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Posts Tagged ‘The Real World’

A few days ago, Justin Martin commented at Inside Higher Ed on the well-known belief that students don’t live in the “real world.”  He justifiably argues that they are:

The students I teach are professional jugglers who make a Cirque du Soleil show look like a barn dance. Among them they’re balancing academic course loads, community service, part-time or even full-time jobs, loan debt, athletic training and competition, transient housing situations, along with some of life’s other gems like a sick parent, a sibling in Afghanistan, or an unplanned pregnancy.

One of the primary reasons educated Americans are such successful professionals is that the college years are hard. “The real world” isn’t so daunting to college graduates because they’ve already spent four or five years in it. The deadlines they face are very real, and I know this because I rigidly impose some of them, and my students know that the word “dead” is in deadline for a reason. I don’t go easy on my students, but I also don’t belittle the loads they carry. College students in the U.S. are impressive people, and their hard work should be praised, not demeaned.

Of course, as I’ve stated before, I also think that people use the idea of the “real world” to privilege their own experiences over systematic data collection and the experiences of others.

Via: Historiann

 

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When I teach Intro I often end the semester by stating that I hope students will take something away from the course regardless of their major or future career path.  This is particularly true in the case of people who will eventually take on roles that affect the course of our country, such as those pursuing business, law, or education.  I feel better about these careers knowing that those who pursue them have had some sociological training.  In recent years, however, my sense of what I want these students to take away from sociology has been solidified as I listen to political rhetoric and talk to friends who took sociology courses (way) back in college but who have moved away from sociological ideas as a result of exposure to the “real world.”  What I want students to take away from sociology is this: You cannot draw conclusions about society based on the people that you interact with on a daily basis.

As a graduate student and an assistant professor I have heard friends, family, community members, and politicians refer to the “real world.”  When they do so, they almost universally mean the social world that they inhabit.  Their own experiences, then, are real, while those of others in different settings contain an element that they perceive to be artificial.  A businessperson may justify a decision to outsource jobs for greater profit margins by explaining that the people protesting the action do not understand the “real world” of business.  Similarly, somebody may justify a racist statement by noting that it is grounded in “real world” interaction with members of the racial group in question.  In each case, individuals privilege their own experiences over the larger body of knowledge that could be accessed through simple research about society as a whole.

Through this process, the lessons that we teach in sociology courses about race, class, or gender are likely to be overridden by individuals who interact with one or two people that confirm societal stereotypes.  Stereotypes about welfare recipients, for example, are rampant.  This morning on Facebook I read several assertions that many families have been taking advantage of welfare for generations with no acknowledgement that there have been strict work and time requirements on welfare since 1996.  A sociology student may recognize this, but a sociology graduate may not.  In my future courses I will spend a much larger amount of time emphasizing that individual experiences are not an appropriate basis for drawing conclusions about society.  If students take nothing else away from my courses I will consider myself successful.

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A recent double post by Nathan Palmer at Scatterplot and The Sociology Source (which shows up in my RSS reader as “Blog”) tackles the issue of making social facts understandable for students.  As Palmer states:

I tell my class to imagine that I have just handed back their graded tests for them to review. I tell them that the class average was a 72%. This, I tell them, is an empirical social fact. The trend or in this case the average for the entire class was 72%.

Then I ask them, “would it make sense if one of you told me ‘the average can’t be a 72% because I got a 96% on my test’?” They laugh at the ridiculousness of this question. “Well when I present to you empirical social facts and you say to me ‘well I know this one guy who doesn’t do what your research says’ or ‘well that’s not true in my experience, so your social fact must be wrong’ you are basically arguing that because you got a 96% the class average can’t be a 72%” Many heads nodding in unison. They get it.

This seems like an excellent way to make this point, given the number of students who have told me that research findings aren’t “true” because they had different experiences.  It reminded me, however, of something else I encountered recently – former sociology students who have forgotten what they learned about social life as a result of the dreaded “real world.”

It seems that the social facts we teach students can be overcome by a few years of job experience.  Former sociology students who gained an in-depth understanding of the long-standing discrimination against blacks, for example, may claim that they are the victims of “reverse discrimination” when they can’t find a job in a recession.  Similarly, knowledge of the burden of the second shift may be overcome by a man who finds that his wife will do the laundry herself if he waits long enough.

While students in our classrooms seem to grasp the concepts we teach, these concepts are often counter to the stereotypical norms of our society.  Once they get it, the larger question becomes how we can get them to keep it.

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From a Facebook friend’s status update:  “5 more days of teaching then 115 days off…bitches!”

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