Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Good Day

It was Monday. I never know what Mondays are going to bring. Wife is out the door at 8:00 and my parents come by 9:30 to watch our sons for the day. It's my job to get the baby down for a nap by 9:00 (he "sleeps in" until 6:30 in the morning if we're lucky) and then head out the door in time to review my notes for 11:15 class. Sometimes baby Mack decides to give me a hard time and resist his morning nap. But yesterday he cooperated and hit the sack with no fight at all. I came down the stairs feeling like a champion, and finished getting ready for work. Only one problem: I forgot to brush my teeth. Well, I could head up the stairs to the bathroom and risk waking him up, or not brush my teeth. Of course, we have the creakiest stairs in the world, so hell no I'm not going back upstairs. My parents arrive and we chat for a few minutes, and I head out the door with time to go to the convenience store. I grab a toothbrush and toothpaste and enjoy my half hour ride to work. I settle into my office by 10:15, brush my teeth in the bathroom down the hall, and prepare for class with nearly an hour to spare. So far, so good. The day proceeds without drama. Wonderful. I teach two classes--I'm not amazing in either one, but I get the job done. I'm composed and professional for office hours and stay on top of e-mail and administrative tasks. I'm relaxed when I chat with colleagues and students. 5:00 comes fast so I shut down for the day and pick up the kids at my parents' house. Baby Mack has snot flying out of his nose, which quickly gets transferred to my nice red shirt. It's all good, all of my other shirts have booger residue too. It comes with the territory. We have a fairly pleasant ride home. I'm starved, so I crush some leftover pasta and vegetables and feel good about the day. My parents call. I forgot Mack's giraffe at their house, a little crutch he'll need for daycare on Wednesday. Oh well, I'll figure it out tomorrow. Right now it's time to wind down. We all get a good night's sleep. 4-year-old Troy sleeps until 6:40 and Mack actually sleeps until 7:00, something that almost never happens. I head downstairs with the boys and upon opening the dining room shade I see that my car door has been open all night. Somehow I forgot to close it after we got home yesterday. As luck would have it, the battery isn't dead. There's probably a squirrel hiding in my car, but so be it. It was a good day and today looks bright too.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Parents of Sociology Majors

Dear Mom or Dad,

If your son or daughter is majoring in Sociology, don't worry. He or she will get a job. I won't claim that a Sociology major is a fast track to being rich, but I do think it can enrich a person's life and well-being. Seriously. If your child is majoring in Sociology, it probably means your child has a deep curiosity about the world. It probably means your child doesn't take things for granted, that (s)he doesn't view things as being "obvious" or "common sense." Your son or daughter is likely attracted to Sociology in order to make sense of the world. Simply put, your child is a thinker, and that's a good thing. The Sociology major develops critical thinking skills. The Sociology major develops problem-solving skills. The Sociology major develops communication skills. And a Sociology major is a sign that a student takes an interest in diversity and can work well with others.

Okay, you say, that's fine, even nice, but how about some practicality here? No problem. Think of all the jobs that aren't tied to a specific major. The person who sold you your last car probably has a college degree. But they didn't major in Car Sales. The person who helped you buy auto insurance or home insurance has a college degree. But they didn't graduate with an Insurance degree. The person you call when you have questions about your health insurance plan is likely to be a college graduate--and they didn't graduate in Health Insurance. You get the point. There are lots of jobs that don't exclude Sociology graduates. Keep in mind that if you don't pay your bills, you might get a call from a debt collector--and who knows, the worker might have a degree in Sociology!

Alright, maybe those jobs don't excite your mind and maybe your son or daughter wouldn't be happy at those jobs. Well, let's look at other options. Is your child thinking about law school? A degree in Sociology is good preparation for law school. Does your child want to help people? Meaning, might they go into Social Work or Counseling? To move up the ladder, they'll eventually earn a Master's degree in Social Work or in Counseling -- and a degree in Sociology won't prevent them from getting into those graduate programs!

Maybe your son or daughter would like to travel abroad to make a difference in lesser developed countries. Surely you've heard of the Peace Corps -- a perfect opportunity for Sociology majors! Maybe your child (who won't be a child forever--face it, they're actually grownups!) would like to teach English in Japan or Korea. Again, perfect for a Sociology major. If that's too much adventure for your taste, maybe you can convince your son or daughter to make a difference at home -- see AmeriCorps for example.

