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Critical Thinking Questions for Social Problems

These are some "critical thinking questions" taken from the Instructor's Manual for Eitzen and Baca Zinn's SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Ninth Edition, Allyn and Bacon. They are intended to help you cover the material in the suggesting thoughts and questions. Also, they provide interesting topics and issues for use in the Discretionary Assignment (i.e. Analysis Paper and Opinion Paper topics). Click on the Chapter you desire from the Menu below.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 7
Chapter 14
Chapter 16
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 15
Chapter 5
Chapter 10a
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 1

1. Are social problems a result of an individual or a social system?
2. Are social problems socially defined or universal absolutes?
3. How many people should suffer for something to be defined as a social problem?
4. Who defines social problems? The powerful? The affected? Those who don’t know they have a problem?
5. How do you define a social problem?
6. How do different values, beliefs, and norms affect the definition of social problems?
7. Can social scientists be objective in their research?
8. Can social problems be directed by public opinion?
9. If most deviants are victims of social problems, when should we blame them for their actions?
10. Is the pursuit of self-actualization a right?
11. Is our system unequal by design?
12. What are causes of social problems, and what are the relationships between those causes?
13. How do institutions affect individual behavior that would contribute to social problems?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 2

1. How would public planning in socialist governments work under ideal conditions?
2. Proponents of free enterprise think that capitalism performs the greatest good for the greatest number of people in terms of individual self-fulfillment and the general material progress of society. Do you agree?
3. What are a socialist’s and a capitalist’s notion of human nature?
4. Is being critical of our nations’ policies anti-American?
5. If the U.S. is a nation where only a small number of people fully benefit from its system, why are its people not making changes that reflect democratic ideals?
6. Are the use of lobbyists an example of undemocratic principles in our country?
7. Why would it be a mistake, as the textbook notes, to equate wealth with power?
8. Does democracy legitimatize the rule of wealthy by investing it with the moral authority of popular consent? Explain your answer.
9. Why would corporations, who believe in free enterprise, support a government policy of intervention?
10. Were our founding fathers, shaped the foundations of our country’s ideals, speaking of inalienable rights for everyone, or just the wealthy of which they were all part?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 7

1. What does it mean for a child to grow up in poverty? When are the first life effects of poverty experienced?
2. How did the move from an extended family unit to a nuclear family unit contribute to the staggering poverty rates?
3. How did the move from an agricultural society to an industrial-based society, and now a service based-economy, affect poverty rates?
4. Are the rich a social problem? Consider this seriously. How do people become rich? Is it a fact that in order for some to get rich, others must become poor?
5. If a person lives in poverty, how can s/he get a job? Think about how s/he would get a job with no transportation, work clothing, or appropriate skills.
6. Does capitalism by definition necessitate poverty for some members of society?
7. way does this country have higher rates or poverty than other industrialized societies?
8. What solutions do you really think would work to eliminate or decrease poverty in the U.S.?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 14

1. The authors discuss how businesses subject their employees to psychological and drug testing. Businesses also control employees by monitoring telephone calls, and email and Internet use. Do you feel that these techniques really control employees? What kind of control does it achieve? How do businesses benefit from this control? Do employees benefit at all? How would you feel being screened and monitored like this?
2. Do you think that profits ever become more important than human life? By reducing safety standards for workers, are businesses placing a higher value on profit than on human life?
3. Is there any kind of work that reduces the amount of alienation that workers feel? What qualities would a workplace need to institute to reduce or eliminate worker alienation?
4. The authors discuss the substandard work conditions of sweatshops and how most sweatshops occur in the garment industry. Do you think that any of the clothing you own or are wearing come from sweatshops? Is there a way of knowing this? Is there a way to avoid purchasing clothing made in sweatshops? Do you think there is an ethical or moral difference if the clothes you are wearing are made in domestic sweatshops or in sweatshops in poor countries?
5. What is the purpose of unions? Do you think unions are worth having? Would you rather work in a unionized or non-unionized job?
6. The authors argue that closely tied to segmented labor markets is male dominance in work-related roles. Do you agree with this statement? What examples can you think of that support the authors’ statement? What examples can you think of that disagree with the authors? Think about what kinds or work (in terms of pay and status) that women dominate and if women hold the highest management jobs in such work.
7. Unemployment is commonly believed to be functional for society. Explain how this problem may be so. Do you agree that unemployment is functional?
8. Discuss some of the technological changes directly affecting work and workers in U.S. society. Do you see new technologies as a benefit to or a problem for society? Can technologies have both benefits and problems?
9. What do you think it would feel like to loose your job and your income? What do we have invested in our jobs? What are jobs about? Are jobs only about money or is there more to work than that?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 16

