Cultural Anthropology Week 3: Always Have a Plan B

February 25th, 2015

Welcome back to my weekly recap of my cultural anthropology class! Last Friday, after a week off, came out with mixed results. There were two sources of issues that I had: how the break threw my preparation out of sync with the class sessions, and the implementation of the activity I came up with did not go as planned.

While the class skipped a session, I kept the same preparation schedule. By the time the break was over, I had the next lecture ready, and the one after that as well. While I thought it would be helpful to be so far ahead, as I got ready for the class, I was confused about what I would be presenting. The two lectures got jumbled up in my head! It didn’t help that the topics, subsistence and social organization, were very similar.

Leading up to the class, I designed an activity that aimed to show the students how different subsistence strategies worked. For different items of subsistence, I thought frilly toothpicks would be a cheap but effective item.


Red toothpicks represented animal resources, green ones were plants, and blue came into play with some strategies as animal feed. Since there were four broad types of subsistence (foraging, horticulture, pastoralism, and agriculture), I had each of the four teams volunteer perform each one. For each strategy, I had a three-act scenario in which the team had to survive to the next act by finding ways to come up with enough toothpick resources. For example, the foraging team just had to go around and find the necessary number of toothpicks, moving around the classroom as nearby toothpicks became scarce. Horticulturalist and pastoralist teams had control of one type of toothpick, but had to move to find the other types. Agriculturalists could control all types of toothpicks, and they did not have to/could not move, but they had to perform physical labor to maintain their lifestyle. I was excited about seeing this activity play out, but I ran into issues actually making it happen.

I arrived at the campus early Friday morning to get set up. The classroom opens up into a nice quad area with some hilly lawn. When I started planting frilly toothpicks there, I came to a frightening realization: the toothpicks are nearly invisible in the grass! While having the resources be hard to find to a degree would be fine, but complete camoflage would have made the activity too time-consuming. Also, they could be a hazard for anyone with thin footwear. With fifteen minutes before class started, I needed a new plan, fast.

I ended up moving the activity inside the classroom, leaving frilly toothpicks on certain desks. To be honest, it looked messy and haphazardly done, which it was, but any other new plan would’ve taken too much time to prepare. With the game area moved indoors to a more confined area, I also adjusted how many toothpicks are needed each round for the team to survive: I cut the numbers by half.

The activity was going to be in the second half of the session, though, so after the preparation, I started with the lecture. With two lectures in my head, and the one I’m presenting on the backburner, I felt that I could’ve done a better job. I also caught myself bringing up information that was in the next lecture. Still, I think everyone was suitably interested in learning how people from different cultures made a living. Reflecting on the week 2 lecture, I added a break earlier in this lecture: after talking about two of the four subsistence strategies, which came out to be at the half-hour mark or so. The earlier break took the students by surprise, as I saw in a few physical reactions (a little jerk-back of the head in shock). Just calling a break with a slide that just says “break” may be too sudden. In my next lecture I will have a little question to discuss in lieu of a full break. This will put a stop to my lecturing so that students would be less likely to get hypnotized, but it won’t put all learning on hold so soon.

The lecture concluded well, if not a bit underwhelmingly. I was impressed with the students who asked questions or threw in observations as the lecture progressed. Things they said sparked some deep corners of my own anthropological knowledge. For example, until the lecture, I had forgotten that I had read about an Andean ritual when herders got their llamas and alpacas drunk on maize beer and decorated the animals with ribbons. After class, I did some online searching and found the practice described in the classic ethnography The Hold Life Has (Allen, 2002). I also found a video of the decorating part of the festivities (nomdecrayon, 2010):

