Soci 10: American Society (2020)

University of California-San Diego
Spring 2019-20

Lane Kenworthy
Zoom classtime: Tu Th 9:30-10:50
Zoom office hours: Tu 11:15-12:15
Tel: 858-860-6124

Teaching Assistant: Stephen Reynders
Section A01, M 5:00-5:50pm, via Zoom
Section A02, M 6:00-6:50pm, via Zoom
Office hours: M 3:00-5:00, via email

This course explores key issues in contemporary America and how (social) scientists — as well as journalists, advocates, and policy makers — approach them. We’ll also consider what can be done to make things better.

The course will be entirely online and asynchronous.

Lectures are online in the form of short videos, viewable at any time. You’ll access the lecture videos and required readings via Canvas. (I’ll be posting the videos gradually as the course goes along; they’ll always be available at least one week in advance.) Each Tuesday and Thursday, beginning in week 2, you will take a 5-question quiz, accessed via Canvas, on the reading and lecture videos for that day. There will be 18 quizzes; only your highest 14 grades will count. We won’t meet during the scheduled class time (Tu Th 9:30-10:50), but I’ll be available during that time to answer questions via Zoom.

For discussion sections, there will be an assigned reading or video each week. You’ll write a short comment or question on the reading/video and post it to a discussion board on Canvas. These are due at noon on Mondays. You will also respond to the comment/question of two other students, due at 11:59pm on Mondays. The discussion sections won’t meet during the scheduled time, but Stephen Reynders, the course teaching assistant, will be available during that time to answer questions via Zoom.

There will be two open-note take-home essay exams.

All times listed in this syllabus are California time.

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Here are the topics we’ll cover. The full schedule, including discussion sections and exams, is in Canvas.

Week 1, March 31 (Tu)
Course introduction

Week 1, April 2 (Th)
How do we know?

Week 2, April 7 (Tu)
Why isn’t there less poverty in America?

Week 2, April 9 (Th)
Why don’t Americans live longer?

Week 3, April 14 (Tu)
Should marijuana be legal?

Week 3, April 16 (Th)
Is income inequality ruining everything?

Week 4, April 21 (Tu)
Why don’t more Americans live in cities?

Week 4, April 23 (Th)
Why is there so much gun violence?

Week 5, April 28 (Tu)
How far have we come on LGBTQ inclusion?

Week 5, April 30 (Th)
Are we near gender parity?

Week 6, May 5 (Tu)
Why don’t more Americans get a four-year college degree?

Week 6, May 7 (Th)
Are African Americans catching up with whites or falling farther behind?

Week 7, May 12 (Tu)
Is religion declining in the US?

Week 7, May 14 (Th)
Should we increase taxes?

Week 8, May 19 (Tu)
Should the US intervene militarily more often?

Week 8, May 21 (Th)
Does America have a loneliness epidemic?

Week 9, May 26 (Tu)
Will it matter who wins the 2020 election?

Week 9, May 28 (Th)
What’s gone wrong with the American right?

Week 10, June 2 (Tu)
How polarized are American politics?

Week 10, June 4 (Th)
What does the future of American politics look like?


Here’s what you should get from this course:

Substantive knowledge. The course aims to improve your understanding of the issues we cover. By the end of the quarter, you should be able to correctly answer all of the course quiz questions (see below).

Approaching issues scientifically (this is often called “critical thinking”). Many of the issues we’ll look at are front-and-center in popular discussion, journalistic coverage, and political debate. This discussion would be better, and more helpful to policy makers, if it were more informed by science. Approaching an issue scientifically means, among other things, considering empirical evidence rather than relying solely on theory or ethical beliefs, looking for data rather than anecdote(s), looking for multiple sources of evidence (“If hypothesis A were true, what else would we expect to observe?”), and thinking about whether some types of evidence are more useful, and thus should be weighted more heavily, than others.

Asking important questions. For any issue or topic, there are multiple questions we might want to answer. Many are of interest, but some are more important than others.

