“It’s always one damn thing after another.” This was a favorite phrase of my advisor in graduate school. He was referring both to the relatively minor irritations of grad school—getting papers rejected, having data troubles, worrying about qualifying exams—as well as the daily annoyances of life—finding a parking ticket on your car, getting into an argument with a friend, having a long wait at the doctor’s office.
I’ve thought of this phrase quite a bit lately as I followed the tragic events in Boston. It wasn’t so much the bombing at the Boston Marathon that brought these words back to me as much as it was the cumulative effect of recent events: Boston, Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, Aurora, Penn State, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and the list could go on.
Recently, gay marriage and gay rights have been at the forefront of the nation’s attention. As the Supreme Court heard two historic arguments on same-sex marriage, the top story in print, on the airwaves, and over the Internet has revolved around these issues.
My interest in such matters started much earlier, specifically in January 1991. At the time, my brother and I were driving back to New York from Washington, D.C. after attending a rally protesting the Gulf War. We spent the whole weekend together talking about things both serious and frivolous. It wasn’t until we were about two exits away from our hometown when my brother woke me up from a nap saying that he had something to tell me. I thought he was going to say that he got pulled over for a speeding ticket. Instead, he told me he was gay.
What makes you a sociologist? Is it a degree? A title? A job? Are there certain books you need to read? Is there a test you need to pass? Must you freely use jargon and esoteric language? Do you need access to a password or a secret handshake? Despite what you may think or what you may have learned, I believe that being a sociologist requires none of these things.
I often tell students that I hope they leave my classes with more questions than answers. This statement may seem counterintuitive. Our typical model of education is based on the idea that students’ heads should be filled with knowledge such as definitions, dates, and all sorts of data. The idea that students would finish their coursework with more question marks than periods goes against the conventional wisdom of schooling.
By making this statement I am suggesting that if students want to take what they’ve learned in class and extend it into their social worlds then they will need to know how to ask questions. If they are merely satisfied with the knowledge that has been instilled in them then they have probably not been challenged intellectually. More important, or more troubling, leaving a class without any lingering questions is likely to inhibit their ability to be life-long learners.
Six-year old Emily Parker was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. At her funeral her father, Robbie Parker, offered his love and support to the family of the shooter.
In 2012, nineteen-year old Conor McBride shot and killed Ann Grosmaire, his girlfriend of three years. When it came time for the District Attorney to recommend punishment, Ann’s parents advocated for a reduced sentence so that Conor would not have to spend his entire life in jail.
In 2006, Charles Roberts killed five Amish girls at the West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster, Pennsylviania. Soon after the shooting, the parents of the deceased girls raised money to assist the gunman’s wife and children and they consoled his father during the gunman’s funeral.
Apathetic. Apolitical. Indifferent. Insensitive. Self Absorbed. Self-Obsessed. Selfish. Uncaring. Uncompassionate. Uninvolved.
Have you heard these words thrown about? They are often used these days to describe today’s youth. Some call them the Me Generation or Generation Me. Whatever order you prefer, the meaning is unmistakable: young people today are a generation of individuals who are more focused on themselves than others. This sentiment is summed up quite succinctly by Christian Smith and his colleagues in their book, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Based on 230 interviews with a cross section of young people between the ages of 18-23 the authors argue that:
The vast majority of the emerging adults interviewed remain highly civically and politically disengaged, uninformed, and distrustful. Most in fact in this study claim to feel disempowered, apathetic, and sometimes even despairing when it comes to the larger social, civic, and political world beyond their own private lives.
Given your own experiences and observations of young people do you feel this analysis rings true? I tend to have a different perspective than the authors of this study. My sense is that today’s young people are not all disengaged, consumer-driven individualists. I am more inclined to believe a recent study that found 56% of young adults around the world consider themselves activists and 69% of youth in the U.S. self identify as such.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. You’ve probably heard this saying if you ever played or watched sports. I’ve been thinking of this phrase a lot lately as I follow the rapid downfall of Lance Armstrong. As most people know the seven-time winner of the Tour de France and creator of the Livestrong Foundation was found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career. As a result, he was stripped of his Tour victories, dropped by a number of sponsors such as Nike, compelled to sever all ties with Liverstrong, and even had an honorary degree he received rescinded from Tufts University.
National holidays such as Thanksgiving provide a wonderful opportunity for us to apply many of the themes related to sociological mindfulness. It is useful to think about the role that holidays play in society, the values and beliefs these holidays instill, and the extent to which we can deconstruct the “facts” and assumptions of these holidays. Consider some of the myths and realities of Thanksgiving taken from sociologist James W. Loewen’s national bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.
Is racism funny? This question may seem outrageous. In fact, I can hardly believe I’m asking it because no one with even the slightest amount of sociological insight would ever entertain such a thought. Let’s face it: There is nothing funny or amusing about racism or any other form of oppression such as sexism, homophobia, or ableism.
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