Your Final Project (Social Sciences)

Hey, kids. It’s time for a little independent study. For our final two weeks together, you will select one of the “eight big questions” of social science from which we chose the central themes of two of our units. In fact, you can even go back to one of those topics (progress / equality) and take a deeper dive if you like.  Or, go ahead and strike off in a new direction. To refresh your memory, here they are in all their glory:

  1. Why do people so often act against their own best interests?
  2. How can society build and maintain trustworthy and resilient institutions?
  3. How can humanity continue to increase its collective wisdom?
  4. How can we ensure (or at least encourage) equality of opportunity for all people?
  5. What exactly is the effect of our biology on our society?
  6. How can we best manage “black swans” – rare events that have extreme consequences?
  7. Can progress be painless?
  8. Can there be any such thing as a free and safe society?

Given how little time we have left, this isn’t going to be a big project. What it is, however, is a chance for you to pursue a topic of personal interest, or, dare I say, passion. However, I will put a few guidelines in place to keep you from getting too lost in the woods.


Just don’t even ask. It needs to be as long as it needs to be. Having said that, I am a fan of brevity. Which is to say, prioritize quality over quantity.


Write something. I don’t much care what format that comes in. The standard method is an essay written in Classic Style. If you want a refresher on what that means and don’t really feel like “working” right now, I suggest you watch this video.


Your paper will include:

  • A clearly stated thesis. This means you will make a claim of fact that explains some kind of observed phenomenon in the world. Here’s a refresher in case you need one. Alternatively, you may wish to take a more analytic approach. Either is fine.
  • Reference to at least two studies. You may come to this information through either primary or secondary sources. A primary source is the actual study itself including all its methodology, statistics, conclusions, etc. A secondary source is someone else writing about a study and so you are therefore looking at the study through that author’s lens.
  • Reference to at least two social science theories. These theories may come from the disciplines of: anthropology; sociology; psychology; economics; philosophy; political science; or history. It is okay if those theories are the products of the studies you’ve found.


In the interest of time (and because they’re kind of a pain), informal citation will be fine. If you want to embed hyperlinks, fine. If you want to mention an article’s title and its author in the body of what you write, also fine. As long as I have what I need to search for what you’ve read, fine.

How Will We know It’s Good (assessment)

Sentence by sentence, is what you said true to the best of your knowledge? Have you stated what you want to state in the clearest possible terms? Does your paper contain all of the requirements listed above? Then it’s good. Anything else is a matter of degrees.

Final Word

The most important thing (okay, fine, aside from all the requirements I listed up there) about this assignment is that you are chasing after a little piece of Ultimate Truth that you happen to be particularly interested in for some reason and that you’re able to communicate what you find in a way that you’re more or less comfortable with. That really is it. I’ll be circulating and checking periodically just to make sure you’re not galloping off in a direction that is so different that it doesn’t even apply to what we’re trying to do here. Other than that, if you feel like raising your hand to ask, “Is it okay if I…?” I’ll tell you right now you can probably answer that question on your own. Just ask yourself: Does what I want to do violate any of the requirements listed above? Will my idea open up an exciting vista of exploration into a vast world of exciting possibilities and wisdom? Is my idea at least tangentially relate-able to one of the Big Eight Questions and/or the social sciences in general? Then, yes. Yes it is okay if you examine the socio-economic impact of body image as portrayed in nineties anime and its subsequent effect on the unstable relationship between the military-industrial complex and major beverage companies. Have at it and let me know what you find out!

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here compiling a list of “exam-able” material we can go over with our final three days together. Trust me. There’s more than you think.

Due: June 20th, 2018



Instructions for May 30th

Hey, kids! By the time you read this I’ll be browsing about in the National Gallery with Elmo’s English class. But don’t worry. I’ve left you guys some fun stuff too!

Social Science

Go ahead and finish off the “Beautiful Brain” documentary. Assuming you finish it, you can go ahead and get right into “Take Your Pills.” I’ve written a couple of posts that you’ll find below that I very strongly encourage you to comment on. Let’s get a little discussion going here.

English (both sections)

Pretty simple for you guys: get a copy of “Aristotle’s Wrongful Death” and make an attempt at the tasks I’ve listed at the end. The vocabulary section alone might be somewhat time consuming so I expect that will take a lot of your time. Try to have at least started “task two” by the time I return on Thursday.

If you’re still not done the Mariposa story, get on it!