After the second break, after the lecture portion was done, I had the students form their teams for the activity. Problem: one team only had one student in class that day. Two students from another team offered to join the solo team, which was a good solution, but caused some confusion with the other students in the other team. When the activity got started, it went pretty well. I read from a sheet of instructions I had typed before that told the brief story of how the team got to the region and what subsistence strategy they used. I gave them their subsistence goal (e.g., five green toothpicks and five red toothpicks) and watched them figure it out based on how their subsistence strategy worked. The foragers duly went around nearby desks finding toothpicks for one act, and moved their home to a part of the room with more toothpicks in the next acts. The horticulturalists ‘planted’ their green toothpicks on a desk, but had to move to a new desk for each new act in the story. Pastoralists had to take their home and red toothpicks to where blue (animal feed) toothpicks were located. I gave some gentle nudging for the horticulturalists and pastoralist teams to trade goods to make up for the type they do not control (as they do in the Andes and other regions), but they wouldn’t have it, citing irreconcilable cultural differences. That’s a perfectly realistic outcome in the real world too!

By the time we got to the agriculturalists, interest in the activity was waning as the teams who already played their roles were sitting in their make-believe settlements around the classroom. The agriculturalists’ task was attention-getting, though, so that helped bring the students back in. Above, I mentioned that the agriculturalists had to perform physical labor to produce their toothpicks, but how could I express that in this game? I settled on exercise: each toothpick would need some form of exercise to ‘produce.’ When the activity was supposed to be outside, I thought pushups against nearby benches would work. Inside, I could open up the possibilities to accommodate what the students were comfortable with doing: pushups, sit-ups, crunches, squats, and jumping jacks, for example. In an example of how authority works in social groups, the students had no problem meeting my unusual demand. The team did crunches, squats, and pushups for frilly toothpicks! By act two, the team was tired but they had to do more exercises. Unprompted, the team did what I hoped would happen: the most athletic student offered to do all of the exercises, instead of having each person do a few. Specialization! The student even purposely worked for a surplus of toothpicks. Food storage! I happily explained the anthropological analogues of what the agriculture team was doing.

The activity completed, we had around twenty more minutes. I showed the end-of-class question, which was a team question about the the sociopolitical implications of each subsistence strategy. I was going to leave the question officially unanswered, but with a few more minutes left on the clock, I went ahead and had a little discussion before letting them out.

Overall, the class was a mixed success. I will go back to the preparation schedule of making the lecture in the week before I have to give it, so everything is fresh in my mind. I would like to do the activity again in future classes, but the frilly toothpicks have to go. Easter eggs may be a good choice. Other people may pick them up, but the setup should be mostly intact. If I plant to have the activity indoors from the start, a student had the great idea of using Jolly Ranchers.

Next week is the sibling lecture to subsistence strategies: social organization. The second half of the session will be review for the exam, which is the session after next. While I don’t have a T.A. for students to beat, I get to test out student ownership of their exam.



Allen, C. J. (2002). The hold life has: Coca and cultural identity in an andean community. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

nomdecrayon [Username]. (2010). Herranza in/en Viñac, Yauyos, Perú [Video]. Retrieved from

Cultural Anthropology: Intermission

February 18th, 2015

No class this week, but the blog posts continue! This week I want to mention two especially helpful sources of information that I have found.

Rebecca was a field school student of mine back in 2007. She got into adjuncting years ago, so now she has become the master! She has her own blog australopithechic, where she describes her professional adventures. This recent post in particular (Van Sessen, 2015), partially inspired by my own entry into this profession, has a lot of great tips. There are so many pieces of advice to digest that I am stlll on tip 8!

Looking around the Internet for links to study tips found a few good sources of information. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (Division 2 of the American Psychological Association) has a 300 page PDF on psychology-supported teaching suggestions, called Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (Benassi, Overson & Hakala, 2014). Since it is an edited volume, there is an entry for every aspect of teaching, from slide-design (which is something I am really into), to working within the limitations of memory, to making exams a learning experience.

In two days I will take my students on a tour of subsistence strategies with a bunch of pretty slides and a weird Survivor/Double Dare type thing outside. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Benassi, V.A., Overson, C.E. & Hakala, C.M. [Editors]. (2014). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Division 2, American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

Van Sessen, R. (2015, February 2). Learning to adjuct [Weblog post]. australopithechic. Retrieved from

Cultural Anthropology Week 2: Beware of Plorbs

February 11th, 2015

A funny thing happened between weeks one and two. While I was a bit of a nervous wreck preparing for the course, as week two rolled around, I was the coolest cucumber. My talks with colleagues and friends certainly played a role in rearranging my thought processes. Also, the nervousness that came from being in a new situation was gone.

