Wednesday, April 11, 2007

College Dean's Prize: Improvements for Sociology

Since the end of the school year is coming to a close, this week’s blog entry will explain how I think the sociology department at the University of Southern California can be improved. I am writing this entry as my response to the USC College Dean’s Prize. The Dean’s Prize offers a monetary award for students who submit proposals on how to further improve the enrichment of student academic life. When considering how to improve the institution it is important to know the central mission of the university; to further the growth of students and society through the nurturing of spirit and mind. The important aspects included in the mission statement are “teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice, and selected forms of public service.” In addition to the importance of the current mission, it is also relevant to know the university’s vision for the future. Found in USC’s strategic plan the vision for the future is “to become one of the most influential and productive research universities in the world.”

Does the Department of Sociology fulfill USC’s mission statement? Yes it does, however improvements can still be made, especially to fulfill the future visions of USC. The sociology department at USC offers a wide selection of courses from medical sociology to deviant behavior; four of which are required. These required courses fulfill the mission statement because they include teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice, and public service. The sociology department’s “strength are enhanced through research and teaching partnerships.” Through these partnerships, students observe, tutor, and research children in the local schools. Although these classes fulfill the mission statement of the University, there are some problems.

For any 300 level courses there usually is only one professor who teaches each topic and the classes are around 50 people. It is important to have variety among professors; one professor may be more visual and others more auditory. Different students require different methods of teaching and with only one professor per topic many students’ learning needs are not met. As for the class size, this issue can easily be fixed with smaller discussion sections with the TAs once a week for an hour. Increasing the number of professors teaching the same class can also help with the size because there would be more classes for the same subject. In addition to the classes being large, some students cannot get into the classes they need because there is only one section of it. The first week of classes this semester there were at least ten students who needed to enroll in each of my sociology classes to be able to graduate but could not because the classes were full. If more sections were available there would not be a problem with getting into a specific class. With only completed one semester in the sociology department I have not been exposed to other areas that might need improvement.

My comments on how to improve the undergraduate sociology department and the University of Southern California will help achieve the future visions of USC. Will smaller class sizes and more professors, more research can be conducted to make USC one of the most influential research institutions. As human beings we constantly strive for perfection and whenever we reach one goal we create a new one. Even if these improvements are made to the sociology department, someone else will find other improvements, bringing it that much closer to perfection.

Monday, April 02, 2007

USC Honorary Degree: Barrie Thorne

Since commencement will arrive in just over a month, this week’s post will discuss the University of Southern California's honorary degrees. This week I was challenged to find someone I thought was deserving of the USC honorary degree in my field of interest, sociology. However, there is some controversy over who is deserving of these degrees. James Freedman discusses how honorary degrees have been carelessly given out to those who do not deserve them. However, USC has specific categories and criteria that a nominee must fulfill to receive an honorary degree. USC’s four categories of criteria prevent those who do not deserve the degrees from receiving them. The first is “to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship” and other fields. The second is “to honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions” to USC. The third is “to recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy”. Finally the fourth category is “to elevate the university in the eyes of the world”. Beyond these four categories there must be a reason why the nominee is specifically appropriate for USC.

The woman I would choose to nominate for a USC Honorary Degree would be Barrie Throne. She fits excellently into the first category of scholarly and academic achievement. Barrie Thorne is a prominent sociologist with a focus on feminism. She is the co-director of the Center for Working Families in Berkeley as well as a professor of Women Studies at UC Berkeley. She has written several books including Feminist Sociology: Life Histories of a Movement, Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School, and many more. Also, Thorne is the recipient of the Jessie Bernard Award. This award “is given in recognition of scholarly work” that have contributed greatly to the field of sociology by the American Sociological Assosiation. In addition, it is given to those whose work “has enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society”.

Thorne embodies these traits as a scholar, researcher, teacher, and mentor. Thorne has also received other numerous awards for teaching and mentoring. She has accomplished great achievements for the feminist movement. But the main reason for this nomination would be her contribution to ethnography. She argues that the way we research children is ineffective. Children need to be studied separate from all other spheres. In addition to her studies on children and women, her work also focuses on sociology of age relations, sociology of gender and ethnographic methods.

