Discussing ideologies and hegemony in a 1000 level class….

In my last post, I wrote about the first couple of weeks of the class I’m teaching this semester. I’m trying to post more regularly this semester to write and reflect on how this class is going. So the rest of this post makes more sense if you’ve already read the first post about this class!

When I last wrote, we had discussed the Framework for Information Literacy. They had a new homework assignment, which would be due on our next meeting day – one week later, since Monday classes were cancelled in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

For Wed, Jan 21, the students were required to find two encyclopedia definitions of ideology and then watch a provided video. They then had to post to their class blogs, summarizing the explanations and answering a few questions. In class, they started with another short writing exercise to get the topic fresh in their minds (a couple of sentences about what an ideology is and how ideologies relate to discussions about Ferguson), and then we discussed what they had found. It’s a challenging topic, so we spent a lot of time talking about examples. I wish I had written right afterward, when the discussion was fresher in my mind. My concern about the discussion is that I might have confused them by complicating the concept too much. For challenging concepts like this, it’s difficult to know what the right balance is between an overly simplistic overview and getting in too deep. I had this problem when I taught anthropology, too – how do you condense this idea that you’ve spent so much time studying into just one or two 50-minute lectures? (Now I go for discussions, but the anthropology class I taught was a lecture course with 225 students one semester and 180 the next!) I hope I’m just being insecure and that they weren’t as confused as I fear!

For the next class period, Mon, Jan 26, they had a similar assignment – find an engaging and useful source that explains cultural hegemony, and then write a blog post responding to a few questions and including a link to the source they found. Some clearly were still struggling with the concepts, based on what they posted, but some really impressed me! I think this was my favorite video a student found:

So guess what we discussed in class on Monday last week? Again, it’s a challenging concept, and I’m not confident they all left class totally understanding it. After class, I went back through their blog posts to comment, and wound up deciding to write a wrap-up post, pulling together some of the examples from various students’ blogs. I hope that, between the class discussion, comments on their blogs, and the wrap-up post, they’re getting it.

After discussing hegemony, we segued into discussing how they determined which sources would be good to use – what made you think the information was credible? We wound up running out of time… Which tends to happen in there. Some of the students show up as much as an hour early – which I know because I try to go over about that time to make sure the tables are arranged in a rectangle, so we can all sit in a “circle” to talk… And they’ll ask questions and talk about class stuff (questions about an assignment, comments about a discussion or homework, etc), instead of just sitting there wanting to quietly work on other stuff while waiting. It is really awesome to have such engaged students!

For Wed, they read the logical fallacies listed at Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies and the list of rhetological fallacies from Information is Beautiful. Their assigned blog post was to compare and contrast the lists – what is similar, which are different, which are the same fallacy by different names, etc.

In class on Wed, we wrapped up talking about evaluation criteria, framed as things to pay attention to when deciding whether a source is credible, not as a strict checklist. And then we shifted into an exercise I’ve used in class in past semesters to practice identifying logical fallacies. I gave them a worksheet that had a cheat-sheet listing of some fallacies on one side and then showed a clip of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit (the GMO food discussion from the Eat This episode). It’s pretty profanity-laden, so wouldn’t be appropriate in a K-12 classroom, but this is college – so I told them to pay attention to when and how they cuss. So we watched maybe 10 minutes of that and then spent the rest of the class period talking about the ridiculous number of examples we could identify from that short amount of time.

Their homework for today was to find an article or news video on something related to the discussions raised by the Ferguson protests and the #BlackLivesMatter movement – so pretty much anything related to racial disparities in the US. I encouraged them to find something that they want to know more about, so that it can help them gain some information toward developing a research question. But, it needed to present an argument so that there would be at least one logical-fallacy-as-rhetorical-device they could identify in the article/video. For their blog post, they had to explain the fallacy they found and how it was used in that source, evaluate the impact of that fallacy, and then also try to identify an ideological perspective that the source supports. I skimmed them before class, but need to take some time tomorrow to comment on those.

In class today, I opened with mentioning that we’re now in Black History Month and we talked about that a little bit. And then shifted into talking about “what is research”, and how college level research differs from the expectations for a high school research paper. And then asked whether relying too heavily on published research supports hegemonic perspectives. We talked about some of the inequalities in the education system in general, focusing on the ways those inequalities add up to affect who is more likely to have a prestigious educational pedigree, and then how that can affect their ability to get published. Blind peer review can help some, by not letting the reviewer know if the author is from Harvard or MIT or backwater-university-I’ve-never-heard-of, but it doesn’t wipe out the discrepancies in terms of intersectional privileges that affect chances of a person being in a position to publish. So how does that affect the content of what gets published? And what does all of that mean for our ability to do research if we want to break out of the dominant narratives?

And that’s where we are now. On Wed, I’m planning to talk a bit about developing research questions and then give them time to brainstorm ideas in pairs or groups of 3. They will each be working toward a final project:

This spring, you will all develop research questions delving into issues related to the Ferguson movement. Examples include researching police brutality, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the school-to-prison pipeline, racial disparities in education, continuing effects of residential patterns like redlining, white-flight, and gentrification, examining the intersectionality of privilege, and many other related topics. We will spend time during the semester developing your research questions. I encourage you to make sure to find an issue that you care about and want to know more about for your own gain, not just to meet a requirement in this course. You will search for sources to help answer your research question, and use those to complete the 4 inter-related components below.

The components are an annotated bibliography, a research proposal, a social media presentation, and a final in class presentation. So 4 different ways of presenting pretty much the same research.

Before I wrap this up, some credits are due. I borrowed the ideology and cultural hegemony assignments from a class co-taught by a couple of my colleagues, Jessica Critten and Craig Schroer, in the spring 2014 semester. And Jessica and Craig also deserve credit for the exercise using Penn & Teller to practice picking out logical fallacies in an argument. They came up with that one a bit longer ago, so I’ve used that one a few times already! It feels odd that most of the assignments discussed in this post are pretty much straight up copied from colleagues… But it’s also really great to have that sort of collaborative relationship with colleagues, so we share assignments and ideas pretty regularly!