Thursday, May 17, 2012

More Good News from Burma: An Ambassador

Burma is slowly heading away from the bizarre military dictatorship they have suffered under for decades, and toward democracy.

Secretary of State Clinton announced today that, as a result of these improvements, the United States will be reducing some long-standing sanctions.

And for the first time in 22 years, we will appoint an ambassador to Burma.

I hope that will not have to wait more than a year to see President Aung San Suu Kyi welcome the President of the United States to a fully democratic Burma.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Consumer-Oriented Research Methods Class?

I am contemplating a heresy is sociology teaching: a "Research Methods" class aimed at educating consumers, rather than producers, of sociological research.

(I mean, of course, consumers of research - people who read statistics in the newspapers, for example - not consumers of commodities.)

This fall I will be teaching "Research Methods" for the first time.  I have been able to avoid this task for so long because my excellent colleague has borne that duty.  Alas, she is moving on.

I have always been skeptical of a free-standing methods class.  Looking at methods textbooks and beginning statistics texts confirms my sense that studying methods at a distance from a real problem that you are researching is impossibly dry.

On the other hand, I am a firm believer that half the job of teaching is helping students become culturally literate about what they should already know, and discerning consumers of what new knowledge they meet in the future.

So I have been thinking about teaching "Research Methods" aimed primarily at understanding the research that others have done and are trying to persuade us with.  This applies to classic studies as well as to the avalanche of election statistics flowing over us.

We would, of course, do some actual number crunching to get the hang of it.  I am thinking of giving each student a year of the General Social Survey to answer questions with.

But I would welcome your help in thinking about what a consumer-oriented research methods class would look like.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Marilynne Robinson Week 1: Housekeeping

This week I am reading the works of Marilynne Robinson.

Her first novel, Housekeeping (1980), takes her central character, a young teenager named Ruth, to the physical and emotional edge of civilization. Her parents disappear and she and her sister go to live with their grandmother in a tiny lumber town on a huge lake in Idaho. When grandma dies, their not-quite-of-this-world aunt comes to care of them.

Ruth and Aunt Sylvia start loosely connected to the world. They attempt housekeeping as a normal connection with the world. This proves harder and harder. I won't say more about the plot.

I am reading Robinson as a serious Christian author.  She does have some deep comments about perceiving reality.

Still, do novels have to be about unhappy people in peculiar situations?