Monday, December 8, 2014

the working poor; Hand to Mouth

Linda Tirado was barely getting by financially when she posted about the hardships with being in the working poor.  Her online post spiraled into a book that has helped explain the difficulties of living at the poverty line even with a job.  Here is an excerpt from Slate.
--> And this is my bottom line point about work and poverty: It’s far more demoralizing to work and be poor, than to be unemployed and poor. I have never minded going without if I wasn’t working. It sucks not to be able to find a job, but you expect to be tired and pissed off and never to be able to leave your house if you’re flat broke. 
Here is an interview with the author from NPR's onpoint.  You can listen to an hour-long show about the book and living at low income.
Because our lives seem so unstable, poor people are often seen as being basically incompetent at managing their lives. That is, it’s assumed that we’re not unstable because we’re poor, we’re poor because we’re unstable. So let’s just talk about how impossible it is to keep your life from spiraling out of control when you have no financial cushion whatsoever. And let’s also talk about the ways in which money advice is geared only toward people who actually have money in the first place.
Here is an interview from the Guardian with the author.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Debriefing the Components of social class and monopoly

1.  From two days ago - look at your list on page 37 of the packet and determine what is your family's social class?  Are you above average, average or below?  Why? 

2.  Where would you fall on the ladder below?

3.  How does this compare to your position in the monopoly game yesterday?

4.  What are some of the difficulties that prevented the working class person from rising up in the game yesterday?

5.  What are other obstacles in real life that might make it challenging for someone toward the bottom to move up in social class?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Today we talked about the rioting in Ferguson last night.  For background, this NY Times article details the events of the shooting, the grand jury and the ensuing riot.  Instead of dwelling on the specifics of this particular case, I tried to explain the larger reasons behind the riot.  I was using a sociological imagination to understand what is happening.  The first point I want to make is how you will not see a detailed and thoughtful exploration of this in the news because the news is not really news in the sense that it is information that explains things to viewers and makes them more educated on the subject.  Instead, the news tells a compact mini story/drama that is a spectacle, literally.  It is something to captivate your attention but not make you think.

Random violence
First, the riot is really random violence.  Random violence happens in many cases within society and often the violence is by white perpetrators.  However, when the actions are committed by a majority group such as white you rarely hear the mention of "white" in the description of the assailant.  Here are some examples of white riots and here are examples of white random violence.  And, from Michael Kimmel, an important sociologist who studies violence, "It's also worth discussing why so many of these young mass murderers are white."  So, race has nothing to do with random violence in general.  Instead, try to see random violence as a manifestation of violent masculinity (see this post of mine for more on that).  Our culture says that the way to be masculine is to be violent and tough.  So, if someone feels disrespected or not taken seriously, the way to earn respect and prove that you should be taken seriously is through violence.  Furthermore, violence is one of the few approved emotions for men to show and still be considered manly.

To emphasize the violence and its connection, think about the police use of force in this incident.  It was a demonstration of power.  And so is the massive show of military style force that is showing up not only at the events in Ferguson but across America.  And we see this with our federal government as well which spends a massive amount on military force and is constantly fighting around the globe.  We also see the use of violence in movies, sports, and video games all as an example of respect and a measure of one's manhood and being taken seriously.  Understanding this dynamic helps us understand where seemingly random violence comes from.

Why random violence in Ferguson?

The random violence I discussed above shows up when people feel powerless and not taken seriously.  In this case, institutional racism has left individuals feeling powerless, frustrated and not taken seriously.  The first reason the feeling of powerlessness shows up comes from the makeup of government officials, police officers and others in power.   From The Guardian, "Ferguson’s population is 67% black, but 50 of Jackson’s 53 police officers – 94% – are white."  And from an article in The Nation:  
The racial disparities that define Ferguson are indeed shocking. More than two-thirds of the town’s residents are black, but almost all of the officials and police officers are white: the mayor and the police chief, five of six city council members, all but one of the members of the school board, fifty of fifty-three police officers....Only 10 percent of the New York Police Department’s recruits in 2013 were black. The whiteness of Ferguson’s political leadership is a national trait, too. Since Reconstruction, only four states have elected black senators: Illinois, Massachusetts, South Carolina and New Jersey. Voters in twenty-five states still have never elected a black representative to the House.
 The disparity of racial leadership is combined with a disparity in the criminal justice system.  Arrests, prosecution and imprisonment are all slanted against black and Hispanic people. 
From The Nation:
In 2013, 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of traffic stops in Ferguson involved black people. The skewed numbers don’t correspond at all to the levels of crime. While one in three whites was found carrying illegal weapons or drugs, only one in five blacks had contraband.  …But is Ferguson really exceptional? …. The unequal application of the force of the law is also well documented across the country. Five times as many whites use illegal drugs as black Americans, and yet black people are sent to prison on drug charges at ten times the rate of whites. And disparity is evident in other police forces; for example, only 10 percent of the New York Police Department’s recruits in 2013 were black.
This disparity is true throughout the criminal justice system in the United States.  See more about the racially biased war on drugs here(drug use and arrest rates) and here (mass incarceration).

