Public display of affection
The authors of the “The Changing Landscape of Love and Marriage” (found in the most recent issue of Contexts) Kathleen Hull, Ann Meier and Timothy Ortyl have graciously lent the Teaching blog some great ideas for ways to use their article in the classroom.
The first activity they offer to pair with the article is an in-class survey that asks the students to rank their feelings/opinions on love, relationships and sexuality.  Here’s a sample of the questions:

Full survey here.

In-Class Survey (sample questions)

Rate the importance of the following characteristics in a mate, using a four-point scale as follows:

A=indispensable; B=important; C=desirable, but not very important; and D=irrelevant or unimportant.

9.  good cook and housekeeper
10. pleasing disposition
11.  sociability
12.  similar educational background
13.  refinement and neatness
14.  good financial prospect
15.  chastity (no previous experience in sexual intercourse)
16.  dependable character…

27. There’s been a lot of discussion about the way morals and attitudes about sex are changing in this country.  If a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?

A.  Always wrong
B.  Almost always wrong
C.  Wrong only sometimes
D.  Not wrong at all

28.  What if they are in their early teens, say 14 to 16 years old?  In that case, do you think sex relations before marriage are always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?

A.  Always wrong
B.  Almost always wrong
C.  Wrong only sometimes
D.  Not wrong at all

29. What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex – you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?

A.  Always wrong
B.  Almost always wrong
C.  Wrong only sometimes
D.  Not wrong at all

34.  Who do you think usually enjoys sex more – men, women, or do they both enjoy it the same amount?

A.  Men
B.  Women
C.  Both the same amount
D.  Don’t know

Rate your agreement or disagreement with the following statements using this 5-point scale:

A=Strongly agree, B=Agree, C=Neither agree nor disagree, D=Disagree, E=Strongly disagree.

35.             Same-sex couples should have the right to marry one another.
36.            It is all right for a couple to live together without getting married.
37.            It’s a good idea for a couple who intend to get married to live together first.

42.   Which of the following statements comes closest to your feelings about pornography laws?

A.  There should be laws against the distribution of pornography whatever the age
B.  There should be laws against the distribution of pornography to persons under 18
C.  There should be no laws forbidding the distribution of pornography
D.  Don’t know

45.  I would not have sex with someone unless I was in love with them.

A.  Strongly agree
B.  Agree
C.  Disagree
D.  Strongly disagree

46.  My religious beliefs have shaped and guided my sexual behavior.

A.  Strongly agree
B.  Agree
C.  Disagree
D.  Strongly disagree

(questions 9-26 are from Buss et. al.–referenced in the article)

Be on the look out for more activities to pair with this article next week!

This learning activity asks students to create a curriculum for a sex education class in small groups based on what they learned from the “After the Sexual Revolution: Gender Politics in Teen Dating” by Barbara Risman and Pepper Schwartz in Contexts Spring 2002.


Discuss and answer these questions with your small group:

1) Do you think there is a sexual double standard for female and male teenagers? Did you observe this in your high school? Here at college? In your family?

2) Do you think that the double standard endures throughout life or do you think it disappears after the teenage years?

3) Do you consider teenagers having sex a social problem? Would your parents agree?

4) If it is a social problem, what are some specific problems/dangers/concerns that you see with teenagers having sex?

5) Do you think there are emotional consequences for sexually active teenagers? If so, what are they?

6) What was your high school sex education class like? Do you think the class had any effect on students’ sexual activity or their views on sexuality? Did it help prevent sexual activity or not? What do you think were the goals of the class?

7) What do you think the focus of sex education classes should be? Should they promote abstinence or focus on prevention of physical, emotional, and/or social problems of teenage sex?

Part II

Based on what your group discussed, create a “curriculum” for a high school sex education course that would confront the issues that you brought up about teenage sexuality.

Questions to think about:

1)    What were the issues that your group talked about? Did you identify physical, social, cultural, and/or psychological issues?

2)    How do you think an educator should approach these issues with high school students?

Our “curriculum” would include these topics and strategies:

Lady Gaga

For the most recent issue of Contexts (Spring 2010), our culture editor David Grazian sat down with journalist and novelist Chuck Klosterman to discuss pop culture from a sociological standpoint. While this is not the traditional type of article for classroom use, we believe it could spark a good discussion among students about sociological understandings of popular culture in their own worlds. This activity would be particularly useful in a Media and Culture class or an Intro class.

