Oh, God, please don't ask me this question tomorrow...

I have my sociology final tomorrow, and among the questions that may be asked is this:

Although every society has social problems, why does the United States have more severe social problems (such as more poverty, worse health care, more violence, more pollution, worse education) than other advanced industrialized nations?

Um, wow? I do believe this is the most loaded question I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t necessarily agree with any of this, but I do know that the proper response is not “So, when did you stop beating your wife?”, much as I want to ask it.

I’m awestruck. I hope he doesn’t ask that question, because I’d like to pass this class, and my unbridled response will not help me accomplish that.

Thoughts? Mine is “Are you NUTS?!?!?!”, for the record.

Regurgitating what he wants to hear doesn’t mean you agree with him.

Of course, in my college years, I was much more idealistic than I am now and would likely have struggled much the same way you are.

Tell him what it takes to pass the exam and the class. Then move on. I hope the class hasn’t been a complete waste of time, but at least you’re moving toward the degree you want, right?

All of my classes have been a waste of time, and the degree I’m pursuing is 1) the least of the possible evils, and b) a means to an end. Nothing more, nothing less.

In any event, I don’t tell teachers what they want to hear. Life’s too short to patronize them with cockamamie nonsense that they know you could not possibly believe. I’d bet that he knows what I will say if that question is posed. I don’t think he would expect the ferocity of my response, however.

Frankly, I’m insulted by the question. That’s really what is irritating me. It assumes a lot of things that have not been demonstrated by anyone, let alone him.

I guess I need to get a grip, take a deep breath, and think about how to tell him he’s full of it with a measured, composed response.

Why can’t a thorough discussion of why these things cannot be assumed be a good answer to this question?

And for the record, I think it’s funny that you disagree so strongly with this question without apparently giving it much thought. Maybe you could answer the question from the perspective of “Why is it perceived that the United States have more severe social problems (such as more poverty, worse health care, more violence, more pollution, worse education) than other advanced industrialized nations?” Cause, you know, it is.

Would this professor actually downgrade you if he doesn’t agree with your answer to his subjective question? As long as you have a well-defined response with supporting arguments and cites, you should do fine. If he downgrades you, take it to his department chair.

As someone who grades sociology exams, my advice is to first of all demonstrate that you read and understood the arguments made in the relevant readings. Then you can quibble with the question. After you’ve answered everything competently.

What exactly is the quibble? That you don’t think the US has more poverty that other industrialized nations? Or that you don’t think poverty is a social problem?

Personally, my quibble would be with the use of “advanced,” implying some sort of teleological course of development, but that’s probably not what you’re worked up about.

IMO, the US is perceived in this manner, and I do not believe it is entirely undeserved. Or, what featherlou said. There are differences between society in the United States and, for instance, society in Western Europe. I guess if I were faced with such a question, I would focus on what those differences are.

I guess if I were the professor, I would have worded the question a bit more neutrally, but it does not mean you cannot answer the question. As an American, you may not feel that it is necessarily barbaric that, for instance, a woman in the United States is not automatically given paid maternity leave after she gives birth, but my friend in Finland thought so when I told her. She was shocked that the United States, which is supposed to be the most advanced nation in the world, would not take care of mothers in that way. The difference in reactions is a function of a difference between the two societies. This question is asking you to define what those differences are.

Really? You don’t think the US has more severe poverty, worse health care, more violence, more pollution, and worse education than, say, the UK, Canada and Japan?

Percentage living in poverty:

United States 17%
Japan 15.3%
United Kingdom 11.4%
Canada 10.3

Source: OECD (2004), Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries

As for health care, the United States is one of few industrialized nations in the world where it is possible to be uninsured.

Murder rate:

United States 5.9 per year per 100,000 inhabitants
United Kingdom 2.03
Canada 2.01
Japan 0.50

Source: Wikipedia

As for pollution, the United States is one of few industrialized nations (if not the only one) which still refuses to sign Kyoto.

Carbon dioxide released per person per year:

United States 5.8 tons
Canada 4.8
United Kingdom 2.9
Japan 2.2

Total carbon monoxide emitted annually:

United States 60,900 tons
Canada 10,100
United Kingdom 5,264

Percent of all greenhouse gases emitted annually:

United States 21%
European community 14%

Total CFCs emitted annually:

United States 332 million tons
Japan 95
United Kingdom 67
Canada 34

Major oil spills, 1976-89:

United States 16
United Kingdom 5
Japan 4
Canada 2

Debris inhaled per person per year:

United States 81 pounds
United Kingdom 11
Japan 2

Sources: Where We Stand; NASA, IPCC Scientific Assessment of Climate Change

Education: According to an OECD study, the United States is not in the top five for literacy (though Canada is), math (though Japan is), or science (though Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom all are), nor was it one of the nine “international high flyers”, countries whose students were above average at every subject–but Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom were all on that list.

Those were just three countries off the top of my head with comparable development to the United States, and it only took about 20 minutes to compile all of that information. Really, now.

Sources for murder rate statistics (too late to edit):

Seventh United Nations survey of crime trends and operations of criminal justice systems, covering the period 1998 - 2000, 13-15. United Nations Office on drugs and crime division for policy analysis and public affairs.

Eighth United Nations survey of crime trends and operations of criminal justice systems, covering the period 2001 - 2002 (PDF) 28-29. United Nations Office on drugs and crime division for policy analysis and public affairs.

Ninth United Nations survey of crime trends and operations of criminal justice systems (PDF) 1-9. United Nations Office on drugs and crime. Archived from the original on 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-01.