1. Do you think it is possible for any institution to exist outside the social and economic inequalities of the society in which it is embedded?
2. Do you agree with the authors that the U.S. education system is a reflection of and a means to perpetuate larger society?
3. Is greater fragmentation of our educational system through a voucher program a good or bad thing in our society?
4. If not for sifting and sorting, how do we get people to occupy all the positions a society needs to function? Would equalizing pay and prestige of jobs help people move into currently less desirable jobs?
5. Does conformity in a dress code and/or behavior help make schools a more equal and serious environment for achieving or does it prevent students from reaching their full creative potential?
6. Why does tracking continue to exist if it is so profoundly criticized? Do you agree with the notion of tracking? Explain your answer?
7. Should states provide a free college education for all students regardless of financial need? What would be the benefits and disadvantages of such a policy?
8. How crucial is it for teachers to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the student body? What do students gain from being taught by people from similar backgrounds?
9. Some people argue that the money spent per pupil is not related to educational performance. Do you agree with this? Do you think that students who attend poorly funded schools receive equal educations to those who attend well funded schools?
10. How can the curriculum be changed so that the material being taught is relevant to all children’s lived experiences? Does it make sense to have one national curriculum or should curriculums aim at teaching similar information through different means in order to accommodate all students?
11. The authors discuss a variety of ways to restructure the way money is distributed to schools. They also discuss ways to reform the schools themselves. Which of the authors’ suggestions do you think would work best? Which ones are most realistic? Do you think that schools need both external (e.g., government funding) and internal (e.g., school reforms) to achieve equality of education?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 8

1. Sociologically speaking, race is a socially constructed label. What does this mean to you? What examples can you give to explain how race is socially constructed?
2. From the functionalist perspective, who does the race label serve? Why does the race label exist, and what are its functions?
3. Discuss the self-fulfilling prophecy associated with labels of race. Take this one step further and consider learned helplessness.
4. Consider the fact that most Black U.S. citizens are descendants of people who were brought involuntarily to the U.S. What effects do you think this history has on African Americans and Whites today?
5. The authors raised the question: Why are some groups dominant and some subordinate? Respond to that question through examples. What perspective are you using to answer this question?
6. What is the difference between individual and institutional racism? Have you ever experienced either? How do both types of racism affect people of color and Whites?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 9

1. Discuss the need for a feminist movement. Is there only one feminist position? What are some of the philosophies of feminists in regard to work and families? Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? What does “feminist” mean to you?
2. What is a gender role and does it have any social value? Look at the concept of gender role from a functionalist perspective. What societal functions does it serve? How would a structural sociologist argue against a functionalist sociologist in regard to gender inequality?
3. Has the concept of androgyny fallen out of favor with the general population? How do you think children should be raised in regard to gender roles and expectations?
4. Think about sex role stereotypes and how they seem to set one sex up as the model of competence and success. Why does our society still adhere to these stereotypes? What purpose do they serve?
5. What forms of gender discrimination have you experienced in the workforce? Do you think your mothers and fathers are treated differently in the workforce? What work do they do? How is the work they do gendered?
6. Think about your educational experiences. What is your major? How many male professors do you have? How many female professors do you have? How has the gender division of professors affected your college education? Did you experience any gendered differences in treatment by high school or college instructors? Who are the deans and chairs of your school/department? Who are the secretaries and support staff?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 15

1. The authors argue that the family does not shape society, but society shapes families. What do they mean by this? Do you agree or disagree?
2. Do you think there was a more stable time for families than there is now? If so, were all families more stable or just some (e.g., were poor families or families of color stable)?
3. What are the purposes of a family? What purpose does your family serve? Is the structure (i.e., the members) of the family or the quality of the relationships within families most important to the well-being of family members and to society?
4. Would the U.S. be better off having one breadwinner and one homemaker per household? If so, how? If not, why not?
5. How are dual-earner families and single-parent families affecting the way children in the U.S. are being raised? Are there advantages to these family arrangements? What structural factors have caused these families to develop?
6. What does it mean to be “pro-family”? Is our society pro-family?
7. The authors argue that how a society treats its dependents is a test of that society’s civilization? What do they mean by this? Do you agree or disagree with this? Why or why not?
8. How does socioeconomic status and social inequalities shape family life?
9. How have the high rates of divorce, single parenting, and spousal abuse affected U.S. society? Do you consider these family issues to be private problems or social problems?
10. At the end of the chapter, the authors argue that certain social conditions foster family violence. These conditions include institutional sexism, institutional racism, and institutional heterosexism. Furthermore, the media disseminate the message that violence solves problems. Do you agree that these are causes of family violence?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 5

1. Consider the plight of immigrants. Would people really leave their home if they could make a living there? Does the U.S. have any obligation to make the lives of people in their countries of origin livable?
2. Why do people migrate to the U.S.? Consider push and pull factors. Push factors are ones that push people to leave their homes. Pull factors are ones that make people choose one place as opposed to another.
3. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world where children are raised to speak only one language. In the burgeoning global market, are there advantages to teaching children more than one language? What can Americans learn from immigrants about the importance of language acquisition?
4. Because of the way our health system is organized, we spend much more money on health care for the old and frail than we do for the young. Why is this so? Should U.S. society be focusing more on its younger population than it does on the elderly population?

