Teaching as an Occupation

There is something peculiar about the notion that teaching is an occupation. Everybody does it: every parent and every employer tries to be calm while explaining to a child or a worker what it is they aren’t doing quite properly or how to do a task better. If explanation is provided with patience, then children and workers are likely to have a more positive attitude towards their tasks—though, on the other hand, if a lesson is reinforced with a spanking or a dressing down, then children and employees are likely to learn how important it is they learn their lesson well. Teachers are similarly divided between those who think that sticks or carrots, whether in the forms of grades, or informal praise and criticism, are the ways to advance student learning. Presumably, and contrary to the teacher unions, anyone of good will and patience and an education a little bit superior to that of their students, could be a teacher.

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Moral and Immoral Child-Rearing

I want to propose a philosophical question and then answer it with a bit of counter-intuitive sociology, and then address why people persist in availing themselves of the usual philosophical conclusion. The philosophical question is the age at which children take on moral responsibility, the so called age of consent. The usual moral answer is that children reach the age of consent when they are capable of managing their own lives, at least in the sphere in which their ability to give consent is at issue. They are supposed to be able to evaluate information and their own emotions and so give informed consent to their own action and the action of others. The law in most states sets sixteen as the age at which people can agree to sexual relations and twenty one as the age at which people can purchase alcohol. But it proves impossible to give an accurate definition to this leaping off point for adulthood. Why a particular age for one thing and a different age for another? What changes in a person that they become morally responsible or is it just that age is just a rule of thumb for developmental processes recognized to happen but not very well understood?

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Social "Wars"

Wars in the modern age are fought to preserve and protect the ability of a nation’s population to pursue its own purposes rather than the purposes of its enemies. The Nazis thought their way of life was endangered by the Jews and the governments they controlled and the Soviets thought their country was threatened by the capitalist world that engulfed it. That is different from previous times when wars were fought to expand territory or capture natural resources. In fact, international law now holds a war of aggression to be illegitimate, while wars of self defense are legitimate. What counts is whether decisions people make as to their vocations or how they are subject to criminal law are matters which their own nation controls. We fought World War II to allow fans to call the umpire blind, though I don’t know that German soccer referees were not subject to similar abuse.

We also fight social wars, which means campaigns to allow people to continue with their ordinary way of life, getting up to go to work and take a vacation in the summer, without the intrusion of disease or crime, much less foreign invasion. That is the case with homeless shelters, which are referred to as programs rather than as wars, though they share with other social wars, such as the War on Poverty or the War on Cancer, the idea that resources will be mobilized so as to confront a problem or a threat to ordinary life that will eventually be overcome. Smallpox was eradicated, as was polio. Homeless shelters allow people to negotiate what is for them the very burdensome task of making it through the day, no other purpose able to supplant that one, while most people can take their households to be the site from which they can negotiate their purposes rather than their sole purpose becoming the maintenance of a household.

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Encapsulated Lives: The Aims of Racial Segregation

People are universally required to rationalize the relationship between the foreground and background of life so that they can go about dealing with their activities as a set of purposes not too often interrupted by items in the background of life, as happens when, let us say, people step into dog do-do when they are emerging, elegantly dressed, from a limo. One way to do that to create a stable equilibrium whereby the arena of background matters is put on hold by segregating them from the foreground events, though this may be at the cost of a heightened anxiety about the ability to maintain the truce. The lives of one group is encapsulated so that the members of that group can keep in the foreground what matters to them. An easy example of this is a retirement community. It provides physical security and other amenities that will appeal to old people who are becoming fragile so that they can go on with what seems to them a more or less normal set of activities even if these are somewhat more restricted than the lives that were led when people were living in “normal” communities. There are vans to take you from one place to another, to concerts and to downtown; there are walking trails so one can follow one’s doctor’s orders to exercise; there are small supermarkets so that one does not have to deal with the hustle and bustle of the outside world to get one’s shopping done. Political lectures and folk singers are brought “on campus”. All this is done so as to make life as stable for as long as possible before a resident is moved into the even more secure area of a nursing home.  

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Pretty People

Here is a controversial issue that can be illuminated through the use of sociological role theory. There are a number of  asymmetries between the sexes that feminists regard as unfair or unjust or to be remedied by social action. Women have weaker upper body strength, but that should not bar them from going into combat because some women can meet rigorous physical standards. Other asymmetries are regarded by feminists as just the way it is. Women are supposed to believe in compromise while men are stuck with a rigid sense of justice. Men live, on average, seven years less than women, but that is outside the interest group to which feminists find themselves responsible.

Let us turn to what may be a more essential asymmetry in that it has to do with the everyday conduct of the sexes. Attractiveness is something with which only women have to struggle. Men may clean up for a date but hardly primp the way women do even if they are also anxious about how the date will go. Women, for their part, are the sex that dresses up in tight fitting clothes, high heels and makeup so as to appear at their most attractive to a date or even at a meeting in a workplace. So women work hard at being attractive, even if there are bounds to which men must restrict themselves in looking at well turned out women, not “checking them out” for too long, or making remarks that are too appreciative of how nice they look in their presentation of themselves, for then it might be understood that the women were being judged on their looks rather than on their other qualities, though to be judged at least passingly on looks is the reason for gussying up in the first place.

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Smarts

People have higher or lesser amounts of that quality that is known as intelligence or more generally and perhaps more accurately as “smarts” because the former term connotes being good at standardized tests while the latter term means being good at having insight and turning that to the solution of problems of one sort or another. People think it is important to have smarts or at least be smart enough to manage their lives.  They can claim to have emotional intelligence rather than book intelligence and to intuit situations rather than verbalize a description of situations. Fredo told his brother, Michael Corleone, that he was also smart, by which he meant that he could do things: strike up deals, carry out instructions-- even though those were just the things he was bad at. People can also define their smarts by relative comparisons. The higher functioning residents of a home for the retarded will regard the lower functioning residents as "dummies". Most people infer the intelligence or smarts of people by consulting whether or not they are articulate, can memorize or master procedures, whether they have a fund of general knowledge, and whether they are savvy about managing one or another situation, whether within a family or at business. An uneducated person can be regarded as smart if he or she can get relatives to do what is wanted of them.

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Untrustworthy People

 All people are to some extent or other trustworthy. We trust people to keep their word or show up at work or to respect a confidence-- most of the time. It would be very difficult for social life to proceed if this were not the case. We would find ourselves in some feral case of society, a Hobbesian world where all doors had to be locked, people always asked to show their credentials, people always looking over their shoulders, unless there were an all pervasive state to look to the enforcement of what are generally considered normal states of freedom or lack of fear. And all people are also sometimes or other untrustworthy in that they lapse in picking up things at the store, can be unfaithful to their spouses, and in many different ways shade the truth to leave an impression that does not square with the truth.  

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Old People

Old is a demographic category and as such is a role based on a noun, just as are the roles of mother and soldier. People are old when they are eligible for Social Security, which was set at sixty five when the Social Security Act was passed in 1935 and is moving up from there. Old is also when one has reached retirement age, which used to mean, in the academic community, reaching the age of seventy. Old is more imprecisely defined as when one's body shows the signs of aging to the point that it makes sense to prescribe drugs on the basis of protocols established for old people rather than protocols designed for adults. Age is not just a number but it is that as well. Ask a seventy year old whether he or she would rather be thirty.

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