In the days before the second class, I had a few specific tasks to accomplish. The first, of course, is to prepare the lecture materials. The duo topics were the history of anthropology and then linguistic anthropology. Learning from the first class, I cut out a lot of slides that I had planned. For example, I had information on around ten major figures in anthropology, but I cut it by half. All slides on historical linguistics got dropped in favor of more sociolinguistics. I also found some video clips on Youtube (yes, like what they did on Community) and Films On Demand.

In designing the lecture, I took to heart the advice that I should present what I want to teach. The phenomenon of code-switching (Demby, 2013) is something that I found to be both fascinating and relevant so that made up a good chunk of the linguistics material.

As class started, my nervousness did go up as I only had four of fifteen students in the room. Had everyone dropped? Since my class enrollment was hovering around the minimum, people dropping would surely spell the doom of this section. I told the students who were there about the possibility of the cancelation, then went ahead with the lecture. “The show must go on!” Over the next half hour, students started trickling into the class. I really have to stop that in future classes. Since my roll taking is done at the end of class, there is nothing to stop students from coming in late. I may threaten a beginning-of-class question as well, and implement it if people are still coming in late.

Aside from the slow start, the lecture went extremely well. With a class of under fifteen students, there were a lot of good discussions on topics related to how anthropology is conducted. Someone did point out self-awaredly that three or four people did most of the talking, but that’s also a third of the class, so I’m pretty fine with that. I have a mental block against calling out the quiet students, having been one myself. The team work was my solution, but alas there was no team activity this lecture.

I lectured for an hour or so about the history of anthropology and anthropological methods, ending with video clips on Boas and Mead. I had prepared a custom clip through the Films on Demand interface, but it would not work via the class computer, so I had to do it manually. The clip ran a bit long into the Derek Freeman criticisms of Mead’s research, which I personally think are off base, so I had to refute that bit. After these clips, I gave the class a ten minute break. The day was sunny and gorgeous so the ten minutes seemed really short. Time was up, though, and I realized that I had to summon everyone back myself as no one was coming back on their own. Heading back in, one student said that we should have class outside. Gears started turning in my head…

The second half of the course, on linguistic anthropology, seemed to have worked out really well in getting the students interested. As with the first half, I lectured first and then showed a few video clips. Everyone seemed to enjoy the section on the flexibility of human language, as I told them about imaginary plorbs, or carnivorous watermelons. I have a feeling that plorbs will show up in future classes.  The last video clip was a segment on Ebonics/AAVE/BVE from the classic documentary Do You Speak American? (Cran, 2005). The clip ends with a segment on teaching Standard American English in an elementary school setting. The children were shown to be extremely excited about learning the dry subject of English grammar. I may or may not have picked that clip as a subconscious model of being excited in a classroom setting.

As the clip wrapped up and I offered some concluding remarks, I noticed that I had ten minutes left in class. Perfect! That was the ideal time to do the end-of-class question. In fact, the last student left the class at the exact time that class was scheduled to end. I couldn’t ask for a better-timed class and I’m fortunate that I have a good model of how many slides and how much material to present each day.

Of course, I am deviating from this formula immediately. There is no class this Friday to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday, so I have a lot of leeway in designing the classes coming up. Since the weather is so good, the campus is so quiet on Fridays, and the next class is on subsistence strategies, I want to do an outside activity with the teams I had set up (there was no team activity in this second lecture). I’m still working out the plan, but it looks like we will be doing a combination of LARPing (Live Action Role-Play) and a play. I have a bunch of cocktail toothpicks that can serve as resources to acquire. I can plant those around the quad and then have the students act out foraging, pastoralism, and so on in a variety of situations. It should be fun and educational!



Cran, W. [Director]. (2005). Do you speak American? [Documentary]. United States: Thirteen/WNET.

