Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Am...

The documentary I Am by producer Tom Shadyac is a marvelous summation of our class.   Below is my own summation of the movie and in parenthesis are all the ways that I see the movie related to sociology:  -->
This documentary was created by Tom Shadyac a writer/director of many Hollywood blockbuster films: Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Accepted, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.  After a serious injury, Shadyac confronts the truth in front of him and sets out to find more meaning in his life and in our world.  The film displays a number of ideas and themes that we have discussed throughout our class.

Shadyac asks, “What’s wrong with the world? And what can we do about it?”

“Humanity is going to require a new way of thinking if it is to survive” – Albert Einstein

Science is a story. It changes over time.  Part of the story of science, since the Enlightenment, is that people are like machines; we are made from materials and we are mechanistic.  We operate in the world under that assumption.  We compartmentalize each other and our world this way.  This way of thinking creates a separateness (individuality), a competitiveness and a materialism that pervade Western society, especially the United States.  (Culture)

“Be suspicious of what you want.”  -Rumi

Native Americans noticed this way of thinking when Europeans first came to the Americas.  They have a word called “wetico” which means a sort of cannibalism where one culture eats or destroys another culture’s way of life.  What we now know is that we are more than the sum of all of our parts and we are connected to much more than ourselves.  Each individual is connected to all other humans, not just in the United States, but in the world.  And each human in the world is connected to all living things.  And all living things are connected to the non-living.

One myth that has been promoted that prevents us from realizing this interconnectedness is the belief that essential nature of humans is to be competitive, instead of cooperative to dominate instead of subordinate, to seek kingdom over democracy.  This is a myth promoted inaccurately by supporters of Darwin.  Instead, the basis of nature is egalitarian, cooperative and democratic.  Darwin mentioned, “survival of the fittest” twice and “love” 95 times.  Humans evolved to cooperate.  Sympathy is the strongest human emotion.  We have mirrored neurons that help us have sympathy.  Our vagus nerve helps us to elevate us to compassion.  Desmond Tutu says, “We belong because we need other to make us human.” (Socialization)  When we serve others with empathy, love and compassion, it creates deep contentment that literally makes us healthier and nourishes our mind and body.  Anger makes us stupid.  It inhibits our thinking.  Our heart is our primary access point to our higher self. 

“Do something that makes your heart sing.”

“What was said to the rose to make it open was said here to me in my chest.” – Desmond Tutu

“There is only one way to eat an elephant; one piece at a time.”

“The sea is only drops of water that have come together.”

We can’t solve global poverty, but we can do something about that guy over there.  Each of us should do something and because we are all connected it all makes a difference.  (Sociological Mindfulness)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Rather than tracing a main character throughout the movie, Crash (watch it on mediacast here)
traces the construction of race throughout the film. Try not to watch the movie literally, because it is obviously implausible that these characters are so interrelated. Instead, watch the movie and think about race metaphorically. There are many ways in which race shows up in the movie. Race is really what is interrelated to all the characters. Race is much more complex than the black and white way it is often portrayed. Race can be related to language, social class, religion, skin color, power, and other social constructs. Sometimes race divides people we would normally put in the same racial category. Sometimes race leads to explicit racism and sometimes it is implicit. The movie allows for viewers to interpret based on their own racialized ideas:
For example: Assumptions about the locksmith and robbing the store, or assumptions about the 2 young car thieves, or what was in the car thief’s pocket in the off duty cop’s car. Other moments when this happens:
What did you think Ludacris will do with the van and the people? Sell Them?
What did you think the business was that the Asian man was doing early in the movie before we saw the people in the van?

The movie looks at both explicit and implicit racism. But the question the movie implores us to explore is which is worse? The young cop tries really hard to not be explicitly racist, but he doesn’t realize the implicitly racist ways that he has been shaped. He assumes that the young black kid was not ice skating and is laughing at him and that he is reaching for a weapon.

The movie highlights that because we live in a society obsessed with race, our difficulties in our lives can be manifested into racism even though the real problem is social class, money and job opportunities, health problems, etc…

Another theme highlighted in the movie is that individuals might not be racist (or might be trying to overcome it) but they live in a larger society with racist dynamics. For example, the detective has to deal with his mom feeling that he left the family behind because he became a detective and got an education and moved out of the neighborhood. Another example is the tv director who has his own ideas about the show but he is forced to succumb to the will of the white producer who has his own ideas.

