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Promotion of the Liberal Arts

The Integration of the Liberal Arts Across the Curriculum in the College of Letters & Science

The faculty and staff in the College of Letters and Science are committed to the promotion of the liberal arts as the key to understanding the value of a broad education and the connectedness among the various disciplines.  Many have crafted statements included in their syllabi that speak directly to the importance of general education in relation to other disciplines and in the development of critical thinking across the curriculum.  The following are some thought provoking statements that have been presented to our students via course syllabi.  Feel free to utilize these comments in your own efforts to promote the liberal arts.

Statements from the following course syllabi are featured below, in alphabetical order by department:

 



Design Fundamentals (Art 239) - Richard Masters, Associate Professor of Art 

If we think of the liberal arts as areas of study intended to provide students with general knowledge and intellectual skills rather than occupational or professional skills, then our approach to the field of graphic communications here in the Department of Art only serves to further these objectives in the following manner.

Although the field of graphic communications encompasses the reproduction industries of printing, publishing, and advertising, the underlying objective of this course will focus on teaching you how to become a good designer. Why? If we think of the activity of design as that process of creating images and page layouts from concept to print, then we want to emphasize the front end, or conceptual phase of this process because this activity most relates to the fine arts and, in a broader sense, the liberal arts.

For example, one of the wonderful aspects of this field is that a designer may be called upon to create something for print (or the web) that involves virtually any subject matter, topic, or issue imaginable. Since a good designer needs to know a little bit about everything, it would be unwise, therefore, not to stress the critical value of the broad, general knowledge you are currently obtaining that is at the very core of your liberal arts education. Remember, anyone with a computer and printer can endlessly produce anything meant to be read until the cows come home, so you must differentiate yourself from the masses by developing a sound knowledge base, your visual literacy, and your critical thinking skills.

Biological Concepts (BIOLOGY 105) - Thomas Lammers, Assistant Professor of Biology and Microbiology 

Our goal is to provide you with basic knowledge about life and how it operates.  For some, this is a precursor to further science coursework.  For others, it is part of your education in the liberal arts and your sole contact with such material.  Biology is in the news every day: medicine, environmentalism, genetic engineering, "intelligent design," etc.  To understand the implications of all this, you need to know the basics of biology.  If studying life isnt germane to your life, what is?

Human Physiology (BIOLOGY 212) - Dana Vaughan, Associate Professor of Biology and Microbiology 

BIO 212 AS A LIBERAL ARTS COURSE: BIO 212 is offered through the UW Oshkosh College of Letters and Sciences (COLS), which is the liberal arts college of our campus. Students usually take 212 in preparation for a Nursing or Athletics career. However, a liberal arts education transcends preparation for specific careers. In what way does it do that?

A liberal arts education prepares students to be responsible citizens who understand and contribute to the changing world in which they live. That certainly holds true for our ever-changing understanding of the human body and its mechanisms of operation, and for the evolving science, and business, of health care.

A liberal arts education exposes students to a broad spectrum of knowledge about the human experience and the natural world, from contemporary science to literature, music and art. 212 represents contemporary science.

A liberal arts education enhances the skills of communication and critical thinking. In 212, the sheer size of the course prevents us from working on your writing, but reading comprehension skills and critical thinking (logic, strategy, and application) will definitely be developed.

A liberal arts education challenges students to appreciate their cultural heritage, to be sensitive to diverse traditions and opinions and to value truth.  In 212, we attempt to present human physiology in a culture-neutral scientific manner, but science itself may be considered a culture of truth, which is understood to be based on rational inquiry, testing, and repeatable observation.

A liberal arts education encourages students to develop a lifelong commitment to inquiry. Don't think that 212 is the beginning and end of human physiology. It's an introductory course of general principles that will be built upon by further education in specialty areas such as pathophysiology (disease), exercise physiology, medical physiology, etc. 