Take Your Pills

Hey, kids. One very strong thread in this documentary is the idea that despite everyone pretty much being in agreement that abusing adderall is a terrible idea, many kids feel it’s necessary to compete in today’s crazy world. So, let’s talk about that. Let’s see if we can drill down to why we have gotten ourselves whipped up into such a lather that kids, kids!, feel it’s necessary to amp up their performance with dangerous chemicals. And again, if you can link this to anything we’ve covered in a previous unit, bonus points for you!

My Beautiful Broken Brain

Hey, kids. Pretty crazy story, right? Like I said in class, I think Lotje’s story is so fascinating because it really reveals just how fragile our perceptions of the world are. When you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that this two pounds of fat that lives between our ears can not only take in so much information but can make sense of it and generate reasonable output as well.

In the comments section, I’d like to see who can make some links between what we saw in the documentary and what we learned in our Happiness Studies unit. Alternatively, trying looking up traumatic brain injuries. Tell us: 1. the nature of the injury and 2. the cognitive impairments that resulted. Maybe start with “split brain” surgeries that are used to help reduce epileptic seizures. It’s some pretty amazing stuff.

Instructions for May 25th

Hey, kids! I’m not sure who, if anyone, will be around today. But just in case…

Social Science: You’ve got your in-class essay today. Same rules as last week. You have access to absolutely everything: articles, your notes, the internet. Anything goes as long as your work is original and yours. This one is meant to focus on the two new studies we’ve looked at (eye colour and “expectation”), but I very strongly encourage you to take advantage of the clear connections that can be made amongst these and the previous experiments we’ve studied. Good luck and I’ll see you on Monday!

English: You lot have still got that “Mr. Smith” short story that ought to keep you busy until at least Monday. If you still haven’t handed in the Hedges piece, get on that! Again, I assure you, this is advanced stuff and effort counts. If the recipe doesn’t turn out, it’s the attempt that matters!

So. Whether you’re relaying or Soloing or just enjoying a beautiful May day, have a good Friday and I’ll see you all on the other side, my precious little blueberries.


A Short Story That Might as Well Be About Russell

Hey, kids. Pretty simple task here. Just a good ol’ fashioned “read n’ answer.”

We are still in keeping with our “zone.” So don’t sweat the marks too much. After all, you only ever really need two criteria to judge (or mark) any writing: accuracy and clarity. So, when you’re either responding to one of the smaller prompts you’ll see embedded in the text or the larger piece at the end, ask yourself with every sentence: is this sentence saying what I want it to say and is it clear? That really is it. No more. No less.

That being said, here’s the story (just in case you lost yours): mr smith

Rosenthal’s “Expectations”

Hey, kids. What you’ll see in the attached document is a reproduction of two pieces: the first one is an NPR published article about yet another (somewhat) controversial study with schoolchildren. The one after that is more of a primary document with more detail regarding the nuts and bolts of the original study.

Please read everything there and keep out four basic questions in mind: what’s being studied; how’s it being studied; how valid is the study and; what’s the take-away?

Also, at this point, we’ve built up quite a repertoire of studies. There are puh-LENTY of opportunities for connections, comparisons, contrasts and the like. I very strongly encourage you to start discussing any or all of these studies under broad themes. You’ll have that opportunity on Friday when we do our next “in-class essay.” Happy reading!


The Hedges “Scaffold”

Chris Hedges “Scaffold”

For this writing exercise, please follow the scaffold I’ve provided based on the first two paragraphs of Chris Hedges’ introduction to his book Wages of Rebellion. The only thing you need is a topic. Like Hedges, you’re going to convince me to rebel against something. It could be school. It could be internet trolls. It could be meatloaf day in the cafeteria. You decide. The goal is to make it as punchy as Hedges. Just follow the formula, sentence by sentence, and see what you get in the end.

  1. “We live…” Short, direct, simple introduction. Do not exceed six words.

  2. “The disastrous…” Longer sentence that outlines as simply as possible what your stance is. What is your claim? Be clear. Use “top shelf” adjectives.

  3. “A tiny global hierarchy…” A really long sentence that explains in part why your previous sentence is true.

  4. “The relentless drive…” Medium length sentence that provides more evidence that sentence #2 is true.

  5. “And no mechanisms…” Medium sentence that explains why this problem can’t be easily solved by the usual methods.

  6. “The citizen has become…” Very short sentence. Comes at the problem from another angle. Who else can’t help?