The most difficult way that brings about feelings of powerlessness is in the police use of force.  Police have a very difficult job to do and it is inherently dangerous.  However, they also represent the government, an official institution, that has armed them and authorized them to use force.  So when the use of force is seen to be racially charged and excessive it puts the community at odds with the police department and the government.  Let me explain though that I do not think that racist people sign up to be cops en masse.  Instead there is implicit bias because we live in a society that teaches everyone (including minorities) to be weary of black men.  Here is an example of how the bias plays out, cross posted from the sociologytoolbox (racial profiling):

  • Recently, plain clothes NYC police officers did not recognize out-of-uniform, off-duty (but sitting in a department-issued SUV with an ID around his neck) three-star police chief, Douglas Zeigler. He is Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 6.52.47 PMAfrican American. Clearly, in the officers’ minds, his image fit closer to that of a criminal than their superior. Not even his departmental ID could alter the white officers’ belief that this 60 year-old black male was a trouble maker and not their commanding officer. They didn’t believe the ID was credible. His race trumped other credentials. Read more here.
  • This one first came to my attention via the blog, Sociological Imagination. New York city is home to one of the most aggressive “stop and frisk” programs that encourages/requires Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 7.08.29 PMpolice officers to, well it’s all in the name, stop and frisk people on the streets. Again, one’s race matters, as it seems to determine if you in fact get stopped and frisked – if you appear “suspicious”. A 2012 report states that 84% of the 1.6 million stopped in 2010-12 were African Americans and Latinos. More data is available here.  This video recaptures one young person’s experience and some testimony from officers themselves. A federal judge recently declared the implementation of this program unconstitutional and may require police officers to wear cameras to document their actions. Mayor Bloomberg argues that it has made the city safer (trumping any concerns of the racial profiling).
  • I always use this next video in class, as it generates some real gasps (a key indicator of learning) among students. While not a scientifically controlled experiment (that fact should be used as another teachable moment in class), ABC news creates a situation in a public park where Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 8.22.45 AMdifferent individuals attempt to steal a locked bike – a white male, a black male, and a white female. The white male is inquisitively questioned by passers-by but only one bothers to do anything beyond look completely perplexed. Take the same scene, same bike, location, and dress, but insert a young black male and within SECONDS he is confronted by people in the park, in fact a crowd gathers determined to take action. “Is that your bike?” The attractive white female actually gets assistance in cutting the lock, although the sample selection process could likely be skewed by video editing.
  • My last example for this post is the Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.50.21 AMhighly publicized case of police treatment of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. This case, similar to Chief Zeigler’s experience, shows that status is often not enough to overcome race. A Harvard professor, Gates had trouble getting into his own home near Harvard Square in the early afternoon when the lock became jammed. The police arrived to investigate a reported attempted break-in. One of his neighbors and the subsequently responding police assumed he was a burglar, not a frustrated homeowner. By this time Gates was already in HIS home and was able to show officers his drivers license and Harvard ID. He was still booked for disorderly conduct. President Obama commented on the event and Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.55.41 AMeventually invited the arresting officer and Dr. Gates to the White House to talk over a beer. While not harrassed by the police, Obama was once mistaken as a waiter at a party when he was actually a state senator.
Race continues to matter as police officers and the general population continue to profile non-whites as more suspicious and lower status than whites. If you are white, like myself, you may not observe this occurring to others and subsequently not be aware of the additional surveillance and racial profiling that non-whites are subject too, even if they are police chiefs, Harvard professors, or state legislators. These vivid examples help us understand how racial profiling continues and we can’t rely on our individual observations or experience to make conclusions about racial groups’ collective experience in our society.
This is also a good case for teaching how structure is reflected in individual action. Here we see a larger, socially-constructed racial system embedding cognitive categories in individuals’ minds, over ridding other markers of status and driving assumptions of suspicion.
Sadly, the racism shows up nearly daily for people of minority racial status who are living in impoverished segregated neighborhoods.  TRIGGER WARNING - SOME OF THE VIDEO BELOW HERE ARE VIOLENT AND DISTURBING FOOTAGE OF PEOPLE BEING SHOT.