Virology (BIOLOGY 315) - Teri Shors, Associate Professor of Biology and Microbiology 

Virology and Promoting the Liberal Arts: A liberal arts education refers to studies in a college or university intended to provide general knowledge and develop intellectual capacities. A liberal arts education prepares students to work in a variety of jobs. This is different from other types of education where students develop professional or vocational skills for a specific job.  The Biology, Microbiology and Medical Technology Majors are offered at UW-Oshkosh within the College of Letters and Science (COLS). The COLS emphasizes a liberal arts education. It promotes a liberal arts education model proposed by Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities since 1998.  Schneider stresses the idea that ALL students receive an education of lasting value, relevant for the 21st century.  In her model learning should be: 1) "analytical, contextual and holistic thinking;" 2) "effective communication using multiple literacies and forms of expression;" 3) "critical reflection/informed action as citizens, producers, human beings;" 4) "ethical action for local and global communities;" and 5) "integrative learning."

At UW-Oshkosh, you will have a broad exposure to the liberal arts, while focusing on a topic that you are particularly interested in such as a biology or microbiology. BIO 315 (Virology), is an elective course within all three of the aforementioned majors. Virology is important in not only the study of infections and their treatment and prevention, but also in the unraveling of the most fundamental aspects of biology. This is because viruses have an intimate relationship with the basic machinery of their host cells. Thus, research on how viruses reproduce themselves and spread has given us many insights into the way in which the cells of our bodies function, leading in turn to a better understanding of the whole organism and of how infectious diseases may be prevented or cured.

Introduction to Molecular & Cell Biology (BIOLOGY 323) - Teri Shors, Associate Professor of Biology, & Todd Kostman, Assistant Professor of Biology

BIO 323 (Introductory Molecular and Cellular Biology) is a core course within Biology, Microbiology and Medical Technology majors. The unifying theme in this course is the oneness of all earthly life forms, attesting to their common evolutionary origin. As described in the COLS's learning objectives, in addition to studying the factual content of the science, we will also consider its historical development, experimental basis, and relationship to other aspects of science and society.

General Chemistry II (CHEM 106) - Jennifer Mihalick, Associate Professor of Chemistry 

Chemistry 106 fulfills a natural science requirement for the general education program, the University's plan to provide a foundation in the liberal arts and sciences.  This course assists students in developing effective written and oral communication; skills related to critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity; the ability to manipulate symbol systems and use quantitative methods; and skills associated with the scientific method including data collection, analysis, theory formulation and hypothesis testing.

Cinema Techniques (COMM 240) - Douglas Heil, Professor of Communication, Radio-TV-Film

This course, Radio-TV-Film, and the Department of Communication are all housed within the College of Letters & Science.  We strongly endorse a liberal arts education, and this belief has informed the structure and goals of this course.  As a consequence, we will not simply teach you how to operate equipment; we are also interested in filmmaking as a means of expression.  To this end, we will analyze excerpts from a wide variety of films you are likely unfamiliar with, and we will deconstruct the visuals of dozens of paintings — from Raphael to Dorothea Tanning.  For the creed of this course, we have chosen the following quote from cinematographer John Bailey, found in the book Masters of Light:  “I think a lifetime commitment to learning and studying still photography, painting and all the graphic areas is real important.  It’s a constant process.  In a sense, you’re a student for your whole career.  It’s important to keep that disposition.  I think that the same kind of questioning that you do when you’re first starting, where every shot is a new experience is important to do all the way through.  It’s not a skill that you’re learning where, at a certain point, you’ve learned it all.”

Prime Time TV Writing (COMM 344) - Douglas Heil, Professor of Communication, Radio-TV-Film

This course, Radio-TV-Film, and the Department of Communication are all housed within the College of Letters & Science.  We strongly endorse a liberal arts education, and this belief has informed the structure and goals of this course.  As a consequence, we do not simply teach you the industry rules of television writing before unleashing you to write.  Instead, we are actively interested in exploring how television can draw upon and disseminate a wealth of knowledge, and how it can inspire reflection.  As our creed, we have chosen an excerpt from writer/director Edward Zwick’s keynote speech for the 2001 Humanitas Awards:  “It is writing itself that helps us discover what we know, writing itself that reminds us what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, banishes demons and encourages us to reach higher, dig deeper.”

