PART IV: OTHER GROUPS, OTHER PATTERNS
ASSIGNMENT 1: Pew Institute Data On Religion
The Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project launched in 2001 as a way of collecting research on the intersections of religion and public affairs in the United States. Their research covers demographic trends among different religious groups as well as the attitudes and perspectives that different religious affiliations have on issues ranging from stem cell research and education to the death penalty. Along with race and ethnicity, religion is one of the major dividing lines in American society and religious groups overlap with minority groups in a variety of ways. By studying religion in the United States, you will expand your understanding of the diversity and complexity of American life.
Your goal in this assignment is to develop a presentation for your class. However, your instructor may decide to make this a group project or may decide to have you submit your conclusions as a class paper.
Before visiting the Pew Research Center’s website, develop some basic research questions, or explanations or hypotheses about what you think you might find. For example, you might predict that Catholics more so than Protestants will have strong beliefs against abortion. Jewish people are more likely to live in the Northeast than any other geographic region. Muslims are more likely to pray daily than any other religious affiliation. You might posit the following questions: What issues do White Protestants and Black Protestants differ on? Is it possible that people who attend college will decrease attendance at religious services? Why might religiosity be decreasing and spirituality be increasing in the United States?
Next, visit www.pewresearch.org. Click on the Religion tab, which will take you to the Religion and Public Life Forum. Begin with the tab “data and resources.” This will take you to three major datasets: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Global Religious Futures, and Religion and Politics. Start to look for statistics that might reveal something about your topic. Cut and paste useful charts into a PowerPoint slide or other presentation software.
Begin exploring other webpages on this site. You will find recent publications, interactive maps on a variety of topics, and news articles about religious issues. Try to find two or three additional pieces of evidence about your topic. Create one PowerPoint slide for each major finding.
In the end, you should have about five distinct slides, which will take you between 5-10 minutes to present to the class. Introduce your research question or hypothesis in your first slide. Use slides two through four to outline your main findings. Try to include graphs, photos, or other visuals to engage the audience. Use your fifth slide for conclusions. Did you find anything you didn’t expect? How might you explore this topic further if you had to?
OPTIONAL: As you complete this assignment, you might consider some additional questions. Did this assignment add to your understanding of racial and ethnic minority groups? How? Would you say that religion is an important part of group life in the United States? In what ways? Which of the minority groups you have covered in this course is the most religious? Why?
ASSIGNMENT 2: What’s in a Song?
Music is an important part of youth culture and identity. Walk across any college campus and you will see headphones on three-quarters of the students walking by you. People use music for many different reasons. You might listen to music as a way to help you relax after a stressful day, as a way to get motivated to exercise at the gym, as a way to pass the time in your car on a long commute, or as a way to cheer you up as you are getting ready to go out. Because music is so intricately tied to things we find pleasurable, it is often easy to disconnect from the lyrics of our favorite songs. This assignment requires you to actively and consciously engage with the music that is such a dominant presence in your life.
The class will be broken up into several small groups. Each group will be given a different set of lyrics.* Do a quick poll to see who has heard of the song before. If someone in the group knows the song, start off by asking that person what they think the song is about. Then, have one member of your group read the lyrics out loud.
Discuss the overall meaning of the song. What is the song about? How do you know? Consider the manifest content as well as the possible underlying meaning of the lyrics. Who is the song about? What are the dominant beliefs or values being promoted in the song? If you have heard of the song before, were your assumptions about what the song was about met? If not, why?
Evaluate the song more specifically for race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social class and religion. What does the song teach us about these social relations? What stereotypes are presented in the song? Do the lyrics reinforce stereotypes or challenge them? How do you know? Connect the song to a concept, ideology or theory that has been discussed in this book.
Next, think about who is singing the song. What do you know about the musician (i.e. gender, race, age)? What genre of music does this song come out of (e.g. country, hip hop, pop, folk, jazz)? Who do you think is the target audience of this song? (You may use your computers or Smartphones to look up this information if you have never heard of the artist before.) How might the meaning of the song change if the status of the musician changed? For example, what if a song by a male artist was now song by a female artist? Or what if a song with provocative lyrics was now song by a Christian gospel band? What if the intended audience changed? Would the song receive the same appeal if the audience were children or the elderly? People living in Iran or out in the Maasai Mara of Kenya?
