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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Short Video: Kathryn Edin Talks about Extreme Poverty

On the first day of my Social Stratification class, I made reference to $2 a Day, the book by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. When I asked if anyone had read the book, no one raised their hand. Found this short video that I will show them in class tomorrow to introduce them to the book and the authors' research.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Peter Kaufman

Peter Kaufman passed away yesterday. There's a nice article about Peter on the New Paltz website. I love the picture of him playing the drums.

Peter was kind to me from the day I met him. He was ahead of me in grad school at Stony Brook University in the mid 90s. You know grad school. Some people pay attention to you, others don't. Peter paid attention and was happy to lend advice and guidance. I remember when Peter was working on an article about C. Wright Mills and the sociological imagination. I was like, "Who's this dude writing about Big Macs and Air Jordans? You can do that in Sociology???" It was one of many times I was inspired by his creativity.

He loved Mills. Years later, Peter came to me with an idea he had to write about the appendix to the The Sociological Imagination. Following his lead, we dug into the appendix to write an article in Teaching Sociology. I have a memory of talking to Peter by phone while I was in my basement, trying not to wake up my first born from a nap. I remember taking notes, using the washing machine as a desk. I look at the article and see Peter's ideas and clever writing jump off the page. 

I loved working with him. We corresponded mostly by email, with him being in New Paltz and me in Buffalo. We scheduled phone calls. I cherish those phone calls. We'd talk for an hour plus about life and sociology. Mostly sociology. Damn, we were on the same wavelength. Just this year we put our heads together to write "It’s About Power, Not Privilege" for Everyday Sociology Blog, and a 100 word short story (known as a drabble) that was just published in So Fi Zine. It's called "A Manmade's Tale," which you can find here on page 14. Peter came up with the title. It was so fun working out ideas with Peter by phone, by text, by email. 

Then there was the time Peter bailed me out. I was over my head. I had been working on fictional stories and felt strongly they had sociological value. I lined up a book chapter to showcase the stories. And then I was stuck. All I had were the stories. I asked Peter to help me. Peter had a way of calming me down. For him, the task was clear. "We need to make an argument," he said. And boom, Peter structured an argument about writing fictional stories as a method of doing sociology. The way his brain worked.....oh, man, I'm so lucky to have seen him operate. 

So kind, so genuine. Peter was the real deal. A kind person, through and through, someone who truly cared about people. And he loved teaching. I implore folks to read Teaching with Compassion, the book he co-authored with Janine Schipper. It's awesome, and gives readers a good sense of how much he respected students, and how much he cared about their learning. 

I'll have more to say about Peter soon. I plan to pay tribute to the body of work he compiled as a blogger at Everyday Sociology. One exceptional post after another, dating back to July 2011. One of his first posts was "You Might be a Marxist" (yes, he channeled Jeff Foxworthy) and it's one of my all-time favorites. I love using it to help teach SOC 101 students about why Marx is indeed relevant. I could go on and on about Peter. And I will again soon. For now, let's watch him play drums in his band Questionable Authorities. Here they are with a Violent Femmes cover, "Blister in the Sun".