Archive for February 8th, 2011

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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