Understanding argument and evidence. For each class day, you will do a reading and watch lecture videos. Focus on the question(s) being posed, the answer(s) given, the key pieces of evidence, and the way the author reasons from the evidence and other considerations (laws, ethical views, etc) in reaching a conclusion.

Dealing with complexity and incomplete information. The issues we’ll examine are big and complicated. Scientists have struggled to understand the nature of the problem(s), to identify the main cause(s), and to figure out the most useful solution(s). The process is like detective work: seldom is the story simple and rarely do we have the exact evidence we’d need in order to be strongly confident about our conclusion, so we must ask an assortment of questions, use various types of data, and think systematically.

Spotting the progress. Social scientists and journalists often emphasize our problems and shortfalls. That’s helpful, because it spurs us to do better and (hopefully) helps us figure out how to do so. But it can also give us the impression that things are getting worse. Sometimes that’s accurate, but in other instances it’s misleading. In fact, in many areas of life things have been improving and we could be doing better.

Comfort with quantitative data. A generation ago there was a scarcity of numerical data. Now we have an abundance: data are everywhere. That’s a good thing, because data are key to answering important questions about society. You will encounter lots of quantitative data in this course, often in graphical form. If you aren’t already comfortable interpreting such data and reasoning from them, by the end of the course you should be.

Verbal communication. The discussion section for this course is designed to foster conversation about the issues we’ll consider.

Written communication. There are two written exams. I expect your writing to be high quality. If you struggle with writing, you’re like virtually everyone else. Good writing usually comes from two things. The first is clear thinking. Writing isn’t just a way to express what you’re thinking; it’s a way to clarify your thinking. The second is extensive editing. Write a draft. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again. For an excellent guide to good writing, see this.

Concision. Information and opinion are plentiful these days, so brevity is a valuable skill. The written exams are short, so you’ll need to focus on the information and argument that is most relevant or useful.

Developing a good argument. The course materials and lectures are designed to expose you to ways of developing and conveying effective argument. Keys include focusing on a specific question, formulating a clear proposal or position, making use of relevant evidence, addressing potential objections and counterarguments, and communicating clearly.


The course readings and videos are available via Canvas. There is no textbook.


During the scheduled class time — Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30-10:50 — Professor Kenworthy will available to answer questions and discuss via Zoom. These meetings are optional. To connect, click on the Zoom meeting link within Canvas.

During the scheduled discussion section times — Mondays 5:00-5:50 and 6:00-6:50 — Stephen Reynders will be available to answer questions and discuss via Zoom. These meetings are optional. To connect, click on the Zoom meeting link within Canvas.


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

  • 25%: discussion section comment/questions and responses
  • 35%: quizzes
  • 20%: exam 1
  • 20%: exam 2

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (discussion section grade x .25) + (quizzes average grade x .35) + (exam 1 grade x .20) + (exam 2 grade x .20).

Your letter grade for the course will be determined as follows:

  • 96.67 to 100 = A+
  • 93.34 to 96.66 = A
  • 90 to 93.33 = A–
  • 86.67 to 89.99 = B+
  • 83.34 to 86.66 = B
  • 80 to 83.33 = B–
  • 76.67 to 79.99 = C+
  • 73.34 to 76.66 = C
  • 70 to 73.33 = C–
  • 60 to 69.99 = D
  • below 60 = F

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


The discussion sections won’t meet during the scheduled time on Mondays, but Stephen Reynders, the course teaching assistant, will be available during that time to answer questions via Zoom.

There is an assigned reading or video for discussion section each week. These are available via Canvas. Each week, you will write a short comment or question on the reading/video. You will also write a brief response to the posts of two other students. Your comment/question is due by noon on the discussion section day (Mondays) and your two responses are due by 11:59pm that day.

