Class Calendar

Friday, September 23, 2016

Post 4: Culture

For the first half of Unit2: Culture, we began by learning about how we react to different cultures with culture shock and ethnocentrism.  We also learned that sociologists seek cultural relativity when understanding other cultures.  We then learned about the different components of culture: Material culture, and non-material culture: gestures, language, norms (folkways, mores, taboos), and finally values. Finally, we learned that within cultures there are subcultures.

One idea about how to relate these sociology concepts to your own life is to post about if you have ever been to a foreign culture, or,  research a culture and post about how different it is.  Does it have unique components?  What are they?  What sources did you use to find them?

- Be sure to explain multiple sociology concepts and relate them to a unique example from your own life.

- Be sure to explain how two sources relate to these sociological concepts.  Sources can be readings, videoes, websites. (Some sources we have used include: God Grew Tired of Us, Social Time)  Also, remember that you can use your textbook as a source.

- Be sure to write properly, turn it in on time, spell check and proofread.

-Comment on two other posts.

God Grew Tired of Us and Cultural Differences

We watched a bit of the movie "God Grew Tired of Us." (Click here to watch the movie via mediacast) My mom happened to meet and talk to one of the lost boys in the film and she recommended it to us for sociology. I'm so thankful to her for that. Anyway, in the movie we see numerous cultural differences. video Here is a website dedicated to the Lost Boys of Sudan in Chicago.
To speak about culture in a more measured way, think in terms of the way sociologists might break down culture. Culture is made up of material culture as well as the nonmaterial: gestures, language, norms, values.  Describe the cultural differences that the Sudanese men experienced using the terms material cuture, mores, folkways, values?  Have you ever met anyone from a different country? Did you notice or discuss any cultural differences? What component of culture (from the terms above) did those differences fall under?

I also like the contrast in cultural values in the movie between communal society versus individualistic society. We see the Lost Boys in the United States have food, shelter, jobs and schooling but they feel lonely. They miss their culture because they are so used to communal culture. That is being together with their friends and family, rather than living nearly alone in an apartment. This is an important revelation that our culture sometimes de-emphasizes to a fault; we need other people. Humans are social and communal beings. Do you see how this individualist way of living and thinking shapes our lives? How can we work to change that and satisfy our inherent needs for connecting with other people?

Finally, I like watching the movie with our community service in mind. We have so much to be thankful for in our culture. We live in a culture of abundance. We must be mindful of our bounty and mindful of those who have so much less than us. One way to create this mindfulness is through community service. By finding ways to serve others we become grateful for what we have rather than ignoring those who need help and taking for granted all of our bounty. Perhaps you know someone who is able and willing to help them find a job or donate to their cause - here is a list of ways to help.

Here is the foundation created by John Bul Dau from the movie:

Here is a follow up story about Panther Bior:

Update - March 2016
Sudan broke apart into two nations; Sudan and South Sudan.  South Sudan is where the Lost Boys in the movie returned to. Unfortunately, South Sudan faces a new civil war within itself.  Here is a March 8, 2016 report from NPR:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Our SHSubculture

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?

Monday, September 19, 2016

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 is time a social construction?

2. How do the sociologists study time?

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,

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. Findout what unique norms exist in their culture. Here is a link to cultural etiquette around the world.

The view from the lieu...taboo?

This port-a-potty was the creation of an artist in Switzerland.  It is a good example of how taboos affect us (and how culture affects us) 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...

Friday, September 16, 2016

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

Homework:  Before our next class, please read Social Time pages 7-10 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.


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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our culture is in the toilet...material culture

1 - please take out your ipads and search for a picture 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.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Culture can be tricky...

Welcome to Unit 2: Cuture!

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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ending Unit 1

As you enter, try to write down the difference between:

Categories, generalizations and Stereotypes

Service Op:  Feed My Starving Children

Blog Self Assessment

Volunteer Op: A Just Harvest

 Mrs. Fainman will be taking students to the Just Harvest soup kitchen friday, Oct 7 in Evanston. If you are interested, please email her at If you volunteer for this opportunity, SHS will provide a bus and you will leave school PROMPTLY at 3:30 and return to school at 7:30.  Wear closed-toed shoes.  There will also be opportunities to go to this on the second Friday of each month.   If you need more info, please contact Mrs. Fainman.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Stereotype Or Just A Category?

Please answer the following questions about Joel Charon's "Should We Generalize About People?"
1. Does Charon believe that categories and generalizations are useful? Why/Why not?

2.What is the difference between a generalization and a stereotype?