Barrie Thorne is an excellent nominee for a Doctor of Science Honorary Degree. In my encounters with professionals and non-professionals I have found that they do not consider sociology as a science. By honoring Thorne with this degree can prove otherwise. Sociology is based in research just like every other science. There is a stigma that sociology is an easy area because it is simply what a person thinks. This stigma needs to be removed because years of research go into every theory in sociology. This is the reason why it would be specifically appropriate for Thorne to receive a USC Honorary Degree; to dispel the notions, even of some professors, that Sociology is not a science, when certainly it is. If Barrie Thorne were to be chosen to speak at commencement she could talk about the importance of sociology and specifically the importance of finding new methods of research in any field. All fields, from history to science, have some form a research involved. Without new methods, the areas of study would come to a stand still. We need to continuously try and better ourselves and society through new ways of research, in all fields including sociology. A woman like Barrie Thorne would be an incredible asset to the University of Southern California.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Teaching: The Importance of Sociology

This week’s post is inspired by “This I Believe.” This I believe is a project “engaging people in…discussing the core values and beliefs” of their lives. This project helps explain my core beliefs about sociology and education. I entered the field of sociology because I wanted to teach, but I did not start with a sociology major. In high school I realized that I wanted to motivate people to do great things. Through this I discovered that I wanted to teach, specifically high school math. The first two and half years at the University of Southern California were spent studying math. After completing all the concrete math courses, like calculus and linear algebra, the classes that were left were abstract theoretical courses. These classes were not enjoyable to me, so I decided to switch majors. The switch from math to sociology occurred because of my desire to teach, and sociology provides an excellent understanding of people and situations. Through the courses this semester, sociology of childhood, deviance, and theories, I am learning how children think and react in situations. This will provide me with tools to better educate students.

Through observations in elementary and high schools, I have seen the effect of a sociological background. My mentor, Dr. Barbara Gereboff was a sociology major in college and then continued to get her graduate degree in education. She is now a principal of an elementary/middle school. I have seen her work with students and she has a better understanding of social situations and is better equipped to deal with different types of students and families. Compared to the other principals that I have had, she has far surpassed them on the level of understanding her students. If more teachers had this background then classes would run more smoothly and the needs of more students would be met.

To be a good teacher one must first have a mastery of the material one wishes teach. I want to teach math and I have taken all concrete math classes available, I feel that that this is enough knowledge of math to teach all levels of high school. Second, a teacher must be able to control the classroom and all the situations that will arise. This does not come easily for some people, this is why sociology is helpful; one can predict certain situations and fix them quicker and more easily than others, providing more time for actual studies. Classes like childhood sociology are especially helpful. This course teaches how children and childhood are conceptualized and perceived from an adult perspective. Knowing this I will be able to take more of children’s actions into account.

Two important sociologists that have influenced my beliefs are Barrie Thorne and Valerie Ann Moore. In Barrie Thorne’s “Girls Boys Together…But Mostly Apart: Gender Arrangements in Elementary Schools,” Thorne explains through her observations in her ethnography how she saw children created their own ideas about gender. In Valerie Ann Moore’s “The Collaborative Emergence of Race in Children’s Play: A Case of Two Summer Camps” she explores how children construct race at summer camp.

Knowing and understanding these situations help prepare teachers for situations in the classroom. It help prepares them to understand children’s backgrounds and why they act the way they do. Sociology provides tools to overcome many obstacles brought by students in school. The amount of research and information on these subjects reinforce my core belief that sociology and education go hand in hand. I do not feel that educators today are fully prepared for the situations they will encounter. But those will a sociological background will have a much easier time fixing the problems. I know that these skills that I will acquire from my sociology major will benefit me in the future.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Student Vanity: Needed to Survive Competative World

An article posted on titled Vanity on the Rise Among College Students, claims that students today are more self centered and narcissistic than before. According to the author, these behaviors are not good for our society. The article starts out saying that children should not always be told they are special. This is where the author believes the narcissistic nature comes from. But positive reinforcement is important in child development. No one likes to constantly be told no, therefore when children exhibit good behaviors they should be rewarded. Studies have shown that children respond much better to positive reinforcement than to negative. Also the article talks about surveys that were conducted. Students were asked what the world would be like if they ruled or if they thought they were special. Many responded that the world would be better if they ruled and that they are special. But who does not think that they would be able to make the world better if they ruled? To get anywhere in today’s world students need to think they are special. They need to think that they can add something. The world is getting more and more competitive and therefore people must get more competitive; part of that requires having more self esteem and confidence. Even if a person does not really think they are the best, they need to create the illusion that they are. Only the best are wanted to be hired, therefore people must exhume as much confidence as possible. But this article argues that too much confidence is not good.

