Saturday, August 14, 2010

Capon Springs and Farms

... is a wonderful place for a family reunion and vacation.

See you in a week!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Giddens - How We Remake the Social Structure Daily

Anthony Giddens is an almost impenetrably abstract social theorist. But he is really smart, so my theory class will slog through his The Constitution of Society.

A running problem in social theory is that from the macro perspective, society seems to reproduce its main social structures. Yet from the micro perspective, we seem free to choose how we act.

Giddens offers the interesting idea that it is in the ritual interactions of day-to-day life that we reproduce the social structure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

White Privilege is Not the Same as Racism

Today at Centre we are using Beverley Tatum's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" in a discussion of white privilege. This is a useful book, especially for this point.

Tatum offers a definition of racism based on social structures: a system of advantage based on race. She contrasts this with a definition of racism based on individual prejudices.

Tatum then goes on to say that only whites can be racist. While people of every group may have individual prejudices about different races, only white people in this country reap a systematic advantage from their race.

I think there is one thing right, and two things wrong with Tatum's definition of racism.

What is right is that the structural advantage - the privilege - that some people receive because of their race is a real fact about society, which empowers some people and limits others regardless of their individual qualities. The main kind of racial privilege in our society is white privilege. That makes it an important topic for sociology to teach, and for a college to constantly think about.

The first thing that is wrong with Tatum's definition of racism, though, is that it is simply not true that white people are the only group to enjoy a structural advantage in America based on race. American society is complex, and racial judgments figure in to all kinds of group opportunities, including the entire complex of affirmative action. White privilege is the main racial privilege in American society today, but it is not the only one.

The second thing that is wrong with Tatum's definition of racism is that a structural advantage is not an "ism." A structural advantage is a fact, an objective privilege. Racism would be an ideology justifying that fact. To take a closely related distinction that I have worked on a great deal, diversity is a fact; pluralism is an ideology justifying that fact.

White privilege is a real structural fact. The greatest privilege of the privileged is not realizing that they (we) are privileged; the advantage is just a fact. The point of exercises like the one we are doing at Centre College today is to make everyone aware of the fact of white privilege so that we can justly evaluate, in this case, potential students at the college. But acknowledging the fact of structural advantage does not entail justifying it, does not require us to say that whites deserve our privilege.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Do We Need Ds?

Mt. Olive school district in New Jersey has abolished the grade of D. At first I thought this was an instance of grade inflation, or self-esteem inflation. As I read their reasons, though, I am not sure what to think.

The district thought some students were calculating what they needed to just scrape by, and doing the minimum. This is undoubtedly true. The school figured that if they raised the minimum, those kids would raise their level of work, too. This is also probably true.

I learned some years ago a scale of what grades mean that I have found helpful.
A = Demonstrates excellence
B = Demonstrates competence
C = Suggests competence [this is the heart of the system]
D = Suggests incompetence
E, F, U = Demonstrates incompetence

In my classes, the difference between a D and a C is almost always a matter of working harder, not of having sufficient brainpower. When I spell out how I interpret a C vs. a D, this often gets the slackers to work a bit harder.

Still, I am sure that if the next step below "suggests competence" was "demonstrates incompetence," those same students would work harder still.

Do perhaps we do not need the D.

I would welcome your thoughts.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Well-Planned: Summoned as Male: Female?

David Brooks has an interesting column comparing the "well-planned life" with the "summoned life." In the former, people figure out what their priorities are and adjust their plans to reach those priorities. In the latter, people make large commitments without a life plan, then adapt to what each new context requires.

Brooks' point is that the well-planned life is very American, whereas the summoned life is more common in other nations.

It seems to me clear that the well-planned life is a more characteristically male way of thinking about life, whereas the summoned life is more characteristically female.

Brooks concludes "they are both probably useful for a person trying to live a well-considered life." It is hard for me to see how he envisions one person living by both standards, but I can sort of discern it. It is easier for me to see how a family might give full justice to the wisdom of both views, especially if the married couple at the core of the family embrace each in a complementary way.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque - Yes

I think having a mosque near Ground Zero is as normal and American as having any of the churches, synagogues, or other places of worship that are already there.

To have a Muslim center that is explicitly aimed at promoting peace and understanding between Muslims and others is a particularly good thing.

I don't really think any of this really needs saying. Alas, it does. So, as a Christian and a patriot, yes, please, build a dialogue-oriented mosque near the former World Trade Center site.