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The Ingredients to Engaging Students

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A book written in 1960 found in a basement.  When we let our imaginations run a bit, the book could be perfect
"fodder" for a class discussion in a variety of disciplines.  Let's see how.

 

The book is called “Those We Love” by Alan Beck. As you can tell even from the cover of the book, it’s about the gender roles Americans often played (somewhat idealized) in that era.

 

ThoseWeLoveCover_web.jpg

 

 A few of the chapter titles:

 

  1. What is a Girl?
  2. What is a Boy?
  3. What is a Mother?
  4. What is a Father?
  5. What is a Family?

As you can imagine, the book is FILLED with 1960s stereotypes.

 

A wife is a girl whose doll is wrapped in tissue and packed away in the closet, a girl with a packet of letters at the bottom of her glove box and a snapshot album that is never opened — each a fragile link with girlhood, each so treasured and so forgotten. Now she lives in a hurried world: get that man up, turn on that stove, fry that egg, tote that wash, lift that furniture, paint that floor till the back has 17 kinks. Then he comes home and asks, “What did you do today, dear?

 

A little girl likes new shoes, party dresses, small animals, first grade, noise makers, the girl next door, dolls, make-believe, dancing lessons, ice cream, kitchens, coloring books, make-up, cans of water, going visiting, tea parties…

MomCookingTurkey_web.jpg

 

 

[Boys] like ice cream, knives, saws, Christmas, comic books, the boy across the street, woods, water (in its natural habitat), large animals, Dad, trains, Saturday mornings, and fire engines. He is not much for Sunday School, company, schools, books without pictures, music lessons, neckties, barbers, girls, overcoats, adults, or bedtime.

Our Faculty Partners, who teach in a variety of disciplines, saw all kinds of ways this book could be used to spark class discussion and activities.

 

History

 

I like to talk about "What's for dinner" in my history classes. 

  1. How much time did people spend preparing meals? 
  2. What is the content? 
  3. How does your social class impact your meal today and historically?

@SherriSinger

 

Law and Ethics

One of the courses I teach is law and ethics. A key piece of the course is for students to reflect on their own biases and develop the ability to look at situations from an objective position. This book would be a great tool to facilitate a  discussion related to working with the elderly population. Questions such as:

  1. What surprised you when you read the book? 
  2. What connections can you make between the book and your patients' behaviors in the healthcare environment?
  3. How and where might you use your new knowledge?

@Maggie_Major

 


DadHangsCurtains_web.jpg

 

 

Criminal Justice

Being a criminologist who examines female criminality this is incredibly important and interesting! All original theories of female criminality are built out of gender stereotypes! Here are just a few:

  1. Chivalry Hypothesis: The criminal justice field is dominated by male actors with discretion. When they come across female criminals they see their mothers, daughters, etc., and do not arrest, press charges, etc. So even if women are committing crimes they aren’t getting in trouble.
  2. Masculinity Hypothesis: Women who commit crimes have masculine features like excessive body hair, large head, moles, wrinkles, etc.
  3. Penis Envy: Women commit crimes because they are jealous they don’t have a penis. The alternative is replacing the lack of a penis with a baby or maternal instincts.

All of our examination of female crime is focused on sexuality, often looking at prostitution/premarital sex. I would love to have my students examine a book like this and discuss how these stereotypes have led to our theories of female criminality!

 @emmaleigh_kirchner

 

Psychology

As a psych teacher, my goal would be to talk about the book in terms of the topic of Gender Roles. I’d like students to have a better understanding of the roles women, men, boys and girls were expected to fulfill in that era and how those roles have changed or not changed.

Here’s an activity I would try. It’s an informal content analysis:

 

Prep: since I want students to be able to “play around” with some of the actual of the book, I would use a smartphone app such as TextGrabber to take photos of many of the pages from these sections of the book “What is a boy?”, “What is a girl?”, “What is a Wife?”, and “What is a Husband” and then have TextGrabber convert the text in the image to text that I can share with my students (through MindTap, our LMS or even a Google doc). Then I would:

 

  1. Have the students work in groups of 2 or at most 3
  2. Ask them to read through the text of “What is a boy?” and pull out all the adjectives and adverbs to see how boys are described by the author
  3. Ask them to read through the text of “What is a Girl?” and pull out all the adjectives and adverbs to see how boys are described by the author
  4. The same thing can be done with “What is a Wife” and “What is a Husband”.
  5. Ask students to share what they’ve learned about how boys, girls, husbands and wives are “supposed” to act like according to the author.