Just 10 days after Michael Brown was shot to death, this happened in nearby St Louis.  The police were called because this man stole two soft drinks from a convenience store.  The police showed up and within 20 seconds the police had shot him 12 times.  Then they proceeded to handcuff the lifeless body with hands behind his back.

Here is another incident from South Carolina where an officer tells a man to get his driver's license and when the man reaches into his car to get it, the officer shoots him.  The man then asks, "why did you shoot me?"

Here is a video from an Ohio Walmart where John Crawford III was holding a bb gun that he picked up off the shelf at Walmart.  It should be noted that Ohio allows citizens to walk around with firearms.  It should also be noted that this was a toy bb gun.  Someone in the store called police and they arrived on the scene and shot the man in less than 30 seconds.  There was no indictment.  See the story from the Washington Post here.

Here is a Washington Post article about similar situations. 
Here is a Huffington Post article also about situations like this.

This site from claims that a black man is killed every 28 hours by police.

I hope students see that the issue is much more complex than simply "those people were upset so they rioted".   The connection between race, poverty and the criminal justice is complex and it is made even moreso when adding our cultural construction of violent masculinity.  But keep in mind that most of us NEVER have to live at the intersection of poverty, minority status and violence.  But those in Ferguson and similar communities do live that out on a daily basis, their whole lives.  With that perspective, it should help you understand why there is outrage.

Here are sociological resources for teaching the Ferguson events.  Here is a website with lesson plans and articles.  And here is John Oliver's take which is basically what I said above but funnier and more entertaining:

And here is Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist, writing about all the ways implicit racism has swirled around the Ferguson incident.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Behind the lines of masculinity and violence.

Lately there has been a very public discussion about the NFL and domestic violence. This is all related to the socialization of masculinity in the United States. ESPN's Outside the Lines even featured Jackson Katz on an episode. See that here. Jackson Katz has been researching and publishing about masculinity for over ten years.

Friday, November 7, 2014

De-briefing the panel and research on femininity

Today I would like to accomplish two tasks:

De-brief the panel from yesterday and analyze the research from thursday.

1.  The panel

Please write individually about this:

1a. What are 3 things you took away/concluded from yesterday's panel?

1b. What are 2 questions you still have?

1c.What is 1 way this connects to the social construction of gender?

2.  Research on effects of feminization on girls.

3.  Looking ahead:
Remember to read Kimmel and Mahler's article on School Shootings

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Un-TV Assignment

The Un-TV.  Using your Un-TV experiments, please discuss;

1.  How many technical events did each of you count?  What is the median for the group?  What do you think the purpose of the technical events are?

2.  How did the person you observed in step 4 react?  Is this similar to others in the group?

3.  How do you think the technical events from step 1 affect the viewer you observed in step 4?

4.   What were your reflections/insights/questions raised by watching the TV. (step5)?


The Un-Tv Assignment is another great exercise in sociology from Bernard McGrane and his book, The Un-Tv and the 10mph car.  McGrane has also published a more recent book that is completely focused on the media called Watching TV is not Required; Toward Media Mindfulness and Enlightenment TV

Here are some of the reflections on this experiment from Mcgrane's book.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Consuming kids (not cannabalism)

The last agent of socialization from the other day is the media.  The media has a profound impact on U.S. citizens.

One video highlighting this impact is from the movie Consuming Kids from the Media Education Foundation.  The movie exposes all the ways that marketers have tried to make kids into consumers.   Watch it here on mediacast.

As you watch the video, think about your own experiences growing up and how they compare to what the video says.  What are your own examples of becoming a consumer and being branded by the media?

