A Guide to Sociological Thinking

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

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    Introduction

    Throughout this century numerous educational philosophers have urged that teaching not be limited to presenting students with information to remember and recall. Whatever is learned that way, they have pointed out, is all too quickly forgotten and the teacher must devote an inordinate amount of time to reviewing what was presented in previous semesters. In contrast, when students engage a course intellectually, grapple with the same issue that practitioners of the discipline encounter, and develop strategies for generating and evaluating ideas, their learning is likely to be both deep and lasting.

    Stanford's Lee Shulman classifies knowledge in three broad categories: propositions (factual information), actual cases in the particular discipline, and procedures (cognitive strategies). Most modern textbooks in sociology, like those in other disciplines, do an excellent job with propositional knowledge; some also do a very good job with case knowledge. Unfortunately, few do much, if anything, with the central component of cognitive learning: procedural knowledge.

    This book is designed to increase sociology students' cognitive learning. It draws on the insights of a number of educational reform initiatives, including critical, creative, and reflective thinking, active learning, and problem-based education. Its objectives are as follows:

    • To build appreciation of the intellectual environment and adventure of sociological inquiry and of the relevance of that inquiry to students' lives
    • To develop understanding of the three stages of the thinking process—reflective, creative, and critical
    • To develop skill in applying the thinking process to sociological issues
    • To promote the habits and attitudes associated with excellence in thinking
    • To encourage students to enter the discipline's ongoing dialogue

    This book is an ancillary text, so it does not present the field of sociology as an introductory sociology text would. All decisions about chapter division, structure, and content have been made in light of the book's purpose—to help students learn to think more deeply and effectively about sociology. Most examples used in the book are micro- rather than macrosociological because these tend to be closer to students' experience.

  • Contemporary Issues in Sociology

    The following list is a modest sampling of the issues of concern to sociologists. The reading you do for your course and reflection on your experiences and observations will suggest many other issues.

    • Does the fact that young children are imitative make the impact of television greater on them than on adults? Do commercials in Saturday cartoons take unfair advantage of children? If so, how?
    • Do violent movies and television shows brutalize people, making them insensitive to other people's suffering? Do such shows increase the tendency to be violent? Do they create such a tendency where it didn't previously exist? Are the effects of media violence greater on children than on adults?
    • To what extent were children's attitudes and values shaped by each of the following agencies 50 years ago: (a) the home, (b) the school, (c) the church, and (d) the entertainment and communications media? To what extent has the situation changed today?
    • What effect, if any, do magazines devoted to gossip about entertainers have on the ideas and aspirations of those who read them?
    • Do the lyrics of heavy metal and rap music create antisocial attitudes in those who listen to that music regularly? Is there any connection between such music and antisocial behavior?
    • What effect, if any, does advertising have on people's habits and values? Do the themes of advertising create any harmful attitudes?
    • Is there any connection between the messages of mass culture and social problems? For example, do appeals to self-indulgence and instant gratification lead to substance abuse? To teenage pregnancy? To violence? To theft?
    • Does mass culture tend to decrease students' respect for parents and teachers? Does it cause students to lose their motivation to learn? Is it responsible for the deficiencies in knowledge and skills reported in recent years?
    • Who should be held accountable for the negative effects of mass culture? The people who run the various agencies, such as the television networks and the movie studios? The advertising agencies? The sponsors? The public? What can be done about these negative effects?
    • Does crowding—for example, in inner-city housing—increase aggressiveness?
    • What factors lead people to join cults?
    • Does the advertising industry's and the media's promotion of slenderness as the standard of beauty have any effect on the incidence of anorexia nervosa?
    • Are older people less productive in their careers than younger people? If so, at what point in life does productivity most sharply decline? Are the answers to these questions different for the various professions?
    • What well-known men and women are most admired by today's preteenagers? Teenagers? Adults ages 20 to 40? Forty to 60? Over 60?
    • What characteristics do inventors have in common? How do those differ from the characteristics of noninventors?
    • What interesting rumors are currently circulating on your campus? How did they get started? What are the dynamics of the process by which they have been transmitted?
    • What are the tenets of secular humanism? How has it developed in this century, and what influence has it had at various times? Is it a form of religion?
    • Has the middle class in the United States increased, decreased, or stayed about the same size over the past century? If it has increased or decreased, what has caused the change?
    • Are the attitudes of Caucasian men toward gender equality different from the attitudes of African American men? Oriental men? Hispanic men? Are there also differences among the various ethnic groups comprising Caucasian men? If there are significant differences, how are they best explained?
    • What factors influence people to accept or reject a new clothing or hair style? Are the factors the same for both men and women? Are men more or less accepting of changes in clothing style than women are? Hair styles?
    • What well-known men and women do students at your college most admire? What qualities do they most admire in those individuals?
    • Are children who play with toy guns more or less likely than others to own guns when they are adults?

    References

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    Arkes, H. (1994, July-August). German judges and undue burdens. Crisis, p. 16.
    Arkes, H. R. (1991, August). Some practical judgment/decision making research. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston.
    Asch, S. E. (1952). Social psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10025-000
    Asch, S. E. (1965). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments. In H.Proshansky & B.Seidenbert (Eds.), Basic studies in social psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
    Barnard, C.I. (1938). The functions of the executive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Bibby, R., & Brinkerhoff, M. (1973). Circulation of the saints revisited: A longitudinal look at conservative church growth. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 22, 253–262. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1385969
    Chambliss, D. E. (1995). The mundanity of excellence: An ethnographic report on stratification and Olympic swimmers. In D. M.Newman (Ed.), Sociology: Exploring the architecture of everyday life. Readings (pp. 4–19). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
    Comarow, M. (1993, December 15). Are sociologists above the law?Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A44.
    Domhoff, G. W. (1995). The bohemian grove. In D. M.Newman (Ed.), Sociology: Exploring the architecture of everyday life. Readings (pp. 215–222). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
    Feder, D. (1993). A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America. Lafayette, LA: Huntington House.
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    About the Author

    Vincent Ryan Ruggiero is Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Delhi where he taught courses in the humanities for 28 years, simultaneously serving as department chair for 13 years, retiring in 1989. While at SUNY, Delhi he designed courses in creative and critical thinking and developed teaching materials, most of which became textbooks. Since then, he has devoted his time to writing, speaking, and consulting both in the United States and abroad on such topics as ethics, communication, educational reform, and organizational efficiency.

    Considered a pioneer in the teaching of thinking, he has delivered featured presentations at national and international conferences and conducted faculty development seminars at over 60 colleges and universities. He is listed in the Directory of American Scholars and Who's Who in American Education. Three of his speeches, notably his July 1994 keynote address at the Sixth Annual International Conference on Thinking, have been published in Vital Speeches of the Day, a journal devoted to excellence in thought and expression.

    He is author of 75 articles and 16 books on thinking and related subjects, among them The Elements of Rhetoric, Enter the Dialogue, The Art of Thinking, and Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America. The PBS television series “Author, Author” featured him in a one-hour segment, and he has created and narrated two one-hour special presentations on education, also shown on PBS, which were sponsored by the Virginia State Education Department.


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