I am working on revamping my intro to sociology class from the ground up right now for the, long awaited, class pack 2.0[1] and it has me questioning, what topics are the most important to a 101 class? I’ve talked before about how I think a 101 class is like a Tapas restaurant, but the question is which bite size chunks of sociology must be included.

Looking through Teaching Sociology it appears I am in no way the first to raise this question. Many scholars have asked the question, “what should our goals be when teaching sociology?” I really enjoyed Hodges Persell, Pfeiffer, and Syed (2007) piece about what award wining and high ranking sociological teachers think is important[2]. Grauerholz and Gibson (2006) examined syllabi for common articulations of student learning goals and the means used to achieve them. Their work suggests that most sociologists incorporate readings, writing, and exams and that, “more active types of learning were less common” (Grauerholz and Gibson 2006: 5).

In “Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major Updated” McKinney, Howery, Strand, Kain, and White Berheide (2004:1) articulate our teaching objectives in language that is both poetic and inspiring:

The best thing sociology can do for undergraduate students, whether majors or not, is to teach them to learn effectively so that they can keep up with rapid changes in society, particularly in knowledge, and live meaningful, engaged, and productive lives. If we can achieve this goal and their on-going learning is based on a template of understanding the importance of social structure and culture—the sociological perspective—then we will have succeeded in providing an education worth having and in producing citizens and workers who will be of continuing value to their communities and employers.

But the question I have yet to find a strong discussion about and that I’d like to turn toward you all is, what subjects are truly critical for an introduction to sociology? For so many of our 101 students, this may be the only time in their life when they have the opportunity to learn and discuss the social issues of our time. What then, should we teach them? What must they be exposed to?

This question seems like it should be rather academic, pun intended. Many disciplines have a standard collection of topics that all introductory students must be exposed to. Sociology does not have such a thematic standardization and I for one say thank god! What makes sociology so interesting is how divergent a discipline it is. That makes it interesting, but it also has the potential to make it unwieldy.

For example, as someone who teaches Environmental Sociology as an upper division class, it can be challenging when students have had absolutely no exposure to thinking about the connection between the natural world and the social. I’m not suggesting that we mandate environmental sociology into introductory level soc classes, but rather, making the point that sociology students can have vastly different experiences from one teacher to another and that this has to have consequences.

What I’d like to ask you is, “What subjects are so important that you feel obligated to teach them to your 101 students?” I invite you to share you thoughts in the comments below, but I also thought a quick survey might get us some good non-random, non-generalizable data about what our community thinks. For lack of a better idea, below is a list of the chapters I found in the five 101 books I had in my office.


  1. Grauerholz, Liz and Greg Gibson. 2006. “Articulation of Goals and Means in Sociology Courses: What Can We Learn from Syllabi.” Teaching Sociology 34(1):5–22.
  2. Hodges Persell, Caroline, Kathryn M. Pfeiffer, Ali Syed. 2007. “What Should Students Understand after Taking Introduction to Sociology?” Teaching Sociology 35(4):300–314
  3. MicKinney, Kathleen, Carla B. Howery, Kerry J. Strand, Edward L. Kain, and Cheterine White Berheide. 2004 Liberal Learning and the Sociology Majory Updated: Meeting the Challenge of Teaching Sociology in the Twenty-First Century. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

  1. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve cooked up for the CP2. I’ve spent at least 40 hours already working on it and I think you are really going to dig it. I am really truly sorry for the delay. Also, thank you to everyone for the words of encouragement over this last year as I’ve worked on it. More soon.  ↩

  2. Also interesting was the study’s finding that many of the senior faculty they asked to participate declined because they had almost no recent experience teaching an introductory class.  ↩