Elementary Programming (COMP SCI 142) - David Furcy, Assistant Professor of Computer Science

By learning how to program a computer, students will develop various skills that are indispensable in the context of the liberal arts education promoted by the College of Letters and Science. Programming is an essentially human-centered practice. Programs are typically written by people for people.

  • From the perspective of the user, the program is reduced to its interface, which must therefore take into account the strengths and limitations of human cognitive processes. A successful programmer must know the psychology of the users.
  • From the perspective of the programmer’s colleagues, the program is an artifact whose complexity can only be mitigated with clear, complete yet concise documentation. The successful programmer must have excellent writing skills.
  • From the perspective of the programmer him- or herself, the program development cycle is a complex, multi-stage task that cannot be successfully completed without good time-management skills. Additionally, a successful programmer develops strong and diverse problem solving skills needed for each  stage in the program development cycle:
    • Problem analysis stage: analytical and hierarchical thinking, as well as dealing with abstraction.
    • Algorithm design stage: rational, goal-directed thinking.
    • Coding stage: attention to details.
    • Testing and debugging stage: critical and systematic thinking.

Finally, program development is a cyclic process that often requires several iterations. In short, computer programming is a challenging but rewarding activity that not only fosters rational thinking but also teaches the essential virtue of perseverance.

Database Systems (COMP SCI 361) - Wing Huen, Associate Professor of Computer Science 

What is the value of the course, COMP SCI 36l Database Systems, in a liberal arts education?  This course is required for Computer Science majors with the Software Engineering emphasis or the Computer Information Systems emphasis, and is an elective for those with the Computer Science emphasis.  There has been explosive growth in data in every type of organization including business, health care, education, government, and libraries.  Databases and database technology are having a major impact on modern society culturally, economically, and on how we learn, work, and search for information.

Database technology is used by individuals on personal computers, by employees using enterprise wide applications, and by the public accessing databases on networked servers to derive information and knowledge from the stored data. A database is used to store, manipulate, and retrieve interrelated data. A database management system (DBMS) is a collection of programs used to create and maintain a database. This course will cover the fundamental concepts in database management, including database design, database languages, implementation of various components of a DBMS, and applications of DBMS software.  

This course aims to enhance the following skills:

  • Analytic, quantitative, and information skills;
  • Deep understanding of hands-on-experience with database designs and the widely used Oracle database;
  • Problem solving skills;
  • Personal responsibility in data management, integrity, and security, and
  • Ability to derive knowledge from a collection of data

Chaucer and His Age (ENGLISH 346) - Margaret Hostetler, Assistant Professor of English 

This class also contributes to your liberal arts education. The liberal arts, which originated in ancient Greece, were also the foundation of education in medieval Europe. These arts were originally grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, harmony or music (really algebra), and astronomy (really calculus). It was assumed in Plato's academy and in the medieval university that before one could go on to any specific study such as philosophy, law, or theology, one had to understand some basics of mathematics and language and analytical thought. Although a liberal arts curriculum today includes a wide range of general education courses, the main idea, stated best by Isocrates (a 4th century BC orator), is still to make students eumathesteroi (better learners).1 Academic communities today define better learners as those who can understand complex, unfamiliar material quickly and respond to it in clear, well-reasoned writing; those who can apply their learning to diverse 

situations; those who can think analytically as well as creatively; and those who can act ethically and self-reflectively. This course serves these goals by asking you to be critical thinkers, to consider Chaucer's work from a variety of perspectives, to interrogate complex cultural ideals as they change over time, to express your views in clear persuasive writing, to treat your sources ethically, and to apply your experiences analyzing literature from your other English classes to your observations of Chaucer.

