Week 8 @ TMSE – Body Modification by Lisa Meister

In our final day of partnership, we explored the diverse world of body modification. I defined body modification as any deliberate act to change one’s physical appearance. When we looked at some examples from around the world like Nigerian earlobe stretching and Japanese teeth blackening, the students seemed shocked. They could not believe that someone would do that to themselves! I explained that in their communities, the modifications were more typical and held meaning. One very insightful student then noted that we all get our hair cut, and we see it as normal, though it may not be in other cultures.

Following in that theme, we considered the question: who modifies their bodies? Simply put, everyone does. I presented evidence from as far back in human history as 5,300 years in the form of Ötzi the Iceman and his 61 tattoos. We looked at examples of body modification in its many forms from a wide selection of cultures. Finally, we discussed examples of body modification in our own culture. The conclusion we reached was that people modify themselves in different and sometimes extreme ways in depending on the place, time, and situation, but modification itself is very normal.

I then queried the fledgling anthropologists: why? Why do people modify themselves? The kids gave a range of astute answers, because it’s beautiful, to express yourself, and to identify yourself, among them. I added that in some places body modifications are thought to connect people to the spirit world, or bring them closer to their ancestors. In other situations, body modifications mark people of a certain social status, using Polynesian chiefs and their full facial tattoos as an example. Finally, we delved deeper into the idea that people modify themselves to look beautiful. I pointed out that the idea of what is beautiful varies between and within cultures, so when people change themselves to look a certain way they are responding to their own cultural conditions. We hope that explaining that all communities have their own internal logic and meaning attached to their actions will help the students respond with tolerance when encountering people unlike them.

Then it was time to have some fun and do some of our own body modification. Students had the option to create their own tattoos, paint their faces, and adorn their hair with feathers and flowers.

Face painting and some impromptu hair coloring!
Face painting and some impromptu hair coloring!

At each of the stations they had the opportunity to look at examples from other cultures and the meanings they attached to their ornamentation. We thought the kids would take their cues from the examples, but most of them were keen to create their own styles.

Ella displays her new facial
Ella displays her new facial “tattoos”

I think they used the opportunity to express personal identity and creativity more than anything and evidently had fun doing it.

Our most Serious Anthropology Pose
Our most Serious Anthropology Pose

All in all, we had a great last day of a wonderful semester at TMSE. I know I learned a lot from the experience and hope the kids did too. I would like to thank everyone involved for making anthropology a fun and enlightening part of the TMSE partnership.

annnnnd a not so serious pose
annnnnd a not so serious pose

Week 7 @ TMSE – Race by Rochelle Williamson

This week our discussion was on “RACE”, which is a very complicated subject. Because of the complexities of the subject, students gained a wealth of information. The students learned that there are many different “RACES” of people throughout the world. Students were given the opportunity to come up before the class to point out the different “RACES” of people from across the world whose pictures were located on the PowerPoint Presentation screen. The students were very eager to display their knowledge. It was stressed that Anthropologists study people just like those shown and they also study other people from various parts of the world.

TMSE students also learned today, that the United States is called the “MELTING POT” because there are so many different kinds of people living here. A demographic racial breakdown of the “RACES” here in America were illustrated to the students which allowed the students to clearly see the racial diversity of our country. It is important that students are taught the origins of things, so the history behind the word “RACE” was shared. The word “RACE” first began to surface around the 15 th Century. People from Europe began to travel and explore the world. This period was called the AGE OF EXPLORATION. The word “RACE” was originally a Spanish word called “RAZA” which mainly referred to horse breeding. However, the English speaking people adopted this word to mean “race, ethnicity, breed, strain, and lineage.”

The main take-way from class today was that “RACE” is just a man-made word used for putting people into groups. Sometimes grouping people can be harmful and limit a group’s or an individual’s ability to become successful because they may not be given the same opportunities and resources as other groups. When this happens, the students learned that such negatives actions can be termed as “racism” which can ultimately lead to many negative stereotypes and myths. On the other hand, students were also shown that there are positive aspects of putting people into groups. An example of a benefit of grouping people can be seen when Anthropologists group various “RACES” so they can be studied. This process allows Anthropologists and other people the opportunity to learn a lot about a particular culture and see how well a group survives and thrives over time, as well as note when discrimination is present.

Students also learned that for all humans, “RACE” is not determined by Biology. All humans are all 99.9% the same. We have the same body structure: same number of bones, teeth, and organs. We also have similar genes and blood types which flows through our bodies. However, there are small differences in humans which are called HUMAN VARIATIONS. Such variations includes things like: face size, ear size, hair color, hair texture, eye shape, and etc. Students learned that these variations arose over time because of humans’ ability to adapt to their environment. The students learned that the closer ones lives to the equator the darker the skin color and farther away one lives from the equator the lighter the skin color. So, TMSE students were able to realize that geographical locations, climate, and weather all play important roles in determining the color of one’s skin and the shapes of one’s eyes as well as other bodily differences. The students learned that the human body’s ability to change with the environment is called HUMAN ADAPTATIONS.

