Archive for July, 2009


A Turtle Highway—Social Problem or Social Folly?

July 17, 2009

turtleIn Florida, more than three million dollars of federal stimulus money is going to be used to build a tunnel underneath a highway for turtles. This project is similar to a tunnel built for frogs in California during the 1990s. The argument is that the tunnel will supply “shovel ready jobs,” protect wildlife from cars, and prevent car accidents.

Other people argue this is a wast of tax payer money. That this kind of activity is directed at apeasing special interest groups and supply micro-short time jobs in particularly selected voting areas; in other words the tunnel project is political not environmentally motivated. What do you think? Would you like to respond to this article? If so, select a topic below and post to it:

1. Sociologists have been warning for some time that mankind’s continual expansion into nature without careful planning would result in long term damage. Do you think society should be responsible for protecting wildlife when it encroaches into the animals’ habitats? Why or why not?

2. What do you think are some immediate dangers of wildlife, such as turtles, alligators, deer, or birds, attempting to cross this highway? What are some long term ramifications of this situation? How can you take the circumstances of this problem and generalize them to other environmental issues?

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Is Education A Civil Right or a False Promise?

July 17, 2009

Sociologists can divide societies into two broad groups based upon class mobility: open societies and closed societies. Open societies allow for people to move up or down the class structure. For example, a person might be born into a poor family, but later become rich through work, talent, and luck. A closed society, however, doesn’t allow for social mobility; if you are born poor, you will die poor. Of course, most societies don’t fall neatly into these extremes, but instead fall somewhere between.

Some sociologists hold that our society is closer to an open system, while others believe that it is closed for many people. Social scientists who believe that our society is more open argue that it provides “ladders” for motivated people to move upward in both social and economic class. Among the most common of these mechanisms for upward mobility is education. The belief is that all children have the opportunity to acquire an education that will afford them a life-improving career, for example as a lawyer, dentist, engineer, doctor, or nurse. Depending upon their desire and ability, it is argued that most people have the ability to fulfill their life potential through a government-provided education. However, other researchers hold that education is not equal in society, so neither is opportunity.

Watch the video below and if you like, respond to one of the talking points below:

1. How closely do you think education is linked to civil rights in our country?

2. Do you think the author is right and it is time for another civil rights movement? How would you remedy this situation?

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Teaching Gender Through Vampire Movies

July 14, 2009

There was a movie released at the beginning of 2009 called “Twilight.” The film was based on a series of books that centered around the challenges faced by a 17-year-old girl and boy trying to maintain a developing romance. They struggled with common problems associated with young love—managing their strong attraction for each other, continuing their own processes of self discovery, coming to terms with differences between them, and managing challenges to their relationships from external forces. Oh, did I mention that the teenage boy was also a vampire? Or should I say “is”—there are sequels planned….

Similar to other such films, the boy’s vampiric nature might be viewed as a social metaphor symbolizing the dominant and aggressive aspects of western gender expectations for males—being “macho”. The film might also explore females’ social function of containing and directing male aggression into constructive pursuits—building bridges, protecting society from invaders, washing the driveway, etc…. Or would it be over intellectualizing to read so much into this story?

What do you think? If you would like to respond to this question or one of the discussion topics below, please view the trailer for the film below and then post a comment.

1. Who is being depicted in the film’s trailer as needing physical protection? Who helps that person? What might this tell you about the depiction of gender roles in the trailer?

2. Do you think the film’s trailer reinforces traditional male and female roles in society? Why or why not?

3. What is the boy’s reaction to the girl’s comment that she isn’t afraid of him? How can this be generalized to define how teenage girls should respond to teenage boys? Do you think such a generalization is appropriate?

4. Which is greater—the number of people who see the trailer for the film or the number of people who see the actual film? Why might this be important to the sociological study of film?

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Teenagers on the Road—Rolling Threats?

July 14, 2009

Are teenagers monsters on the road?

Are teenage drivers a threat to the public on the road?

According to self-reporting research, over 70% of students between the ninth and twelfth grades have drunk alcohol. Not only are many teenagers active drinkers, but they are involved in five times as many fatal vehicle accidents as adults. Some researchers hold that teenage drivers are more likely to ignore traffic lights, talk on cellphones while driving, play music dangerously loud while driving, eat while driving, overload vehicles with passengers, turn illegally in cars, race vehicles, speed more, hang out of moving cars, and turn over SUVs than adult drivers. Thus, sociologists might argue that teenagers are more dangerous drivers than adults.

Would you like to respond to this question? If so, select a topic below:

1. Do you think teenagers are a more dangerous group of drivers than other age groups? Why?

2. If you think teenagers are more dangerous, what should be done to control them? How would you respond to the charge that special treatment of a specific age group is ageist (a form of discrimination)?

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Changing Violent Norms

July 14, 2009

Sociologists study values and norms because they believe norms form a base for shared behavior. In other words, if most people think they should behave a particular way in a specific circumstance, then that behavior becomes both predictable and common in society. Common behavior allows for the development of social organization and stabilizes society—that is, if the norms producing these behavior are constructive. But what happens if underlying norms and values of common behavior are not productive? What happens if these norms or values are destructive or even promote violence?

This is a hypothesis that many sociologists use, in part, to explain why some people are violent. Norms are taught to us—we are not born with them. Thus, these sociologists hold that some people are taught to be violent—in other words, the use of violence forms a “base norm” for some groups of people. But if destructive norms are some of the underlying factors that create and maintain violence in some areas—why can’t we just teach people different norms?

Andy Coghlan of “Science and Society” reported that a new program based on changing values and norms has apparently reduced the firearm shootings and killings in areas of Chicago and Baltimore between 41% and 73%! Retaliation murders, those committed by people in response to another act, dropped in some area by 100%! The tactics for this program, dubbed CeaseFire, includes teaching people that solving problems with violence is “uncool” or makes the person look “stupid”. The violent actor loses respect on the street.

Below is a short recording of a counselor talking to young people in a violence intervention group sponsored by CeaseFire called “Project Change”. This is an eight-week program of life-skills training, part of which is teaching alternative problem solving methods and negotiation techniques.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, select a topic below and respond to it:

1. Explain how the CeaseFire program can be used to illustrate the practical application of sociology.

2. Do you think this program would work in your community? Why or why not?

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