They use as an example. They argue that youth today want all the attention on them. On people can create profiles with pictures and information about themselves. Yes, this website does shout “look at me look at me” but it is also a great networking tool. Similarly, there is The same argument can be said here that people just want to show off and make sure everyone knows how special they are. But there are so many great uses to Similar to, provides networking. You can see who is in your class if you need notes or want to study and you can find old friends that you otherwise would not be able to find. These profiles are not purely vanity. More and more profiles are used for recruitment for jobs. With this shift, it is obvious that people will put their best on and show off. They want to show that they are the best and deserving of the job, even if they personally do not feel this way.

The student run newspaper at the University of Southern California, called The Daily Trojan, responded to this article. The article was titled; You Probably Think This is About You. This article responded to the survey conducted. In response to the question of ruling the world, the author argues that students do not really think they could make the world better, they think that with how the world is today they cannot really make it worse. The author ends her article by saying “hey, I am special. And the world would be a depressing place if everyone thought they were average”. The world would be a depressing place and an unproductive place if everyone thought they were average. No one would strive to be the best and change things.

Perhaps youth of today are more self absorbed and narcissistic, but the world requires them to be. Being timid and reserved does not guarantee a job.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stigmatization: What can be done?

This week I chose to respond to mental illness and stigmatism. According to many sociologists, like D.L. Rosenhan (picture on the left) and Thomas Szazs, mental illness is social construction. Mental illness does not exist until society labels and defines it. Prior to becoming a mental illness, those characteristics were defined as deviant. It was through medicalization that mental illness was coined and made profitable. Two interesting blogs discussing this topic are Stamping out the Stigma, written by psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani, and Reversing the Stigmatization of Mental Illness. Stamping out the Stigma provides a great list of myths and fact about mental illness as well as a brief article about stigmatization and mental illness. Reversing Stigma asks if and how stigmatization of mental illness can be reversed and dispersed. I included in this response the research of Peter Conrad (pictured on the right), a professor of social sciences, to support my ideas

Response: Stamping out the stigma of mental illness

Mental illness can fall into two types of stigma: discredited and discreditable. Discredited means that stigma is not easily hidden. For example, it is not easy to hide the stigma of being homeless, therefore homelessness is discredited. But, discreditable means that stigma is hidden and not noticed. An example of this is eating disorders because it is not usually visible. Mental illness falls under the former if someone with an illness is not treated or the treatment does not work. But on the other hand being diagnosed and given a treatment can hide the fact that someone has a mental illness. True, taking medication provides another stigma, but this also can be discreditable. A child is stigmatized at school when he is socially awkward, but if he is medicated and acts normally he is no longer stigmatized as crazy. Therefore I agree that “Knowledge of mental illness appears by itself insufficient to dispel stigma”. However, research and use of medication can reverse it.

Response: Reversing the stigmatization of mental illness?

I wanted to point out the similarities between what you call institutionalization and the American term medicalization. This is when the medical profession takes custody over certain issues, like mental illness. In the past, in America, people showing symptoms of mental illness were regarded as deviant. There was a stigma attached to being deviant, but the medicalization of mental illness took away that stigma. You argue that stigma is a main concern when dealing with mental illness and I agree with Paul Garfinkle that working to improve treatment will help reverse stigma. For example, if a child has a mental illness that causes social awkwardness he acquires a stigma. But put that child on medication where he can function normally and that stigma disappears. However, it is important to consider that mental illness is a social construction. A great example of this is from Peter Conrad and his study on hyperkinesias, or ADHD. He shows through his study that the disease was not diagnosed until after Ritalin was discovered. Prior to the cure, hyperkinesias defined children who were deviant, not displaying characteristics of a mental illness. But when push comes to shove, I think more research on treatments would be beneficial.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Problem Children: Every Generation Has Them

An article from The Canadian Press claims that there are more problem children today than there were fifty years ago. Children are “disruptive, aggressive or delinquent”. This following quote seems like it would fit seamlessly into this argument. “Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” But this quote was written by Socrates who lived from 469 BC to 399 BC.

Every generation thinks they were angels as children but their children are little devils. According to the sociology of childhood and Dr. Sternheimer, when adults look back at their childhood they remember through children’s eyes, not adults. How can it be claimed that chidlren are worse today than they were fifty years ago? Well what was going on in the 1950s? Elvis. Music is a big part of generation gaps. Parents, for the most part, considered Elvis Presley as symbol of deviance. The sexual movement of his hips was unacceptable. Parents did not understand why their children liked this rock and roll. A common connection to adolescent music is some sort of deviant behavior. Parents feared that if children listen to this music they will do drugs, commit crimes, become more sexual, and so forth. But to understand why children today seem so much worse than fifty years ago, the definition of child and its connection to innocence must be closely monitored.