Last, and certainly not least, students learned that being born or placed in any particular “RACE” does not limit what they or anyone can become in life. Students were shown famous, accomplished and even some ordinary people from all “walks of life”, and they were encouraged and motivated to believe that they could become whatever they desired in life, regardless of their “RACE” or skin color.

Students arguing over which person belonged to what race! They quickly learned this would not be so easy
Students arguing over which person belonged to what race! They quickly learned this would not be so easy

For Today’s Activity, we learned how using “RACE” as a grouping system, is not always an easy method. Deciding a “RACE” can become a confusing guessing game and students found this notion to be true when they played “THE RACE GUESSING GAME.” Students were given the option to choose from five possible racial identities (White, Black, Asian, American Indian and Hispanic). They were then instructed to place and glue their individual pictures onto one and only one possible category for their singular picture. Students were given a total of fifteen pictures to make their analysis. Much to their surprise, most students found the process to be somewhat complicating and confusing because there were just so many similarities among the faces of the various races. The students could not find true definitive separations among the various “RACES” pictured and were unable to identify all pictures correctly. Nevertheless, I think “THE RACE GUESSING GAME”, as a whole was an enjoyable and an enlightening experience for all the TMSE students. I enjoyed teaching this class today!

 

Glueing down the answers before we revealed how the individuals in the photos ACTUALLY identify
Glueing down the answers before we revealed how the individuals in the photos ACTUALLY identify

WEEK 6 @ TMSE – Evolution by Will McCrary

Today’s topic at TMSE was evolution. This is an especially important topic to teach because evolution is so often glossed over in many public schools – I know it was in mine. If we can introduce the principles of evolution to kids when they are young, hopefully people will be more knowledgeable about the concepts of evolution in the future. There is a long way to go, but the University of Alabama and TMSE are taking a step in the right direction.

It was pajama day and there was a substitute teacher so everyone was a little more excited than usual, but I think they still got the gist of the lesson. We started by reviewing what we talked about last week: primates. They were asked to give examples of primates and did very well, they remembered that gorillas, chimpanzees, and lemurs were all primates. Importantly, humans are also primates. We then moved on to talking about evolution. I asked them what they already knew about evolution, and some of them had a basic idea of it, but many seemed to know very little about the concept. (This is why it is important to teach evolution early on.) The first thing to know about evolution is that Earth is very old. The kids tried to guess how old it is, with guesses ranging from five million years to infinity years, but the actual total is that Earth is 4.6 billion years old. For most of that time, all life has lived underwater. We went over some of the first life on land, such as Tiktaalik, which is a little amphibious-looking creature that had little fin-feet and roamed around about 375 million years ago. Ever since then, animals and plants have been evolving on land as well as in the water.

There are four fundamental parts of evolution that we talked about: variation, inheritance, selection, and mutation. Variation simply means that things of the same species are not complete copies of each other. We used the example of dogs – there are many different types of dogs that look very different from one another, but they are all still dogs. Inheritance means that traits an organism has are passed down to its offspring. Dogs continued to be the example here by talking about how a dog of a certain color is likely to have a puppy of the same color. With selection (traits that help an organism to live are more likely to be passed down) we used the example of a stick bug. Stick bugs evolved to look like they are, well, a stick. Because they look like a stick, things that want to eat it have a hard time seeing it, so more bugs with that looked like this lived and the trait was passed on. Finally, mutation is when unexpected things happen when traits are passed down. We gave the example that if someone were to be born with a purple nose, that would be a mutation because no one has a purple nose. The kids really liked this concept.

When these factors combine, you get evolution. There are two examples we discussed in class: giraffes and moths. A long time ago (more than seven million years ago) there were no long-necked giraffes. One member of a species that looked kind of like a deer/donkey had a slightly longer neck. This longer neck allowed it to reach higher plants that no one else could reach. This trait was inherited by later generations and, since it gave this animal a survival advantage, the neck was selectively passed down. Also, at the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, smoke from the factories caused trees in the area to turn black. A white moth that lived in that area stuck out against the black trees and kept getting eaten, but some were a darker color. This allowed those moths to blend in with the tree and, like the giraffe, they survived, and so the trait was passed on. A lot of the kids seemed to understand this example.

In the activity today, the kids got to see a simple version of how evolution works. They got a randomly assigned environment, and drew animals that would be able to live in that environment. We rolled die to determine four factors: the weather, the landscape, what the animal eats, and what eats the animal. For example, if the number rolled made it a freezing environment, they would theoretically make an animal that might be white to blend in with the snow, or make an animal with very thick fur to keep warm. Everyone seemed to enjoy making their animals, and, even though it got a little hectic, a lot of them did a great job with understanding the assignment.

This long-legged bear can easily step over brush in his environment, and can out run the animals that eat him!
This long-legged bear can easily step over brush in his environment, and can out run the animals that eat him!

I hope that the kids were able to get something out of the lesson and activity this week so that they can remember this when they (hopefully) learn more about the theory of evolution in the future. It was a fun day and I am glad to see learning about an important topic at such a young age.