Soc 150B1: Social Issues in America

What, if anything, do we need to do to avoid catastrophic climate change? Should we reduce income inequality? Should we legalize marijuana? When and how should the United States intervene militarily in other nations? How can we strengthen families? What can we do to reverse the obesity epidemic? How can we increase happiness?

This course explores these key issues in contemporary America and the ways in which social scientists, journalists, opinion writers, and policy makers approach them. We’ll examine hypotheses, research findings, and arguments about climate change, income inequality, marijuana legalization, American military intervention abroad, families, obesity, and happiness. The course aims to improve your understanding of society, the economy, and politics and to aid in your development of critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication skills.



  • Lane Kenworthy:, Social Sciences 440, office hours Wednesdays 8:45–9:45, 11:00–12:00

Teaching assistants

  • Krista Frederico:, Social Sciences 426, office hours Thursdays 11:30–1:30
  • Sabrina Nardin:, Social Sciences 412, office hours Tuesdays 1:00–2:00, Fridays 11:00–12:00
  • Joseph West:, Social Sciences 430, office hours Mondays 8:45–9:45, 11:00–12:00
  • Jackie Joslyn:, Social Sciences 412, office hour Mondays 11:00–12:00
  • Justin Knoll:, Social Sciences 412, office hour Wednesdays 11:00–12:00

Preceptor (peer tutor)

  • Sergio Walker:, office hour Mondays 11:00–12:00 at the Cactus Grill


Harvill 150, MWF 10:00–10:50


We’ll spend two weeks on each issue. During the first week, you will use the course materials to familiarize yourself with the evidence and opinion on the issue. You will write a short comment expressing your thoughts, questions, or recommendations. On Monday and Wednesday of the second week we will meet in class to discuss and debate the issue, and on Friday you will take an exam on the issue.


  • Course introduction: Aug 26–30
  • Climate change: Sept 2–13
  • Income inequality: Sept 16–27
  • Marijuana legalization: Sept 30 – Oct 11
  • American military intervention: Oct 14–25
  • Families: Oct 28 – Nov 8
  • Obesity: Nov 11–22
  • Happiness: Nov 25 – Dec 11

Key dates

  • Sept 8, Sunday: Written comment 1 due, on D2L, at 11:59pm
  • Sept 9, Monday: Attendance begins
  • Sept 13, Friday: Exam 1
  • Sept 22, Sunday: Written comment 2 due, on D2L, at 11:59pm
  • Sept 27, Friday: Exam 2
  • Oct 6, Sunday: Written comment 3 due, on D2L, at 11:59pm
  • Oct 7, Monday: “Create” modules 1-5 due, in class
  • Oct 11, Friday: Exam 3
  • Oct 20, Sunday: Written comment 4 due, on D2L, at 11:59pm
  • Oct 21, Monday: Essay 1 due, in class
  • Oct 25, Friday: Exam 4
  • Nov 3, Sunday: Written comment 5 due, on D2L, at 11:59pm
  • Nov 8, Friday: Exam 5
  • Nov 17, Sunday: Written comment 6 due, on D2L, at 11:59pm
  • Nov 22, Friday: Exam 6
  • Dec 2, Monday: Essay 2 due, in Social Sciences 440, at 10:50am
  • Dec 8, Sunday: Written comment 7 due, on D2L, at 11:59pm
  • Dec 18, Wednesday, 10:30am: Exam 7


Readings and videos. These are available online — nearly all of them for free — from the “Course topics and materials” menu above.

TurningPoint smartphone contract or a TurningPoint clicker. You can purchase this at the UA Bookstore.


Course grades will be determined as follows. See below for details.

  • Seven written comments: 14% (2% each)
  • Seven exams: 42% (6% each)
  • “Create” tutorials and tests: 10%
  • Essay 1: 10%
  • Essay 2: 10%
  • Attendance: 14%

Grading scale:

  • A = 90 and above
  • B = 80-89
  • C = 70-79
  • D = 60-69
  • E = below 60

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


For each issue, you will write a comment of 50-100 words on the course materials. Due dates are listed above. You can highlight something you found especially interesting or controversial, state an agreement or disagreement, raise a question or two, or make a recommendation. You may focus on one of the materials or draw on a number of them.

As long as your comment exhibits awareness of the materials and some thought, you will receive a 100 for it. Poor quality comments will receive a lower grade. If you don’t write a comment by the deadline, you’ll receive a zero.

You will post these comments on D2L. Log in to D2L and choose this course. Click on “discussions.” Click on the topic. Click on “compose.” Type your comment. (You don’t need to put anything in the “subject” field.) Click on “post.”


The exam dates are listed above. Makeup exams will be permitted only in special circumstances. If something happens that forces you to miss an exam, you must notify me or one of the course TAs — in person or by email — within two hours of the scheduled exam start time and (later) provide documented proof of the circumstances. Otherwise you will receive a zero for the exam.


