Teaching anthropology in the coming years

Are we preparing the next crop of anthropology PhDs who enter American academe to deal with the great shift in educational culture? With some states trying to pass laws that will enable students to excuse themselves from learning scientific concepts, what sort of undergraduates will populate US universities in the future? How is this going to impact the teaching of anthropology?  I wonder how new professors will be able to teach basic anthropological ideas about evolution, marriage, sex and gender in the coming years.  And then there’s the additional issue of classroom audiotaping. Do you allow students to record your lectures? What if you get a job teaching in a state where conservative activists, often not even students, infiltrate the classrooms of liberal professors with the intent to tape and misrepresent them on the internet?

10 thoughts on “Teaching anthropology in the coming years

  1. Our campus had an incident in which students were selling notes to a publisher. After consulting an attorney, we have in our syllabus that lectures are property of the professors and those who violate that will be prosecuted by the university.

    In terms of audiotaping, students with some disabilities are permitted to audiotape lectures. Therefore, I agree to this with the above understanding.

    With the above taken into account, the syllabus states that no electronic devices are permitted in class and, if in use, will be confiscated for the duration of the class.

    Of course, I have found cell phones stashed between the thighs of students trying to surreptitiously consult their notes while testing during finals. As have others.

    In terms of the conservative backlash against science…it’s not just anthropology, of course. It’s biology in general since the theory of evolution is the umbrella under which biology is nested. It’s geology, since it documents the age of the planet. It’s astronomy and physics since they also inform us of the age of the universe and the natural forces at work.

    Michener predicted this backlash against science years ago in his novel about the move into space research….I

    I believe that we must simply keep on keeping on.

    The biggest challenge is not here. American society has always had large swings between conservatism and liberalism in its history. This too shall pass. And we are not going to abandon science in general because it has the potential, if its findings are well applied, to help solve many social problems.

    Anthropology too has potential here. Archeological findings, such as the discovery of biochar in the Amazon bason and that of ancient farming techniques in the Peruvian highlands have sown the potential to transform modern populations living in conditions of food scarcity. Applied use of concepts related to sustainability, conflict resolution, and medicine all are of critical need in the world today. Students, as ever, are excited to serve.

    Two of my students, both religiously conservative, are serving in at-risk populations and credit their anthropological studies in this: one with refugee resettlement, another with at-risk youth in an education program.

    Perhaps it’s because I’ve done a lot of work outside of the typical anthropological track; perhaps it’s because I came to the Ph.d. in anthropology after undergraduate and master degrees in other fields….but I really think we tend to “Other” the other just as naively as some of our research informants.

    Boundaries are often more permeable and elastic than we assume. Students who cannot accept aspects of what we teach may be open to other aspects and can take them on to do work that John Kennedy called the young to do fifty years ago…as conservatives.

    The challenge to teaching anthropology is that our academic milieu is so focused on bringing in large amounts of monies to institutions with major grants and focused on superstars with major discoveries that can be advertised that the humble, but significant work of holistic approaches to human problem solving seems quaint and irrelevant. Yet it’s essential in globalization processes. I think what is essential is to develop applied anthropology’s visibility and importance and to flaunt its promise.

  2. At the University of Missouri in 2011, an adjunct professor was videotaped during a labor studies class, and an edited and spliced version that misrepresented the material was posted online. Conservatives ranted that “Commie tactics” were being taught using state taxes, that “evil union profs teach violence,” and university staff received threats.Judy Ancel, a UMKC professor who co-taught the course, characterized the smear campaign as “electronic brownshirts” in some interviews, and had some good advice for dealing with the media.

    Also recall the 2006 book, The Professors: 101 Most Dangerous Academic in America, in which right-winger David Horowitz includes profiles on four anthropologists, including two former presidents of the AAA. One of his followers later made an offer of $100 each to any UCLA student who would record lectures by liberal faculty (the offer was retracted after campus organizing).

