Below is an activity I’ve seen used a few different ways. The activity helps to illustrate the issue of mate selection for forming a family; it also gets students thinking about gender, sexuality, and the life course.
First, have students think about their expectations of what their immediate family will be like someday. What are their plans for the future? Or, if they are already married or in a domestic partnership, what is their family like?
Then, have students draw a future mate randomly from the list below, which has been adapted from several versions of this exercise. The trick is that the draw is indeed random, so there will be same-sex, interracial, or other couples.
- A middle-class, white man who travels three weeks each month for his job and has three kids from a previous marriage of whom he has custody. Currently, he has a live-in nanny but would rather have a full-time parent in the home for his kids.
- A wealthy, African-American woman who owns a publishing business in Chicago.
- A working class, Latino man from Costa Rica who wishes to live near his family in his home country.
- An upwardly-mobile white woman who wishes never to have kids or at least not to care for them herself. (If you want kids, you will have to be the sole parent.)
- A female, Presbyterian minister whose first job assignment is in central Kansas.
- An African-American male professor who has tenure at Harvard.
- A English man who wishes to live in the US but cannot get residency for 3-4 years as a result of the immigration waiting list for English citizens into this country.
- A white, male Florida “cracker” whose family has owned a fishing business in Everglades City for two generations. He plans to adopt the business in five years and needs to continue working for the business until that time.
- Martha Stewart’s sister, a middle-class, white woman who plans to be a homemaker.
- An Indian woman (US resident) whose parents are planning to arrange a marriage for her with someone other than you.
Students must suppose they will fall in love with this person within five years and plan to form a family with them. Then, they should think about the following questions:
How will their future plans be affected by this selection? What will their other family members think? Where will they live? What about kids? What is the likelihood that they would actually consider marrying this person?
Check out the myriad posts on Soc Images about marriage and family, and consider coupling one or two with this exercise!
With a marriage amendment looming in Minnesota, I decided to spend a day on this issue in my Sociology of Families class. I wanted to present both sides of the issue without having to do it myself–because I could have hardly been neutral on the subject–so I had the students read short commentaries on the subject in class and evaluate the persuasiveness of the arguments.
This activity could apply to any contentious political issue that you would like to discuss in class, but are wary of sounding biased.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how I organized this activity in my class of 80 students:
(I allowed about an hour for this activity, but it could definitely have been longer.)
1. Before class, I collected several different commentaries from a major newspaper–half opposed to the amendment and half in favor of it. I paired one opposed with one in favor and stapled them together in a pack.
2. First, I split my class into groups of 4-5 and had each group read one commentary supporting the amendment and one opposing it–so each packet was being analyzed by two groups only.
3. I gave them 10 minutes or so read the commentaries, asking them to look for arguments that they found compelling or not compelling. I instructed them to underline and take notes on their handout, especially focusing on arguments that relate to themes we have discussed in class. For example, what have we learned in class that would serve as evidence to either suport or refute this claim?
4. Then, I had them discuss the articles with their small groups, and share which arguments they had focused on. This is the part that could have been a bit longer. Most groups appeared to be having spirited conversations about the articles.
5. Lastly, I asked them to share their analyses with the class. When they shared which arguments they had discussed, I prodded them to explain why they found that specific argument compelling or not compelling, and urged them to bring in material from class that would support their claim. (This part didn’t come as easy to them, which made me think that this would also be a great take-home exercise where they would have more time to reference their notes from previous classes). I took notes on their comments on the board, but I don’t think I would do that again. I feel it might have been a more fluid discussion without it.
Last month, as a Special Feature on The Society Pages, Jennifer Lee (a sociologist at University of California at Irvine) provided our readers a sociological take on “Chinese mother phenomenon.”
Lee is responding to Yale Law professor Amy Chua’s highly controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011). In advance of the book, The Wall Street Journal published “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” In the article and the book, Chua argues that Western parents do their children a disservice by not raising them with strict and demanding expectations for achievement.
Lee’s is another piece that is definitely going on my Sociology of Families syllabus in the fall, but it would fit well in any Intro to Sociology class or any class on education, culture, or youth. I would assign both Amy Chua’s WSJ article and Lee’s Tiger Kids and the Success Frame. What I love about Lee’s piece is that it does not reject Chua’s argument outright, but explores it from a sociological perspective. She asks (and answers):
How do we explain the academic achievement of Asians, especially when the patterns defy traditional status attainment models?
This topic is especially suited for most undergrads (18-22 year olds) in that they have only recently left their parents home and generally do not have families of their own. This life stage puts them in a unique position to compare how they were raised with how they want to raise their own (hypothetical) children when it comes to educational achievement.
For further context, check out the audio review of Chua’s book and parenting method on NPR and an excerpt from the book, as well as a response from Amy Chua to reader’s questions and a response her oldest daughter (age 18) to the criticism her mom received after publishing Battle Hymn.
I’m planning a Sociology of Families course, and I am definitely putting Eric Klinenberg‘s New York Times article One’s a Crowd and Office Hours interview with him–Eric Klinenberg on Going Solo–on the syllabus. He cites many sociologists and sociological research in the NYT article. This article and the interview would be great for a Soc of Families class or any Intro class on the subject of families or individualism in Western culture.
In any discussion of families in the United States, we cannot forget about all the people (40-50% in prosperous American cities) who choose to live alone. He points out that, because of new technologies–cell phones, internet, social networking, etc.–people who live alone are not alienated or isolated in ways that they may have been twenty years ago. I love the counterintuitive finding that people who live alone are actually more social than those with families.