For this activity, students should either read the edited exchange “Glam Metal and Guilty Pleasures: Sailing Away with Chuck Klosterman and David Grazian” or listen to segments of the interview (Part 1 & Part 2) online.

With their new sociological outlook on popular culture, have the students pick a facet of pop culture or a cultural phenomenon that is of sociological interest and that they are particularly interested in (e.g. Lady Gaga’s latest video, The Biggest Loser, pop-country music, America’s Next Top Model, video games, American Idol, Jersey Shore, Glee, Twitter, celebrities’ extra-marital affairs, and the list goes on…).   You can give students latitude in choosing which element of pop culture to explore. Then, have them interview at least one person they know (friend, roommate, sibling, parent, etc.) about their chosen cultural phenomenon. Students could then write a reflection of the interview or share what took place during the interview in groups during class.


Using article Permanent Impermanence by Syed Ali from the most recent issue of Contexts, Graduate Student Editorial Board member Shannon Golden offers our blog these ideas for use in the classroom. The full text of this article is available for free online!

This article would be great for a class or unit on immigration, globalization, or world cities.


1) For a class that has covered immigration policy:

-Compare and contrast immigration and citizenship policy in Dubai with that of other immigrant-receiving countries, such as the U.S., Japan, Australia, Canada, or western European countries.

-Do you agree with the author’s conclusion that Dubai’s policy may represent the future?

2) To focus on the intersection of biography and social structure, the instructor could:

-Provide biographical/narrative case studies of several foreign workers in Dubai, one that would represent a blue-collar laborer, another middle class example, and an upper class professional. Ask students to develop a sociological analysis of these lives using info from the article, illustrating how social structures are experienced differently by different groups of people.

3) Suggested small group discussion questions:

-What are the strengths and weaknesses of Dubai’s immigration policies? What are the intended and unintended consequences?

-Who are the actors who have a stake in determining the policies? Who benefits from this system? Who loses in this system?

– Discuss the following concepts in relation to this article: power, citizenship, labor, home, rights, legality, belonging

– The author discusses Paul Krugman’s writing on “the Dubai effect”: “Writing in 2006, Krugman said that a guest worker program could amount to a dangerous betrayal of the United States’ democratic ideals. It would, he wrote, basically form an entrenched caste system of temporary workers whose interests would largely be ignored and whose rights would be circumscribed. Further, their wages would undoubtedly be less than those of people with greater labor market mobility, though the ripple effects of a glut of guest workers would be expected to lower wages for all workers in sectors where guest workers are “bonded” to their employers, Dubai-style.” (p.29) Do you agree with Krugman’s speculations about what would happen if the U.S. adopted similar policies to Dubai? Discuss the implications of such a change.

4) Have the students read one of the “recommended resources” and discuss its connection to this article.

The following learning activity can be used to spark discussion in class when used along with “Rights Activism in China”  by Ching Kwan Lee in  Contexts Summer 2008.

Below is a simplified list of the 30 human rights accorded to every human being in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Place a “+” by the 5 human rights that you think are the most important and an “-” by the 5 rights that you think are the least important.

_________ Right to Equality
_________ Freedom from Discrimination
_________ Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security
_________ Freedom from Slavery
_________ Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
_________ Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law
_________ Right to Equality before the Law
_________ Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal
_________ Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile
_________ Right to Fair Public Hearing
_________ Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty
_________ Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence
_________ Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country
_________ Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution
_________ Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change It
_________ Right to Marriage and Family
_________ Right to Own Property
_________ Freedom of Belief and Religion
_________ Freedom of Opinion and Information
_________ Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association
_________ Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections
_________ Right to Social Security
_________ Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions
_________ Right to Rest and Leisure
_________ Right to Adequate Living Standard
_________ Right to Education
_________ Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community
_________ Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document
_________ Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development
_________ Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights

Questions to consider:

1.     Explain the rationale behind the rights you chose as most important and those that you listed as least important.

2.     How do you think your culture impacts what you view as important human rights?

3.     Are there any rights that you think should be included that are not on this list?  Are there any rights that you think are unnecessary?

4.     Does it seem like some rights are prioritized more than others today?

This learning activity was written by Jasmine Harris-LaMothe, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Sociology department, to accompany “Roll Over Beethoven, There’s A New Way to Be Cool” by Richard A. Peterson in Contexts Summer 2001.

For generations, preference for “high” culture included an interest in cultural mediums not readily available to the masses and signified a marked difference between the elites and everyone else. Today, “elite” status requires a familiarity with more – not just higher – forms of culture. This has significantly changed the way fine arts are depicted in the media and thus understood by the public.

