Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Assigning "Nothing", Thrive and self reflecting

Experiment on last 2 pages of the packet, "Don't just do something, stand there." Due Tuesday 9/27

Read the last long reading in your packet called Thrive.  Please look for cultural differences between what Americans value and what Buettner finds we should value in order to thrive. Due Tuesday 9/27

Lastly - Just Mercy chapters 3 and 4 due next wednesday.

Today, we introduced the first two homework assignments above.  Then we did a self reflection for the last few weeks.

In period 3, we watched a bit of the movie "God Grew Tired of Us." (SHS students - click here to watch the movie via mediacast).

God Grew Tired of Us is a documentary about the "Lost Boys of the Sudan."  These boys were survivors of a civil war in Sudan.  They fled their homes at a young age and left with only what they were wearing.  They fled to Kenya where they were able to live in a refugee camp.  They were stuck there for 10 years before they began being placed in the United States.  This documentary details their flight from Sudan to the Kokuma refugee camp in Kenya to the USA where they experience the difficulties of a new country.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Amer I can Values

American Values

Today we are discussing the reading by L. Robert Kohl called The Values Americans Live By 

As you enter the class, please answer 1-3 below.

1.  Recall yesterday’s lesson about SHS as a subculture.  What was the most important cultural component that draws hundreds of visitors to SHS each year?  (Check your guided notes sheet if necessary.)

2.  What are the ways that SHS students are impacted by these values?

3.  Look over your reading for today.  Identify what you think the author’s claim/thesis might be.


After you are assigned a number (1-13), find your partner and travel to the table that matches your number. 

4.  What evidence does the author provide for the value that you were assigned?

Value: _______________ Evidence: _______________________________________________

5.  What are some specific examples that you can cite from your own life (or your parents’ lives) that show these values shaping either you or your parents? 

6.  Individually, look over the whole reading.  What are the three values that impact you personally the most?  In what ways?
Value 1: _____________ How? ___________________________________________________
Value 2: _____________ How? ___________________________________________________
Value 3: _____________ How? ___________________________________________________

Takeaway (For more info see Ferris and Stein pg 91):
What are the US values?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Our SHSubculture

HW: Read Kohl's Values Americans Live By in your packet.

Subcultures are smaller worlds within larger cultures.  Subcultures follow the overall culture of a society, but they have distinct elements of their own culture that separate them. 
1.  Individually:  What is a subculture that you are a part of?  Use your notes to help you, if you are not sure what a subculture is.  Why is this group a subculture?  What are some unique, interesting aspects about this group that the non-members will not know?

2.  In small groups, discuss the culture at Stevenson.  What makes us so special that visitors from all over the country come to visit and study us?  Is there enough of a difference to consider ourselves a special subculture?  As a group, find elements of culture that make us different from America:

Today's lesson was about what makes a subculture.  A subculture is part of a larger culture, but it has its own unique cultural aspects.  To illustrate how this works, we used our school as an example.  Why do so many visitors come here to see us?  What makes us so different?  Is our school a subculture?  To examine this, we reviewed these cultural traits and applied them to our school:
  • Material Culture;  all the physical stuff unique to our school:  the buildings, uniforms, guidebook
  • Mores: really serious norms that would disrupt the culture if violated: Walking on the right side of the hall/stairwell, not stopping in the hall or stairwell, not cheating, not fighting, knowing where to park, knowing how to be called out.  All of these are important norms.  If you violate them, there will punishment or judgement against you.
  • Folkways: norms that do not have serious moral implications;  being late to class, saying the pledge, no drinks or snacks outside the commons and not wearing green & gold on spirit days all are norms that are frequently violated without serious disruption to the school culture.
  • Taboos; Norms that are so accepted, they are not even talked about:  pregnancy & sex, use of drugs outside of school; these are activities that are embarrassing to even talk about.
  • Language: PAC, link, traveller, FMP, LOP, Glass commons, wood commons, 
  • Symbols: the Patriot (six fingers :-), the SHS seal, the statue, green and gold, 
  • Values: going to college, grades, competitiveness; These values are the most important in shaping our school culture.  They pervade every part of the school culture and they are a part of students, teachers, parents and administrators, but this is the hardest aspect of culture to see.  
For some perspective, here are some examples of other schools' cultures.
Do you see how the values we have here might separate us from other schools?  Do you see how they shape so much of what we do here?  I do not know if it counts as a "subculture" by sociological standards, but I think these values are what many of those visitors are searching for in their own schools. For your own thoughts, what subculture(s) are you a part of? What are the traits that make your subculture unique?

Takeaway (For more info see Ferris and Stein 83-85):

What is a subculture?