Demby, G. (2013, April 8). How code-switching explains the world. NPR. Retrieved from

Cultural Anthropology Week 1: Rite of Passage

February 4th, 2015

Welcome to my weekly reflection of my cultural anthropology class! Going in to my first class, with over a month of build-up, I was pretty nervous. Spoiler alert: the class went fine and I was filled with joy doing it. There are things I would change for next time, though.

My class is on Fridays from 9 to around noon. I had assumed that this was three classes worth of time since I have only had experience with Monday-Wednesday-Friday class schedules. I found out a little too late that this is intended to be just two classes in length. With the false assumption in mind, I had three classes worth of material planned: one hour of introductions, another of general anthropology, and a third of a course preview.

I had read James Lang’s On Course (2008), which had the very helpful advice of meeting students at the door on the first day to meet everyone on an individual basis. With this advice in mind, my personality overruled it and I opted to stare at my slides in the dark while students came in. I definitely have to work on that for next time!

For the first hour I had a lot going on. I went over the syllabus and then split the students into teams of three or four. The purpose is to form subcategories of students so I would remember each person more easily, and make instant class partners who can help each other with notes, etcetera. I also plan to have a team poster project in the second half of the course. While students are sure to add and drop in the first weeks, I thought that it was important to form the teams early and deal with the changes as they happen. Also, secretly, I figure that putting them in a team would make the students less likely to drop. As an instructor who was hired soon before the semester started, my class was not listed in the paper/PDF course schedule. Students had to find my class through online searching or via their counselor’s suggestion. As I predicted, my class population is borderline at the cancel/don’t cancel line, so every body counts.

While the students were in teams, I handed out two sheets to every student: a team charter and a course survey. The charter has blanks for each student’s name and email, a spot for a team name, and, a last minute addition, a place for a team logo. Might as well go all the way for the team concept! I plan to do something with the logos later on. Maybe stickers? I also had the students fill out an extra team charter for my own records. The course survey had a few questions about one’s reasons for taking this class and goals in general. The last question is meant to shock and entertain: “Would you like to enter a random drawing to have coffee with the instructor?” I got this idea from U.C. Berkeley anatomy professor Marian Diamond’s iTunes U class. She had a random drawing every class for lunch with her. Since I don’t have Marian Diamond money, I made it coffee instead. This idea really stuck in my mind for a few reasons: being new to this college, I knew nothing about what students do or how the school works on their level. Talking to a sample of students would really help me understand their perspective. I can also talk to them about how the class is going. Having it done as a coffee chat instead of a mandatory office hour meeting also acts as an incentive for students to participate. With a lower class size, the ‘sample’ may turn out to be everyone who opted in!

Forming teams, filling out a team charter, and also doing the course survey was too much to do at once. I was also going from group to group, talking to each student. Next time, I will space out these activities instead of doing it all at once. As students got to know each other, some neglected the paperwork and I had to remind them. Getting the course surveys back, some end mid-sentence, lost in the flurry of activity.

The first hour took an hour and fifteen minutes. I gave everyone a five minute break before getting to the actual course material. The first lecture, on what anthropology entails, was probably too detailed. Each subfield had at least two slides with a few of the key terms. Next time, I may just give a one line description of each subfield. The key terms for cultural anthropology (e.g., fieldwork, participant observation) can wait for the next class session instead of explaining it now. I also had a video about the four fields to show, but I talked so much that I ran out of time.

After a ‘mini-break’ that also ended up being five minutes, I launched into the last third of the class, giving a quick overview of the rest of the class sessions. The goal was to be a trailer of sorts of the things that we will examine, such as subsistence, organization, gender, race, and religion. I had a lot of questions on each topic, even though it was meant to just pose questions with no answers yet. I may have to curtail questions in future sessions. Also, looking at the clock, I only had a half hour for this third of the class! By the end, I had to skip the class activity, video, and end-of-class question that I had planned.

As class wrapped up, the students seemed to have a good time. One said that this is a lot more fun than the usual lectures. I might have heard a clap or two, but I might have imagined it in my post-first-class elation.