Also, think about your experiences in the UN-TV experiment.   What did this reveal that might relate to the power of TV?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Student Survey for Grading Policy

The SHS Assessment team is seeking your input about doing the standards based grading, aka evidence-based grading. Please be honest in answering this survey:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thai Commercial inspires us to make the world a better place

Here is a Thai commercial called Unsung Hero that reminds us to be mindful that our actions can make the world a better place, a happier place.

Prince Ea raps about being sociologically mindful in this critical video called Why I Think this World Should End :

Be sure to watch until the end to see the mindfulness of the post.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Blogging self-assessment

The first post was due yesterday.  Today we went over how the posts will be graded.  We used the following self assessment.  Note that the italics are the proficiency standards that we expect (3 meets standards). 
Sociology  (concepts and terms)  
__  I completed the assignment
__  I explained at least some of the concepts, terms or ideas of the class.
__  I fully explained the concepts, terms, or ideas from class and I used the terminology from the class.
__  I gave a unique example or application that was my own and not an example from class. 
__  This example/application was used correctly. 
4 Exceeds standards           
3 Meets standards
2 Shows some proficiency               
1 Doesn’t demonstrate any proficiency

Literacy (sources such as readings, videoes, charts, websites)
__  I completed the assignment.
__  I referred to a source from class.
__  I referred properly to a source from class
__  I explained the source’s connection to sociology in the student’s own words.
__  I referred properly to multiple sources from class
__  I explained the connection of an outside source that I found on my own.
4 Exceeds standards           
3 Meets standards
2 Shows some proficiency               
1 Doesn’t demonstrate any proficiency

Academic Expectations                                         
__  I completed the assignment.
__  I completed it on time.
__  I had no misspellings.
__  My grammar was correct.
__  I commented on two other student posts.
__  The comments were meaningful.
__  My writing was clear and understandable.
4 Exceeds standards           
3 Meets standards
2 Shows some proficiency               
1 Doesn’t demonstrate any proficiency

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Volunteer Opportunity: Pull a Plane for Special Olympics

The Plane Pull features the ultimate tug-of-war competition, as teams of up to 20 battle a UPS Airbus A300, weighing more than 190,000 lbs.  That’s right, the plane weighs more than 90 tons!  Each team raises a minimum of $1,000 to participate (only $50 per person for a team of 20). Special Olympics Illinois and the Law Enforcement Torch Run will host the 6th Annual Plane Pull at O’Hare International Airport on Sept. 27.  The 2013 event was a record-breaking success, as 64 teams participated and more than $135,000 was raised for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois! Click here for more info.
A special thanks to UPS, the Chicago Department of Aviation, City of Chicago, HMS Host and Durham School Services for their continued support of this event.
Teams compete in one of three divisions:
  • Open Division (ideal for companies, school teams, gyms, crossfits, clubs, friends and families)
  • Public Safety Division (law enforcement officers, fire fighters, paramedics, DNR, DOC and military personnel; teams need at least 10 public safety competitors to qualify)
  • Hotel Division (new in 2014, and by popular demand, we have created a division solely for groups in the hotel industry!)
For  questions on hoPlane Pull Logow you can get involved in the Plane Pull, please contact Matt Johnson.

2013 Event Results

  • Open Division: Maine South Hawks (HS Football Team), 9.81 seconds
  • Public Safety Division: Chicago Police Department - O'Hare, 9.34 seconds
  • Grand Champion: Chicago Police Department - O'Hare
  • Top Individual Fundraiser: Bob Pomeroy, ComEd
  • Top Fundraising Team: Niles Police Department
  • Team Spirit Award: Park Ridge Fraternal Order of Police #16

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Teacher Resources

Hello fellow sociology teacher,

About Me
I have been teaching high school sociology at Stevenson High School since 1999.  I now teach a one-semester dual credit intro to sociology class for Loyola University and Stevenson High School.  I have also been working with the American Sociological Association as a member of their High School Advisory Board (more info about the ASA below).  Additionally, I have been working with a group of high school teachers called the Chicago Area Sociology Teachers (CAST).   I did my undergrad at Loyola University and then I earned an M.A. there in Chicago Studies, an interdisciplinary urban studies program with a focus on Chicago.  It was mostly a sociology masters with some history mixed in.