Why are values important to a culture?

What is a counter culture?

Friday, September 15, 2017

How did the chicken cross the road?

When traveling to different cultures, 'how' the chicken crossed the road seems to be more relevant than 'why'. When I was in Italy, it took me six days to figure out how to cross the street. There were scooters and cars swerving everywhere and honking. Every time I tried to cross the street, cars would screech to a stop and swear at me in Italian. Then I figured out how to do it. Just walk a steady pace across the street and let them avoid you - and it worked! This knowledge of how to cross the street is an important norm, what sociologists call a more. Mores are important to the order of a society. If you violate them, it will cause a disruption in the social setting. Other norms that are less important are called folkways. Folkways are not crucial to the order of society and if you were to violate a folkway people would not necessarily judge you. The more of how to cross a street can be found in lots of videos on youtube. Watch this video from India. Note how the person crossing the street is aware of the norms of traffic and so the pedestrian successfully crosses without getting hit. video It is worth noting that these mores, although very important to the society, are not necessarily laws. Similar to the ideas of time being a social construct, they are just the way that people operate and even though they are not written into laws, they are important to the function of society. Watch this video of an intersection in India and think about who has the right of way? There may not be a law about it, but those drivers know what they are doing, but would an American?
Have you experienced a different set of norms from another culture either by traveling somewhere or by meeting a foreigner here in America? What was it like? Were there misunderstandings? video
Something else that you might want to blog about is google another culture where you would like to travel. Find out what unique norms exist in their culture. Here is a link to cultural etiquette around the world.




            Moral holidays

Moral holiday places


For more info see Ferris and Stein 79-80

The view from the lieu...taboo?

This port-a-potty was the creation of an artist in Switzerland.  Would you be able to use it?
It looks like this from the inside:

Would you be able to use a toilet if it looked like everyone could see you, even though you knew they could not? This is a taboo because even though people could not see us, the mere thought of them seeing us would make us hesitant. In other words, simply thinking about doing this is embarrassing and so we don't want to even think about it. Perhaps, that is why we have so many euphemisms for using the toilet: using the john, the restroom, the bathroom, the lavatory, the men's room, etc...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

It's funny because we are ethnocentric!

This article helps us see how time is socially constructed.

Using the article, please answer these questions:

1. How do the researchers study time around the world?

2. What evidence do they state for the claim that time is a social construct?

3. What are some examples of time varying around the world?
How does language shape the understanding of time (Mediterranean Arab cultures?)

Norms vary around the world. One example of this is the norms centered around time. How do people from different cultures think about time differently? What do they consider late or early? These are norms.  Here is a list of norms from around the world.  It is important to recognize these norms in cross-cultural communication. If we fail to acknowledge these differences we run the risk of offending someone or worse, a whole culture of people.

And this graphic explains varying norms from around the world.

 This video is set to music for comic effect, but it is funny because in America, the norm is that men do not hold hands or kiss in public. However, this is expected in many Middle Eastern cultures. In order to show solidarity The President must hold the hand of the King of Saudi Arabia.

Also for more humor on cultural differences, checkout these HSBC adds: Eels, personal space, wrong flower,

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Okay? You called me a what?! Gestures and Language

Homework:  Before our next class, please read Social Time in our packet.

We have been examining the components of culture. The non-material aspects of culture are often the most important but we are often unaware of them.

One type of non-material culture is symbolic culture, or gestures and language.

Gestures are important to understanding and communicating within a culture.  Understanding a culture's gestures can also help us avoid ethnocentrism and culture shock.  Here is a guide for international business travelers to help them understand the impact gestures can have on their interaction with other cultures.  Here is a link to a list of some single hand gestures from around the world.

Gestures are also an example that culture is resut of shared meaning among people.  And among groups of people, meaning can change over time.  Here is a post about the Bellamy Salute, a gesture that has changed its cultural meaning over time.


Another important aspect of symbolic culture is Language.  first studied by Saphir and Whorf. Sapir-Whorf has been critically contested in recent years, but the NY Times ran a story about how there is still some merit to the idea of language affecting our thoughts. See that article here. Also, see this post about politics and how the use of English frames every debate especially the debate over gun violence.   Here is a book that highlights untranslatable words from around the world.
Language is important too as it affects how we think. When we think about something, we are using language inside of our heads so if we use certain words or do not have certain words, it may affect how think about things especially how we categorize something. Here are 11 words that have no translation. When bilingual students think about some ideas they have to shift from one language to another because sometimes it is easier to think about something or express an idea in one language because there are not proper words to describe it in another.

