Paul & Lawrence-11

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.

  1. 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.
  2. A wealthy, African-American woman who owns a publishing business in Chicago.
  3. A working class, Latino man from Costa Rica who wishes to live near his family in his home country.
  4. 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.)
  5. A female, Presbyterian minister whose first job assignment is in central Kansas.
  6. An African-American male professor who has tenure at Harvard.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Martha Stewart’s sister, a middle-class, white woman who plans to be a homemaker.
  10. 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.

Encourage your students to look at marriage in a new light with Greg Scott’s photo essay “Matrimony” in the Winter 2011 issue Contexts. Scott’s article details his ethnographic short film centered on the marriage of two homeless heroin addicts. He encourages readers to explore their biases on what a marriage is or should be by asking of this couple, “Is this a real marriage?

Homeless couple, April 9 2011This article and short film would would fit well in many types of courses: on the family, marriage, sexuality, poverty, or drug use.

Have students read the article and watch the film before class, and write a short reaction paper. Then, use their responses to get a discussion going on marriage in contemporary America.

A third (and final!) set of ideas for using Hull, Meier and Ortyl’s piece “The Changing Landscape of Love and Marriage” (Spring 2010 issue) from the authors!

Exercise #1:

Have students answer the relationship values questions (which they used for their research published in Journal of Marriage and Family) as a learning exercise; perhaps in advance of the assigned reading so they are not biased by having read the article, and then compare the students’ responses to the findings in their JMF article as a jumping-off point for class discussion of relationship values/attitudes, where they come from, whether/why they differ by gender, SES, sexual orientation, etc.

“How important do you think each of the following elements is for a successful marriage or serious committed relationship?”  (using a 1=”not important” to 10=”extremely important” scale)

1)  Love

2)  Faithfulness

3)  Life-long commitment

4)  Financial security

5) Being of the same race

Exercise #2:

The article talks broadly about romantic v. confluent love. Students could debate which of these two models is more relevant today and/or which pieces of each model they like/don’t like and why.

For the romantic love model, Swidler’s four features (or myths) could be discussed:

1) one true love
2) love at first sight
3) love conquers all
4) happily ever after

For confluent model, Gidden’s ideas include these features:

1) relationship contingent on satisfaction of both partners
2) lots of communication/negotiation
3) overarching goal of self-development

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 is the first of a package of exercises to be used with material from the most recent issue of Contexts (Spring 2010). Keep an eye out over the next few weeks for material to accompany the newest issue!

This in-class exercise asks students to evaluate the state of love and marriage in the United States today and to decide whether they think the changes are problematic or progressive. The activity was designed to accompany “The Changing Landscape of Love and Marriage” by Kathleen E. Hull, Ann Meier, and Timothy Ortyl in the new Spring 2010 issue.

Directions: Read the following statistics and statements about the state of relationships in the U.S. today from the article “The Changing Landscape of Love and Marriage” by Kathleen E. Hull, Ann Meier, and Timothy Ortyl. After reading each statement, decide if you think it is a problem or not. Circle “Yes” or “No.” In the space below each statement, briefly describe your reasoning.

Do you believe that these changes in love and marriage present a problem to our society? 

1) Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

2) People are getting married later than they used to; the median age at first marriage
is now 28 for men and 26 for women, compared to 23 and 20 in 1960. 

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

3) The proportion of adults who never marry remains low but is climbing; in 2006, 19%
of men and 13% of women aged 40-44 had never married.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

4) Unmarried cohabitation has gone from a socially stigmatized practice to a normal
 stage in the adult life course (more than half of all American marriages now
begin as cohabitations).

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

5) Roughly one-third of all births are to unmarried parents.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

6) Today, people feel freer to marry later, to end unhappy marriages, and to forego
marriage altogether.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

7) Americans have established a pattern of high marriage and remarriage rates,
frequent divorce and separation, and more short-lived cohabitations. 

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

8) Straight women are more likely to rate faithfulness and lifelong commitment as
 extremely important compared to straight men and sexual minorities.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________ 

Based on your responses above, which position described in the article do you most
 agree with? Circle one.
     1. The marital decline position, which argues that changes in intimacy are a significant cause for concern. OR
    2. The marital resilience perspective, which, in contrast, argues that changes in family life have actually strengthened the quality of intimate relationships, including marriages.
After you have finished, discuss your responses with a small group of classmates. Does your group agree?

Here’s a simple learning activity to be used in class with Andrew Cherlin’s Contexts article “Should the Government Promote Marriage?” from Fall 2003 (also found in the Contexts Reader). Students would need to be able to reference the article as they work on this in small groups. Click here for a PDF of this worksheet.

Directions: Get into groups of 3 or 4. As a group, find evidence given in the article that supports both sides of this debate.

1)      Imagine that you are a proponent of the “Marriage Movement.” What evidence can you find in this article that supports your argument that marriage is the best family form?

2)      Now, imagine you are part of the “Diversity Defenders.” What evidence can you find in the article that supports your argument that marriage is one of many positive family forms?

Now that you have examined some evidence for both sides of the debate, discuss and answer these questions with your group:

1.  Do you think the government should encourage people to get married? If so, is there a specific group that should be targeted? If not, why not?

2. Do you think that a child who is raised by married parents benefits from their marriage?

3.  Do you think that children who are raised within other family forms (e.g. single mothers, single fathers, gay and lesbian couples, etc.) inevitably miss out on some benefits because their parents are not married?