After class, individually or with members of your group, look up the music video associated with this song. What is your general reaction to hearing the song and seeing the video? How do the visuals relate to the lyrics? Does the video change the meaning of the song or present any new or different stereotypes that contradict the original message of the lyrics? Explain.
In the next class, be prepared to share what you found with the rest of the class. After each group is done presenting about their song, discuss the similarities or patterns that these songs share, as well as what makes them different.
Now here is the more difficult part of the assignment—pick your favorite song and go through this assignment again. Think critically about the lyrics and the meaning of the song. Consider the manifest and latent ideologies that are being promoted. Consider whether or not stereotypes are being challenged or promoted. Watch the video. What does this add to the meaning of the song? Does critically analyzing the song change anything for you? Why or why not?
Each group, or the instructor, may select the song to be analyzed. There are many websites that post lyrics of song, so getting the lyrics to a song is generally quite easy. A good way to pick song lyrics is to go with what is currently popular. You can find a recent list of Billboard Top Songs, look at ITunes top songs of the week, see what songs and musicians have recently won music awards, or even go to YouTube for popular music. The goal would be to just find a couple of songs that deal directly or indirectly with race, ethnicity, class or gender. You could also poll the class about their favorite songs and use them as a starting point. Websites like Sociology Source (http://sociologysource.squarespace.com) also provide great examples of songs that relate to sociological concepts and topics.
ASSIGNMENT 3: Gender, Sexuality and Bullying
Millions of children each year will be the victims of bullying. The documentary Bully provides a human face to this problem through an examination of five youth and their families.* As you view the film, pay particular attention to the role that gender, femininity and masculinity, and sexuality play in the lives of these young people. Consider what solutions might address this epidemic.
Begin by visiting the Bully Project website associated with this film, www.bullyproject.com. The website provides many useful tools for educators, parents, students and activists. Explore some of the things this site has to offer—questions to consider, synopsis of the film, background information on the main characters, and strategies for creating safe school communities.
The story of Alex is perhaps a common one when it comes to students with special needs. Why do you think students like Alex are often the target of bullying? Why do you think Alex refers to his bullies as his “friends”? When you consider Alex’s situation, think about how expectations of masculinity might also play a role in his victimization, how his male cohorts treat him, and how he resists and deals with the bullying he faces. As Jessie Klein suggests in her book The Bully Society, how do masculine imperatives make bullying seem “normal” for young boys?
Hegemonic femininity and masculinity, and heteronormative cultural scripts might suggest that Kelby’s story can be seen as reflective of many LGBT youth who face harassment in America today. Yet Kelby seems quite resilient. Why do you think this is? What factors seem to contribute to Kelby’s ability to stay strong in the face of such homophobic bullying and harassment? Consider the concept of gender policing, or the pressure to conform to gender expectations through constant surveillance of ourselves and others (Klein 2012). What are Kelby’s experiences with gender policing? How does she resist the pressure to conform?
Compare the lives of Kelby and Alex to the two young men in the film who commit suicide, Tyler Long and Ty Smalley. Why do some children respond differently when faced with similar types of bullying? How might we teach children to become resilient like Kelby or Alex? Is it possible to teach resilience?
Researchers have begun to examine the bully-victim; a person who responds to being a victim of bullying by actually becoming the aggressor. The story behind Ja’Meya best exemplifies this. She is arrested after bringing a gun on the school bus and threatening some students in what she says was an effort to try to intimidate those who had been relentlessly bullying her on the drive to school every day. She is also the only African American depicted in the film. Does her treatment by law enforcement officers surprise you? Why or why not? To what extent do you think it is problematic that the only African American in the film is also the only one who is seen in juvenile detention? Consider the concept of modern or symbolic racism when responding to this question.