About this blog (
This blog is basically what I do in class each day.  You can go backwards down the blog and it will be like looking through my lesson plan book from back to front.  There are also links on the right side menu bar that will take you to my posts by unit and by topic.

Other Resources

Chicago Area Sociology Teachers (CAST)
Hayley Lotspeich from Wheaton North High School and I run a listserve for sociology teachers through google groups.   You can login to the Chicago Area Sociology Teachers listserve (if you created an account) here:!forum/chicagoareasociologyteachers
There is a searchable archive there with lots of discussions about lesson ideas.

Also for over ten years, Hayley and I have facilitated an annual lesson plan sharing event for sociology teachers.  It is usually during February at her high school in Wheaton.

ASA High School Resources
Around 2009, Hayley Lotspeich from Wheaton North High School and I approach the American Sociological Association and said we would like to work with them to create more resources for high school sociology teachers and promote high school sociology.  The ASA has since created a high school group.  Check here for details:

ASA Listserve

The ASA also has a listserve for high school teachers that has archives of discussions.  Go to   You will see a log in page that asks for your email and password.  If you’ve never logged in before, click “get a new LISTSERV password” to set up a password.  Once you have your password and log in, you will see a page with all the ASA listservs.  Our list (ASA_high_school) isthe 8th one down the list.  Click on it.  You will come to a page that has a search box on the upper right corner.  Type in the topic you want (for example, “socialization”), and voila! – you can see the 19 posts on this topic over the past two years. 

ASA Trails
If you join the ASA, you get access to a web-based bank of lessons called Trails.  Without membership, you can search the Trails resources, but you will not be able to view or download them.

AP Sociology - Introsocsite
Here is a compilation of resources originally designed by an ASA taskforce to move AP sociology forward.  There are copious resources here including lesson plans, unit outlines, simulations and readings.

Teaching Sociology

If your library has a JSTOR account you can digitally access archives of the journal Teaching Sociology.  It is full of lesson ideas.  If join ASA, you can subscribe to the journal to get the latest issues as soon as they are published for a really reasonable rate.  Here is the journal page:

Other helpful sites include:

Soc Images:
Socimages is a great site that uses visual images to illustrate sociological concepts.

They even organized a syllabus for an intro class, it is on their instructor page here:

Here are sample lesson plans from Soc Images:

Teaching Sociology Blog:
Here is a blog about teaching sociology:

Sociology Toolbox

This website run by Todd Baer from Lake Forest College is hosted on the Society Pages

Nathan Palmer's Website about teaching sociology:

Sociology and videos:
Here is a website with movies for sociology
Common Core Civic Life Standards for Sociology:

The C3 framework for social studies contains an appendix with sociology standards that I co-authored.  Click here to download the whole framework.

Census Bureau Lessons
Sociology Lessons with data from the US Census Bureau

Sociology Teachers on Facebook:

High School Teachers on Facebook:
HS Teachers of Sociology

College Sociology Facebook Group:
Teaching With A Sociological Lens

Socioquest Website with webquest activities

Twitter hashtag for teaching sociology:

Sociology In Focus Blog (

 Everyday Sociology Blog (

Print Resources

In The Trenches. Kathleen Lowney and Maxine Atkinson. W.W. Norton Press. 2016
This book is a comprehensive guide to teaching sociology at the undergraduate level.  It is very helpful for high school teachers too.

The Un-TV and the 5mph Car.  Bernard McGrane.  
This book is a very high level intro to sociology text that is organized around different social experiments that are designed to make students aware of society and the social pressures it creates.  While the book might be too complex for the average 12-13th grader, it is a very stimulating read for teachers.  The experiments in it are really useful and adaptable even if you don't assign the book as required reading.

Sociology through Active Learning: Student Exercises.  Kathleen McKinney and Barbara S. Heyl, editors. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. 2009. ISBN: 978-1-4129-5703-83  (Also has an Instructor's Manual with background on each student exercise and further suggestions for use.)

The Creative Sociology Classroom   A set of curriculum materials—lesson plans, mostly—have been put together for high school sociology teachers by the Sociology Department at Appalachian State University.  It is available for $15 from:

Dr. Jan Rienerth

Dept of Sociology and Social Work

Appalachian State University

Boone, North Carolina  28608