3.  What are some groups that you belong to that have been stereotyped?  Have you ever experienced that?

After reading Joel Charon's "Should We Generalize..." hopefully, you realize that yes we must generalize because it is what makes us intelligent human beings. But our great strength as humans can also be a horrible flaw. If we do not generalize and categorize accurately then we run the risk of stereotyping. We must realize that although individuals can be categorized into certain groups, it doesn't mean that all individuals fit that group's generalization. Toward the end of the reading, Charon says,
"If we are open-minded and reflective, we can even evaluate how good or how poor our generalizations are, and we can alter what we know as we move from situation to situation."
This is both the task and the promise of sociology. Sociology challenges us to think about our generalizations and assumptions about what we know and it promises us that with proper thought and care we can understand people better. There is a poem I like that illustrates Charon's point. The poem called "The Cookie Thief" by Valerie Cox. We are all cookie thieves sometimes in how we erroneously use the categories that Charon talks about. When was the last time you were too quick to categorize or judge someone? Have you ever been stereotyped or judged wrongly?

Here is a link to a video called I am an American that shows the dangerous power that extreme stereotypes can lead to.
In this case, Islam is the example, but it could be any religion or ethnicity or whatever group. United States' history is littered with examples of groups that have been scapegoated and vilified. This is how Muslims have been treated in many cases in post 911 America. But I have had so many Muslim students who prove that this is just a stereotype. And that is what this video is showing. There are caring, loving, neighborly Muslims all around us but extreme stereotypes lead us to only see the stereotype and ignore the reality.  Here is a link to a page hoping to end stereotypes about Muslims.

One example of people stereotyping quickly might be this Washington Post experiment in which Joshua Bell, violin virtuoso, played some of the greatest classical pieces ever written on one of the most expensive violins ever made. And yet few people noticed because he was dressed like an average guy and he was playing in the subway. Maybe people assumed he was a homeless streetperformer, so why stop and listen?

Some other examples of people shattering stereotypes are:

Here is an article in the Daily Herald about a motivational speaker who was born with no arms and no legs. We might categorize him as disabled, but we should be careful about the assumptions and stereotypes that go along with that category.

videoLikewise, here is a link to Nick Vujicic's website. He is a motivational speaker who also has no limbs.

videoHere is a video about Aaron Fotheringham, an "extreme sitter." Aaron has been in a wheel chair his whole life, but he sees it as an opportunity. Again, we should be careful of our stereotypes. Aaron is way more rad than I will ever be, but he is in a wheel chair and I am not. If you search youtube, you can see Aaron doing a double back flip! But there are also lots of videoes of him crashing over and over again and again. It takes hard work and lots of effort to become good at what you do.  Hard work was a theme in all of the above videoes.  And if you read the rest of Outliers, Gladwell makes the case that the most successful people spend ten thousand hours developing their skills.  The other theme that comes out in all of these videoes from Brett Eastburn to Aaron Fotheringham is that in order to find meaning in your life you must find a way to serve others.  Find a way to help other people.  You have talents.  Develop them and find a way to use them to help others.  That is your purpose.
And here is Aaron "wheels" Fotheringham at the 2016 Paralympics.

Another great source about stereotypes is episode 362 from This American Life. Click here to listen to the episode where 5 people tell stories about stereotyping. Listen to the prologue about people with disabilities, and Act One about NY cops stereotyping people coming from Brooklyn.

videoFinally, when you feel like you have been stereotyped, how do you react? What do you do? Anis Mojgani suggests that you shake the dust. Checkout his slam poem. Here is a link to his poem in writing.

videoHere is a video about a different type of street performer that also challenges your assumptions about the category "disabled".  I love how these "disabled" people see their opportunity to teach others.  Their lessons seem to be similar:  The world doesn't owe you anything.  You owe yourself hard work and dedication to become what you want.  Find a way to help others/teach others.  Don't stereotype and keep an open mind.

Friday, September 9, 2016

In-n-out is not just for burgers!

In and out is not just for burgers, it is also for groups! Sociologists use the terms ingroup and outgroup to refer to groups that you are either a member of or not a member of. It is much easier to feel attached to the groups you are a part of and feel judgmental about your outgroups.

To illustrate this, today we separated the class into two different groups. Each group made a list of reasons why the other group was wearing what they were wearing. Every time I do this lesson, the reasons break down into judgments against the other group. For example:

This was a lesson about in-groups and out-groups. In discussing the different groups that makeup society, we see that there are in-groups and out-groups. An in-group is a group that you are a part of. You have membership in it, and because of that, you feel aligned to the group and you have ownership in it. By contrast, it becomes easier to judge the out-groups, or the groups you are not a part of. As this semester goes on, be mindful of the groups that we talk about that you are not a part of. You must make a conscious effort to understand these groups. Try to become conscious of your judgments so that you can also consciously work against them. Watch this video clip about the famous "Angry Eye" classroom lesson done in the 1960s by teacher Jane Elliot. Think about how you may have judged out-groups in your own life. Also, think about how you become allied and bonded with your in-groups. Can you see how this happens in society? Can you think of examples in your own life? video You can watch the whole video at Frontline's website.

