making social facts easy to understand

Below is a guest post from Nathan Palmer, creator of a site focused on spreading ideas and resources for teaching sociology.

“Uh Professor, I think you are way off on this one. I know what your sociology research tells you, but people round here aren’t like that.”

Teaching students to see beyond the individual and at the sociological level is really hard. Especially in the United States we overvalue anecdotal personal experiences & undervalue empirical social facts. Worse yet, when student’s lived experiences differ from what sociological research finds, they believe that their lived experience invalidates the sociological research. So how can we get our students to see at the sociological level? Easy. Just put it in terms they understand.

I tell my class to imagine that I have just handed back their graded tests for them to review. I tell them that the class average was a 72%. This, I tell them, is an empirical social fact. The trend or in this case the average for the entire class was 72%.

Then I ask them, “would it make sense if one of you told me ‘the average can’t be a 72% because I got a 96% on my test’?” They laugh at the ridiculousness of this question. “Well when I present to you empirical social facts and you say to me ‘well I know this one guy who doesn’t do what your research says’ or ‘well that’s not true in my experience, so your social fact must be wrong’ you are basically arguing that because you got a 96% the class average can’t be a 72%” Many heads nodding in unison. They get it.

Author: Nathan Palmer

I am a sociology teacher who makes, finds, & shares useful things for other teachers at & I am faculty @ Georgia Southern University

6 thoughts on “making social facts easy to understand”

  1. Make sure to click that link above. Nathan has a ton of great posts on teaching, and on top of that, has made his entire Soc101 course available as a single download. This includes Keynote (or PowerPoint, if you must) slides that are almost entirely image-based. It is an amazing collection of resources, and a great benefit to all the students to those of us too lazy busy to spend hours searching for images to convey our ideas. Writing assignments, notesheets, you name it. Incredible.


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