When adults think of children they think of innocence. In my sociology class we were asked to write down synonyms to the word child. Words like immature, innocent, hopeful, cute, carefree, and others came up. But when asked to do the same for adults we found that most words were the opposite we put for child. It is in the definition of the term child that causes the problem. Society expects children to act in a certain manner even if children have never acted in that way before.

These claims could easily manifest into a moral panic. A moral panic is when the moral, ethics, and interests of a society are threatened. The fear is much bigger than the actual panic and there is always a group that will benefit. Childhood behavior could easily fall under a moral panic. Adults are scared and threatened of children and adolescents. An actual threat does exist, but the fear is disproportional to that threat. An example would be the school shootings in the 1990s. It would seem, because of new coverage, that there was an outburst of school shootings and violence in the 1990s when in fact there was a decline in number of children killed in schools. Statistically a child is twice more likely to be killed by lightning than killed at school. Media and news coverage add to the panic because they provide constant footage and information. The reason there seemed to be an increase in school violence was because there was more media coverage than there was in the past.

Forensic psychologist Marta Weber states that parents spend less and less time with their children because of work. She believes that lack of parent involvement has helped create these behavioral issues. Over 200 years ago in the colonial period children worked starting at the age of seven. There was even less parent involvement then. During the Industrial Revolution in the 1850s children were sent away to school or work and had very limited parent involvement. Throughout history there have been times where there has been no parental involvement and no behavioral problems. The correlation Weber is trying to make between parental involvement and child behavior is weak.

Children today are no worse than children fifty years ago. Children have changed, this is true, and so have their behaviors. But their behaviors are not worse, just different. Some are even the same. “Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” This has been and most likely will always be how adults feel about children in general.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Problems in Math Education: Who’s to blame, instructors or textbooks?

This is a short message to inform you, the readers, that this week’s blog will be slightly different from the past two. Instead of consisting of a blog entry responding to current events in the educational/sociological field, it will respond to two recent blog entries. The two entries, Math education: An Inconvenient Truth and In Search of Constructivist Teachers, relate to the first blog, Decline in American Math Levels: Myth or Fact? The former blog explains that some math textbooks are missing important information, for example the mathematical symbol pi, and since the information is not in the textbook that information is not taught. The later examines the concept of constructivist theory and why it is not found in a mathematical context. The two entries are connected because each asserts blame of problems in math education on different sources. Below are the responses to the two entries. Perhaps both poor math textbooks and lack of new educational methods produce the problems in math education.

Comment on Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth

Wanting to be a math teacher in the near future, I find this extremely disturbing. It is unfortunate that children miss out on important information because textbooks lack the needed curriculum. Like you said, this is not uncommon. Here is a table, slightly outdated, but still relevant, that shows the quality of math textbooks. Most of the textbooks are shown to be of poor quality. It is so distressing that such an important subject as mathematics lacks adequate textbooks. Also, as one response to your blog said, many times outside sources are looked down upon by head masters and department heads. In all the math classes I have taken, in both high school and college, I could have easily never have gone to class because the lecture was straight from the book. I was not aware of any missing information because it was not pointed out or included by the teacher. Better textbooks are greatly needed to bridge the gap in math education.

Comment on In Search of Constructivist Teachers

I am a student at the University of California and for the first two and a half years of college I was a math major. Every single class I took was taught in the exact same way. They were all traditional math classes; sitting at desks, facing the chalkboard, while the professor goes through the textbook, word for word. As long as I can remember all the math classes I have taken from first grade up have been in the same format. For me this way of teaching works, but for other students it does not. With limited time, space, and finances there really does not seem to be a better way. I cannot begin to imagine how constructivist theory can be applied to math education because the traditional format is so engrained in mind. But it is important to figure out different ways of teaching because not every child learns the same way. I hope that in the near future there will be some ways to change the format of math education so that more students will succeed and enjoy what they are learning.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Private Schools: Dual Curriculums and Religion

Growing up in a private Jewish day school I always wondered what it would be like in a public school. What would it be like to only have to take half the amount of classes and not have to go to prayers every day? Let me paint a picture in your mind of the typical day in my elementary school: classes would begin at 8am in the English home room. Until lunch I would have English, history, math, and science as well as morning prayers. After lunch I would go to my Hebrew home room where I would have Hebrew, Jewish history, Torah (the Old Testament) and Rabbinics. But public schools were not the only schools that interested me, I was also curious about how other religious schools ran. Catholic schools are run similarly to Jewish day schools; there are bible, Latin, and religious history classes as well as prayers. I wondered if students like me, in religious day schools, were being prepared when we only got half the math, science, English and history education that children in public schools got.