Talking with a far more-experienced colleague later, I realized that I was putting undue pressure on myself to present as much of the textbook as possible. She encouraged me to just have fun with the class and present what I want. The next class, split into halves about the history of the field and then linguistic anthropology, will have a lot fewer slides and more activities and videos (certainly more than zero!). We’ll see how it goes from there!



Lang, J. M. (2008). On course : A week-by-week guide to your first semester of college teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Moving On Up

January 20th, 2015

I have been away from my blog for good reason: since very late last year, I have been going through the process of getting hired to teach anthropology for a local community college! As of right now I am to teach a class on physical anthropology and another on cultural anthropology. I was surprised that they would give me two classes right off the bat. I suppose it is like finding out that someone is going to have twins: very exciting but also double the everything!

Update: Of course as soon as I publicly announce it, the situation changes. I will be teaching just cultural anthropology this semester, and possibly an online physical anthropology class later in the spring.

Since the week of Christmas, I have been busy designing two anthropology classes from scratch. The school has been great in giving me the freedom to pursue my own vision of the courses. I have so many ideas that I have had and keep having, and I want to do all of them. I am realizing that I may have to save activities and projects for next time, since I have to handle the usual logistics of organizing the class and teaching the subject matter. Sorry, probably no non-beer pong for these classes! Not that I’m going to just lecture for two and a half hours (times two) a week. On Twitter I have been posting snippets of the syllabus and first class material that I think depart from the norm, but with a purpose.

After every week, I plan on writing a post-mortem on what happened in each class and write down my ideas for next time. Post-mortem is such a dour word for this situation, though appropriate for the lecture on forensic anthropology. How about, reflection?

My classes start in ten days! I look forward to sharing my reflections.

Beat the T.A.!

December 3rd, 2014

Last time, I wrote about adapting a common college game for the purpose of education. Another type of game that I came up with as I hungrily took in ideas about teaching is something I call “Beat the T.A.!”

The purpose of “Beat the T.A.” is to have the students invest themselves in the exam beyond the norm via a friendly rivalry between themselves and a minor authority figure/role model. The teaching assistant, or one of the T.A.s in the class if there are several, takes the exam alongside the rest of the class. The students are tasked with beating the T.A.’s score on the exam. There are a few possible conditions for winning this game that an instructor can choose to use alone or in combination:

  • A curve is used so that the T.A.’s score is the new 100% score and all student scores are adjusted accordingly
  • Students who beat the T.A. get their excess points as extra credit
  • Students who beat the T.A. could get a set amount of extra credit, or some other small bonus to their grade
  • Students who beat the T.A. could get a non-grade related prize

Safeguards may need to be established so that a fluke (either random chance or a parasitic worm) does not result in a complete upset in the students’ favor if the T.A. somehow does not excel. For example, there could be a cap in place for the most that the grades could be curved, or the most extra credit that a student could win.

An issue with this plan that comes immediately to mind is that the T.A. typically already has a task during an exam, though I think the problem is minor. T.A.s are usually proctors who patrol the classroom to make sure that students are not cheating. I think that the T.A.’s time is well spent, if not better spent, as the target of Beat the T.A., though. In my experience, T.A. proctors are not effective at deterring or catching cheaters. During exams, the T.A.s wander the room being absolutely bored out of their minds for the duration of the class. Let’s remember that T.A.s are also students who can take the opportunity to work with their knowledge. This game is also a good chance for the T.A. to show his or her abilities to the professor. Also, I imagine that there is some pride for the T.A. to show off his or her higher level of experience with the material to the underlings. A T.A. who aces the exam could get his or her own reward!

“Beat the T.A.” is a low-cost activity that I think can help students get more involved with the exam portion of their class. Adding a competitive element between the students and a third party, the T.A., may ease inspire students to work harder to get a better score. The chance for a reward also gives students a little more control over their grade in exchange for their effort. There are also benefits to the T.A. as well for having the responsibility to be the the ‘mini boss’ that students are competing against.