Critical Thinking Question: Chapter 10a

Why do we as a society feel the need to define some behavior or people as deviant? Does it serve any purpose for us as a society to do so?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 12

1. Consider the problems discussed in the chapter with respect to our legal system. Can you see any possible solutions? Can the legal system be improved in a society with so many problems?
2. Consider criminal behavior. Are all activities that are labeled criminal really wrong from an ethical perspective? Would you steal to feed your children? Should people starve? Where should we draw the line between survival and criminal behavior?
3. There is a huge gender gap in criminal behavior. Why do you think it exists? Why is it that women are committing more property crimes than previously? 4. Who designs the laws? Whose benefit are they designed for and who are they designed to protect?
5. Who would be interested in police work? Why or why not?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 13

1. Why do you think alcohol and tobacco legal drugs when they are addictive, physically harmful, and socially disruptive?
2. Consider the campaign to promote alcohol and tobacco in developing countries. How is this related to the environmental racism that occurs in this county? 3. Discuss some alternative policies to eliminating drug use and abuse in the U.S. What do you think is the best solution and why?
4. The authors raise the question: What is meant by “the drug problem?” What is their answer? Give some examples of “the drug problem.”
5. If the use of marijuana were legalized, what do you think would be the negative or positive outcomes for society?
6. The authors claim that the war on drugs is racist. What evidence do they provide to support their claim? What do you think about their claim?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 17

1. Why is understanding who benefits and who suffers important in knowing about health care delivery?
2. Are only the lifestyles of the poor a contributor to their ill health? What structural factors are also involved?
3. Is society responsibility for providing medical care to those who cannot afford it?
4. For a country that pays the greatest amount of money per person for health care, how is it that the U.S. has a medical track record that in some areas is at the level of some Third World countries?
5. Should U.S. society continue to develop state-of-the-art medical equipment and drugs with no regard to cost?
6. How did it become the norm for Westerners to think about hospitals as the “natural” place to give birth or to die? What alternatives might there be to this practice? What would be the benefits or disadvantages of changing this practice?
7. Do you believe that there are uneven practices of medical service delivery between genders in the U.S.?
8. What kinds of research do you think might be needed to better meet the health needs of women?
9. Should a society shoulder the costs for medical assistance and care for lifestyle choices such as using fertility drugs, smoking, drinking, or sunbathing? How far should individual freedom go if that freedom costs society in health care?
10. What choices do doctors have to make between the Hippocratic Oath and managed health care?
11. How much is the American Medical Association currently part of the problems and solutions in health care delivery?
12. What positive and negative aspects would come from a universal health care plan here in the U.S.? Do you think that such a program would work in the U.S.?

Critical Thinking Questions: Chapter 18

1. The authors discuss two reasons why the U.S. is a target of international terrorist groups. What are these two reasons? Do you agree with them? Should the U.S. have to consider the consequences of its foreign policy as part of its defense against terrorism?
2. Do you think the U.S. can rely on other nations (either Western or Muslim) to help with their security issue? Was the terrorism that the U.S. experienced on September 11, 2001 a national problem or a global one?
3. The authors discussed the problem of racial profiling. With so many Arab Americans living in the U.S., what solution do you see to prevent innocent Americans from being targeted by the police and national security experts?
4. In trying to fight terrorism and find terrorists in the U.S., how should the U.S. balance security and civil liberties? Would you rather have less personal freedom and greater national security or vice versa?
5. The authors discuss many downsides to globalization. Are there any advantages to globalization? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages or vice versa? Now that the world is so globalized, is there any way to reduce dangers associated with globalization? If so, how?
6. What threat do you think movements within the U.S., like the Patriots, are to national security? Are you more worried about national or international terrorism? Why?
7. During the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the nation focused on finding and bringing to justice the al Qaeda network. This focus removed attention from other social problems and the needs of disadvantaged Americans. How do you think the nation should prioritize its social problems? How does terrorism compare to poverty or other social problems that the authors discuss throughout the text? Do you think your answer would change if you lived in poverty?
8. What beliefs, values, and norms do we have to consider changing to make our world more secure?

Critical Thinking Questions Chapter 19

1. How much do you think social problems are the result of design or neglect. Do social problems come out of social policy, as the authors suggest?
2. Should we create and invest in policies and programs that protect citizens from poverty, unemployment, and other social problems, or should individuals take full responsibility for their own lives?
3. Is the status quo ever part of the solution to social problems or is it always a barrier to equality?
4. Why do social policy makers find it easier to spend ten times the cost to contain a problem like building prisons than to invest in social programs that would help prevent criminal behavior from occurring? What do you think would convince politicians to work on preventative measures and long-term social change rather than social “bandaids” and short-term measures?
5. Have you ever participated in any collective efforts to make progressive change? If so, what were they? What social cause do you think you personally could get involved with and why would it be that cause?
6. How has the court system been used to create social policy? Is this a misuse of our democratic principles of having the legislative branch creating social policies? Does the judicial branch represent the status quo? If so, can it really affect progressive change or reform?
7. Can people from privileged backgrounds (like those of most politicians) really make policy changes that support true equality? Do politicians have a conflict of interest in instituting truly progressive social policy?
8. The authors of the textbook state that the people who most need progressive social changes are the ones who do not vote? Why is that? How can the government or grassroots efforts encourage people to vote?