I've only scratched the surface here. There is much more available to the Sociology major. Sociology majors work in jobs that assist developmentally disabled individuals. They work in jobs that educate and counsel young people who are from disadvantaged (and sometimes troubled) backgrounds. They work in law enforcement.

In sum, Sociology majors do lots of things. In my experience as a Sociology professor who has talked careers with many students over the years, I find that students in Sociology are eager to help people and make a difference in life. They aren't always motivated by money and material goods. But don't worry, to major in Sociology is not to end up living in the Poor House. You can make a good living as a Sociology major. And what good is it if your child has a major that is more directly connected to making a lot of money but that major doesn't make your child happy? The happier your child is, the harder they will work at school. If they love Sociology, they will do well in Sociology. They will find a path to a job, even if the path bends now and again. Please don't stifle your child's interest in Sociology. Encourage it! Tell them to earn good grades and to get an internship. Tell them to volunteer during the school year and in summer. You know that life is about relationships and connections. And so teach your child to make connections through internships and volunteer opportunities (examples are United Way and Habitat for Humanity).

On a final and personal note: I majored in Psychology as an undergraduate. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology. My friend's father was an influential administrator in our local school system. He encouraged me to get a graduate degree in Psychology so that he could get me job at the local high school as a counselor. I followed my heart and earned my Ph.D. in Sociology instead. Now I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Niagara University and have been Chairperson of the department for five years. Not everybody who studies Sociology will end up being a professor someday, but it's my hope that Sociology leads them to happiness and fulfillment, as it did for me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Just Another Day

Our baby woke up at 1:30 in the morning. No problem, I hurry to his bedroom to feed him a bottle, and he's back down to sleep. He wakes up again at 5:30. My wife's turn. This time, our little guy doesn't go back to sleep. He's UP! I take him downstairs to start the day, and my wife grabs twenty more minutes of sleep. I hang out with our tired baby until our 4-year-old joins us by 6:30. He's an early riser too--6:30 is close to sleeping in for him. I pound coffee to try to get moving but fail to eat breakfast. So I'm jittery and tired. Tina's upstairs getting ready for work, and after she gets everything organized for the boys, she heads out for work at 8:00. My parents are coming soon to watch the boys for the day. By 8:30 the baby is ready for a nap, so I try to put him down. Not happening. The sound of my baby crying doesn't bother me. The sound of my baby screaming does. Unfortunately he opts for screaming, so I take him out of the crib. I call my parents. "Don't worry about coming here. I'll bring the boys on my way to work." I throw my work bags into the car (for some reason I can't consolidate all my books and folders into one bag), toss in my lunch, and add the kids' stuff. Off to their grandparents we go. So what if the baby didn't nap, I figure he'll sleep in the car. Wishful thinking. Little baby is delirious and laughing at anything and everything. Thankfully 4-year-old Troy is behaving. He's just happy to be in his pajamas (it was the only way to coax him into the car. He was expecting to be home today). I can't exactly drop off the boys and run to work, because baby Mack has gone from delirious to exhausted. He's on the edge of screaming again. He'd probably like his mom right about now, but I'll do. He looks at me and puts out his hands. That tears my heart apart everytime. I bring him upstairs to the room that used to be my brother's bedroom. I sit in a rocking chair and get the baby to sleep. I'm afraid my wife is going to call home to check on us, and that she'll be worried if no one answers. So I stand up, continue to rock the baby, and fire off a text to let her know where we are. I look at the clock--I've got class in about an hour. After a little catnap, I hand little Mack off to my mom, leave, and race to a drive-thru. I just need a little more coffee. I get to my office at 10:30, which leaves me time to eat a banana and yogurt. I make a few minutes for small talk with colleagues and pretend everything is fine. At 11:00 I head to class and do a solid job teaching Introduction to Sociology. I'm back in my office by 12:30. "I can do this, I can do this" I say, realizing I've been up since 5:30, have held back tears at least three times in the morning, and feel like I've already put in an honest day's work. But I've got one more class to teach this afternoon, plus office hours. My day isn't over until 5:00. Then I have to pick the boys up and drive home. I can do this, I can do this, I think.

