FMSC Packing Room - Liberytville, IL
In the most recent episode of Office Hours, Shannon Golden talks with sociologist Natan Sznaider about compassion. This podcast could be shortened (specifically at the front and the back ends) for use in the classroom or as homework. The following questions could also be assigned:

1)   What is compassion, and what is morality?

2)   What does Sznaider say has influenced an increase in compassion, and why is his thesis    surprising?

3)   What types of methods does Sznaider use to better understand what influences compassion?  Why does he say that interviews are inadequate?

Every semester I use an activity from the journal Teaching Sociology to teach about class inequality.  The article describing the activity can be found here.  The authors, Catherine L. Coghlan and Denise W. Huggin have designed a game that really helps students understand the difficulty of class mobility.

From their abstract:

Social stratification may be one of the most difficult topics covered in sociology classes. This article describes an interactive learning exercise, using a modified version of the game Monopoly, intended to stress the structural nature of social inequality and to stimulate student reflection and class discussion on social stratification in the United States. The primary focus of this exercise is to help students experience different levels of social stratification and to challenge the idea that individual talents or aspirations are enough to overcome structural barriers to upward class mobility. Student reactions to the experience suggest that it is an effective tool for demonstrating the structural nature of social inequality in the United States and for stimulating discussion on social inequality and related topics. This exercise has worked well in introductory sociology, social problems, and social inequality classes.

I don’t want to say too much about the activity (don’t want to risk copyright laws or plagiarism) so, instead, I’ll leave you to read the article on your own.  What you should know, however, is that in all of my evaluations my students (Introduction to Sociology and Social Problems) cite this as one of the most useful activities they have ever had in a college classroom.

Every semester in my Introduction to Sociology courses, I offer students the option of completing the standard course assignments (midterm exam, final exam, memoir paper, reading quizzes) or undertaking a more comprehensive challenge: envisioning an alternative to current economic systems.  This assignment encourages students to challenge hegemonic ideas of the economy to develop a new theory of how to run a functional society.  Here is the assignment in more detail:

Envisioning Alternatives to Capitalism, Socialism and Capitalism

The goal with this assignment is for students to envision an alternative economic system that would benefit all human beings, as well as the planet more broadly.

It is required that students engage with sociology through the process of this activity.  They must set up an awareness of the current economic systems (capitalism, socialism, communism), their weaknesses and strengths, using course material.  In the process of developing an alternative model the other social problems discussed in class (gender inequality, racial inequality, crime, health inequality, educational inequality, food and the environment, etc) must also be considered.  It is expected that course readings be used (and cited) in this project.

The product can take many forms, not limited to the following suggestions: essay, charts, presentation, artwork, video, or a combination thereof.  However, in order to get credit as a replacement for other coursework, it must be of high quality.

It is my vision that there will be some “back and forth” between student and professor over the course of the semester.  Perhaps the student would present ideas in some form, send it for professor feedback, and add more material as the course continues.

To recap, the student must:

1) Engage with course material about the current economic systems of:

–       Capitalism
–       Socialism
–       Communism

2) Present the strengths and weaknesses of the current models, as explained in the class readings.  This would include issues related to:

–       Gender Inequality
–       Racial Inequality
–       Crime and Punishment
–       Health Inequality
–       Educational Inequality
–       Food and the Environment

3) Develop a well thought out alternative that would provide solutions to the aforementioned problems.

The final draft will be due on the final exam date, but students should present different elements of the project over the course of the semester.

This semester I have my first student taking the challenge.  I’ll keep you posted on how the project goes!