TEACHING SOCIAL PROBLEMS
We believe that a broad-based liberal arts education is crucial to developing civic engagement and responsibility in students. To work towards a just world, we believe that it is important for students to understand that their active engagement is indispensable in a democracy. To participate in a democracy, it is incumbent upon all of us to carefully analyze social problems, their interrelationships and possible solutions. Most importantly, we need to develop a clear understanding of power structures and dynamics. The mission of the Teaching Social Problems Division is to help faculty members initiate and engage in this conversation and dialogue with their students. To that end, we provide networking opportunities, information about innovative teaching techniques, teaching materials and resources, and support for faculty members.
In the best of times, students majoring in sociology return home during holiday breaks, only to be asked what they plan to do when they graduate. In times of economic hardships, we face more challenges as legislators and administrators question the place of sociology and its contributions. Over the next several years, we need to be pro-active and to demonstrate that teaching and learning about social problems has a place in the curriculum. In addition, we need to further emphasize the role of applied sociology in our social problems classes. Our students need to see concretely how what they’re learning can be translated into policy and action. This also has the benefit of making social problems classes less “depressing,” as students are challenged to work and think actively about social change.
We now live in an age of talking heads and media pundits. To that end, one of our challenges is to find ways to help our students become adept at separating fact from fiction, and to carefully and thoughtfully analyze claims and social actors. As they hone their analytical skills, students will most likely experience discomfort as their deeply-held beliefs and convictions are challenged. As faculty, we need to acknowledge this cognitive dissonance, but also encourage our students to step out of their comfort zone.
Division mission statement last edited in 2011 by Carrie Lee Smith, Millersville University, Teaching Social Problems Division Chair, 2010-2012
Ayers, William. 2010. To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Best, Joel. 2008. Social Problems. NY: W.W. Norton.
Bordt, Rebecca L. “Using a Research Article to Facilitate a Deep Structure Understanding of Discrimination.” Teaching Sociology 33(4):403-10.
Coghlan, Catherine L. and Denise W. Huggins. 2004. “’That’s Not Fair!’: A Simulation Exercise in Social Stratification and Structural Inequality.” Teaching Sociology 32(2):177-87.
Desmond, Scott A. “Prioritizing Social Problems: An Exercise for Exploring Students’ Attitudes about Social Problems.” Teaching Sociology 33(1):59-65.
Eitzen, D. Stanley and Kenneth Stewart. 2006. Solutions to Social Problems from the Bottom Up: Successful Social Movements. NY: Allyn and Bacon.
Johnson, Brett. 2005. “Overcoming ‘Doom and Gloom’: Empowering Students in Courses on Social Problems, Injustice, and Inequality.” Teaching Sociology 33(1):44-58.
Lewis, Tammy L. 2004. “Service Learning for Social Change? Lessons from a Liberal Arts College.” Teaching Sociology 32(1):94-108.
Ross, Susan M. and Janet McNeil Hurlbert. 2004. “Problem-Based Learning: An Exercise on Vermont’s Legalization of Civil Unions.” Teaching Sociology 32(1):79-93.
Spector, Malcolm and John I. Kitsuse. 2000. Constructing Social Problems. With a new introduction by John I. Kitsuse. NY: Transaction.
Weimer, Maryellen. 2002. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
We gratefully acknowledge Kathleen Lowney for several of the above citations.