Context, Interests, and Unintended Consequences: Lenses for Seeing, Comprehending and Engaging with the World, pp. 5 of 5


Let me conclude by saying that the Population White Paper throws up a lot of “issues” worth discussing: the relationship between policies and the production of inequalities; the differential benefits and costs of economic growth of a specific sort to varying groups of people; the appropriate role of the state in resolving these costs; the appropriate role of society in discussing how to solve these issues.

I think social studies and sociology teachers alike have our work cut out for us. But instead of thinking about our work in terms of what issues to cover, I think it is more productive to think in terms of what sorts of tools we should equip our students with.

The three tools or lenses I highlighted today involve sensitizing students to interests, contexts, and unintended consequences. Our role in introducing any topic to our students is to let them see that there are no neutral positions, only positions masking as neutral; that issues arise in specific times and places, but that they can be understood in relation to other cases; and that the effects of rules, regulations, policies often go well beyond intentions to shape how we think about who we are and should be.

These tools not only serve the purpose of helping students understand complex phenomenon, they will also help them imagine alternatives. It is my aspiration as a teacher of Sociology that these lenses will help students see their own stake in the discussions. These, I imagine, are what social studies teachers also aspire to do.


Teo, Y.Y. (2013). Beware the unintended consequences. Today, 7 February 2013.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!