Here (see page 43 of this doc) is a lesson from Carol Mukhopadhyay on classifying in other cultures.  For each of the following sets, choose the item that does not belong:

Set 1. Auto, turtle, basket, bird

Set 2. Laundry, beer, clothing

Set 3. A chair, a spear, a couch 

After you have made your selections, click here for an explanation. 

Also, here is a study explaining that with out language, numbers do not make sense.


What are examples of symbolic culture? 

Why is it necessary to understand symbolic culture? 

            What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? What are examples of it in our culture?
For more info, see Ferris and Stein page 77-79. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Our culture is in the toilet...material culture

1 - please take out your ipads and search for a pictureof a thing that represents American culture.  Save that picture, then:

Yesterday we examined two metaphors for understanding culture: The card game and the fishbowl. Take a minute and think about how each of these is like a culture.
2. Turn to a person next to you, the older partner share how the card game was a metaphor for culture.
3.The younger partner share how the fishbowl is like a culture.

Today, let's examine a real life cultural situation. The Danish mother visiting NYC. For example, it is normal for Danish parents to leave their babies in a buggy while they eat inside a restaurant. American culture, especially New Yorkers do not accept this. But this is very accepted in many Scandanavian cultures. So when a Danish mom left her child outside in a baby buggy for over an hour while she ate dinner in a restaurant, it created quite a stir among New Yorkers.
 In this scenario, who experienced culture shock?  Ethnocentrism? And, who was culturally relative?

Could sociology have helped all of the participants to be more understanding of each other? Have you ever been to a foreign culture and experienced culture shock?

My best example of culture shock was the Japanese toilet. At first, the experience can be a culture shock as the traditional Japanese toilet is very different from ours. As we examine this toilet as well as other cultural components we must remember to be culturally relative. In other words, try not to be ethnocentric, but in stead understand each culture from its own perspective.

When understanding culture, sociologists examine material culture (things) and non-material culture (gestures, language, norms, values). Material culture often reflects non-material culture. 

In the case of the Japanese toilet, not only does it look and function differently from ours, but it also represents fundamentally different non-material culture. The Japanese are very germ conscious and they try hard not to spread germs. They also do not have a lot of furniture - they do not sit on furniture in their houses so why would they sit on a porcelain throne in a bathroom? And finally, they are used to sitting and squatting in positions difficult for westerners.

The Japanese do have a "Western style" toilet that  is more like the toilet we are used to however, it still represents differences in both - its material and non-material culture.

In either case, the point is that there is nothing natural about culture.  In other words, there are no weird ways of doing things that come quite natural to us.  There are only different ways of doing things.  And material culture, although physically different, often represents a different non-material culture, such as a different way of thinking about the world.

Back to the image you found at the start of class.  What non-material culture might this image represent?

Another example would be how people eat around the world.  That is, what utensils they eat with.

Speaking of toilets, checkout this post from NPR about a movie in India which stars a toilet! :-)

And here is a post from Nathan Palmer about how gendered material culture reflects nonmaterial culture.

And this post is about the cultural meaning of athletic wear like yoga pants.


What is material culture?

Why is it important?

For more info, see Ferris and Stein page 76.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Remembering 9/11

September 11, 2001 was earth shattering for those who were living through it.  Over the years, stories and lessons have emerged from that day.  So, on the anniversary of 9/11, I want to post about it as a way of remembering those who died that day but also to learn something from that day.  My own personal experience was that I was teaching sociology in a room in the 2900 hallway when Mr. Frantonius came into my room in a hurry and said turn on your TV, the pentagon is on fire and the world trade center is on fire.  We turned on the TV to live coverage and we watched the mayhem including live footage of the crash into tower 2 of the World Trade Center.   I remember leaving and trying to figure out what to tell my students in non-western cultures class third period.  Then, I had to travel to the other building and going outside was transformational - it was a beautiful sunny september day and the birds were singing oblivious to the horrors that people were going through.  It was comforting to think of creation and nature being so at peace.  Anyway, I had to teach the rest of the day despite the turmoil of emotions that we all experienced.  Looking back, there are some lessons to be learned and I think they all relate in part to sociology, certainly when considering sociological mindfulness.


One of the most direct ways that I think sociologically about 9/11 is in the discussion of stereotypes and categories. I posted about this here too. The attackers on 9/11 fell into the category of Muslim but that should not be turned into a stereotype about Muslims. There is a powerful video that illustrates how Muslims were stereotyped after 9/11 and the video also shows how these stereotypes are shattered when you see the full spectrum of Muslims in America. video
The speech in that video illustrates the same type of racist, intolerance that led to the attacks on 9/11. I think that September 11 can be a day to remember that we are all connected and we all share this world, and this can be done in peace and tolerance, even if we are not all in agreement. Don't let the hurt and anger give way to stereotypes, injustice and hatred.