The results of this exercise could lead to a discussion on the effect of books like this on children as they grow:

  1. Does what you’ve found explain, at least partially, why boys are often not as aware of their emotions as girls?
  2. Does it explain why girls are often reluctant to be assertive?

A tool that might help students conduct this analysis is Note.ly or Lino

@michael_britt

 

 

 

GirlWithSewingMachine_web.jpg

 

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Communication

In communication classes, we think and talk a lot about how language choices shape understandings about things like gender roles.

  1. I might assign a creative writing project in which students re-write this piece to match our current reality—which would lead them to think more deeply and critically about gender role stereotypes in our own era.
  2. Another writing activity could be to ask students to interview someone about gender roles circa 1960 and then write their own version of this piece based on what they learn. In other words, does this reflect the lived reality of the person they interviewed? If not, what is different?

@diane_carter

 

Computing

 

We could definitely have some great discussions in computing classes about this topic, [especially around the issue of why there are so few women in the STEM sciences.  I would have students read this research:] The Impact of Gender Stereotypes on the Self-Concept of Female Students in STEM Subjects with an Und... 

 @Sandy_Keeter

 

Economics

I used to teach a class called 'The Economics of Discrimination, Poverty and Inequality". If I imagine myself teaching that class with that book in hand, I would ask my students to read the book and then answer the following questions:

  1. Was this book one of the means for shaping or justifying women's educational and career aspirations in the 1960s?
  2. Was this book one of the means for disseminating the idea that a "woman's place is the home"?
  3. What other means, besides books, continue to disseminate, shape or justify glass ceiling barriers and gender roles that deny women equal opportunities and/or create and maintain economic inequality?

@zachary_m

 

Activities For Any Discipline

  1. Re-write the book: I might assign a creative writing project in which students re-write this piece to match our current reality—which would lead them to think more deeply and critically about gender role stereotypes in our own era. @diane_carter
  2. Interview Someone: Another writing activity could be to ask students to interview someone about gender roles circa 1960 and then write their own version of this piece based on what they learned. In other words, does this reflect the lived reality of the person they interviewed? If not, what is different? - @diane_carter
  3. Add question prompts to a class discussion board: I would add prompts to a discussion board, not limited to online courses. I find that students are sometimes intimidated to speak aloud in class and need time to digest a topic prior to commenting. Discussion boards, in both seated and online courses, help me to ease students into the idea of reflecting upon a topic and then sharing their perspectives... They just need to be asked their opinions and be provided a safe forum in which to share their thoughts. - @DS_Shellman
  4. Evaluate then and now: It could be an interesting evaluation of then versus now and how gender roles, etc. have evolved (and not) since that time. In fact, some social behaviors may be returning since that publishing as history repeats itself. @DS_Shellman

 

Some of the ingredients to engaging students:

 

  • A rich launching point (in this case a very old book, but a controversial current event could also work)
  • Specific questions or activities to help students "dig deeper" (i.e., not just, "So students - what do you think of this book?"
  • Your imagination. If a current (or past) event or a topic is interesting to you or your students, there's probably a way to tie it in with what you're teaching.

 

NOTE: this book has a 1960s copyright and to my knowledge this copyright has not been renewed, which means that it is in the public domain. Most of the book was scanned by Emma K. Morris and can be read on her site here.

 

 

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Sandy_Keeter
Mentor

This is a great consolidation of classroom activities @michael_britt!

I like to discuss the movie “Hidden Figures” or talk about the “Women of Silicon Valley” to motivate young women in my computing classes!

JS
Contributor

Very cool....  I also use 60 minutes, on Sunday, as a resource to find discussion topics.  Talking about women in STEM, last week it was about the new experiment being worked on to change the DNA and fix some diseases, CRISPR.  I couldn't help but notice all the women in the lab doing the research.  This is a good sign! 

judygreeneyes
Frequent Commenter
I'm coming late to this discussion, but I enjoyed all of the ideas people gave. As a Statistics instructor, I loved the idea from @diane_carter about interviewing someone. The kind of content in this old book would make a great survey topic for my students, who are firming up their plans right now for their final project. They could interview within different age groups on gender roles, even getting input on some of the photos or descriptions. The gender roles conversation is also interesting because many quantitative and qualitative changes have occurred as gender roles changed. More women in the workforce, more women in politics, more influence of female personalities in workplaces (teamwork, for example), lots of financial measures. If you have not seen it, there is a terrific video by the inimitable Hans Rosling called "Hans Rosling and the Magic Washing Machine. https://www.gapminder.org/videos/hans-rosling-and-the-magic-washing-machine/ It looks at the effect that the invention of the washing machine had on the lives of women.