Saturday, January 18, 2020

Recommended - Alison Stewart's Interview of Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan

Alison Stewart's Interview of Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan is a conversation worth your time.

A few highlights:

Around the 13 minute mark of the interview, there's an insightful exchange about physical spaces. Think dorm rooms. As Hirsch points out, there are usually four furniture items in a dorm room: bed, desk, chair, bureau. "The only comfortable place to sit is a bed," she says, adding, "beds have meanings." Students need to learn not to make assumptions in a situation when someone sits on their bed. Maybe a person just wants to sit on the bed, and nothing else. In addition, she suggests that colleges create more spaces for students to hang out and socialize in the late hours. Khan then talks about power and control of spaces. For example, older students tend to have more control over spaces. He says: "Younger students are often propelled into spaces controlled by older students and that really can put them at risk."

Near the 18 minute mark, Stewart asks for a definition of "sexual citizens," and Khan answers: "Sexual citizenship is the idea that people have the right to say yes and the right to say no to sex, and that they need to recognize the equivalent rights in other people." A few minutes later, Khan emphasizes the importance of recognizing the humanity of other people (in contrast to, for example, seeing sex as a game or seeing a sexual experience as an accomplishment or triumph).

At 23 minutes, there's a great contribution to the conversation from a caller who works as a consent educator. She talks about the need to reframe sexual experiences to prioritize the safety and pleasure of one's partner. Hirsch responds by addressing the need to improve the way sex education is taught (she says sex ed should be more comprehensive, more inclusive, start earlier, and include teaching people to say no to sex they don't want to have).

On the subject of education, Khan brings up driver's ed as an analogy around the 27 minute mark. It takes a lot of work to learn how to safely drive! Sex ed, he says, is mainly about biology..."It's sort of like imagining that you can teach people to drive by talking to them about spark plugs, it's not particularly helpful!" He also talks about the importance of offering comprehensive sex education, one that empowers young people to talk about sex and to express themselves. And we need safer sexual environments. Back to the driving analogy--like he says, speed bumps help people drive safely!

There's much more in the interview, this is just a glimpse into it, I encourage listening to all of it!

Friday, January 17, 2020

First Day Jitters

20  years teaching and I still get nervous on the first day. That means I still care and I'm still shy. It takes a while to get my teaching voice in shape and to relax and show my personality. I pass out the syllabus on the first day and all that regular jazz and I normally have a set plan with notes and bullet points but on the first day of my Social Stratification class next week I'm going to try to be loose and get right into a conversation with students. Before introducing the subject matter I think I'll ask them to give their thoughts and rough definitions of social class and ask them what they think and know about inequality. And ask them what they see in media (all media, including social media) that informs their views about social class and inequality. I think that will start the course on a good note and establish an environment where we talk and listen to each other. Sure I'll cover the assignments and expectations for the course and other professor stuff a professor does but I think the really important thing is to get them talking and thinking on day 1. I think sometimes we look for fun "icebreakers" but if you think about it, when students are talking and listening to each other the ice is being broken.

Friday, October 11, 2019

When 200 Words Will Do

I love to write but the words don't flow like they used to. A few years ago I was hit hard by writer's block while working on something with Peter Kaufman. Peter was kind and bighearted and offered soothing advice. "Little by little" he said to me, and those were the right words at the right time. I still struggled to get the words out but I wrote what I could, even if it took hours to write a few decent paragraphs.

I busted out of my writer's block after a good night out drinking with my best friend, a night that inspired a short story "Oil on Canvas" that was published at the Sociological Review site.

Since then I've been able to get myself in a better writing groove, though it's much more slow going than what I used to produce years ago. I'll take what I can get. I write when I'm moved. There are countless documents to nowhere. Sometimes the words don't add up. Sometimes they do.

I had some weird dreams last night and hit the couch around 2:00 this morning. I typed some words using Notes on my iPhone. It's become one of my favorite ways to not lose words. Before iPhones I made a habit of keeping a notebook in my car so I could scribble down a thought before I'd lose it. I like to drive. I have a 45 minute ride to work and there's usually sentences that pop into my head, so I write them down while I'm driving. Back to the early hours of this morning...I tapped in more words into Notes, drifted off to sleep, and during the drive to work I wrote more words into my notebook. Older habits meeting new habits.

