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Teaching Strategies: Nacirema and Natural Selection

As the winter semester gets going, I wanted to note a couple of useful teaching-related articles in recent AAA publications.

1) William Guinee writes “A Strategy for Teaching Horace Miner’s ‘Nacirema’” in the Fall 2007 issue of Teaching Anthropology, SACC Notes (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) (not yet available online). Guinee’s strategy calls for revealing the secret of the Nacirema to students prior to teaching with it because he finds that students feel tricked (perhaps stupid) if they don’t get the surprise. Moreover, he finds that students are more likely to get the messages of the article – cultural misinterpretation, the anthropological viewpoint – if they know in advance Miner’s rhetorical devices. At best, Guinee finds that uninformed students reading the Nacirema only achieve a “passive appreciation of its cleverness.”

I taught the Nacirema in my Intro to Cultural Anth class for the first time this past fall and will try again this winter. Guinee challenges me to ask students to try exoticizing their own culture as a way of actively engaging students in the “artificial creation of social scientific distance.” By doing so, says Guinee, the word Nacirema can become a trigger during lectures for highlighting moments of anthropological creation and distancing.

2) I appreciate greatly Timi Lynne Barone’s article “Teaching Human Evolution Through Hands-on Method” in the December 2007 issue of Anthropology News (subscription required). I do not teach evolution – and I am unlikely to use her method – but the game she created replicating natural selection is intriguing to me. It gets students moving around, interacting, laughing, and playing – all while learning about anthropology. These are all good things, I believe, regardless of subfield.

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  1. I believe that the students should not be told about true nature of the article before hand. It is really a shame that the preparation of students for university is so weak that the students would not immediately know what is going on. Putting that aside, if a student does not immediately recognize what is going on, they will have an opportunity to reread the article from another prospective. Sonjiala Carella has recently written a blog entry about her reaction to the article as an anthropology student. Bloody Flag: Who Loves Paris in the Summer?

    I think her reactions are a strong endorsement for its continuing use in such courses.

    Friday, January 25, 2008 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Thank you very much for the comment and link, Robert. I tend to agree with you and appreciate greatly Sonjiala Carella’s prose.

    I don’t tell students the point of the article and won’t for now. But I was intrigued that someone who has taught the article for years concluded that he could get more out of the article by doing so. I’m prepared to change my opinion in the future, should the need arise.

    Friday, January 25, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Permalink