Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Getting Past Ideology for Effective Teaching*

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Getting Past Ideology for Effective Teaching*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

All information that students learn is filtered through their prior understandings of the world and these preconceptions can present major barriers to gaining new knowledge about the social world. In order to teach effectively, we must present students with opportunities to rethink and question their existing ideologies. The purpose of this paper is to provide sociology instructors with strategies to help challenge students' ideological perspectives. I identify some of these dominant ideologies and discuss active-learning exercises that can be effective in challenging these ideologies and in turn, helping to enhance students' sociological imaginations.

We've all seen the resistance on the faces and in the body language of our students. Imagine if we were able to listen to the thoughts of some of these students:

Yeah, you're talking about institutional discrimination but the real reason Blacks have higher poverty rates is because they lack motivation to get ahead....because we all know that if you work hard enough, anyone can get ahead....just look at Asian Americans, now there's a model minority(!)....especially Asian girls, they are so attentive and passive....which is only natural, since women, by nature, are more passive, which makes them more patient and better parents...and speaking of parents, God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve....and that fact has not changed...in fact, God created humans as they are now about 10,000 years ago....

As far-fetched as these statements may seem, they are ones with which a sizeable percentage of Americans agree. According to those surveyed for the General Social Survey in 1998, for example, nearly half (46.6%) believe that higher poverty among Blacks is due to a lack of motivation or willpower and 68% believe that it just takes hard work for people to get ahead (National Opinion Research Center 2007). In addition, 15 percent believe that "women should take care of running their homes and leave running the country up to men" and 34.2 percent agree or strongly agree that "It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family." In terms of sex-same sexual relations, 58.6 percent believe that "sexual relations between two adults of the same sex" are always wrong. About half of all Americans believe that God created humans pretty much the way they are now in the last 10,000 years (see Baron 2003). Although we might hope that students in our classes are more informed and enlightened about such issues, this is not necessarily the case.

In this paper I discuss several pedagogical strategies to help challenge students' ideologies, especially those ideologies that interfere with students' sociological understandings of the world. I identify some of the dominant ideologies that teachers of sociology are likely to encounter and discuss active-learning exercises that can be effective in challenging these ideologies, and in turn, helping to enhance students' sociological imaginations.

CULTURAL IDEOLOGIES

Students come to our classrooms with a wide range of opinions, values, experiences and backgrounds concerning race, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, and so on. Although not all students are thinking the same things as our fictitious student above, they almost certainly have internalized some of these dominant cultural messages (Bonilla-Silva and Forman 2000). Because sociological instruction explicitly challenges these cultural beliefs, we are likely to encounter student resistance. Moore (1997: 128) defines resistance as "an unwillingness to consider research or theories that contradict one's sense of social order....resistance means denial or recalcitrance." Resistance can be overt, as in verbal challenges, or more indirect, as in students' closed body language, inattentiveness, or failure to show up for classes that cover controversial topics (Meyers, Bender, Hill and Thomas 2006). …

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