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MayEx focus: The world according to Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa and Maggie

May 24, 2012

By Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

The irrepressible Bart Simpson

Health sciences major Caitlin Shelton is getting to know a new family as part of her May Experience course: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

Before enrolling in “Simpsonology” this month, the Furman junior had never before seen an episode of the animated television show featuring the legendary Simpson family from Springfield. Now, she’s watching up to three episodes per class — and loving it.

But Carmel Price’s sociology class is not just about watching cartoons. The long-running Simpsons series, which debuted more than 20 years ago, is a social and cultural phenomenon that also provides a valuable tool for analyzing sociological concepts, says Price, an Associated Colleges of the South postdoctoral fellow.

The three-week course is offering 18 students the opportunity to take an in-depth look at current issues in education, politics, the environment, gender, marriage, immigration and religion, not only through the lens of the show, but through readings and other activities created by the students themselves.

Students met with Price on the first day of class to build the course syllabus, which includes a final week of classes with three-hour lessons taught entirely by small groups of students on topics ranging from obesity to gun violence.

The student-led, hands-on activities have prompted lively discussions and powerful lessons on social issues. “The students have blown me away,” Price says.

Senior Patrick Starr is part of a group that is using two of the series’ episodes, “Lisa the treehugger” and “Two cars in every garage, three eyes on every fish,” as catalysts for discussions of environmental issues.

While Starr has been a long-time Simpsons fan, “Simpsonology” is his first sociology course. “It’s opened my eyes,” he says, adding it’s as if the class has placed “a big magnifying glass” on the show.

The course has encouraged him to think critically about the social commentary and sociological issues raised in each episode. “It’s been an entertaining and invigorating educational experience,” Starr says.

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