Whistling Vivaldi Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

These questions can help you to guide your students through a discussion about Claude Steele's 'Whistling Vivaldi' as students examine Steele's arguments about stereotypes and society.

Whistling Vivaldi

Whistling Vivaldi is a nonfiction book by Dr. Claude Steele, a social psychologist, about the real-world implications of stereotypes on both individual and institutional scales. The book itself is part memoir and part an exploration of Steele's research on the topic, which includes anecdotes and stories from people he's encountered. This book should easily get your students talking about the stereotypes they encounter in their own lives, and the following questions can help to guide that conversation in a productive and structured way.

Questions about Content

  • In one sentence, can you describe Whistling Vivaldi? What is this book about? Does it have a central argument? What is that argument? What does the book's title mean? How does this title connect to the central argument of the book?
  • How does Steele start the book? What did you think about this story? What do you think that would have been like? Think about the circumstances around when you learned about how people saw your race or ethnicity. Think about how this impacted you. Think about how your experience was similar and different to Steele's. What do you think accounts for these similarities and differences?
  • Why do you think Steele starts this book with a personal account from his own childhood? Why doesn't he start with a clinical study, or a client's experiences? Why is it important that we understand the author's connection to this topic? How does this establish the tone for this book?
  • How does Steele introduce the main argument? How does he build it throughout the book? What types of evidence did he use? When does he use personal experience? When does he use other people's experiences? When does he use more clinical research? Provide what you think was the most effective example of each. Did you think the author balanced all three of these well?
  • What is an identity contingency? What is an example from the book? Can you think of an additional example you may have seen in real life? Do you think this a useful term to help us understand the world?

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