Introduction to Anthropology, Sociology, and Psychology is affectionately known around my school as “SAP.” But lest the title throw you off, you won’t find any mawkishness or naivete in Ms. Antflick’s class – I’m hoping for some serious, bare knuckled inquiry. The grade 11s can handle it.
I gave a lot of thought to this course before the school year began, and my colleagues and I came up with a great course outline, structured around several BIG QUESTIONS about humanity. I was going into September feeling pretty good about the whole thing. But the boss’s words were bouncing around my skull: “They make up their minds about you in the first 45 seconds.” Gulp. I brainstormed, refined, scrapped, and reworked that first lesson for a week. Then, sitting in a traffic jam chewing on my cuticles one afternoon after a particularly grueling day spent wrassling for a chance to use the photocopier, I had an idea.
I’d make them study me.
I wrote on the board: Please have a seat and look at the handout in front of you. On each of their desks was a handout beginning with the following invitation:
“Dear social scientist in training:
Our school has been asked to participate in an important social scientific study, and you have been recruited as research assistants. This study will begin today and continue until June, 2011. You will be collecting qualitative data in an attempt to understand Subject EA in terms of her behaviour, the way she is socialized, and her role in various social groups and institutions.
Please have a seat and observe the subject in front of you (Subject EA). You may get up and examine the artifacts associated with her. Please do not attempt to talk to or interact with Subject EA. You have 10 minutes to complete your research.”
There was a chart underneath with a few questions. I brought in a bunch of artifacts – a can of tennis balls, my ipod, my MA thesis, a canoe paddle, etc. I displayed them on the table in front of me, Then I sat there, silently, for over 10 minutes. Imagine! 10 minutes of silence on the first day of school – amidst all the “do this, don’t do that” course overview blah blah. I walked around, purposely biting my nails and twirling my hair, bopping to the music on my ipod (I’m pretty sure it was DOOM), crossing my ankles on the desk. I refused to talk to them or answer their questions.
Not only did they do it enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, they even asked for more time to fill in the worksheet! I overheard a couple of students discussing my outfit in detail, “Yeah, high waisted gray pants and…are those wedges? Yeah, black wedges.”
They totally got it. The spirit of inquiry was in the air – students were discussing their observations with one another, getting up and approaching the desk, examining the artifacts, scrutinizing my behaviour. It was fascinating for me to be observed, and to observe the way the students handled the task. In our debriefing, they made insightful comments about why they thought I did the activity and what it was all about.
This lesson served several purposes. It set the tone for the year – the students learned that this is going to be a course unlike anything they’ve taken before, and it’s going to be up to them to observe and inquire and figure the damn thing out. Second, it was a good diagnostic. For example, I learned that when you ask teenagers what social group someone belongs to, you are likely to get answers like “popular” or “the sporty clique.” It drove the point home that the world is our lab and that the social sciences are all about examining the world and ourselves.
Here’s the handout I gave them – Handout: HSP3M Intro