Beer(less) Pong Study Session: Rules and Guidelines

November 25th, 2014

I’ve been reading and rereading a lot of the pedagogy of college teaching recently. I started by digging out my copy of Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (2004), combined with a lot of web reading centered around the Chronicle of Higher Education. In particular, I have been reading a lot of James Lang’s columns on engaging students. He cites games such as “binge-drinking games” (2014, para. 10) as a natural display of college student engagement. Relatedly, in the blurb for Mark C. Carne’s book Minds On Fire (2014), which is next on my reading list, beer pong is mentioned by name as a game that incites the passion of college students. My gears got turning: why can’t we play beer pong in the classroom?

Well, because alcohol is involved. But, what if instead of beer, each cup had a quiz question?

To back up a bit, I will describe beer pong for those who never had the pleasure. Cups of beer are arranged in a triangle, not unlike pins on a bowling alley, on two ends of a long table. There are two teams. They take turns tossing a ping pong ball towards the cups on the end of the table. If they score a hit in a cup, the other team has to remove that cup and drink that beer. This continues until one team has no cups left on their end, making them the losing team. There are additional rules and variations, but these are the general ones needed for a game.

Ok, what if instead of beer, each cup had a quiz question? Then, when the throwing team sinks a ball into the cup team’s cup, the cup team reads the question in that cup to the throwing team. If the throwing team gets it right, then they get a point. Play continues until one team is out of cups, or class time runs out. Here are officially-written rules for this game:



Beer(less) Pong Study Session


  • 20 Solo-brand red cups (for authenticity)
  • Several ping pong balls
  • A long table
  • 20 quiz questions, written on strips of paper



  1. Arrange Solo-brand red cups in two triangles of ten cups on both ends of a long table. The triangles are arranged like arrows pointing towards each other (medially).
  2. Add cheap, weighty objects to each cup to give them weight. Beans have been used with success. Maybe candy?
  3. Place a quiz question in each cup.
  4. Divide the class into two teams. Each time assembles at one end of the table.


Game Rules

  1. Decide which team throws first. This could be done with a coin toss, rock-paper-scissors, or a warmup question.
  2. The tossing team tosses 1 ping pong ball towards the other end of the table with the goal of landing it inside a cup. If the ball misses, the turn goes to the other team.
  3. If the ball hits, the cup team reads the question inside the hit cup to the tossing team. If the tossing team cannot answer, or answers incorrectly, the turn goes to the other team.
  4. If the tossing team answers the question correctly, they score a point. The turn goes to the other team (to discourage shutouts).
  5. Students within each team take turns tossing the ball.
  6. The winning team is the one with the most points when time is up or when one team is out of cups.



  • Each cup can have more than one question, each worth a point.
  • The tossing team can toss more than one ball per turn.
  • When one team is out of cups, that team could attempt to win by having one last attempt at scoring with the winning team’s cups.



A few thoughts and ideas:

This game works best for teams of fifteen students or fewer, so a class of 30 maximum. A typical lab section is around this size, so it could be a good pre-exam activity. For larger classes, having this activity in lieu of a usual bonus study session would also be a way to whittle the number of participants down. Imagine coming to a study session on one’s own time and seeing a beer pong setup in front of the classroom!

For extra immersion and ownership of the learning process, the two teams can also be the writers of the questions! This will take an amount of time that maybe better spent actually playing the game, but I think this additional activity of each time devising the questions that the other team will have to answer would be a valuable learning experience as well. In order to produce fair questions about the material, the students could be given the instruction to make the questions reflect what they consider the most important information and not the tiniest minutiae they can conjure.

For even more immersion and ownership of the learning process, the instructor can use these questions as the actual exam questions! This will give students an active role in what is traditionally the least interactive part of the course. As teaching assistants and instructors know, having to design a test is an education in its own right. This also has the benefits of saving the instructor some time in exam-writing and also preventing the sharing of test answers across semesters. Of course, the instructor would probably need to edit the questions and add his or her own into the mix, but giving the students some role in exam-writing is more education than no role at all.

I hope people try out this activity and report back on the results! I have a few other ideas… I never wrote about the “Beat the T.A.” game that I tweeted a few months back.