I'm excited because this is the start to a story I've been trying to write for many years. I've never been able to start it in a way that felt good. I looked at the words on my phone and they seemed like a lot. I uploaded the text to my computer to put them in a Word document. Altogether today I wrote 200 words of the story. I would have guessed I wrote more. But that's okay. I like what I've written so far. Little by little I'll get there. 200 words will do.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The American Sociological Association Meeting in Buffalo

The next several meetings of the American Sociological Meeting will be in expensive cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, and back to New York in 2026. It looks like the most reasonably priced place is Philadelphia in 2023. It's understandable that you want the host city to be an exciting city that people want to travel to. But sociologists must also be struggling with cognitive dissonance. We study inequality for a living. The idea of our national conference taking place in fancy hotels in glamorous cities doesn't match up with our concerns about severe economic inequalities. What about folks who don't get generous (or even modest) travel funds? Can graduate students, adjuncts, and newer faculty afford to attend the conference for 2, 3 or more days?

Are sociologists willing to attend ASA conferences in smaller, less expensive cities? What about a place like Buffalo, NY, which has BEAUTIFUL weather in August (75 degrees here today, baby) and is a 20 minute drive to the majestic Niagara Falls?!?! Don't forget about W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagara Movement! Shouldn't sociologists take interest in Buffalo, a place that has experienced deindustrialization and population loss? Buffalo has amazing architecture, cool public art, great art museums, lovely parks, reasonably placed hotels, and a ton of places to eat and drink. Yes, the chicken wings are the best you'll ever find, but there's much more to Buffalo than wings and pizza.

Fellow sociologists, we can continue to voice our concerns about overpaying to attend conferences in prominent cities, or we can change our ways. We really should have a serious conversation about where our national conference takes place.

Dream of Missing a Class

It's almost back to school time. Last night I had a dream that the semester had begun. After finishing up the first week, it suddenly occurred to me that something was off. I failed to show up for one of my class sections. On the one hand, a ridiculous dream, as if I would actually forget to attend one of my own courses. Yet, it taps into a school year anxiety. The fear of being unprepared, the worry about things not going smoothly. I've had dreams like this before. It's usually just a sensation that I missed the boat, that I screwed up big time. It doesn't usually continue on to a happy ending. It just leaves me with the feeling of having messed up. It's no surprise I'm at my computer planning to finish up a syllabus on a Friday morning. A dream like that gives you a little kick in the behind.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Teaching Statement on My Syllabus

This class will be a mix of lectures and discussions. I do my best to include as many students as possible in discussions. I try various strategies to elicit participation. Knowing students' lives are busy and complicated, I try to be understanding and flexible. I treat students with respect. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I always try to get better at teaching. I value punctuality and consistent attendance. I don’t usually police use of devices—but I ask that you be considerate of everyone in the classroom and to please avoid distracting from the learning environment. To be honest, it bothers me when students use laptops for things other than taking notes—it’s a major distraction to students and me. But, I don’t try to ban phones and other devices. I believe there are times that devices can help the learning process. In conclusion, I’ll leave it to you to decide what you do with your devices—however, please be courteous and mindful of the situation. Aretha Franklin provides the perfect guide: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Monday, July 29, 2019

Sociological Debates

It's syllabus time. I'm working on my Introduction to Sociology syllabus, and nearly done. I only have about four open dates on the syllabus. This morning an idea occurred to me to fill those dates with sociological debates. I'll spread them throughout the semester and list them on the syllabus as "Sociological Debates: Topic to Be Determined." I'll solicit suggestions from students for topics.

Last time I structured a debate in class, students did a great job debating about athletes who silently protest by not standing for the anthem. It was easy to find students who wanted to take different positions in that debate.

I haven't decided the point value for this assignment, but I tend to make assignments like this low stakes to take the pressure off the situation. There are students who don't like to be in the spotlight in front of their peers. But an exercise like this is a good one for students thinking on their feet while they try to make a persuasive case. And the class as a whole gets to listen and take in various points of view from their classmates. It's also a productive way to engage with controversial topics.

I'm thinking I'll ask students to share the sources of information they use to help shape their arguments. I'm going to say something like "This isn't all about relying on your opinion or just winging it for a few minutes in front of class, or using theatrics." I want students to accumulate sources to prepare for these debates and to seriously engage with their peers on interesting and important topics of the day.