And there is an updated version of this.  Jane Elliot returns to do the experiment with college kids.  It is called Angry Eye.  Here is the link to watch it on mediacast.
I think that the point of sociological mindfulness is becoming more aware of others and part of that awareness is an understanding of how we may have portrayed that group in our own minds.  So understanding the idea of in-group/out-group dynamics is easy but applying it to ourselves is the challenging part.  In this TED talk by Sam Richards, he explains how understanding outgroups might lead to a radical experiment in  empathy.  Check it out:

Now think about your own life.  What are your in groups?  What are the outgroups that you could become more aware of, more empathetic to?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Post 3: Social Construction of Reality, Macro/Micro sociology, Research, Groups & Identity, Ingroups/outgroups, Categories & Stereotypes.

For the second half of Unit 1, we examined Social Construction of Reality, Macro/Micro sociology, Research methods, Groups and Identity, Ingroups/outgroups, Categories and Stereotypes.  A few reminders for when you post:

1) Be sure to look back at my blog and read over the posts that apply.  My posts contain explanations of what each of the concepts were that we learned and sources that apply to them.

2)Be sure to explain some of the concepts that we learned and try to apply them to an original example from your own life/experience.

3)Be sure to explain how a couple of sources apply to the sociological concepts we are learning.  Demonstrate an understanding of how the source applies to the sociology.  Some sources we have looked at: Venkatesh's "Gang Leader For A Day", Charon's "Should We Generalize", the video about racism called "Angry Eye",

4)Spell check and proofread.  Do not use casual/texting language.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Complex You: Social Statuses & Roles

As you enter, please take out your packet and open to page 47 (should be blank) and please answer:

How was the Abandon Ship activity last week an example of:

1. Macro Sociology?

2.  Micro Sociology?

3. Social Construction of reality

Today, we listed all of the groups that make each one of us who we are. A group can be as few as two but as many as millions of people.  Students listed groups like family, friends, clubs, sports, gender, ethnicity, music, sexuality, school, age, and others. And then we listed our position or status(es) within each group. This is the social construction of our own lives-we are made up of socially-constructed groups. These groups provide identity for individuals and they provide a structure for society.
I am always interested by all of the groups that students are influenced by and especially the unexpected groups that surprise me along the way. Sometimes it is someone who I never thought to be religious and they list a religion or sometimes it is someone who I never realized was black who lists her race as an important influence on her. All of these groups we belong to are the complex way we as individuals are made up and that is the way sociologists understand individuals; through their groups. For example, I am part of a family, a school, a group of friends and a neighborhood. In each of these groups I have a status (dad, teacher, friend) and each of these statuses comes with a role that is expected of me (make dinner, show up prepared for class, return a phone call, etc...).

These groups shape my life. Each group creates expectations for your actions.  These expectations are called roles.  For example after becoming a dad I will never be the same. I can't help looking at kids through the eyes of a parent; I think about music lyrics differently; I am overly critical and cognizant of my own behavior and manners etc... These groups can also come into conflict in an individual's daily life. For example, if I have to go home and cook dinner and my daughter demands attention, it is very difficult to get grading and lessons prepared for the next day, and if a friend calls to socialize or to get together, that becomes a third conflict. My roles as a parent, teacher and friend are all conflicting. This is called role conflict. There are also times when I experience what sociologists call role strain. That is when I am having difficulty meeting the expectations of one role. An example of this might be parenting. I have never been a parent before and so when my daughter is challenging me, I am not always certain how to react; do I give in, ignore or punish her? Some statuses we choose (achieved statuses) like those I already mentioned, but sometimes we are not given a choice (ascribed statuses) like that of a balding man. Don't get me wrong - I thank goodness everyday that Michael Jordan
brought baldness back into fashion in the 90s and I hope it stays there, but I am definitely not choosing this 'do :-).

I hope this exercise helps students see that our class might seem homogeneous but really it is quite diverse. The unique diversity comes from each person's membership in different groups. I hope this is another way we can become sociologically mindful of each other in the class; that is, we can appreciate each person's unique membership in different groups.  This way we can be more understanding of each other and more compassionate for each other.
Some ideas for posting on your own blog: Explain more thoroughly about the groups that make up who you are. What is your status in that group? Which statuses are ascribed and which are achieved for you?  Have you experienced role conflict or strain? Which groups memberships were you surprised to learn about in our class?  Can you see how this lesson increases your sociological mindfulness of both yourself and our class?