The summer before my Anthropology year was remarkably similar to many of my previous six summers. My oldest had just finished kindergarten, so he was with me everyday. My other kids were not yet old enough to be in school, so they were still in daycare at least part time for the summer in order for us to not lose their spots for the coming fall when I would be back in school teaching. During the week, I set up a routine with the kiddos. I waited for days on which I would have more than just my oldest to go out and do fun stuff like going to the zoo or going to the science museum.
Most days of the week we also went to the local library or the one one town over. Both have a good selection of books for kids, I was always picked something up, and they both served lunch for free to children under eighteen. On most days I was able to meet up with my friend Abby and her daughter; all of the kids enjoyed playing around together, and on several days of the week the libraries would have events like cultural programs or story time that led into lunch.
Most of these trips were morning and early afternoon, which left us the rest of the afternoon to stay out of the sun at home. It was also after this that the littles would take naps for an hour or two and the oldest would relax on the couch, either reading the books he had checked out that day or watched The Who Was Show on Netflix. This stopping point in our day was also the point at which I was able to plan for my Anthropology class.
As an undergraduate student, I took a variety of courses that covered each of the major sub – fields, although I focused primarily on Socio – Cultural Anthropology. Even still, the professors I had the luck of working with gave me a strong background in each, along with the skills and drive to continue my education beyond the classroom. A few of my favorites were:
- Linguistic Anthropology
- Visual Anthropology
- Anthropology of Gender
- Archaeology of Ancient Civilizations
- Human Origins
- The Brazilian Amazon Rainforest
- Economic Anthropology
- Anthropological Theory
- Ritual and Belief
My goal in developing this class was to impart the joy of learning about humanity in much the same way my professors had for me. The human brain is incredibly faulty, however, and it could be that I am painting my past with rose – colored glasses. In the hours, days, weeks, and months that I worked at developing the course, though, I recalled how much I really did enjoy my time as an undergrad.
I developed a reading assignment for my students; they used Dr. Dennis O’Neil’s web pages: An Overview of Anthropology and Fields of Anthropology. This became the basis on which I decided to design the opening week of the course. I posted the reading on the home page of my website before classes began with a statement that students should feel free to complete the reading in preparation for the first day of class. The reading describes the basic four – field approach of traditional Anthropology, as well as the universals which Anthropologists accept.
The learning goals I set with regard to this portion of the reading and discussions during the first week of class are as follows:
- Students recognize the four unifying concepts of Anthropology
- Human universalism: All people are fully and equally human. This concept is an incredibly important one to modern Anthropology, but as you probably can imagine, it has not been a constant. One of the first Anthropologists to recognize and promote the importance of this concept was Franz Boas, the Father of American Anthropology (more on his later).
- Cultural integration: All cultural traits are connected to all other cultural traits within a society. Culture only makes sense as an integrated whole, much as the body does. Should one part begin to malfunction, the rest generally faces additional problems. Culture is similar; one change to a single trait tends to have a ripple effect across a society.
- Cultural adaptation: Humans are small and feeble when compared to other large land mammals. We have no claws, our muscles are comparatively small, our teeth are designed to eat cooked food; most of us would not survive in the wild with only our bodies to support us. But what we do have is exceptional brains. As we began to adapt to life on the savanna (according to most all paleoanthropologists), our specialized bodies began to develop larger and larger brains which allowed for specific adaptations such as manufacturing tools, language, and tactical organization.
- Culture: This is our learned behavior, our knowledge acquired from people we will never meet, and our shared beliefs, traditions, and social norms. All humans participate in shared culture, regardless of their respective status within society.
- Students can identify and describe the four – fields of Anthropology.
- Bio – physical Anthropology: This is the research involved with non – cultural aspects of modern humans and near – humans such as prosimians, monkeys, apes, and extinct hominid ancestors. A key component of this field, and one on which I planned on spending a decent portion of time, is primate evolution. In teaching this portion, I planned to spend three to four weeks breaking it into a pair of sections: primatology and human origins.
- Archaeology: This is the study of artifacts and fossils which scientists then use in order to gain a better sense of civilizations, their social and political systems, and their social norms. Oftentimes, Archaeology is the study of a society’s trash; many researchers have found sites with a wide array of shards, tools, and other miscellaneous fragments. While these sites are treasure troves for information, it also means that scientists must be able to piece together information with no or limited context at times.
- Socio – Cultural Anthropology: Researchers in this field tend to live with the people they are studying for a variety of reasons. One is the importance of participant observation, the effort by researchers to understand norms, beliefs, and behavior through participation. Another is the attempt to limit the Hawthorne Effect, i.e., the change in a person’s behavior when they know they are being observed. Cultural Anthropologists study political organizations, kinship systems, subsistence patters, religion, and the like. Early Anthropologists often observed “traditional” societies, such as the Trobriand Islanders in the South Pacific, the Inuit in Canada, or the Yanomami in the Amazon. In the modern era, Anthropologists have turned toward industrial societies, as well.
- Linguistics: Despite this not being my focus as an undergrad, this was possibly the most interesting of the four fields to me. Linguists study human symbolic communication, including the physiology of speech, the structure and use of language, and the evolution of languages. Historically, Anthropologists focused on unwritten languages, focuses on the grammatical and mechanical rules. Many early Anthropologists such as Claude Levi – Strauss also focused on how symbols and symbolic language impact our respective world views, e.g., if a language does not have a term for blue, can its speakers differentiate blue from purple or green? Based on research, the answer is not as simple as one may assume.
In teaching, I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of graphic organizers. Even the most simplistic set of boxes for definitions is effective for learners. With this in mind, I created a very simple graphic organizer for my students to use as they read the web pages for the second day of class and then came in and discussed it with one another, then we debriefed as a whole class. You can find the graphic organizer the students used below.
What are your thoughts on this lesson? How would you improve on it? What changes should I make to the graphic organizer? Thanks for reading and responding!