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January 7, 2010

Hate-America Sociology

Recently, a colleague forwarded to me a copy of an exam from an introductory sociology class found lying in a room at a public college in the east. It was graded 100%. The exam deserves to be quoted at length, as parts of it are virtually indistinguishable from the old Soviet agitprop of the Fifties:

Question: How does the United States "steal" the resources of other (third world) [sic] countries?

Answer: We steal through exploitation. Our multinationals are aware that indigenous people in developing nations have been coaxed off their plots and forced into slums. Because it is lucrative, our multinationals offer them extremely low wage labor (sic) that cannot be turned down.

Question: Why is the U.S. on shaky moral ground when it comes to preventing illegal immigration?

Answer: Some say that it is wrong of the United States to prevent illegal immigration because the same people we are denying entry to, (sic) we have exploited for the purpose of keeping the American wheel spinning.

Question: Why is it necessary to examine the theory of cumulative advantage when it comes to affirmative action?

Answer: Because it is unfair to discredit the many members of minority groups that have (sic) been offered more life chances through the program.

Question: What is the interactionist approach to gender?

Answer: The majority of multi-gender encounters are male-dominated. for (sic) example, while involved in conversation, the male is much more likely to interrupt. Most likely because the male believes the female's expressed thoughts are inferior to his own.

Question: Please briefly explain the matrix of domination.

Answer: the (sic) belief that domination has more than one dimension. For example, Males (sic) are dominant over females, whites over blacks, and affluent over impoverished.

This exam was part of the curriculum in a for-credit class at an accredited degree-granting institution. Introductory sociology courses like this one are frequently required, even for non-majors. A student who matriculates in this field of study will have nothing in the way of useful skills, but will be convinced that his country is rotten to the core, and that whites and males are evil.

China encourages its brightest students to study mathematics and engineering. India has become known as a hotbed of tech-savvy computer programmers. Meanwhile, the U.S. spends billions to teach postmodern, left-wing misinformation as objective "fact."

It seems rather foolish to remain optimistic about the future of this nation when millions of its most "educated" are systematically being taught to loathe it.

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A former member of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY), Dr. de Russy writes on educational and cultural issues. She also serves on the boards of several distinguished organizations dedicated to higher education and other institutional reform.

Comments (7)

P.S.:

I don't understand, what is the problem with this exam? It explores common sociological theories. Not once does it proclaim that a certain way of thinking is right or wrong; in fact, the student actually begins an answer with "some say...", which means that he or she recognizes that these are just theories, not objective fact.

The questions are asking the student to: examine, explain, describe, compare, and analyze. All of these skills are highly desirable in most career fields. Sociology as a discipline emphasizes critical thinking, not blindly following the "old Soviet agitprop of the Fifties", as you say.

I'm not sure what China and India have to do with this topic, since many universities in both countries offer comprehensive liberal arts and humanities programs, including Sociology. I encourage you to do some research on Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Nankai University in China, and the Indian Institute of Technology in India, before assuming that they have eschewed all humanities and liberal arts in favor of technology, mathematics, and engineering.

wayne fontes:

If the students answers are an example of critical thinking that the teacher gave a passing mark to I would say the teachers standards are abysmally low.

The first answer contains the unqualified assertion that providing a job in an urban setting constitutes exploitation on the part of a corporation. The alternative of staying on the farm to continue the misery of subsistence farming is not even considered or examined.

On the question of immigration the students answer rests on the shaky premise that the US exploits other countries. In what manner does trade exploit other countries? What would the economy of Mexico be (I assume)like without the US? Does the use of boilerplate language like "keeping the American wheel spinning" really indicate critical thinking to you?

K. Dahl:

This is ridiculous. Sociology is about exploring society and relations between individuals, groups and institutions. Words like "moral" and "steal" does not belong at all, especially not if one takes the non-scholar definition of postmoderism seriously.
Also I wouldn't let a 13 year old get away with such nonsense answers. No explanations, no definitions, no reference to sociological theory. And what's with the 'sic' everywhere?

David Foster:

This is so bad, and so blatant, that I have to wonder if it's real. No question there are a lot of professors who *think* these things and even require their students to (at least seem to) agree with them, but generally the style seems to be much more circuotous//almost encrypted.

I'm guessing that if the quiz *is* real, it's from a junior college or third-tier college.

Can you vouch for the source? Can you tell us any more about the kind of institution it came from

jimspice:

Sounds fishy. Before any conclusions are reached, it would be necessary to see a scan of the actual document, redacted if needed, so the institution and instructor could be identified and contacted for confirmation.

What would be the harm in providing that information?

This was definitely an interesting read, although there is a lot of areas where I think the article could be improved upon.

For example, its fairly well known that during tests/quizes, students are pressed for time and aren't usually graded on correct spelling and grammar. Thus the number of times the author used "(sic)" is inline with expectations, although I think that a disclaimer at the top would have sufficed, and would have made the article appear more even handed. Inserting numerous indications of incorrect spelling and grammar make it look (at least to me) like the author is trying to imply the test-taker is dumb or ignorant and thus the answers given should not be taken as intelligent.

Similarly, as an undergrad I took a class on "World Problems" that was classified as sociology. It was not about the standard history, methodology, and science of sociology, but that was the best categorization that the university could come up with at the time. Based on this experience, I assumed, while reading this article, that the test found was probably from such a class. With this in mind, I think that titling the article "Hate-America Sociology" seems extreme since this may have been an incorrectly categorized class, and may not reflect the views of that university's sociology department.

Likewise, I remember as an undergrad that information regurgitation, especially in so-called 'Core' classes (those required of all majors) was standard practice. I, myself, gave many answers similar to those this student gave if only to pass the class and get to the classes I actually enjoyed in my major. Its very possible this student was in the same boat, and that many students in the same class wrote down idea they disagreed with.

Beyond all of my previous points, which really are about the analysis and extrapolation of ideas from this discarded exam, is the idea that perhaps there was some truth to the exam. The idea that the US exploits other countries is not new by any stretch. Its well known that our electronics are cheaper as a result of having been manufactured in China at lower costs. The question then becomes, is this exploitation acceptable (we get a benefit, does the other country receive some benefit?), and is it moral (viewed using ethical frameworks like Kantanism, Utilitarianism, etc).

wannabe sociologist:

Wow. Your n=1 and you think you can generalize to the entire field of sociology or how sociology is taught at all universities, high schools and colleges in the entire country.
I wish there was an academic discipline that exposed undergraduates to social science research methods so that we would know that n=1 is not generalizable to the population. Oh wait a minute that's sociology.........

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