Fill out the questionnaire below on your demographic information and your taste in fine arts. After you’ve completed the questions, turn to the neighbor and discuss your answers.

1.     Male or Female
2.     Age
3.     Where is your hometown?

Answer never, rarely, sometimes, or often to the questions below:

4.     How often do you read a book for pleasure? ___________

5.     How often do you go to the movies?__________

6.     How often do you read a newspaper?___________

7.     How often do you watch the news on television?____________

8.     How often do you watch other types of live (non-DVRed) television?_____________

9.     When was the last time you visited an art museum?____________

10.  When was the last time you visited the theater?_____________

Provide your top three answers to the questions below:

11.  Who are your favorite musical artists?

12.  What are your favorite musical genres?

13.  What are your favorite plays?

14.  What are your favorite ballets?

15.  What are your favorite operas?


  • Are you and/or your partner cultural “omnivores” or “univores?”
  • Are your tastes reflective of your demographic information?
  • Do you think your answers are reflective of changes in medium preferences among the greater population?
  • What implications do the aforementioned changes in medium likes/dislikes have for the future of mass media as a whole?
  • This is an in-class activity designed to be used with “Facts and Fictions about an Aging America” by The McArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society in Contexts Fall 2009.  The activity should be used before the students read the article, to get them thinking about their own preconceptions.

    After reading the following statements, indicate whether you think the statement is True or False.

    1)____The large population of elderly people in the United States is a temporary phenomenon caused by the baby boom.

    2)____ Of the babies born in 2000, 83% are expected to survive past 65.

    3) ____ Physical and mental capacity inevitably decline with biological aging.

    4) ____ The consequences of aging mainly affect the elderly.

    5)____ Younger people are disproportionately minorities, and older people are disproportionately non-minorities.

    6)____With the increasing deficit in the Untied States, policy makers will have to choose between investments in programs for the youth or the elderly.

    7)____The biggest public problems facing the United States stem from Social Security and Medicare/Medicade.

    8)____The life expectancy could decrease within this century, meaning that people would not live as long they do today.


    Answers: F, T, F, F, T  F, F, T


    The most recent episode of the Contexts Podcast features an interview with Walt Jacobs about teaching race through comedy. Check it out.

    Here’s a discussion-provoking activity to be used with “Why Are There So Many ‘Minorities?” by Mitch Berbreier from the Winter 2004 issue of Contexts. PDF here.

    The following is a list of social groups that have advocated or could potentially advocate to be considered “minorities,” awarding them protection from discrimination under the law in the United States. Put a checkmark by the groups that you think should be legally protected from discrimination. Briefly explain your decisions.

    ___African Americans

    ___People with disabilities


    ___Gay and Lesbian people

    ___Transgender and transsexual people

    ___The elderly

    ___Obese people


    ___Asian Americans

    ___Legal Immigrants

    ___Illegal Immigrants


    ___Native Americans

    ___Poor people


    ___White supremacists

    ___ Non-English speakers


    This exercise is designed to be used with “Community Organizing and Social Change” by Randy Stoecker in  Contexts Winter 2009. The activity is meant to stimulate a conversation among students about power and get them engaged with the topic.

    Guidlines  for the Instructor:

    1. Before class, make four signs labeled, “agree,” “strongly agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.”  Hang one sign in each corner of the classroom.
    2. Tell students that you will be reading a series of statements about power.  After each statement, they should go stand under the sign that most closely reflects their own reaction to the statement.
    3. Read the first statement (listed below).  After students have assembled in groups under the signs, ask each group to discuss why they picked that particular position and to choose a spokesperson to explain their position to the class.
    4. Give the students about 3 minutes (depending on the class size) to discuss their position and choose a spokesperson.  Then have the four spokespeople explain their group’s positions.
    5. Now ask everyone to leave their group and go to the center of the room.  Then ask students to again go stand under the sign that most closely reflects their own reaction to the statement.  (This gives students the opportunity to change their positions, if they choose to do so.)  Ask whether, after hearing the various arguments, any students changed their position.  Then ask a few volunteers to explain why they decided to change their positions.
    6. Repeat this exercise for the following statements.  You can manage the length of the exercise based on how many statements you discuss.

    Statements about Power:

    • Power corrupts.
    • You can’t get anything done without power.
    • Power comes from position or money.
    • Organizations that want to change things in their community should seek power.