criminology

Talking about mass killings, almost every semester

I’ve been teaching at Le Moyne since the fall of 2005. Minus one semester of sabbatical, that’s 15 semesters. If you count the recent Boston Bombings, I have led spontaneous sociological/criminological reflections on mass killings (usually shootings) that occurred during 10 of those 15 semesters. If you count conversation about Jared Loughner’s crime which happened immediately prior to the spring 2011 semester, then it’s 11 of 15 semesters. Most of those conversations were only a few minutes long because the shootings didn’t capture national attention like some others. Some semesters had more than one, or shootings which animated, unplanned conversations taking up an entire class. I recall that our conversations about Nidal Malik Hasan‘s shooting at Fort Hood lent itself to applying ideas we’d been discussing in Sociology of Religion, and that Seung-Hui Cho’s Virginia Tech shooting was particularly frightening for college students. I also note that we barely talked at all about Kurt Myers’ Herkimer shooting that took place just 70 or so miles from here, and that the ambush of firefighters in Webster (just 70 or so miles the other direction) happened in between semesters.

My approach to these discussions is usually to tell the students that they are educated adults and have a responsibility to think carefully about these events. I’ll tell them I don’t have any clear answers, but that together we can think of the right questions to consider if we want to achieve some understanding, and maybe work with others to end these sad events. They sometimes go a little like this post of mine after Newtown, CT. Tomorrow I’ll lead a less spontaneous, but hastily planned discussion about Boston. We’ll start the conversation with this essay comparing the bombings there with other crimes like Columbine. Maybe next time there is a mass shooting to talk about I’ll use this from the The Chronicle. But, I hope not because no matter how powerful these classroom experiences can sometimes be, I don’t want to continue having these spontaneous discussions.

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Edit (4/25/2013): Add this to our discussion of Boston. A danger of the spontaneous conversations is the relatively high likelihood of ignoring the context of the high profile shootings, which includes our violent, racist, xenophobic, American culture.

Student Suggested Readings

On the role of sibling ties in the Boston bombing

Parents Deny Sons’ guilt and accuse U.S. of plot

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Certainty means more Mergers, Mergers mean more Uncertainty, Uncertainty means more Crime?

This morning in a criminology seminar we discussed a section of Crime and the American Dream by Richard Rosenfeld and Steven F. Messner (the section in this book). Their “thesis is that the anomic tendencies inherent in the American Dream both produce and are reproduced by an institutional balance of power dominated by the economy” (Rosenfeld and Messner 2011: 179). The dominance of the economy, they argue, weakens other institutions like the family, the government, and education, and the American Dream encourages unrestrained individualism and innovation. The cultural and institutional preferences given to individual economic success, along with the breakdown of other institutions which might foster community oriented values leads to a loss of social control and high levels of criminal behavior.

After class I opened up nytimes.com and this was the lead story: “Confidence on Upswing, Mergers Make Comeback.

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Teaching With Twitter: How I think I’ll use Twitter in class

This semester I’m attempting to make Twitter an active part of my teaching. My plan is to share news items, research results, and other helpful information that comes via Twitter with students. I’ve asked them to follow my ‘professional account’ (yes, I’ve got another on which I mostly tweet about music and baseball). I’ve also created tags for the two classes so we can interact that way. Below is something I wrote up as a way to clarify my own thinking about using Twitter for class. I wrote as if I was speaking to the students because I planned on saying it on the first day of class. I did say most of it. I’m sharing it here on the blog because I thought readers might have advice. I’m sure there are holes and contradictions. After the monologue I’ll share some of my concerns and questions at this point, and then I’ll include my syllabus statements about Twitter (some overlap with what I said).

Monologue

So, as you can see from the syllabus, and if you’ve been following me on Twitter already, I want to use Twitter a bit in this class. I don’t intend for this to mean you’re on your phones/computers/tablets tweeting everything we say (or your own distractions, whatever they are) when we have class. In fact, most of the time I don’t want you tweeting in class because I want you talking (imagine that!), but sometimes it will be appropriate. I’ll let you know when that is (i.e. later in the semester when we talk about social networks, technology, globalization, etc.). See the statement on the syllabus: (more…)