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Habitus crisis

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Jeff

Imagine a continuum along which social science classes may fall. At one end is the "Consumers Choice" model, full of books and articles that conform to the interests of students. They describe sociological concepts in fun, familiar terms and memorable anecdotes, all easily accessible to undergrads. Numbers and statistics are noticeably absent, readings are bite-sized, and the obtuse classics of Sociology are taught with secondary sources. Case studies predominate, complimented with articles from the popular press. Non-specialist books that demonstrate pedagogical utility are preferred to specialist books.

At the other end is the "Professional Development" model. Readings include basic statistics and technical concepts and professional journals are the norm. Although a deep understanding isn't expected of students, classical theories and authors do make an appearance - always primary sources - and linear regression techniques are common. Qualitative work may be presented, but only to an extent proportional to that in the field of study being taught. Professional development is preferred to accessibility.

This frames some of the tougher choices I'm facing as I redesign my 300-level course on social movements this summer. I see the utility of the accessible course which corresponds to my belief that undergraduate classes should meet students halfway in order to provoke and inspire them to come back for more. On the other hand, students won't learn to perform at a higher level if it's not presented to or expected of them. This resonates with the mantra, "challenge all, exclude none," and strikes me as a good starting point for teaching a diverse bunch of students.

This might be an instance where a teaching philosophy would come in handy. What are my goals? Which methods of teaching most closely meet them? The easiest solution lies somewhere in the middle of this continuum, of course, but my sense is that most teachers fall closer to the side of accessibility. I know mine did, and I resent them for it. Of course, I'm in grad school now - not the typical path of the students we're teaching. What's a teacher to do? And does the answer depend on which university, discipline, or particular bunch of students we're talking about? And there's that nagging question in my head: are we training future consumers here?

Then I hear the wise words of experience: You're rewarded for your research, dummy, not teaching.

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3 reasons to be thankful you're not in Tucson

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 by Jeff

2:00 am is truly lovely this time of year.

Wish you were here,


He's no Vladimir Putin

Monday, July 02, 2007 by Jeff



Jeff A. Larson
Sociologist, Arizona.


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