Altruism and disaster

Another way I think about 9/11 is through all of the love and heroism that was displayed during that traumatic day. There are so many stories of strangers helping each other and displaying unbelievable acts of courage and love - from the Port Authority of NY to the police, fire and other first responders to those who just happened to be at work that day and found themselves in a situation to help others.  Lee Clarke's 2001 study is one sociology study (for more info. see Ferris and Stein 448-450) of how people in a disaster tend to help each other.  We are wired for being cooperative and helping others. (More on this in our unit on socialization.)  It was an incredible illustration that when life seems senseless and unbearable, we can ask ourselves, "How can I serve?" In other words, what can I do to help my fellow people and how can I make this world a bit better. That gives meaning to our life just as it did to those people on 9/11. Sociologically, humans were made to need each other. Here is a video displaying some of this heroism and caring in the largest water evacuation in history.


It is our nature to love one another and be cooperative. We often lose sight of that in our individualistic culture. Here is a quote from two survivors of 9/11:
On a personal level, Mel and Lisa learned several lessons from that day. “Be patient, be tolerant and above all tell people you love them every single day,” Lisa said. “Hate drove that day. The lesson is to never hate. Hate does damage. People didn’t need to die that day.”

Here is another example about the people living in the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada and how they came to the aid of hundreds of people. video

One example from my own life this day was my mom who worked at O'Hare Airport as a ticket agent. After the attacks, O'Hare was closed down and all the employees and passengers were being forced to evacuate. As this was going on, an elderly woman who had trouble seeing approached my mom and asked what she should do. My mom said that the airline would get a hotel room for her. The woman said that the nearest available rooms were in a far suburb away from the airport. So, my mom said, "You know what? You come home with me." And she did. This total stranger lived with my parents for four days! It was that kind of caring that these horrible events brought out. I hope to be mindful and let that light shine without a horrific switch turning it on.

Read more:

Rick Rescorla

One of the heroes of that day was Rick Rescorla. Rick was a war veteran who was working as head of security for Morgan Stanly Dean Witter. He anticipated the terrible attacks on the Towers and that caused him to force the employees of MSDW to undergo evacuation drills regularly. It is my understanding that these were not popular within the company, but it was his conviction and willingness to take an unpopular stance that prepared so many for the events of that day.  Rescorla was considered what sociologists call "deviant".  We will study deviance later this semester, but what is important here is that Rescorla stood by his convictions despite being unpopular.  What a model Rescorla is for standing up for our beliefs and doing a job the best that we can while thinking of our fellow men.
From the NY Times
HAVING coined the phrase “the banality of evil,” Hannah Arendt went on to suggest that the most heinous crimes have often been committed by morally desensitized ordinary people. The inverse may be equally true: that “ordinary” heroes like Rick Rescorla, who saved almost 2,700 lives on Sept. 11, 2001, only to lose his own, are the yang to Arendt’s yin, demonstrating what you might call the profundity of virtue.

Steve Osborne's "Takedown Day" from the Moth storytelling slam.

And one last story by former NYPD cop, Steve Osborn who helps us understand what it's like to be a cop on most days and how that translated to 9/11.  And if you watch his story until the end, you see a great example of how even a little kid (Alex) can make a difference in someone's life.  It's a reminder to be sociologically mindful.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Culture can be tricky...

Welcome to Unit 2: Culture!

Download the packet for Unit 2 here.

Today in class we examined how people react when they come into contact with different cultures. Culture is essentially all the rules we learn about how to live our lives. We played a card game that illustrated this. When we are exposed to other cultures and we see such different rules, we are sometimes in shock of how different the other culture is (culture shock). If this shock results in our judging a culture based on the rules we have learned that is called ethnocentrism. Instead, sociologists try to use cultural relativity when examining a culture.

 Another metaphor for culture that we use is a fishbowl. All of the stuff in the fishbowl is material culture. But what you can't see (the water) is just as important (if not more so): the ph value of the water, the temperature, whether it is salty or not, etc... This is called nonmaterial culture. Additionally, the fish has never known life out of water just like we have been surrounded by culture from the moment we are born. And lastly, the fish must look through the water to see the world just as we always look through our culture to understand the world. We are limited and shaped by our cultural experiences. If the water in the bowl is blue then the whole world looks blue to the fish.


Identify the following reactions to culture:

            Culture Shock -
Ethnocentrism -

            Cultural Relativity –

How is culture like a fish bowl?