The University of Arizona has a set of online tutorials to help students with writing skills. It’s called Create: A Guide for Writers. You are required to complete modules (tutorials) 1-5 and the accompanying tests.

For technical support, contact Dwight Farris at

Go to Log in using your UA netID and password. Click on the link for Soc 150B1. Then click on the link for Module 1. Follow the instructions to complete the module, including the test. Do the same for Module 2, Module 3, Module 4, and Module 5. Each test has ten questions; to pass, you must answer six or more of the ten correctly. If you fail a test, you can take it again. (Modules 4 and 5 also have a pretest; you must complete these, but your scores on them won’t affect your grade.)

When you complete the test for a module, print a hard copy of either the screen showing your result or the email confirmation you receive. Staple these printouts together and write your name at the top of the first page. They are due in class on the date listed in the schedule above. Printouts turned in late but within 72 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). Printouts turned in more than 72 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Your “Create” grade will be determined as follows:

  • five modules with a passing test grade = 100
  • four = 80
  • three = 60
  • two = 40
  • one = 20
  • zero = 0


You will write two short essays. The assignments:

  • Essay 1: Should we legalize same-sex marriage?
  • Essay 2: Should we reduce immigration into the United States?

Due dates are listed above. Turn in a hard copy; emailed essays won’t be accepted. An essay turned in late but within 72 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). An essay turned in more than 72 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Length: Each essay should be 1,250 words, plus or minus no more than 100 words.

Formatting: The essays must be typed single-space on 8½-by-11 paper with 1-inch top and bottom margins and 2-inch side margins. Use 11-point or 12-point font size.

Sources and citations: Consult at least five sources of your choosing. Use footnotes to give credit to anyone from whom you borrow evidence or argument. Don’t include the footnotes in the word count.

Keys to success: Answer the question. Write clearly. Refer to relevant evidence (opinion and logic are fine but insufficient). Anticipate objections to your position. Use proper grammar and punctuation. Adhere to the length, formatting, and citation instructions. It might help to try out your argument on classmates or friends or family.


On days we meet in class, I will ask you to answer one or more questions using your clicker. Your answers will constitute proof of attendance. These aren’t quizzes; what’s required is an answer, not a correct answer. You can miss one class day during the semester without losing any points. Your attendance grade will be determined as follows:

  • 0-1 days absent = 100
  • 2 days absent = 80
  • 3 days absent = 60
  • 4 days absent = 40
  • 5 days absent = 20
  • 6 or more days absent = 0

Attendance records will be posted on D2L. Check periodically to be sure you’re getting proper credit.

I recommend saving your one “freebie” day for things like forgetting to bring your clicker to class, clicker malfunction, oversleeping, minor illness, transportation problem, a friend’s wedding, family issues, needing to study for another course, etc.

Three types of absences won’t count against you: holidays or special events observed by organized religions (for students who show affiliation with that particular religion), absences pre-approved by the UA Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee), and days missed due to extended illness (this requires verification from a doctor). If you miss a class for one of these three reasons, I need a written note or confirmation shortly before or after the class date.

To get attendance credit, you must register your clicker for this course. Here’s how to do that. (If you have a smartphone contract with TurningPoint instead of a clicker, the registration process is similar.)

  • Go to
  • Enter the required information
  • On the second page, enter my email ( and click “Submit”
  • Select this course (Social Issues in America) and click “Add”
  • Click “Next”
  • Review the information and, if it’s correct, click “Complete registration”

If you get a new clicker at any point during the semester, register it immediately.


Students taking the course for Honors credit will, in addition to the regular course requirements, write a 4,000-to-6,000-word paper. A two-page proposal is due in class on the date of the fourth exam. The paper is due at the last exam. The paper should be single-spaced with 1-inch top and bottom margins and 2-inch side margins. The assignment: propose and argue for a change in an institution or policy that would make the United States a better place. You aren’t limited to issues we cover during the semester. Your grade will be based on how effectively you argue on behalf of your proposed solution. Some keys to success: State the proposal. Identify the problem(s) it aims to address. Say how it will help. Anticipate objections. Refer to relevant research and data. Write clearly.


Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, graded work must be the product of independent effort unless otherwise instructed. Students are expected to adhere to the UA Code of Academic Integrity as described in the UA General Catalog.


Students are expected to observe the UA Student Code of Conduct as it pertains to classroom behavior and should be familiar with UA policies against threatening behavior by students.


Students who need special accommodation or services should contact the Disability Resources Center, 1224 E. Lowell St, tel 520.621.3268, email You must register and request that the DRC send me official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please meet with me to discuss accommodations and how my course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate. The need for accommodations must be documented by the appropriate office.


See here.


Information here, other than the grade and attendance policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.