1. Information on history of the liberal arts taken from David Mulroy *The War Against Grammar*(Heinemann, 2003)

Seminar on Environmental Issues (Environmental Studies 101) - James Feldman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and History 

An additional goal of this class is to further your liberal arts education. What does this mean? The liberal arts education focuses on general learning, intellectual ability, and critical thinking rather than technical or professional skills. The goal of this class, then, is not just to convey specific information about environmental issues (although you will learn much about this) but to teach you how to interpret this information critically, and how to understand modern environmental issues in their social, historical, and political context. A liberal arts education provides the tools we need to be active citizens of our communities. As we will learn this semester, active citizenship plays a key role in resolving the complex environmental dilemmas that we as a society face today.

(Note: Dr. Feldman incorporates a similar message in his course syllabus for Wisconsin Environments Past and Present (ES 390/History 448).

Foreign Languages and Literatures

Why do we study a foreign language?  (Liberal Arts Statement): 

The philosophy of the foreign language programs at UW Oshkosh is in full congruence with the College of Letters and Science's mission to enhance the skills of communication and critical thinking.  These programs contribute to the intellectual, social and emotional growth of our students, so they will attain fulfillment as individuals and as members of society.  Our programs also help students meet the challenges of today's world and become better prepared to meet those future challenges.  By learning a language other than their own and by gaining insight into another culture, students gain insight into their own language and culture.  For our students, who will live their lives in a world of increasing global interdependence, this insight can be critical to their personal professional fulfillment.  Additionally, learning a foreign language benefits our students by improving their learning overall as they make connections across the curriculum with other subjects. The process of learning one foreign language also facilitates learning additional foreign languages. Foreign language programs help students become tolerant, open-minded citizens and sensitive knowledgeable people, who understand linguistic and cultural diversity, and can adapt to change as a member of the global society. 

European/World History (HISTORY 101) - Kimberly Rivers, Associate Professor of History 

This course is the first half of the introductory survey of European/World History (57-102: Modern Civilizations is the second half). Both 57-101 and 57-102 fulfill a Gen-Ed requirement and requirements for the History major and minor. I presume that you have taken no prior college history courses, but that you are able to read and write at university level.  If you are anxious about your writing skills, you should come see me in my office and/or visit the universitys writing lab in the Multicultural Center.

Course Objectives: a reasonable question that a student might ask is What am I going to get out of this course?  There are a number of answers to that question, and they form the objectives for the term.

Upon completion of this course, you will have been exposed to some of the pivotal events and ideas of civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean World from around 3000 BCE to about 1500 CE. These events and ideas provide the background of an educated person in the developed world.  After you have completed this course, you will be prepared to take upper-level history courses; you will also find that the course provides useful background for religion, philosophy, education, and literature courses.  You will begin to learn about the discipline of history through the reading of primary sources (sources written or constructed in the past that shed light on historical questions) and secondary sources (works by professional historians).  Besides teaching the skills necessary to become a historian, such exercises will also foster the kind of critical analysis that is the hallmark of a liberal arts education.  You will learn how to balance the importance of details and larger ideas, a skill that will serve you well when studying for other classes, when preparing for examinations, and when working in future jobs.

United States History to 1877 (HISTORY 201) - Michelle Kuhl, Assistant Professor of History 

This course fulfills a general education requirement.  You may wonder why, especially if you have no particular interest in history, you find yourself in this classroom.  One of the goals of a liberal arts program is to produce educated people, not just people trained to do one sort of task.  Ask yourself:  "Would I rather be well-trained, or well-educated?"  This history course can help you become well-educated in two ways.  One, it can provide you with a basis of knowledge about how this nation was created.  So when you hear judges claim to know what the Founding Fathers wanted, or observe the ongoing debate over the separation of church and state, or wonder why the Midwest is so different from the South or Northeast, you'll have a fighting chance of knowing what is going on.  That sort of knowledge is timely, and will help you better understand this country.  The second way this course will further your education is by honing critical thinking skills.  Making sense of history involves looking for patterns, learning to read and interpret documents, imagining a different sort of world, and thinking about the choices people have made.  Those skills are timeless, and will serve you well in whatever career you choose.

