Teaching Resources

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?

100 days oldThis 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.

Check out this article from the Summer 2007 issue of Contexts: “Global Corporations, Global Unions” by Stephen Lerner and use the following questions and activity to easily integrate it into your class.

1)   What benefits do unions bring to workers and employers? Can you think of any drawbacks?

2)    How does globalization represent both a threat and an opportunity for low-income workers?

3)    What does “the race to the bottom” refer to? How does it affect economic stability and working conditions at local, national, and international levels?

Check out  www.seiu.org. How does this union impact your
understanding of the potential benefits and challenges of global unionizing?

Genocide is fundamentally social, though sociologists often ignore it in research and in the classroom.  A lesson on genocide could be part of multiple course units, such as ethnic conflict/war, race, crime/criminology, law, human rights, collective memory, etc.   Here’s one of many ideas:

Assign John Hagan and Wenona Rymond-Richmond’s article “The Collective Dynamics of Racial Dehumanization and Genocidal Victimization in Darfur” (ASR 2008).   Also consider assigning Contexts’ podcast with author John Hagan, which can be found here.

A few questions to consider:

1.  What is the legal definition of genocide?

2.  Why are only some groups protected under the legal definition of genocide?  Should other groups be included?

3.  How does genocide differ from crimes against humanity?

4.  How do Hagan and Rymond-Richmond explain genocide?


To accompany the collection of Contexts articles focused on aging, use these questions and activity to get a fruitful discussion going in your class. This collection
is available for free to ASA members.

Aging America

1)    On what grounds do the authors argue that Social Security and Medicare are not the biggest problems presented by an aging America?

Activity: The article states that policies to help the elderly often need to target young people in order to come to a long-term solution. Think of a problem faced by the elderly and what policies directed at children now might help alleviate that problem in the future.

Ageism in the American Workplace

1)    What are some of the stereotypes about older people that lead to employment discrimination against them? Are there stereotypes about young people that could spur ageist discrimination? What can be done to dispel myths and reduce discrimination in either case?

2)    How is discrimination related to economics, and how might the current economic recession affect ageism in the workplace?



No sigas la luzProstitution is one of those topics that incites very strong reactions–making it very difficult to discuss in the classroom. In the Fall 2007 issue of Contexts, Ronald Weitzer provides us with a balanced, classroom-friendly way to get your students thinking about this issue beyond their gut reactions. Read the article here!

Use the discussion questions and the activity below to get the conversation started:

1)    Define the oppression and celebratory models of prostitution. How would you characterize the alternative model proposed by the author?

2)    What is your reaction to Weitzer’s claim that some prostitutes are empowered by their jobs? Do you agree that sex work can be empowering for women or do you agree more with the oppression model?

3)    The article states that 17 percent of American men have paid for sex at some point in their lives. Do you think this is a high or low number? Why do you think there is a stigma against paying for sex?
ACTIVITY: Organize a class debate with one side arguing that prostitution should be legalized and regulated in the United States, and the other side arguing that it should remain illegal.


Business LookFor 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?


We recommend using this intriguing article about an impoverished shantytown in Buenos Aires that has been horribly polluted by a Shell oil refinery: “Amidst Garbage and Poison: An Essay on Polluted Peoples and Places” by Javier Auyero and Debora Swistun (Contexts Spring 2007)

To discover how the children of this town feel about living in such a place, the authors give children disposable cameras with the instruction of photographing places and things they consider ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the town. The article also poses the question of what responsibility corporations have to the people whose towns they pollute or destroy.

This article would work well in a lesson on inequality, environmental racism, corporate ethics, capitalism or methodologies. Use the questions and/or the activity below to get a discussion started on this topic:   hell oil

1)    How did it make you feel to learn about how the people in Flammable live? What do you think could be done to improve their situation?

2)    Describe how capitalism in the U.S. affects people in Flammable. Do you think that Shell-Capsa has a responsibility to the people of Flammable? Why or why not?

3)    Research and define the terms “environmental justice” and “environmental racism.” How do they relate to the case of Flammable?

ACTIVITY: Take three photographs of sites in your neighborhood or city that you think exemplify environmental inequality and share them with the class. Why did you choose these sites and what do you think they say about your city?

We recommend incorporating the article “Controlling the Media in Iraq” by Andrew M. Linder (Contexts, Spring 2008) in a class or lesson on media or international relations. This article is highly readable and the topic is timely and of interest to undergraduates. Use the questions below to get a discussion started on this topic:

A PDF of this entire article is available from Contexts!


1)    How has this article influenced your understanding of the relationship between journalism and war?

2)    The author offers two ideas of how embedded reporters come to write from a military point of view. Discuss the theories of empathy through socialization (at the extreme, Stockholm Syndrome) versus boundaries and limitations placed by the military.

3)    What do you make of the findings that embedded journalists reported more frequently from a soldier’s point of view?

Men are Missing from African Family Planning by Ashley E. Frost and F. Nii-Amoo Dodoo, from the Winter 2009 issue of Contexts would work well in any class on gender or sexuality issues as well as accompanying any lesson on population/ family planning policies abroad. Use the discussion questions and/or the activity  below to incorporate this article into your class. Africa Continent Location Map

ASSIGNMENT: Outline the main reasons the authors give for the high fertility rates among African women. In a nutshell, why aren’t current planning policies working?  Using what you learned in the article as your guide, explain how gender roles and ideologies within different cultures can influence fertility rates. Compare the African example to another community that you are familiar with.

ACTIVITY: Imagine that you are a public health official working with the U.N. on overpopulation in Africa. Given what you learned from this article, create a plan for a program that would be more successful in reducing fertility rates among women in Africa.


The article  “The Joys of Parenthood, Reconsidered” by Robin W. Simon from the Spring 2008 issue of Contexts would work great in a Sociology of Families or Introduction to Sociology course. In this article, Simon presents research that show parents in the United States experience depression and emotional distress more often than people who do not have children. Use the questions below to start a discussion on this article in class or as a guide for the reading:

1)    Do you agree with the author that our society values having children so much that childless adults are either pitied or considered selfish? If so, why do you think this cultural belief is so strong? If not, why not?

2)    Do you think having children will make/makes your life complete? How have the cultural beliefs about parenthood described in this article affected your personal desire (or lack thereof) for children?

3)    Brainstorm about why these ideas about parenthood persist even if they are not statistically “true”? Who might have a vested interest in maintaining these beliefs?