  7. “He or she can participate…” Short to medium length sentence explaining why the people from sentence #6 can’t help.

  8. “History has amply demonstrated…” Medium sentence that sets up further proof that sentence #2 is true. Hedges cites “history.” Feel free to do the same, but find your own words.

  9. “Governments that cater exclusively…” Further evidence that sentence #2 is true, but the trick here is to somehow link this one to sentence #5. See how in Hedges’ example their both on the topic of governments? Sure, in sentence five he calls them “structures of power” but I assure you, it’s all government.

  10. “Blindly serving their masters…” Big finish! Epic length final sentence with the biggest, most over-the-top language you can possibly muster. Drive it home!

General tone: I don’t know about you, but I get a certain sense of anger and urgency out of Hedges. He’s taking this really seriously. You might have chosen a silly topic (or maybe a serious one) but let’s see if you can get that same tone but without any slang, sarcasm or profanity – just like Pulitzer Prize winner, Chris Hedges.

Jane Elliot: Amateur Sociologist

Hey, kids! Let’s continue with our theme of controversial experiments. Except this one isn’t really an experiment. It’s more of an open-ended demonstration. We’ll get into the details in class. This post is here mainly for the links and instructions.

This is where you’ll find the video. And this is the article.

And as an added bonus for those of you who want to impress the heck outa me, here‘s a link to the “introduction to sociology” chapter from which I poached the vocabulary items I tacked on to the end of the article.

Your task today:

After watching the video and reading the article, write something in the comments section of this post. You have two criteria: it must be a statement of opinion or fact regarding Elliot’s “Eye of the Storm” experiment and it must correctly use at least one item from the vocabulary list you’ll find at the end of the article. If you’re feeling extra keen, skim the chapter I posted, zero in on a section you feel might be relevant to the discussion and include something of what you find there in your post.



Who among us was able to walk right out of the womb? Hm? No one? How about running? Did you get yourself upright and immediately take off for the track? Yeah – me neither. So how did you learn to walk? I imagine you did it like most of us did: you sensed life could be better if you didn’t have to crawl around on the floor so you started messing around with a few strategies. Hauling yourself up using some handy bit of furniture, shuffling along while gripping the sofa cushions for dear life. Then, eventually, you spotted a good target across the room. With grim determination you let go of the couch, took your first tentative steps and in all likelihood fell flat on your face.Image result for learning to walk

Now here’s the real question: did either of your parents at that point stand over you, shaking their head in disappointment? Did they declare your walking to be a level two? No, of course they didn’t. Why on earth should any skill (including our focus – literacy) be any different?

What I’m describing is something you may or may not have heard me talk about yet: the zone of proximal development. Briefly defined it’s the Goldilocks zone of not too hard, not too easy where learning takes place. Said another way, it’s the space in which we play.

You’ve all heard me rant about the evils of grades. This post isn’t exactly that. But, it is another facet of that discussion. I’d like to lay this out as clearly and logically as possible. If it’s true that learning is best achieved in “the zone” then it follows that we really ought to be making it a priority to stay there as much as we possibly can. After all, school has only one essential purpose; to be a place of learning. And if it’s also true that while in the zone we are expected to make mistakes, then how do grades work? Grades are about measuring how much we got a thing right, right? And yet, if the learning is happening in the zone and the zone by necessity will be messy and full of mistakes then misusing grades will pretty much torpedo that whole endeavor, won’t it? If while playing you’re afraid to make a mistake because it’ll result in a bad grade, then you’re not likely to be very motivated to play at all. And in this teacher’s humble opinion, if you ain’t playing, you ain’t learning. At least, certainly not as well as you could be. Besides, playing is fun.

Having said all that, we still have to deal with marks. So this is how we’ll manage those toxic little blighters: over the last several weeks of your courses (this applies to my sociology kids too) I’ll continue to provide all kinds of learning opportunities. You’ll have lots of things to see, read, talk about, write about, play with. You will produce products. You will make attempts at things. You will get feedback. You will grab onto the “couch cushions” of the masters that have come before us, figure out how they’ve done what they’ve done and you will try to mimic them. At the end of all that (around mid-June) we’ll have an individualized debrief about how you think you did. What opportunities did you take advantage of? What were your obstacles? How did things turn out? And perhaps most importantly, how much growth do you think you experienced?

So come play in the zone with me. Falling flat on your face is not only an enormously useful experience but I won’t even give you a bad grade for it. What have you got to lose?