Mathematics - 100 and 200 level courses taught by John Koker, Professor of Mathematics 

In this course you will have the opportunity to develop the ability to distinguish problem solving and critical thinking from exercises and routine thinking.  We will identify attitudes and beliefs that are conducive to success in problem solving and critical thinking (and those which are not).  In addition (as in other classes as well) I hope you continue to develop:

  • effective written and oral communication skills;
  • skills related to critical thinking, problem solving and creativity;
  • the ability to understand symbol systems and use quantitative methods, and
  • skills associated with the scientific method, including rational inquiry, data collection, analysis, theory formulation, hypothesis testing.

In this course you will learn how to make a start on any question or problem, how to attack it effectively and how to learn from the experience.  Time and effort spent studying these processes of enquiry are wisely invested because doing so will bring you closer to realizing your full potential for mathematical thinking and problem solving.

Problem solving begins with the solver being STUCK. You will have the opportunity to experience being STUCK, understand that the state of being STUCK is a natural and honorable place to spend time during the problem solving process, and examine and apply methods to become UNSTUCK.

Unsuccessful attempts should not be allowed to produce disappointment.  A great deal can be learned from an unsuccessful attempt at a difficult problem than from a question or exercise that can be quickly resolved.  We will allow time to reflect on what we have done and how what we have done can influence our next attempt.

Much of the course will be spent on processes rather than skills or answers.  While a solution is the ultimate goal, we will also spend time examining false starts, partially digested ideas and incorrect solutions.  Elegant solutions such as those found in many texts rarely spring forward immediately.  They are more often than not arrived at after a long period of thinking.  There is often much modification and changing of understanding along the way.

Our approach will be intuitive and investigative.  The successful student will be involved in investigation, questioning and conjecturing.  Reasoning and writing will also be important components.

Military Science

Military Science Courses enhance the liberal arts by educating college students in leadership theory utilizing a broad based curriculum designed to develop creative thinking skills (teach cadets how to think, vice what to think).  We reinforce classroom instruction by providing cadets hands on experience in the practice of leadership through our leadership labs.  Our training develops individuals and builds teams with the ability to react to increasingly complex and ambiguous situations in a highly dynamic environment.

Elementary Logic (PHIL 101) - John Burr, Professor of Philosophy 

Purpose: The purpose of this course is to make it more likely that the students thinking will result in true conclusions rather than false ones.  This purpose will be realized when the student can distinguish argumentative discourse from other kinds of discourse and can sort arguments into those which are logically valid and those which are logically invalid.  The more logical a person is, the more likely one is to get what one wants and to want only what one can get.  Therefore, the more logical a person is, the happier one will be in this course and in life generally.

Liberal Arts:  The liberal arts constitute the collective enterprise of seeking and finding the truth about the world of nature (the natural sciences), the world of society (the social sciences), and our inner world (the humanities). Essential to success in this enterprise is correct or valid reasoning as distinguished from fallacious or invalid reasoning. Logic provides the tools for distinguishing correct or valid reasoning from fallacious or invalid reasoning.

Introduction to Philosophy (PHIL 109) - Laurence Carlin, Assistant Professor of Philosophy 

The Value of Philosophy in Shaping a Liberal Arts Education, or Why Should I Study Philosophy?

Nearly every person who enrolls in this class does so to satisfy a general education requirement.  Indeed, this course is designed to contribute to your liberal arts education.  The value of such an education could not be exaggerated, for it exposes one to a wide range of perspectives on, and ideas about humans and the world in which they live.  Moreover, such an education fosters critical thinking, clear and effective communication, and the importance of understanding views that conflict with ones own.

The study of philosophy is sometimes said to be "impractical" or "irrelevant." But given that it stands at the heart of the liberal arts education described above, such accusations are clearly false.  In this course, we will spend most of our time evaluating our beliefs and desires. We will critically examine opposing beliefs about religion, morality, politics, society, science, and others--a project at the heart of the liberal arts.  Such beliefs are the very things you use to confront your

experiences.  They are what motivate you, and frame your outlook on life's most important matters.  Indeed, they are the very things that make you the person you are.  What could be more practical and relevant than an evaluation of those beliefs?