Author's note: This is a work of non-fiction.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Example of Social Location

Saw this story today on TV news in Buffalo, NY. Girls are not allowed to play football in a particular league. The director of the league cited safety reasons. I wonder if smaller boys are not allowed to play because of safety reasons? If the child wants to play, and her parents want her to play, I say give her the opportunity to play!

In any case, this is certainly an example of social location. Our locations in life (our gender, race, and social class positions, to name a few) influence what happens to us in society. Simply by virtue of being female, girls are being denied a sport opportunity. Can you say inequality?

* * * * * *

Update 12/18/2014: Another example of social location is having a social class position that affords you the possibility of hiring a "fitness concierge." If you don't know what a fitness concierge is, you can read about it in this New York Times article. I wouldn't have known there is such a thing as fitness concierge if I hadn't read the article. It's one thing (and one social location) to belong to a gym, it's another thing (and another social location) to be able to pay for a fitness concierge. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Alone, Well Enough

A couple of years ago it seemed like everybody was in their own world, lost in their headphones, focused on keeping to themselves. Now it seems like everybody is connected all the time (see Facebook). People seem eager to be part of something, to be a valued piece of a network. Has the balance shifted to near-constant interaction and connectivity? Can anyone strike a balance between solitary contentedness and social interaction? Does anyone care to?

Author's note: this post is just a simple thought that occurred to me during a quiet moment this morning.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The First Day of Class

My approach to the first day of class is to keep it simple. I think too much is made of the first day. I'm not saying it's unimportant, I just think one doesn't have to be cute or clever on the first day. There's so much in the teaching and learning literature about the first day of class. I think the second day of class is much more important (more on that another time). On the first day my goal is to show that I'm an energetic and enthusiastic professor. My plan for the first day of my SOC 101 class this year is to develop a definition and description of sociology. I find that students who are new to sociology already have a sense of what sociology is. I just have to draw it out of them and work with what they give me. I simply say "Give me a word or phrase that has to do with sociology. It's okay if you're not sure." That usually produces plenty of content to establish a solid definition of sociology and the topics of interest to sociologists. It also allows me to differentiate sociology from psychology. It's a basic exercise that involves students. That allows me to show students that I want them to contribute to class. If I'm already encouraging them to speak on the first day, then obviously I'm expecting (and encouraging) them to speak during every class. That's my goal, rather than spend time on introductions and icebreakers. It's not that I hate icebreakers, I just figure they've had enough icebreakers during orientation and in other classes.

That's pretty much how I keep it simple on the first day. I introduce everyone to sociology, go over the syllabus, encourage them to visit me during office hours, and tell them to be ready for a fun and interesting course!

PS if you're wondering how to teach the incoming first-year cohort, here are two essential things you need to know to prepare to teach 18-year-olds in 2017:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sociological Song

Heard this song today for the first time: "My Boys" by Taken by Trees.

Here are some of my favorite lyrics from the song:

"There isn't much that I feel I need."

"I don't care for fancy things."

"I don't mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status, I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my boys."

It's a nice song about working hard and taking pride in doing so. Pride is the goal instead of social status and material possessions. Love it!

Note: the song is an adaptation of "My Girls" by Animal Collective.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Tell Me What to Do App

Are you unable to make good decisions? Do you find it hard to get out of your own way? Is it impossible for you to make the right call? If so, you're in luck! The "Tell Me What to Do" app is available now and promises to be the hottest item in 2012.

Unhappy in a relationship, but don't know if you should end it? Or are you tired of being single and thinking of getting back with your ex? The app will tell you what to do! Unsure if you should tell friends and family that you're really a raging conservative who loves Glenn Beck books? Consult the tell me what to do app! Can't figure out if you should go shopping the day after Thanksgiving with the masses? Already planning to be a super consumer but not sure what to buy? No problem, the tell me what to do app will figure it out for you! Are you confused by people who aren't exactly like you? Don't know what to say to them? If so, the tell me what to do app provides an easy fix! Have you lost your moral compass? Are you lacking in ethics? No problem, the tell me what to do app is a master of knowing exactly what to do and when to do it!

Why bother with your own decisions when an app can make them for you? Imagine how much more efficient your life would be if you didn't have to worry about any life choices. The app can tell all of us what to do! Order now!