COVID made some things different this semester. In fall 2020, I taught the course online. I was happy to be able to meet this semester face-to-face, but we were required to wear masks in the classroom, which definitely inhibited discussion. Perhaps not more than meeting on Zoom inhibits discussion, but certainly compared to the first 5 times I taught the course under normal circumstances. I also kept the enrollment down to 13 students (instead of 16-18) in order to allow for more social distancing in class.
Despite the challenges, the course realized my aspirations in teaching it. This can be seen most clearly in the final reflection papers students submitted for the course. Over the next week or so I will be posting some of these papers here, so stay tuned.
And read on for a brief review of the course and additional information about the final reflection assignment.
My collected posts post provides links to a description of every course module we covered this semester. As usual, the course hits its peak at our very first meeting when we make our annual field trip to the gun range.
The students’ first assignment is to write a reflection on the field trip experience and think about how it fits in with their prior understanding of guns. Some of those field trip reflections were posted on this blog in September.
Although in a sense the course is downhill from the range trip, there are still plenty of highlights. Guest speakers who graciously make their way to Winston-Salem provide many of those. This year we welcomed John Johnston (again) and his colleague Melody Lauer (first visit) from Citizens Defense Research to discuss the place of training in the concealed carry revolution.
Gun educator Rob Pincus of the Second Amendment Organization and Center for Gun Rights and Responsibilities made his fourth class appearance to discuss gun injuries (especially suicide) and ways of encouraging gun owner responsibility while protecting gun rights.
Craig Douglas of Shivworks also made a return visit to class to discuss the issue of police use of force. In addition to discussing issues of policing with the students, he also ran an experiential learning lab scenario with two student volunteers to highlight the challenges of police decision-making under stress.
And Executive Director of the Liberal Gun Owners Randy Miyan made a second trip out of the North Carolina mountains to share his perspectives on guns and liberalism. As he told my students, “You can have a soft heart and believe in armed self-defense.” He also introduced the students to the idea of projectile weapons as an anthropological reality among Homo sapiens.
The major assignment students complete in the course is a seminar paper in which they move beyond their personal views (articulated in their field trip reflection essays) and adopt a scholarly approach to the question of guns in society. Students consider the role guns actually play in society by systematically engaging sociological theories and studies (called “the scholarly literature”) on one specific aspect of the broader phenomenon. Because there is a limited number of topics I can cover in a single semester, I encourage the students to choose a topic that is of interest to them that they want to investigate further. The topics students chose this semester can be found here.
Before submitting their final seminar papers, students present their seminar paper works-in-progress to their classmates at semester-ending Celebration of Learning. After submitting their seminar papers, they write a final short essay reflecting on the semester:
In this final essay, you will revisit your previous personal experience with and understanding of guns in the U.S. (as expressed, e.g., in the field trip reflection essay) in light of your consideration of the role guns actually do play in American society. Reflecting on what you learned from completing your major writing assignment, as well as the class more generally, discuss how your mind has (and/or has not) changed. Conclude this paper by considering what more you need to know in order to make informed choices about your own participation with and the place of guns in the communities in which you live and will live in the future.
The first of these reflection essays will be posted here tomorrow, so tune in then.