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Habitus crisis

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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“Habitus crisis”

  1. Blogger Practicing Idealist Says:

    True, we're rewarded for our research, not our teaching. But if that's the case, then we would always just do what's easiest for us in the classroom. For me, teaching trite, watered down versions of sociological concepts seems almost more difficult than teaching the information that I'm most passionate about, which is usually the type of stuff about which undergraduates complain.
    It's a hard balance to strike. However, I do believe that most of our students expect us to entertain them in the classroom (as evidenced in an anecdote I heard this morning that a group of students told the dean that a graduate student instructor was "boring"). I get indignant when students expect us to provide them with a show, and don't expect to have to put forth their own effort to digest the material, and find the interesting components in it. After all, we're talking about sociology majors here - I would like to hope that they'd be excited about sociology, in whatever form they're exposed to it. But this may be wishful thinking...
    Good luck with your class!

  2. Anonymous Sweet Pea Says:

    Has the Dried Sage dried up? Will he arise again?

  3. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    I, too, understand your dilemma. I am not a sociologist but a diabetes educator--a different kind of teacher. As such, I find that motivating my patient to digest the information which will help him/her become a healthier, stronger person is primary and any way I can get that patient to swallow that bitter pill is the way I present the information. When I try to model a successful teacher, I think back to my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Wollitz. She was far and away the best teacher I've ever known. She knew how to personalize every drop of information she gave. I don't think we, as teachers, have to put on a show. I do, however, think we have to show genuine love of and interest in our chosen topics--sociology for you, diabetes care for me and then we have to be able to transmit that passion to the next generation. I believe that's the only way we can ever truly clone ourselves and pass our values and beliefs on to the next group of sociologists/DM educators. Jo Nichols, Jacksonville, Florida

  4. Anonymous Fecal McStool Says:

    I like to talk about stool.

  5. Blogger Jay Says:

    For a 300-level course, I'd suggest the primary-sources route. Watered-down stuff is great for intro courses, but it's time to get to the meat.