is a really good team, but only an outsider  would assume a World Series championship. For a regular, who should know better, to do so would invite disaster.

Here we see exactly how community, despite being “warmly persuasive,” is exclusive. The rituals and superstitions of the group help show how much shared history is unspoken, manifest in a kind of shorthand that took me a few hundred words to explain and which might sound silly to the uninitiated. However, my bet is that in any class of undergraduates, most if not all students will remember an inside joke or a shared routine that unites them with their closest friends. Ritual and superstition are among the tools that a community uses to reassure itself that we are us and not them, because they would not understand. The more adamantly someone disparages those rituals and superstitions, the more obviously they are part of “them.” Sometimes that is okay. Sports, for instance, rely on there being at least two teams, and the us-them dynamic is part of the pleasure for fans. In the bigger picture, though, us vs. them can lead to more poisonous outcomes like racial profiling, hate crimes, and war. By helping our students to see how communities use their rituals and superstitions to mark their sense of belonging, we can also help them understand why even rituals that seem absurd deserve our respect.


Durkheim, Emile. 1995. Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Trans. by Karen Fields. New York: Free Press.

Gmelch, George. 2000. Baseball Magic. 

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1948. Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Swyers, Holly. 2010. Wrigley Regulars: Finding Community in the Bleachers. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Williams, Raymond. 1983. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Revised Edn. New York: Oxford University Press.


When Holly Swyers is not teaching anthropology courses at Lake Forest College, she can be found in the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field or spotting coyotes along the wilds of the Chicago river. She is currently working on a book about how Americans define adulthood both currently and historically.

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Teach well, it matters.

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Also see…


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Like me, I imagine many of you try to foster the development of critically thinking in your students.

As professors, we are far removed (it took me 8 years to earn my PhD!) from the early developmental stages of learning how to think critically. We may have long forgotten how we actually learned to think critically ourselves.

We want our students to develop critical thinking skills, but how do we teach the acquisition and habituation of such skills?

Here is a list of questions that can get this process started. Students should ask themselves about the assigned reading that will help them think critically and be ready to engage in more vibrant classroom discussion. It is one tool of many that can help us actually teach critical thinking and not just hope it spontaneously emerges in our students or is something that is contagious.

Not all of these questions will apply to every reading and many will need some slight adaptation, but they should get students’ brains revved up and ready to think critically and make a contribution to class discussion.

  • Why did your professor assign this reading?
    • How does it relate to other topics in the course?
      • Is it situated in a particular set of literature? Hint: this would be evident in the literature review.
    • Do the conclusions align with or contradict other readings in the class?
    • How is the argument similar or different to other things you have read?
  • What is the primary question(s) the article addresses? The author wrote this for a reason. Probably to answer a question or a puzzle. What is that question that inspired the article/chapter?
    • Why is this question important to ask?
      • …from a policy standpoint?
      • …from a theoretical standpoint?
      • …for society?
    • What is the hypothesis being tested? Hint: A hypothesis is usually an “if/then” statement proposing a relationship between variables that can be or is tested.
  • Does the article/chapter disagree with some other existing theory?
  • What evidence/data, if any, is used to make the point?
    • Is there evidence/data that you think would be more convincing?
    • Are there variables that you think should have been included that were not?
    • Is there a weakness in the methods that make you question the results?
    • Are there examples from your own life experience that contradict or reinforce the conclusions?
    • If this is an older article, has society changed in important ways that should make us reconsider the conclusions?
    • Are there examples in the headlines today that relate to the conclusions of the piece?
    • Did the author draw accurate conclusions from the data/outcomes?
  • What are some of the underlying assumptions that the author(s) make(s)?
  • Do you agree with the way the key concepts of the piece are defined?
    • Did the author exclude a category, concept, or variable that you think is essential to include?
  • How might another discipline (political science, economics, biology, psychology, etc.) examine and explain the same question or topic?
  • If we accept the author’s conclusions, what questions arise that still need explanation?
    • What additional research does this inspire?
  • How might the conclusions of the article/chapter apply to any different but related topic?
    • What else might this research explain?
  • How is this issue presented in the mass media?


Teach well, it matters.

Teaching quantitative methods and data analysis can be tedious, but I have found that using sociological and “headline-relevant” data, such as the 2016 data on police use of lethal force can increase the engagement and learning of our students. The Guardian newspaper has been keeping tracking of US citizens shot by police since the beginning of 2015. The annual data is downloadable and a great free dataset for teaching not only on the topic of race and the use of lethal force by police, but also Excel and SPSS data analysis. Here I provide a downloadable data set for 2016 (up to August 2nd) and an introductory Excel assignment (one I use on the first day of lab before moving onto SPSS).

The learning goals of the exercise include:

  • Become familiar with select elements of Microsoft Excel
  • Learn how to create sortable tables
  • Generate professional bar and pie charts using data
  • Generate averages using Excel
  • Use the “countif” command
  • Use Excel math functions to calculate percentages

Feel free to adopt or adapt the assignment to the needs of your own class. Stay tuned for an SPSS version.

Teach well, it matters.

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Casey Oberlin and the Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab (DASIL) at Grinnell College created an instructional handout to assist students and instructors with this assignment on teaching Excel with police use of lethal force data. The handout includes screenshots and precise instructions to navigate the assignment. Download the handout here.

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Also, see relevant previous posts:

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