This article and interview would be great for use in the classroom because many young people today view living alone as somewhat of a ‘rite of passage’ into adulthood, but do not envision themselves living along in middle-age. It would be very interesting to get students’ perspectives on this topic. Some discussion questions to get to conversation going or to have them answer at home:
1. Have you ever lived alone? Do you see yourself living alone at any time in the future? What are the advantages to living alone in your opinion? What are the disadvantages?
2. How is privilege related to living alone? Who gets to live alone and who doesn’t?
3. What do you think of Klinenberg’s point that people who live alone are actually more social than people who live with families?
4. Klinenberg discusses the internet and cellphones as tools that allow people to feel connected to others even when they live alone. How often do you communicate with people through text or on social networking sites like Facebook? How do you think this compares to face-to-face interaction? Do you think the rise in digital communication is a positive or negative development? Why?
TSP’s Sarah Lageson recently sat down with Megan Comfort to talk about her research on women in relationships with incarcerated men. You can read a summary of the fascinating interview here and listen to the entire interview here.
This interview would be particularly useful to demonstrate the effects of prisons beyond the incarcerated individual. Below are a few discussion questions that can be used with the interview.
1. Briefly explain “presence creation” in your own words and provide an example.
2. What were some of the key things that women in Comfort’s study valued about their relationships with incarcerated men? Did any surprise you? Why or why not?
3. Can you think of any examples of secondary prisonalization that you’ve seen first-hand or heard about through friends or family?
A group of sociologists recently revisited the controversial 1965 Moynihan Report. Your students can read about it in the Fall 2009 Contexts feature “The Moynihan Report, A Retrospective” by Kate Ledger. Below are some questions and an activity you can use in the classroom.
1) The Moynihan Report is available online at http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/webid-meynihan.htm. Read the introduction and describe how it compares with the image you had after reading the Contexts article. Which analysis do you find more compelling and/or enlightening?
2) According to this article, a number of sociologists think Moynihan would have had different ideas about black families had he studied class instead of race. Why would this be true?
3) When the Moynihan Report was leaked to the press 45 years ago, there was an outcry and social science about family, race, and inequality started to happen “under the radar.” How can the media help or hinder social science research?
Activity: Use www.eurekalert.com or a comparable source to find a press release on a social scientific study that sounds interesting. Read the press release and the original article (your school’s library website will help you find the original) and compare them. Does the press release do the article justice? What parts of the original research seem overlooked? Do any seem overhyped?
This week, we highlight the article Families Facing Untenable Choices by Lisa Dodson and Wendy Luttrell in the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts. The article asks important questions without easy solutions. We recommend using this article in your class to encourage students to explore the hidden ironies of combining working and parenting among low-income mothers.
Before class, have students do a thorough reading of the article and outline the problems faced by low-wage mothers that appear in this article. Then, have them answer this question on their own in class before having a group discussion about the article:
Why are low-income mothers in a lose-lose situation when it comes to being mothers and workers?
This article would be paired well with the article highlighted last week “Children” Having Children by Stefanie Mollborn in the same issue of Contexts.
In addition, we suggest having students listen to the Lisa Dodson, Wendy Luttrell and Stefanie Mollborn talk about low-income and teen motherhood in an interview with Office Hours on The Society Pages.
Teen parenting as a social issue does not fit neatly into categories of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for most people…which makes it great material for teaching sociology! Take a look at the article “Children” Having Children by Stefanie Mollborn in the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts and use the activity below in your classroom.
Before students read the article, have a class discussion about their perceptions of teen parenting. What are their first reactions to the issue? Do they have personal experience with the issue? Were their fathers or mothers teen parents? Their friends? Themselves? What are social and practical challenges they imagine teen parents must face? Should the government use taxpayer money to prevent teen parenthood or leave it alone?
Then have the students read the article for the next class meeting and have students form small groups to discuss 1) how the article may have changed their views on the issue and 2) what was missing from the discussion from the last class that the article brought up.
Come back to the larger group and have volunteers from each group relay what they discussed. Then, ask students to explore what, if anything, should be done about this issue (e.g. whether government funds should be used to combat teen parenthood, and if so, directed where?)
These questions were created to accompany “Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids” by William Marsiglio.
1) In what ways can a father negatively affect his children’s health before birth and after birth? Which mechanisms are biologically based and which are socially based?
2) How can gendered expectations of masculinity affect fatherhood? Would ideas about masculinity would have to change in order to improve parenting by fathers?
3) Make a list of both positive and negative examples of fatherhood in the popular media. Which are more abundant and why?
4) The author suggests several policies that would help mitigate the number of fathers having a negative effect on their children’s health. Which of these policies seem most promising to you? Why? Can you think of any other policies to add to the list?
For any gender, family, or business related lecture, we recommend “The Rhetoric and Reality of Opting Out” (Contexts, Fall 2007) which you can read here.
We’ve created discussion questions as well as an activity for you to use with this article in the classroom:
1) How does your generation view mothers who stay at home? How have these perceptions changed from your parents’ and grandparents’ generations? Is this change positive or problematic in your opinion?
2) According to Stone, what is the real culprit behind more and more mothers dropping out of the workforce? What are some underlying problems with many “family friendly” work arrangements?
ACTIVITY: Assume you’ve been given the task of re-designing your company’s workplace environment and scheduling norms so they are better suited for the types of working parents highlighted in this article. How could you change the work culture so mothers weren’t penalized for taking advantage of flexible work arrangements? Could any other problems result from your solutions?