I don’t understand the problem with the question. Everything in the premise is true. Why the reluctance to answer it? If you really think the question is unfair or that the premises are false, then you need to say why and back it up. Just because you don’t like the facts doesn’t mean the question is loaded.

Having just completed a teacher’s credentialing program, I have given up the idea that college classes, even (or especially) graduate classes in a soft science are going to actually teach me anything. I have lost such respect for most of the professors in such programs that I no longer grind my teeth at their muddleheaded inanities. Some of the worst teaching I’ve ever seen has been in teaching classes. I learned most of my lessons on teaching by hating how I was taught in teaching credential programs.

I advise you to remember that anyone who asks such a question at this stage of his career is not someone you can convince with actual logic. Do not dash yourself on the rocks of the mind of someone who does not care if he is actually right. I’ve done that. People who don’t care if they’re correct or logical are impossible to argue with, maybe even moreso than people who have different fundamental assumptions. At least in that case you can possibly discover the different assumption and recognize the difference. If the prof doesn’t care, you can’t do anything at all.

Just get the grade from the weenie and move on.

Seriously, you haven’t seen the arguments on this board about not signing treaties that are ineffective and limp? Traditionally, America doesn’t sign treaties she has no actual intention of abiding by, just for the “symbolic gesture.”

Well, I have to admit I agree with what others have said here about the “truthiness” of the assumptions made in the question, but I can see where you’re coming from. I’m the same way about vehemently disagreeing with professor’s opinions in papers. it’s much easier to write a good paper on something you like and agree with than something you think is total hooey.

Is your paper being marked by a TA or the actual prof? Because arguing with the prof’s opinions when it’s a tired grad student who’s looking it over won’t do you any good.

The most important thing is to demonstrate that you know your stuff. So why not start along the lines of “Contemporary thinking is that… etc”, spew the stuff they want you to spew, and then add a paragraph at the end with your objections?

Ain’t that the truth!

My issue is with the “no actual intention of abiding by”, not the “doesn’t sign treaties”. Much of the (little) progress the United States has made in environmental issues has only been possible because California’s state legislative bodies have forced national industries’ hand by passing laws that affect a sizeable chunk of the American population, while the federal government has been moving backwards on environmental issues throughout this decade, if not for longer. I don’t want to get in a debate about that, though; the important question for this thread is whether or not a sociology professor has to be “NUTS?!?!?!” to ask why the United States has a bigger pollution problem than other advanced industrialized nations, and it takes anyone with access to the Internet and/or a college classroom about five minutes to find out that, no, it’s actually quite a reasonable proposition.

Professor here, actually grading exams at the moment.

Where does the idea that disagreeing with a teacher - after demonstrating your understanding of the course materials as betsQ has mentioned - will earn you a lower grade come from? I would have an enormous amount of respect (and awe) if a student could pose a cogent argument for a contrary view that I have, backed with solid data.

I think there’s an intellectually lazy tradition that states that the easiest way to curry favor with a teacher is by simply allowing oneself to be indoctrinated, instead of moving beyond retaining and spitting out facts. And I imagine there’s some truth to this… Analysis is where the learning takes place.

Not sure where the OP goes to school, but most academics don’t exist in a vacuum. There are lively debates on a number of issues in the field at any particular time. But as a social scientist I think the question posed is fairly accurate, though a little more strongly worded than how I would put it. The Scandinavian nations, f’rex, have a better handle on these issues than we do… why is that?

And could it be that some of the possible responses to the question have to do with some of the attributes of this nation that we also see as strengths? In other words, if a draconian ruling or curtailment of our freedoms took place, would we see some of these problems alleviated - but at a cost that many Americans would find unappealing?

Anyway. I’ll tell you what my colleagues and I don’t want to see - a mindless regurgitation of simple arguments and statements of fact. Take what you’ve learned and apply it to real-world problems. But I certainly can’t speak for your professor, so do what you need to do. I would be very surprised, however, if a well-articulated response, rooted in a thorough understanding of the course material, would earn you a low mark.

Personally, when I teach, I let the students know when I’m stating an opinion (informed though it may be), as well as when I am discussing an issue that’s still under debate in the field. I try to remember to direct them to opposing or differing perspectives - as long as they’re examples of good research and/or commentary.

Most professors don’t care if you disagree with them. You’re flattering yourself if you think they do. They’re looking at how well you argue your case and how well you know your facts.

Not to mention that all of the facts in the question are objectively verifiable.

I guess I’ll be the third or fourth person to chime in and say that there is nothing wrong with that question. Everything in the question is a verifiable fact, and there is nothing unfair about asking you to explain them. Sociology is only a slightly more fact based science than Philosophy. If you want to sound the “USA! USA!” chord in your answer it should be trivially easy to do so.

That was the suggested preface given by my Microeconomics teacher for anyone who disagreed with the subject matter.

Tony Lee wanted the textbook answer to his questions. The class was based on weekly one question quizzes, and he didn’t give enough time for us to both give his answer and rebut. Sure, this was a business class, but he wanted us to be able to give concise reports on the information that we were given and to separate our observations from our opinions.

In this case, I would suggest giving a two part answer. Give the answer as you learned it in class (“According to…”), and then respectfully present your own analysis. Disagree with the guy/woman if you want, but let them first know that you understood the material.

Also, be very careful when arguing with people if you suspect that they are nuts. Personally, I’d avoid it, especially if I had nothing material to lose by avoiding the fight.