The first lesson I like students to learn is that they can have an opinion or just have hunches and they are safe to voice them no matter how unpolitical correct that opinion might be, and that having expressed them they must question those opinions or hunches. Students do not come to a social science class as empty vessels, they have lived and have had many personal experience with the topics covered in their courses. By allowing students the freedom to voice their opinions (which are not usually based on empirical observation so fundamental to sociological knowledge), it gives students the confidence and the ability to develop self knowledge which is fundamental to not only to working as a counsellor, in social work, in leadership, but in functioning in all adult roles. We need to be aware of "ourselves". We need to be able to bring to the surface some notion of what the essence of our life is and how we have come to where we are right now. If we cannot at least try to understand our own life how can we be really effective with someone else�۪s life? This is not something that will have a neat ending at the end of the programme, it is a life time challenge with many rises and dips and one I continue to struggle with in my life.
To be really effective with other people�۪s problems we need to ���be present� and to be present we need to be aware of how we think and reason. We need to be aware of our biases as well as other aspects of "who we are?" It also helps in an understanding of the social scientific perspective. While it is useful to look at the larger picture in gaining an understanding of society, we should not forget that we are all individuals with experiences, temperament etc. and the combinations of all these is peculiar to each one of us. It is imperative that students' experiences are not dismissed and students can use them as a means to find their voice as well as their passions. We all carry experiences of family, school, relationships and life. Sociology is about testing hypotheses that can often emerge from these personal experience and from our everyday life. Once students have voiced an opinion on an issue, they then need to be guided to see it for what it is- an opinion. By learning to question their own opinions and see it as perhaps as an interesting hypotheses that has to be tested or maybe an opinion to be discarded, they learn a valuable lesson and become critical readers of all research and news. There is no better place to start learning critical thinking than in critically examining your own thoughts and opinions.
It is often interesting to see when students are asked a question such as what do they think are advantages or disadvantages of the nuclear family that especially students from the West can write a good page on the advantages and may have two sentences on the disadvantages and some may conclude there are no disadvantages. It is the case of the fish not knowing that it is swimming in water. Students can come with pre-fixed ideas and a reluctance to be open. This is the second lesson I like to teach students. We can feel very comfortable in the world we are brought up in, but the sociologist's role is to understand social life, especially in doing ethnography and this includes questioning our comfortable roles. Students need to approach their studies like a crime detective and with an open mind to discover the truth and to provide a critically nuanced insight into the people or group they are studying and attempt to understand them and this includes their own lives.
The third lesson I am particularly passionate about; and that is promoting ethical behaviour and social justice through reflective practice to facilitate human rights for a more caring and empathetic world which allows for respect and diversity and the humanity within all peoples. This is a learning model that helps each student to develop accountability and develop the skills that will enable them to easily justify their integrity, communications and behaviours. Through the presentation of evidence of reflective practice students present evidence for themselves and for evaluation that they have developed a set of values, attitudes and behaviours for professional and ethical function for working with people from diverse backgrounds.These are key transferrable skills. Learning is best viewed as a process of reflection on experience rather than the memorisation of data. Hence, a significant element in the adult learning is that the sum of all the adult's experience which provides a basis for the new learning which takes place. Students are required to build skills in communication through self and tutor appraisal in order to enhance clear thinking and ultimately decision making. Here my main concern is about the growth of the individual student as a unique person able to contribute significantly to society, to one's family and to oneself. For some this maybe be just a few small steps, for others massive leaps. I like to use the four ethical principles from Beauchamp and Childress as a framework to ensure that students tread carefully between moral imperialism on one hand and moral relativity on the other.
Respect for Autonomy ��� The individual's right to make his/her own choiceBeneficience - Act for the best interest of others, do goodNonmaleficence ��� ���Above all, Do no harm�Justice ��� Fairness & Equality ��� the principle of justice demands fair, equitable and appropriate treatment
These principles allow students an initial sense of direction in dealing with moral dilemmas and helps them to avoid a situation where there are no moral justifications for deciding right or wrong and providing a means for prioritisation of the various principles means we avoid moral imperialism while allowing respect to be encouraged. These principles are of course not exclusive and may not be sufficient for some cultural and religious backgrounds. They must also be critiqued. Yet they are a useful framework for students to initially consider ethical dilemmas that they need to discuss.
The final lesson which I would like to mention is a very simple one and one that is not usually experienced in a sociological class. I seek to encourage students to be storytellers. Why storytelling? To ensure students remain personally engaged with sociological concepts. Storytelling is intrinsic aspect of life to all human beings, and stories help explain situations and behaviour. Through a process of engaging with personal stories students can try to make sense of their experiences and gain personal insights. Fairbairn and Carson�۪s (2002) suggest a story encapsulates an important event or experience and it connects us to our sense of being human, often through our emotions. Stories affect students by illustrating what it means to be human, which is essential to any person-centred role. By getting experience in story telling students gain valuable experience in the research method of autoethnographies (auto- (self), -ethno- (the sociocultural), and -graphy (research process) a relatively new and growing, yet challenging qualitative research method which are personalised accounts that draw upon the experience of the author/researcher so as to offer a way of giving voice to personal experience for the purpose of extending understanding. The emotional learning from stories is truly powerful and the learning in transferable, critical and reflective. Boud et al (1993) voice concern about the omission of feelings and emotions in higher education where the emphasis tend to centre solely on intellectual development and this can be detrimental to the well being of students. Stories can allow the expression of anger, stress or frustration where the language of the academic generally prohibits this. Stories that recount lived experiences, stories that are analysed and critiqued can change and enhance personal and professional development.
These are just a few essential lessons that allow students the space to develop their passions within the discipline. These lessons are invaluable for effectiveness in many roles. However, the journey is never without its ups and downs, its setbacks and advances, yet the inspirational moments will hopefully make the journey worthwhile. Just like life, studying is not always plain sailing.
Boud D, Cohen R, Walker D (1993) Using Experience for Learning. Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, Buckingham.
Fairbairn GJ, Carson AM (2002) Writing about nursing research: a storytelling approach. Nurse Researcher. 10, 1, 7-14.