What do we learn from the parents of a bullied child? Think about the roles of mothers and fathers in the film, as well as the intersection between race, social class, religion, and gender when it comes to parents. How are parents constructed in the film? In what ways do these families reinforce gender, race, religion and social class norms? In what ways do some of these parents challenge these things?
There is no easy solution to the problem of bullying. Think about the anti-bullying efforts of your middle and high school. Did they work? Why or why not? If the problem of bullying is intricately tied to issues of gender, sexuality, race and social class, how might solutions to bullying incorporate these intersections? Brainstorm some solutions to this pervasive problem.
Klein, Jessie. 2012. The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools. NY: NYU Press.
*This assignment relies on your library having an institutional copy of the film, Bully, or your professor requesting copyright permission to show this film in class. Visit the Bully Project website for additional information.
ASSIGNMENT 4: Survival and Promotion of Endangered Languages
Many sociologists and anthropologists argue that without language, there can be no culture. Language binds people together, facilitates cooperation and education among groups of people, and is the avenue for sharing and sustaining stories, songs, religion, rituals, and norms of a society.
This piece of culture is in danger though. Over the past 500 years, about half of all languages have become extinct. Today, the United Nations estimates that there are about 6,000 languages in existence but that nearly half will disappear by the end of the century. The disappearance of a language most often represents a broader power struggle in society. Throughout history, dominant groups have tried to suppress language as a method of oppression and control of indigenous people in particular. For example, in 1870, the U.S. government began forcing Native Americans into boarding schools, demanding that they leave their families behind and relinquish their indigenous language for English. This policy to assimilate, written as an effort to “civilize” “savage” people, institutionalized racist practices against Native Americans. Many Native Americans have given accounts of abuse and hostility that they faced in boarding schools, an experience that stripped them of their language but also of their identity and culture.
Throughout the world, war, ethnic cleansing, and compulsory education continue to destroy languages and, essentially, the cultures of oppressed people. This assignment will help you understand and appreciate the importance of saving endangered languages.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have spearheaded efforts to identify and revitalize dying languages. Begin by visiting UNESCO’s website (www.unesco.org) and searching for the “Endangered languages” page. Read up on the importance of linguistic diversity and the type of projects the United Nations is undertaking to maintain language vitality.
Locate the “Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger” on UNESCO’s website. Pick a country that you would like to investigate and see how many languages are considered vulnerable, endangered, or extinct. Click on the interactive map to learn more about each language. Pick one of the vulnerable or endangered languages to explore further.
Find out everything you can about the language you picked. Although UNESCO will provide basic information about the location where the language is spoken and approximately how many people who speak this language are still alive, move your search beyond UNESCO to learn everything you can about the location, people, and history of the language. In particular, try to find out why this language is becoming extinct. UNESCO provides a “Resources” link that includes websites and online resources, but you should use the Internet and your school’s library to gather as much information as you can.
Since many disappearing languages exist only through oral tradition, many linguists are trying to record disappearing languages. Try to see if you can find an audio file of the language you picked. National Geographic has a channel on YouTube called “Enduring Voices” that might provide a good starting point for your search.
Whether or not you are able to find an audio file of the language, look for an expert you can interview about it. This might include an academic who studies the topic, an official at the U.S. embassy for the language’s country of origin, or even your friend’s grandmother who grew up in that country. Ask if you can record the interview so you can include it in your presentation.
Create a presentation to share with your class on the endangered language that you researched. In an effort to make this presentation as engaging as possible, try to include as much audio and visual content as you can find.
The goals of this presentation should be to (1) inform your audience about the significance of the language you studied, (2) teach your audience about the people and place from which this language comes, (3) identify why and how this language has become endangered, and (4) convince the audience that language preservation is intricately tied to the preservation of culture.
Since there are thousands of languages and not a lot is known about many of them, share your findings with the public. Return to one of the websites or educational centers you visited during your search for information. E-mail a copy of your presentation to a person in charge. You never know, your presentation may provide much-needed research on an endangered language and may help increase the likelihood that the language you studied will remain in existence.