That is why the liberal arts are valuable, how philosophy contributes to them, and therefore why philosophy is valuable. 

Introduction to Philosophy (PHIL 109) - Larry Herzberg, Assistant Professor of Philosophy 

A final, more general goal of this class is to contribute to your overall liberal arts education.  Such an education gives you a broad background in the ideas and events that have in some way shaped our modern lives (for better or for worse).  It increases your awareness of the diversity and complexity of human life and thought; quite literally, it expands your mind.  For this reason, while a liberal arts education does not usually teach you how to do a particular sort of job, it does develop skills that are increasingly necessary in any job.  These include the ability to quickly understand complicated readings on unfamiliar subjects, to express your thoughts clearly and persuasively, and to reason critically, creatively, and independently.  

Basic Acoustics of Music (PHYS/AST 105) - Dennis Rioux, Associate Professor of Physics

An introductory course in the acoustics of music cannot help but fulfill the interdisciplinary spirit of the liberal arts. In a university setting we tend to think of distinct fields of study and departments of this or centers for that just because of the way the place is organized. But working in the spaces between different academic areas often reveals a rich set of phenomena, and the study of sound is an excellent example of this involving physics, music, physiology, psychology, engineering, and electronics to name a few. We will begin our study of acoustics with some fundamental physics concepts that will probably be new to you, but one of the goals of this class is to then illustrate and explore connections to other disciplines, particularly music. There are many places we can "go" in this class, and as liberal arts students I hope we all follow where our curiosity leads and demand that it be satisfied.

American Government (POLI SCI 105); State & Local Government (POLI SCI 225) - Paul Liu, Associate Professor of Political Science

This course is a political science course which should be taught and learned in the context of liberal arts education. The linkage between a democracy, which this course will spend most of the time to deal with, and liberal arts education is well-documented. In order to function as a democracy, the political institutions must have government officials that value fundamental values of freedoms and liberties, the citizenry must be equipped with critical minds and fair judgments. These are all based on a solid liberal arts educational system and tradition. At UWO, we, the faculty of liberal arts education, all share these fundamental beliefs. At the Department of Political Science, we emphasize these basic principles. This course, hence, will bring you once again these general ideas, moreover, it will challenge you in a unique way to embrace and enrich the well-being of democracy through liberal arts education.

Adult Development and Aging (PSYCH 338) - Susan McFadden, Professor of Psychology

As you learn about adult development and aging, you should be thinking about how the topics we address connect with other college courses you have taken.  Have you read novels, poetry, or plays that portray the experience of aging?  Have you studied 20th century history so you can understand how major events have shaped the lives of today's older persons?  Has anything you've learned in biology helped you understand the aging body and the genetic influences on aging?  In philosophy courses, have you learned about ethical systems that might guide decision making about care for older people, especially those with forms of dementia or those who are dying?  Have you taken an art or a music course that has exposed you to the works of highly creative older people?  Have you learned about elder scientists and mathematicians and their influence on their fields?  Has a sociology course taught you about the influence of social systems on aging persons?  What have you learned about current political and economic debates about Social Security?  What do you know about people growing old in other cultures?

A liberal arts education should enable you to make these kinds of important connections in your learning.  In addition to helping you to integrate your educational experience, this course will support your development in the liberal arts by challenging your assumptions about adulthood and aging, encouraging you to improve your writing and public speaking abilities, giving you tools for thinking critically about current social attitudes about aging and older people, and demonstrating how you can apply the knowledge you gain in this course in your careers.  The service learning option for this course also supports these goals of a liberal arts education.