  3. Ya, this is an interesting issue. But I think the best way to handle it is straight on, in an open manner that encourages dialog and communication–rather than coming up with a whole slew of defensive tactics, restrictions about electronic equipment in the classroom, and all that. I also don’t think it makes much sense to join the whole “Liberals versus conservatives” fray with all of this. That whole narrative is already a ridiculously shallow summation of US politics and I think anthropology can help contribute to a more nuanced understanding of what’s going on. The classroom is a good place to start, depending on how we approach these issues.

    As Linda D said above, I think anthropology has a lot of potential here–to change the conversation, and also to explore why these kinds of social and political clashes are happening in the first place. Isn’t that what we do, after all?

    There are always going to be people who disagree, and there are always going to be people like David Horowitz out there trying to use all sorts of tactics to push their agenda (on various sides of the political spectrum). One partial solution, at least in my view, is to get more involved in these public discussions, become more open and visible. This is fertile ground for anthropological perspectives and insights: What are the different perspectives of people involved? What fears do some people have about “academia” or “science”? How is popular media used by various sides? What are some of the different views and experiences of students who come to universities? How does this affect the classroom?

    Again, a lot depends on how we approach certain issues. Sometimes an open mind and empathy can go a long way in the classroom…and beyond it.

  4. Please forgive this off-topic comment, but I feel the need to share an observation regarding Savage Minds in general. When I discovered this website, I was excited because it promised to offer information and insights regarding some of the latest developments in Anthropology. But for some time now it seems that what I’m seeing is lots of academically oriented chitchat regarding this or that aspect of what it means to be an anthropologist in the academic world of today and how students can best be prepared to either enter or be rejected by that world.

    Reading here, one has the impression the field of Anthropology has come to a complete standstill, so all that’s left to talk about is the problems of being an anthropologist in today’s world, rather than what is currently being discovered and/or discussed in the field per se — which is, apparently, very little of note.

    In contrast, I invite everyone reading here to take a look at the following website, Dieneke’s Anthropology Blog, run by one single person (NOT me, by the way, nor a friend of mine either) over a period of many years now: http://dienekes.blogspot.com/

    Here you will find, day in day out, links to some of the latest and most exciting research in Anthropology, often accompanied by in-depth discussion and analysis. True, Dienekes is primarily interested in the interface between Anthropology, Archaeology and Population Genetics, so many reading here might not be particularly interested in the material he’s presenting. But that’s not my point. Dienekes’ blog is oriented toward the field of Anthropology itself, as a serious discipline, and not simply a backdrop to the various day to day foibles and follies of Anthropologists struggling to survive in academe.

    Don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with everyone engaged in these struggles, which are very real. And there is certainly room for discussions of this kind on an Anthro. blog. But, sorry, after reading here for some time, I have no choice but to challenge the management with that venerable question: “Where’s the Beef?”

  5. Hate to say it, but I’ve been feeling the same things as Victor Grauer about Savage Minds. It does seem to focus inordinately on issues affecting academics. Yes, they’re probably very important. In fact, I’m sure they are, in the lives of the writers of this blog at least. But if I was reading a blog about sports cars, I can’t say I’d appreciate it if the majority of the discussion came to be about employment prospects for young mechanics.

    Also, Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog is great.

  6. Ok guys, in order to avoid completely going off topic on Laura’s thread, I am going to start an open thread for this conversation about content on SM.


    Update: Here’s the link.

  7. I was interested in doing a short turn as a gust blogger partly because it is the proper place to discuss anthropology careers, teaching, and dealing with problems in academe. There already exist many outlets for my research ideas, in books and journals. I appreciate that there is also space for mulling over sticky patches and uncomfortable aspects of the profession.

  8. I wasn’t complaining about your post in particular, Laura. Nor was I complaining about other posts also dealing with professional academic issues. Such issues certainly have their place on a blog such as this. What bothers me is not what’s being presented here, which is certainly meaningful, but what is NOT being presented here, i.e., the lack of much in the way of Anthropology per se. And it’s made me wonder about the status of the field in general, whether there’s anything going on in Anthro these days that’s generating any real excitement among professionals such as yourself, and your students.

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