ROYGBIV II is slightly on hold. I realized yesterday that I shouldn’t post student artwork without permission from parents. Since I haven’t managed to talk to every parent yet, I’ll dispense with showing more artwork until later (though I’ll leave what I’ve already posted for now). I’m hoping to post a slide show when I secure permissions and talk a little about what the students did.
So instead I’ll call this post “Participant Observation.” I majored in anthropology in college, and participant observation is the primary methodology cultural anthropologists use for studying people of other cultures. After completing my degree, it really bothered me that I couldn’t settle on a “people” to study for a PhD, for that’s what cultural anthropologists do. Choose a people, study the heck out of them in an academic setting, then practice participant observation by spending time with the actual human beings in their true environments. The anthropologist uses his or her position as participant observer to bring information back to the academy – and to the rest of us. And I realize I’m making light of something I also hold dear.
Anyway, I couldn’t choose a people, even though so many I’d studied were fascinating. I was also ambivalent about the power dynamic between the scholar and the studied.
(Maybe I also just really wanted to be an artist, even worse an illustrator, and worse still a children’s book illustrator…)
Anyway again, I’m nevertheless glad I majored in anthropology, because I loved studying it. I have also wondered if I’m one of those people you hear tell about with a useless liberal arts degree. You hear about them especially these days when so many have huge student loan debts.
I reject that. I don’t reject that huge student loan debt is a huge problem, but I still think liberal arts is the best education you can get. I’ve also recently realized I actually have a practical use for my anthropology degree.
My “people” are children. I participate in their activities and observe their behavior. And they truly are of a different culture, although of course there’s overlap. Our job as grown-ups is to inculcate them in our ways – teach, of course, but also aculturate.
So I believe I’m going to start taking a new kind of notes. I already try to keep a journal, though I don’t have as much time for it as I’d like, but I’m thinking about anthropological kinds of notes.
For example, “Today, 3 wood chips from the playground in daughter’s school bag; significance?” Or “Daughter’s friend collects pebbles instead; father can’t determine difference between pebbles chosen and those left on ground; selection criteria?”
In addition to notes, I’ll make use of another technique favored by anthropologists, the interview. For example:
Q: Why do you collect wood chips?
A: I don’t know.
Q: May I throw them away?
There. I’ve finally used my degree in a practical way.