June 13, 2011

Anthropology and high school?

Teaching intro to anthropology classes has been really fascinating over the last couple of years.  It's also been pretty fun too.  What I have always enjoyed is the fact that many students react pretty positively to anthropology, even if they thought it was about bugs or dinosaurs when they first enrolled in class.  This happens pretty often--lots of students tell me they had no idea what anthropology was all about when they signed up for class.  This happens, I think, because anthro classes often satisfy certain requirements, so students take the courses without knowing for sure what they are all about.  Now, I can't say that ALL of the students who have taken my classes ended up liking anthropology, but at the end of the semester, many of them admitted that the course was a pleasant surprise. 

So this makes me wonder about the reasons why students have not heard much about anthropology (this has more to do with the PR issues of the discipline itself), and how it might be possible to anthropologize--so to speak--high school a bit.  How many high schools even offer anthropology courses?  What would it take to add a more anthropological perspective to high school history, social studies, and even biology/science courses?  Would this be possible, or is anthropology just too much for high school?  Based upon the interest of students that I have taught, and my own memories of high school, I really don't think it's too crazy to think about teaching anthropology at that level.  Anyway, this is just something I'm thinking about at present, and if any of you out there in internetland have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.


Fran Barone said...

It's true, anthropology is all but absent from high school education. I remember seeing the word once in an AP psychology text book. It's amazing anyone discovers anthropology enough by the time they're applying for college to consider it as a major. In the UK, A-Level anthropology now has a presence in schools (http://www.discoveranthropology.org.uk/for-teachers/anthropology-a-level.html). I certainly think it would help to recruit and keep students if they realized beforehand what anthropology was all about. It could easily fit in with existing history/social studies/bio courses.

Anonymous said...

In Ontario, we do have a Grade 11 course called Intro to Anth, Soc and Psych. The Ministry of Education website states that by the end of this course, students will:
• describe some differences and similarities in the approaches taken by anthropology, psychology, and sociology to the concept of self in relation to others;
• demonstrate an understanding of the social forces that influence and shape behaviour as described by anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists;
• analyse socialization patterns from the perspectives of anthropology,psychology, and sociology.
It's a very structuralist and sociological in its framing choosing to categorize social life as if it occurred in a vacuum of observable behaviour.
It's a start, I guess.

Ryan Anderson said...

@Fran: Thanks for the comment, and sorry for lagging on writing a reply! Another busy summer. Ya, I agree with you that exposure to anthro earlier would be a good thing. It's cool to see that this is happening in at least some places. For me, the biggest thing is that anthropology adds a perspective that tells more stories outside of the usual western history model that I received. And I think there is potential for a much deeper/more critical education. But I'm biased--and this isn't exactly the kind of education that administrators are really looking for at the high school level, at least in many parts of the US.

@Shutterbug: Thanks for the comment. That sounds like a good start. I just found out that my former high school USED to offer anthropology--back in the 80s or 70s--but they dropped it. It'd be interesting to see why this happened. Was it for politics? Or because of funding? Hmmm.

Amy said...

I too have thought about how great it would be to have introductory anthropology courses in high school in terms of both shaping young minds and opening them up to the possibilities of various career paths. Of course, teachers would have to try and avoid using just the standard four-fields framework and make sure to include applied fields.

@Fran - I knew I wanted to be an anthropologist when I was 14, but it wasn't because of a course or a book. It was because of a video game called Amazon Trail (kind of like Oregon Trail). In the game, you meet an anthropologist/ethnobotanist, and for me the rest was history. I don't know if I ever would have discovered anthropology if it weren't for that game.