The issue is do students of private schools receive an adequate education when they spend significantly less time on secular subjects? Although religious private schools spend less time on subjects they need less time. The reason is because the class sizes are smaller and the student teacher ration is significantly lower than that of public schools. The size of the class made up for the shorter class period because there was more student teacher interaction and the students were able to grasp the information quicker. I researched two Los Angeles Jewish day schools, Kadima Hebrew Academy and Heschel West, two Los Angeles Christian private schools, West Angeles Christian Academy and Chaminade High School, and two Los Angeles public schools, Hale middle school and Pomelo Drive Elementary. The average teacher student ratio at the Jewish day schools are seven, the ratio at the private Christian schools are sixteen and the ratio at the public schools are thirty six. As shown on the left, many private school classrooms have teacher assistants or teacher aids so that there is more one on one interaction with the students. The size of the classroom makes a tremendous difference in education because no student falls behind. They are all provided sufficient time and help on an individual basis.

But education does not just include classes in school. What about education outside of the classroom, extra curricular activities? Do private school children have time for extra curricular activities when they have double the work load of those children in public school? The answer is yes. I concluded that private school children still have time for extra curricular activities by researching the after school opportunities at private schools. This picture shows one of Kadima Hebrew Academy’s after school sport programs, soccer. But sports are not the only activities available. The Chaminade website shows a plentiful amount of activities available to students ; art club, band, drama club, just to name a few. These private schools offer similar after school activities. However, the private schools cannot offer as many programs as the public schools due to shear numbers. But these programs are still available to private school children through other private organizations.

When parents decide whether to send their child to a private religious school or a public school the main issue is not money; it is the quality of the education. This is why it is important to note that the education at private schools and the opportunities at private schools are very similar if to that of public schools. Children will not miss out on important events in their life for going to private school, they will just experience them in a different atmosphere.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Decline in American Math Levels: Myth or Fact?

It is a popular belief that American math education is rapidly declining, both within the United States and in comparison to other countries; because of this belief there has been heated debate over how to fix the American math education problem in the past two decades. President Bush, in 2002, implemented “No Child Left Behind” to help increase math and other academic scores. In truth, America is slightly above average in the math category. Therefore, math education in America is not declining; rather other nations’ math education is increasing. However, being slightly above average is not sufficient. While this is an important issue, the goal of this entry is to determine whether of not math levels have been declining, not whether or not math levels are sufficient; that is another topic.

In the past year SAT math scores have dropped by two points for both males and females. Without going into more depth it would appear that American math levels are dropping. But an important fact to remember is that recently the SATs changed and fewer students are taking them twice. It is typical for scores to increase about 30 points when the SATs are taken a second time. In comparison to high school students in other countries, American students are well below the average in math scores. But according to John Mackey, the Carnegie Mellon’s assistant head of mathematical sciences, “Americans catch up, generally, as curriculum continues.” Almost all comparisons of American math levels to other countries have been K-12 and have not included college students. American students in American college and university tend to score similarly in math as college students in other countries. The scores used for comparisons have mostly been from SAT and AP exams. But the SAT and AP exams are standardized tests used only in the United States. To have an accurate score levels, the same test would need to be administered in all countries. But the chance of this happening is not likely. However, the type of test and age of the student is not the only factor, location also plays a part.

Different parts of the country have different definitions of what student proficiency is. One example is South Carolina and North Carolina. North Carolina has low standard of proficiency while South Carolina has higher standards. The same student doing well in North Carolina would most likely fail in South Carolina. This is proven by looking at SAT scores. Places that show higher SAT scores also show higher educational standards. There are some locations where math is not as important or focused on. This is the same with countries. Some countries find math education more important than other subjects while other countries focus on different skills. Many times subjects like the humanities and the arts are compromised to allow more time and concentration for math. While American schools do not provide great amounts of time for the humanities and arts, they do devote time to social sciences. American schools have a diverse education system and have content standards that must be achieved for every subject. Although it is important to have a diverse education, it is also important to have a strong math and science background with the rise in technology. Fewer American students are interested in math and science creating an even larger gap. Although, there is less of interest in these subjects, American levels are not declining, they are remaining stagnate.

At a quick glance it appears that American math levels are declining and that American students are falling behind students in other industrialized nations. This would appear true because of statistics and test scores. But at a closer look, taking in consideration the type of testing, the age of students, and what is academically important, American math levels are not declining. But while American math levels remain the same other nations’ math levels increase. Although American math levels are not declining it is still a growing concern since the rise in technology. Although math levels are not declining, Americans do need to catch up with their international counterparts if they wish to partake in this high tech world.