What Anthropologists Should Know

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in Teaching Anthropology | 0 comments

What Anthropologists Should Know

Lauren Miller Griffith, Ph.D.
University of Arkansas
April 1, 2014

Keywords: learning objectives, cognitive domain, affective domain

“Now I laugh when I go to the store and see The Jungle Book next to a display of bananas.”  This is what one of my students told me when I asked what he was getting out of being an anthropology major.  While this may just seem charmingly irreverent, what it captures is a deeper realization that his was of seeing and relating to the world is changing.  His comment reflects recent lessons on Latin America, the romantic notions Europeans often held of the tropics during colonialism, and the ways in which Western demand for certain commodities shapes the lives of those who produce them.  Not to put words in his mouth, but it might be fair to say that anthropology makes students more aware of their role in a global society.

I asked my student this question after being asked by my own mentor what I thought anthropology students should know.  This was not as easy of a task as one might assume.  After unproductively stewing over my email for a while, I asked my colleagues.  Collectively we rehashed the learning objectives that appear on our introductory syllabuses.  Then I asked myself what I am most frustrated with students not knowing by the time they get to my upper-level course in theory.  Yet I still didn’t feel like I had a handle on this seemingly simple question.  What should an anthropology student know, feel and do by the end of his or her undergraduate career?   Is it really important that students be able to distinguish the Omaha kinship type from that of the Hawaiian or is it more important for them to understand that families of all types arise to fill a particular need within societies?  Does being able to do the former lead to the latter or is there a better way to teach our students about the diversity of world cultures and why they should value it?

Unable to ignore the humanist inside myself that advocates for (at least trying) using teaching as an opportunity to increase tolerance and understanding of others, my solution is to propose a set of both cognitive and affective learning objectives for our students:

In terms of cognitive learning objectives, anthropology students should…

  • Understand that the different elements of human social life are interrelated
  • Recognize how major anthropological theories are used to interpret data
  • Apply research methodologies to novel problems faced in their workplace and/or anthropological field site
  • Make decisions about professional & civic issues based on their potential effects on cultural groups

In terms of affective learning objectives, anthropology students should…

  • Be aware that we can only understand someone’s actions in light of their positionalities within interconnected social fields
  • Practice cultural relativism so they avoid unfairly judging others whose practices are different from their own.
  • Value diversity in all of its forms
  • Defend the rights of others to practice their traditional lifeways

As I was thinking about these, I came to the realization that I place a higher value on the affective outcomes of our program than the cognitive ones.  Once students gain basic information literacy and skills in research methodology, they can find much of the content knowledge we used to espouse in lectures on their own. As delightful as I found it to learn interesting facts about other cultures, I find that I’m relatively uninterested in students’ abilities to recall these basic facts.  While it may make them interesting at cocktail parties, and is certainly a worthy goal within the context of specific classes, I believe our ultimate goals in educating undergraduate should be a bit more grand.  So I’ll conclude this blog entry with a question, what should our students learn as part of their intellectual and professional development as anthropologists?

Lauren Miller Griffith, Ph.D. is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Arkansas.  Her research focuses on the intersections of performance, tourism, and education in Brazil, Belize, and the U.S.  Specifically, she focuses on the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira and how non-Brazilian practitioners use travel to the source of capoeira’s birth to increase their legitimacy within this genre.  Lauren’s current interests include the link between tourism and conservation education in Belize.  She is particularly interested in how landscapes become encoded with memories and how this specificity of place can foster intercultural competence in “sun, sand, and sea” tourists.

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