6 posts from February 2013

February 21, 2013

Asking Sociological Questions

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

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.

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February 18, 2013

Impression Management and Letters of Recommendation

SternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Matthew (not his real name) was once a student of mine. He regularly left class early, arrived late, and seemed bored when he was there. His coursework was mediocre at best, and when he got his grade at the end of the semester—which was consistent with his scores throughout the semester—he came to my office to complain. He didn’t do well in the participation part of the course, which he argued “wasn’t fair.”

Imagine my surprise when he then asked me for a letter of recommendation….

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February 14, 2013

Argo, Whitewashing, and Race at the Golden Globes

Wynn Teresa gonzalesBy Jonathan Wynn and Teresa Irene Gonzales

Perhaps you’ve seen the award-winning film, Argo, which tells the improbable-yet-true tale of a CIA officer, Antonio Mendez, who, in 1979, pitches an incredible story to the Iranian government—that he is a filmmaker wanting to scout a location to film a sci-fi movie in Iran—to successfully smuggle six U.S. embassy workers out of the country. (You can read the full story here.)

The film received some criticism, however, since its release. On the one hand, the film downplays the role of the Canadian government and the heroics of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor. On the other, Ben Affleck has come under fire for choosing to portray Mendez. Although his surname is briefly mentioned in the film, Mendez’s real-life ancestry and ethnicity is downplayed.  As others have noted, while meticulous care was taken to present “aesthetic accuracy” for most of the cast, this was not the case between Affleck’s Tony and the real-life Mendez. This can be seen during the final credit roll, where the audience is shown an image of the real Tony Mendez shaking hands with President Jimmy Carter.

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February 11, 2013

Forgiveness is a Social Act

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

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.

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February 07, 2013

Race and Anger Online

SternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

On January 11, armed assailants entered a Nordstrom Rack store in the Los Angeles area just after closing time. The police were called and surrounded the building, and the assailants held 14 people hostage for about two hours.

Despite the heavy police presence—a SWAT team was at the scene—the assailants escaped. Police later arrested five people, three suspects and two accused as accessories for allegedly aiding the suspects.

This was a shocking event for both the victims and members of the community. The store is located in an upscale shopping area with a state-of-the-art Cineplex and many shops and restaurants in an area with a relatively low crime rate.

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February 04, 2013

Revisiting Research

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

The journal Social Forces has published many classic studies in sociology in its ninety year history. To celebrate,the publisher has offered free public access. Even better, each of these articles has updates or reflection articles from the original authors.

While new research is always being pursued, it is important to realize that classic work still has an important contribution to make – that’s why you end up reading so much of it in sociology classes. On the other hand, it is important not to just accept the older work as consistently applicable but to reflect, reassess, reapply the findings to see if they retain their power of explanation. If the findings are no longer as relevant, we can  learn about how life has changed or what the research might have missed, created as it is rooted in a particular time and place.

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