If you have the Canvas app, you can post your comment/question and responses using your phone. But don’t write as though you’re texting or tweeting. Write real sentences and use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Discussion section grading: Each week, your grade will be 100 if you write a good comment/question and respond to two others. If you post a comment/question and responses but they’re poorly written or reflect little engagement with the reading/video, or if you post your comment/question after noon (making it difficult for other students to respond to it), or if you post a comment/question but don’t respond to those of two other students, your grade will be 50. There will be 9 weeks of discussion section posts; only your 8 highest grades will count.


Each Tuesday and Thursday, beginning in week 2, you will take a short quiz on the reading and lecture videos for that day. Each quiz will have five multiple choice or true/false questions. There will be 18 quizzes; only your highest 14 grades will count.

The quizzes will be posted on Canvas. Each quiz will be available throughout the day. You can start the quiz any time beginning at 12:01am, and you must finish it by 11:59pm. Once you begin a quiz, you’ll have 15 minutes to complete it.

The quizzes are open-note open-computer.

If you have the Canvas app, you can take the quizzes using your phone.

Quiz grading: If you get at least one answer correct, you get 50 free points. For each correct answer, you get ten additional points. So your grade is zero if you don’t take the quiz or if all five of your answers are incorrect, 60 with one correct answer, 70 with two correct answers, 80 with three, 90 with four, 100 with five.

You can skip a quiz, which will reduce the number of quizzes that count for your overall quiz grade, if you have to miss it for any of the following three reasons: (1) holidays or special events observed by organized religions (for students who show affiliation with that particular religion), (2) absences pre-approved by the UCSD Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee), (3) extended illness (this requires a doctor’s note). I will need written verification of the circumstances.

Advice: Don’t overthink the quiz questions. Don’t assume I’m trying to trick you.


Each exam will have one question. The question will be posted on Canvas one week before the exam is due.

Write your answer in a word processing document.

The exams are open-note open-computer.

You should draw on the course materials (readings, videos, lectures). You can also use outside sources if you wish, but that isn’t required.

Grading will be based on the following:

  • Answer the question.
  • Refer to relevant evidence. If you include charts and/or tables, put them at the end and don’t include them in the word count.
  • Address potential objections. What would a critic say are the weak points in your case? How do you respond?
  • Write clearly.
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation (“I,” “me,” and contractions are fine), and adhere to the following length, formatting, and citation instructions. Length: No more than 1,000 words (excluding charts, tables, and footnotes). List your word count on the first page, along with your name and the date. Formatting: single-space, 12-point font size, 1-inch top and bottom margins and 2-inch side margins. Use footnotes (not a reference list or bibliography) to give credit to anyone from whom you borrow evidence or argument. The footnotes aren’t included in the word count. I’m not picky about the formatting of the footnotes, but include the author(s), title, and year rather than just an internet address.

If you need help with writing, consider seeking assistance from the UC San Diego Writing Hub.

The due dates are listed in the schedule above. An exam turned in late but within 48 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). An exam turned in more than 48 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Upload your exam answer on Canvas. Emailed or hard copy exam answers won’t be accepted.

Submit your answer in a word processing program format (Microsoft Word, Google docs, Pages, etc.). Don’t submit it as a pdf document.

Don’t plagiarize. If you aren’t sure what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the UC San Diego Library’s guide to preventing plagiarism.


Sociology’s existing policy on P/NP courses is: All courses taken for the major must be taken for a letter grade, with the exception of Sociology 199 which can only be taken P/NP.

Sociology’s Spring Quarter 2020 policy on P/NP courses is:

  • Any Sociology class taken P/NP in Spring Quarter 2020 will count toward the major and/or the minor.
  • P/NP courses taken in Spring 2020 will not count toward the 25% cap on P/NP courses for the Bachelor’s degree.
  • Students may change their selection of P/NP or Letter Grade through the end of Week 10.
  • P/NP courses are not included in calculations of GPA.
  • This new policy is in effect for Spring Quarter 2020 only.


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 UC San Diego policy on academic integrity.


Students who need special accommodation or services should contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). You must register and request that the OSD send me official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please meet with me to discuss accommodations and how the course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.

If your access to the internet is limited, please let me or the teaching assistant know.


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