Exploring Religion (RELSTDS 101); Myth and Mystery (RELSTDS 275) - Steve Wiggins, Lecturer, Religious Studies

Liberal Arts Study

As professions become more specialized and technologically sophisticated, it becomes more and more essential not to lose sight of the goals of education. Many employers are fully capable of teaching employees what they need to know to do a specific job, but they are generally not able to provide the crucial aspects that a liberal arts curriculum is designed to teach. Liberal arts teach the art of being human. Critical thinking, engaged reading and accurate writing, the ability to analyze complex situations – these are some of the benefits of a solid background in liberal arts which employers prize in potential employees. Beyond the potential for a satisfying employment situation, the liberal arts provide an understanding of the quality of life itself. Many individuals prefer the satisfaction of a meaningful job to the pure earnings potential. All people, regardless of career outlook, desire a life worth living. The liberal arts introduce students to the answers humanity has developed and refined over the centuries in its search for a life worth living. The cost of a liberal arts education diminishes beside the reward of learning to be truly and fully human.

Social Statistics (SOC 281) - Gerard Grzyb, Associate Professor of Sociology 

SOCIOLOGY, STATISTICS, AND THE LIBERAL EDUCATION

The following statement appears in "Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major: A Report of the American Sociological Association Task Force on the Undergraduate Major":

"Colleges and universities strive to provide an intellectually liberating education for their students. Sociology contributes to liberal education by unfettering the mind. Peter Berger describes sociology as a way of seeing, of seeing through things, and of going beyond the ordinary. Selvin and Wilson concur that sociology opens the mind’s door to the deceptively familiar world of social arrangements. It prompts us to question the customary. It encourages us to entertain alternatives.... We get a truer view of social reality as sociology reveals the complexity of cause and effect in human affairs, the likelihood of causes other than we had supposed, and effects that may be far different from what we had in mind. [For example] Does fear of demotion or unemployment or loss of pay drive people to work? Or to evade work more artfully? Do feelings of awe, fear, and reverence give rise to religion? Or is it religion that elicits these emotions? 

"Of course, a major form of debunking is empirical inquiry, where questions such as those Selvin and Wilson pose are asked and answers are scientifically pursued.  Sociological debunking is necessary because things are not always as they appear.”

Statistics play a significant role in empirical inquiry in sociology as well as many other areas of scientific research.  They are a major tool with which we analyze the empirical evidence we gather, so that we can determine what we know and what we don’t know.  If our knowledge is to be based on carefully gathered and analyzed data rather than on guesses, desires, presuppositions, myths, or traditions, statistics are absolutely vital.  Without statistics, most of our evidence will amount to no more than a huge mound of unorganized and impenetrable information that reveals nothing to us and is therefore useless.  In the quest to “see through things” that Peter Berger says is central to sociology, statistics represent an amazing pair of glasses.

Social Stratification (SOC 331) - Gerard Grzyb, Associate Professor of Sociology 

“The first wisdom of sociology is this: Things are not what they seem”  (Peter Berger, 1963)

 In 2005, three of the largest newspapers in America, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, ran series devoted to the topic of socioeconomic class in America.  The stimulus for these series was the recent increase in socioeconomic inequality.  But class is far from a new phenomenon, and it is right in front of us every day.  Much of what we do, feel, say, think, and even dream is heavily influenced by our positions in a system of social classes.  Much of what happens to us, both good and bad, has a significant connection to our class position.  

But we tend not to see the influence of class.  We are virtually blind to this one aspect of society that arguably has the biggest consequences for lives…our daily awareness of it is no better than our awareness of breathing oxygen, yet class is just as critical in its own way.  Gaining an understanding of the class system of structured inequality is important both for comprehending the world we live in and for dealing with it.  To begin to understand the origins, dimensions, supports, and consequences of stratification is also to begin to free oneself from the mental restrictions that are associated with structured inequality.  As a result, I promise you that you will start to see your world and your position within it in ways that you have not fully experienced before.  As such, the sociological analysis of structured inequality, what we call “stratification,” is an important part of a liberal education.

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by scorcm43 last modified Mar 04, 2010 02:12 PM