As I was listening to an episode of Freakonomics last year, Steven Levitt disparaged sociologists as being the least valued professors on university campuses. I was saddened. Then last week someone who did not know me said “no-one needs to study sociology”. Yet, many students have told me that I have changed their lives, and we need not wonder why. Sociology is the study of life. The matters we teach are relevant to everyone and the study of sociology, therefore, affects them all on a personal level. Want to understand what happened in Baltimore? Want to understand why people in poor states often vote against their own best interests? Want to understand how 50% of the population could be a minority? Want to understand why otherwise rational people behave in ways that harms them? The answer to all of these question is to study sociology. It touches us all.
Sociology broadens horizons and makes students question the ways in which many have viewed society. It makes them better citizens. They gradually come to understand that no longer should they so sure about what are facts because these classes lift the veil that obscures reality. Sometimes it is a painful experience: the student who realized that she was the working poor we were discussing, or the students who resist altering their world views because family tell them not to listen. A couple of years ago a student had got to the 8th week of the quarter pushing back on virtually everything I had presented to her. One day I looked up at her as I said something just as her eyes widened and she inhaled. I had broken through her resistance. After the final exam she came to speak with me. She said that I hadn’t just talked, I had taken her on a journey where I showed her that her world wasn’t what she insisted it was. I saw the very moment she realized this. I do not just talk. In class, even in online classes, we explore the world though lecture, asking questions, discussion, film, investigation, observation, reflection, and analysis. It is exciting and transformative.
How can we show students instead of becoming simply a talking head? I use the Socratic method where I ask students questions until they find the answers themselves. Also, today’s students are not the same as they were even 10 years ago. Frequently they are constantly distracted by electronic devices, so my job to hold their interest has had to become more creative. I may lecture, we discuss, watch videos, listen to podcasts, they gather empirical data, do research - there are many means by which I present and help they accumulate knowledge.
I was born and raised near Liverpool England. Althogh I've lived in the United States for 20 years, I sounds as though I never left England :)