Here are some sociological questions to consider after watching the movie:
If race is not scientifically based, what is it based on?
What are some of the characteristics that our society uses to define race? What scenes/characters highlight differences that are not biological, but refer to “race”? Are there any moments in your life when you learned that race is not related to biology or science?
What are some stereotypes that are not true?
What are some of the stereotypes in the movie that characters hold that are not true? Which characters hold stereotyped beliefs about others in the movie and what were they? How were these stereotypes not true? Have you ever held a stereotype that you later found to be untrue? Have you ever felt stereotyped by someone?
Implicit vs. Explicit racism;What are some examples of explicit and implicit racism in the movie? Do you think that the hidden nature of implicit racism might make it just as volatile as explicit racism? Is it valuable to become aware of implicit racism and how our society shapes these attitudes? Thinking about the IAT test we did in class, how might implicit racism be a part of you? How does society shape us?
What can we do about racism?
Using the movie as an example, what can be done to help reduce the racism in society? How should some of the racist incidents be handled so as to minimize the racism in America? What can you do in your own life?
Race is more than a black and white issue…
What are some examples from the movie that show the idea of race is not just a black or white issue and instead race is much more complicated? What scenes/characters show this idea? Do you think that simplifying race to a black-white issue continues to create confusion over race issues in America?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

You could pay more, but why?

Please remember that we are learning about how individuals are affected by social class.  This is not meant to make students feel guilty or feel bad for those in lower classes, it is just meant to show that although Americans believe that everyone is created equal with equal opportunity, the reality is that we are not equal.  There are different benefits and obstacles and life chances depending on what class one is in.  Another glaring example of social class is our school district.  Many students here are from families who have lived "the American Dream."  That is, their parents have risen in social class and now are living in the top of the social class ladder.  And so this often becomes an example for those students that anyone can make it in America - look at what my family has done.  Here are two questions for you to consider:

1)  Why would a family choose to live in Stevenson's district?  The taxes here are far and above that of surrounding areas.  For example, a $649,000 house in Long Grove might have to pay $16,000 per year in real estate taxes plus $1200/year in home owner association fees such as this house:

whereas a house in Wheeling might cost $299,000 and only $7,000/year in taxes.
If all it takes to succeed in life is to try hard, why would anyone want to pay so much extra for a house that is the same size as the less expensive one?  The reason is often because the house comes with so much more than living space: a higher achieving school district, a lower crime neighborhood, neighbors who have similar values to you (such as do well in school), lower pollution, etc...  All of these provide an advantage to the children growing up in that area.  I am not not saying that the advantage is wrong or that anyone should feel guilty for having that advantage.  I simply want to acknowledge that the advantage does exist.

2)  Try to objectively look back at your family's rise in social class and see the dynamic that fueled it.  Did your parents value education?  Why?  Where did that value come from?  What if your parents were born into a house where they were told that school was never going to help them?  Did your parents have parents at home to help them?  What if one of their parents was incarcerated for most of their life?  What if their parent was addicted to drugs?  Were your parents raised in a neighborhood in which they were subjected to violence?  Did they ever know someone close to them who was murdered?  How might the daily threat of violence affect them growing up?  How would they be shaped if they were forced to belong to a gang simply because of where their neighborhood is located?

Choosing poverty?

Who would choose poverty if there was another option? There is often a myth in America that people choose poverty. Okay, the choice isn't that simple, but many believe that people simply do not make choices that will lead them out of poverty. I understand that as humans our power comes in the form of consciousness and the ability to make conscious choices, but there still must be a choice in front of us for us to be able to make it. For example, there are parents that want so badly for their kids to avoid the pitfalls of inner city poverty: gangs, drugs, violence, the criminal justice system, poor education. These parents can want to choose the best for their kids, but if there is no real choice in front of them, then little will come of it. A radical experiment in New York is helping to highlight this. It is a school called The Harlem Children's Zone. Parents line up to get their kids into this revolutionary school. The school begins helping parents BEFORE BIRTH! That's right. It provides training from the beginning in how to be a parent. After years of molding students and parents, the school has done what few parents could do without it; it has equalled and surpassed test scores for white middle class students. Watch the CBS video below and see how the school is doing it and the success it has had. Realize that all of these parents wanted the best for their kids, but only the school made it happen. What do you think happend to the kids who weren't fortunate enough to get into the school? What about all of the impoverished students across America who do not have access to a school like that?

Watch CBS News Videos Online
An excerpt from the report:
"You grow up in America and you're told from day one, 'This is the land of opportunity.' That everybody has an equal chance to make it in this country. And then you look at places like Harlem, and you say, 'That is absolutely a lie,'" Canada told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"So you're trying to level the playing field between kids here in Harlem and middle class kids in a suburb?" Cooper asked.

"That's exactly what we think we have to do," Canada said. "You know, if you grow up in a community where your schools are inferior, where the sounds of gunshots are a common thing, where you spend your time and energy not thinking about algebra or geometry, but about how not to get beat up, or not to get shot, or not to get raped, when you grow up like that, you don't have the same opportunity as other children growing up. And we're trying to change those odds."