If I Grow Up -- Essential Questions and Supplemental Reading


  • What is attribution theory and how does it affect the way we explain the behavior of others?

  • How does being in the presence of others affect our behaviors? Thoughts? Decisions?

  • How does conformity relate to obedience?

  • How does society pressure people to conform? Are you a conformist or a rebel?

  • What is socialization? What are some of the ways we are socialized as we grow up?

  • How are perspective, assumptions, and observations used to draw conclusions about people and their behaviors?

  • How can we understand racism as a system of discrimination? What is its relationship to poverty? Socioeconomic status?

  • Which is more powerful, the individual or the group?

  • What is the history of gangs and ghettos in the US?

  • What community conditions enable gangs to take root?

  • What does life in gang territory look like to DeShawn?

  • Why is so much violence committed by men?

  • What is institutional and structural racism, and what are some examples of it in the US?

  • How can structural racism be used to explain DeShawn’s life, based on what we know right now?

  • How does structural racism help explain the way that gangs organize their economy?

  • But if drug dealing gets you rich, why do drug dealers live with their mommas?  

  • If drug dealing is the most visible “tournament” for poor black men, and participation almost always equals death or jail time, how much choice really exists for poor black youth?

  • How does perspective change the way we see and interpret things?

  • How can humor be an effective means of communicating perspectives?

  • So how much “choice” is there when it comes to our individual fate?

  • What are the key factors that contribute to our life outcomes?

  • Why read/ write a book about a poor, black boy who ends up in jail?




Supplemental Course Texts/Materials:


  • Short reading on Cognitive Dissonance Theory

  • Stanford Prison Experiment Documentary

  • A Class Divided PBS Documentary on the Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed Experiment

  • Brief History of Bacon’s Rebellion

  • “Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege” by Pem Davidson Buck, excerpted

  • “Defining Racism: Can We Talk?” by Beverly Daniels Tatum, exerpted

  • “History of Street Gangs in the United States” by James C. Howell and John P. Moore

  • “Dichotomous Thinking: Structure and Agency, Nature and Nurture” by Sally Raskoff

  • “Male Violence: Are We Prisoners of Masculinity?” by Quassan Castro

  • Race: The Power of an Illusion PBS Film, Episode Three, “The House We Live In”

  • “Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?” Chapter Three From Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

  • Flowchart on Institutional and Structural Racism created by Anne Ross

  • “The Silent Genocide – Facts About the Deepening Plight of Black Men in America” from The Black Star Project

  • “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” exerpt from the University of Chicago Study on Racism in Hiring



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