Contemporary American Issues – Welcome!

I’m glad you are here.  The next ten weeks are going to be a great exploration of some contentious current events: confederate monuments, gun control and immigration.  We will examine many of the stakeholders and perspectives around each topic as well as historical context.  Along the way we’ll become more critical readers learning about ethos, logos, pathos, logical fallacies and elements of propaganda.


Here is how the class will work.  Each Friday morning I will post the assignment for the next week’s class. You will be expected to complete the reading/watching/listening task as well as the writing.  Please print a hard copy of your writing and bring it with you to class.  You will need it for discussions and as we move into editing and revising of your assignments.  There will also be times when you will be expected to conduct some research and bring your findings to class.  Stay tuned!

As an added bonus I always find more resources than we need for class. I tuck these down below under procrastination.  Procrastination items do not need to be read or watched though you may find them interesting or entertaining.


  • Read “The Case for a Later Start to the School Day”, Aaron E. Carroll New York Times, Sept 14, 2017 pB3 – ADDED: Please print this article out – we will be highlighting it together in class.
  • List all the reasons given by the author for starting school later. Print/write out and bring with you to class
  • In a paragraph, identify which you think is the most compelling reason and explain why.  Print/write out and bring with you to class.


How To Argue Crash Course (Remember these can be slowed down under the Setting button on the lower right of the youtube screen)


Social Movements

Prohibition Silent Civil Rights March Suffragettes

This week we will examine the elements of a successful social movement and practice reading research articles.  Bring a laptop if you can.

Before Apr 27:


Writing Tips infographics


Health, Socially Defined and Unequally Distributed


The way we view dying and death is, not surprisingly, culturally determined.  Are we open and accepting?  In denial? Staving it off for as long as possible? We will spend the first hour considering death and dying in America through a discussion of the short film Northfound.

Our second hour we will look at mental illness in the United States.  How it is defined and who is affected.

For April 20:


Part 2 of the different high school videos,

One of the first social epidemiology studies and a great read, The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.  Describes the effort to understand and stop a cholera epidemic in 19th century London.

A prime example of social definition of illness in The Spirit Catches You and Then You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.  Presents California doctors trying to treat epilepsy in a young Hmong patient.

FOLLOW-UP from class:

Mental health Quiz

TED talk on stigma of mental illness.

Health Powerpoint



There is so much we could look at with of public system, goals, financing, school choice, preschool, higher ed, etc etc etc.  We are going to narrow our focus to high school and college.

Primary question: Does education reinforce existing stratification or provide a way to overcome it?

By Apr 13:

  • Read Hayley Glater, The Atlantic, March 30, 2017 What If Students Only Went to School Four Days a Week? 
  • Read Tristan Bridges, Sociological Images, Mar 20 , 2017 Racial and Educational Segregation in the US
  • Write a response paper: Summarize both articles and answer the primary question.
  • And one last thing…pick a paper topic.  Where can you find a topic?Check your book – at the end of each chapterLook back over your papers – what were you interested in?  What made you mad? Or excited? Or hopeful?Look back over the blog posts – which readings were interesting to you?

    A sociology blog, thesocietypages series “There’s Research on That”

    Narrow it down, for example:

    Education  to  gender difference to  Math performance/achievement by boys and girls in middle or high school



ListenHow For-Profit Colleges Sell “Risky Education” To The Most Vulnerable, Mar 27 Fresh Air on NPR

How to Get Low-Income Students Into Selective Colleges   Hidden Brain on Morning Edition April 12, 2017

Read: The difference between top-tier colleges and mid-level may  not matter for middle-upper income students

Watch: These may be found in the library or on streaming services.


The Lottery

Waiting for Superman

Hoop Dreams

Video from class:  A Tale of Two Schools Part 1 and Part II


Along with school and family, religion is an institution in society for teaching social values.  And also like family and education, it does more than teach social norms. Religion also provides community, lifestyle practices and a way to order their year.

Pew Research, Feb 2016 report


For Mar 9:

  • Read about your chosen religion
  • Complete 2 slides on your chosen religion’s holiday celebration and norms & beliefs
    • See my sample for Mormonism – this is just a broad – broad overview of the religion
  • Put a link to your sources in the Speaker’s notes section
  • Google Slides link

Resources for religion:

Data on beliefs and practices:

11 minute video on most of the religion’s backgrounds:

Encyclopedia of Religion and Society

Encyclopedia Britannica, Requires registration for free trial to access articles

Religious Tolerance

Religious Facts Not an academic site but seems objective and thorough enough for our purposes

Internet Public Library religion page,



Play the Belief-O-Matic, Find out which religion/denomination most closely matches your beliefs

Religious Community, rituals and trust – one theory


Media – All the News

This week we examine the news.  We will focus on network, cable, and internet news sources.  So unfortunately we will not have time to debate the merits of The Onion.


Paul Ryan Grudgingly Impressed By Angry Protester Who’s Matched His Running Pace For 9 Miles


For Mar 2:

Race, Class Gender Analysis Paper Due Click the link for grading guidelines

In your introduction paragraph include a brief summary of your subject’s life.  For example with Arnold Spirit:

Arnold Spirit is a native American living on a reservation in Washington state.  During middle school, a teacher recognized his academic potential and encouraged him to attend a school in the next town over.  A white town.  The complications of being an ethnic minority in high school as well as significantly poorer than his classmates provide challenges and opportunities for Arnold.

In your analysis, consider the challenges or privileges of each sociological status.  Describe how being male or female made your subject’s life course harder or easier and made for more or fewer opportunities.


Interactive Philanthropy Map

On The Media, public radio show about – the media.

Episode “The Ties That Bind,” a recent episode.  Definitely podcast material!

From Headline to Photograph, A Fake News Masterpiece, New York Times, Jan 18, 2017 An amazing story about how a fake news story is created and circulated.

And the history of Sesame Street, Street Gang.

An article on Sesame Street, Children’s TV – Left Behind in The Atlantic Jul 16, 2015

The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism.  A TED Talk


Media – Our(?) Stories



This week we will look at the role of media in society, specifically television shows and movies.  Do movies and TV reflect social stratification by race, class and gender or point in  new direction?


For Feb 23:




What’s Wrong with Cinderella





Repressed Brits, Evil Mexicans, Arab Villains: Why are Hollywood’s animated movies full of racist stereotypes?racial-stereotypes-rio-2-008