Update: Kristina Killgrove turned the game from an idea to an action for her osteology class! You an read her account, with good tips and impressions here. I have added one important missed step above: to weigh the cups with something to keep them from moving around.



Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Carnes, M.C. (2014). Minds on fire: How role-immersion games transform college. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lang, J.M. (2014, September 29). Stop blaming students for your listless classroom. Retrieved from

Keeley: Comic Hero Extraordinaire, Issue 5, Part One!

November 13th, 2014

Remember that time I had a superhero comic hero comic? It’s taken a while, but at last I can show off the first six pages of issue 5! I took so long that a much better comic in the same vein is now out, the new Batgirl run by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr, starting with issue #35 and #36 just came out yesterday. I recommend checking those out. And check this out, too, by clicking below!

If you want to see previous issues, click me!

Why We Teach About Race in Anthropology

November 7th, 2014

One of my most important activities as an online instructor is to communicate with my students via the discussion forum. Each week there are two topics that the students have to write a thoughtful post to address. One of the second week’s topics is about race in our culture. As I scanned the posts the students had written to find good ones to respond to, a very lengthy answer caught my eye. The student wrote a very personal essay about how she was affected by the week’s material. As a member of a minority, she was harshly reminded of the marginalization she constantly experiences in her own life. Why must inequality, and her own status, be brought up in school as well?

This is my slightly edited answer:

You bring up a lot of good points and questions about the experience of race, especially in our own culture. This topic hits us very close to home, so I understand why you feel frustrated when you encounter it again in this course. I think it is an important topic for us to explore, especially in a cultural anthropology course. Here are my top reasons for thinking so:

  • Race is important to discuss because it is so relevant to our own lives. One of the goals of this course is to teach you information and critical thinking skills that will help your professional and personal lives. As a result, the course material sometimes focuses on ourselves, as well as the distant cultures. For example, this week discusses race, of course. Next week we talk about gender, another important category in our culture. The anthropology class of twenty years ago was all about the Bono and other people far from ourselves, but it turns into trivia if it does not connect to our own lives.
  • Combined with how relevant race is to our culture, there are also rampant misconceptions about race in the general public. Many people believe that race determines intelligence, which it certainly does not. Also, since people associate certain socioeconomic groups with certain races, they assume that there is a biological reason, which is also not true. A recent book that made it to the New York Times bestseller list is making these false claims, but the misinformation is getting spread. In fact, people are paying to be misinformed. We teach what the actual science tells us about race, basically because the fact-based information is just not getting out there, and it is hurting our culture.
  • One of the barriers keeping racialist thinking from going away is that we do live different racial experiences, but we rarely get to see it from each other’s shoes. While the material in this course and your previous one may be harsh reminders, they may give your classmates a new perspective that they never had before. While some of your classmates may never truly live the experience of racial prejudice, by learning about it, they can sympathize and reinforce what we are learning about the problems of racial categories and the inequality that it causes. The point of teaching about race is not to reinforce how unequal we all are, or to justify or support inequality. If people are leaving this week’s material believing that people of certain groups should be as oppressed as they are,  I have failed my students.

I hope I have explained what we teach race in this class. I think that if we are to address inequality in our culture, we have to spread the information we have instead of avoiding the topic. While getting the same lesson, especially a distasteful one, is tiresome, the repetition shows how important we think this information is. Let me know what you think, especially if you have suggestions of how we can teach this information in a better manner. Just out of curiousity, what was your other course that dealt with race?

Anthropomotron 2.1 is Out!

October 20th, 2014

I had a little break between online classes so I went to work on updating Anthropomotron. It’s been a whole 11 months since I last looked at all of the code! I fixed some bugs, updated the inside platforms to the latest versions, and added a few more sets of formulae to the stature section. I got a little more comfortable with Javascript, embracing variables more, and the code actually shrank since the last version. Not too shabby for two weeks.

Anthropomotron is still on the web, as well as iPhone and iPad, and Android. Here is a good place to get started if you’re new. Enjoy! I look forward to comments and suggestions for future versions.