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Posts tagged ‘congress’

Teaching Toolkit: 9 resources for discussing the government shutdown

As a poly sci junkie, I’m torn.

The 2018 government shutdown is bad for just about everybody. And it seems like it happened over something that most Americans want to see happen – protection for Dreamers. A Fox News poll says 86% of us support DACA. A CBS poll reports 87% supporting the idea.

But the shutdown does create an opportunity to jump into all sorts of conversations involving civics and procedure and policy and elections and checks and balances and three branches and  media bias . . . well, you get the idea. If you haven’t already, this week might be a good time to jump ship on your scheduled curriculum and spend some time making connections to the government side of the social studies.

Need a few quick resources? Read more

Tip of the Week: Poly Sci Nerd Goodness

Yes. I am a poly sci nerd. Love elections. Love debates. Love the data. So meeting in DC this last week was . . . awesome.

And this morning, I ran across LegEx. A great way to close out a Poly Sci nerd week.

Short for Legislative Explorer and maintained by the University of Washington Center for American Politics and Public Policy, the site is a interactive visualization that allows you and your students to explore actual patterns of lawmaking in Congress. The graph provides a great way to get the big picture while providing opportunities to dig deeper. Compare the bills and resolutions introduced by Senators and Representatives and follow their progress from the beginning to the end of a two year Congress. Go back in time and compare / contrast different years, bi-partisan vs. partisan, parties, or House vs. Senate.

You can Read more

#SOTU, wordles, and historical thinking

Tough choice. Today is Kansas Day. Last night was the 2014 State of the Union address.

What to write about? I mean . . . it’s Kansas Day. How cool is that? Renovated capitol building. Cool resources. Buffalo. Sunflowers. Wide open spaces.

But it’s the #SOTU. How cool is that? As an old poly sci major, there’s nothing like listening to a good political speech. Heck, sometimes even the bad ones are fun. And the 2014 State of the Union had the best of everything – all three branches of government in one place, cranky opposition, pundits, social media, Sarah Palin references, multiple GOP / Tea Party responses, and no out of control yelling from the audience.

So today you Kansas Day fans are on your own.

How best to use last night’s festivities? Some thoughts: Read more

13 resources for learning about the government shutdown

I’m hoping that by the time you read this, Congress has moved past kicking sand at each other and turned the government back on. I’m not holding my breath but who knows, maybe some grownups will show up and actually do something productive.

Until that happens, you might find the following resources useful in your conversations: Read more

We’re not stupid. We’re ignorant.

Bill Waterson 1995

And there’s a difference, says Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker.

The problem is ignorance, not stupidity. We suffer from a lack of information rather than a lack of ability.

Recently, Newsweek asked 1000 US citizens to take America’s official citizenship test. You probably know where this is headed. Yeah . . . we didn’t do too well.

  • Almost 75% couldn’t correctly state why we fought the Cold War
  • 1/3 couldn’t name the current Vice-President
  • Less than 20% could name a power specific to the federal government
  • 94% don’t know how many Constitutional amendments there are
  • Just 40% know how long an elected senator serves
  • 44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights
  • And 6% couldn’t circle Independence Day on a calendar (Psst. Here’s a hint . . . it’s in July.)

But we knew this already, right? Knowledge of US government and history facts has always been low. In fact, Michael Carpini of the Annenberg School of Communication claims that

yearly shifts in civic knowledge since World War II have averaged out to slightly under 1 percent.

So these sorts of scores are nothing new. But . . . times are different and they’ve changed in ways that make civic ignorance a huge problem. The current conversation on the federal budget points out the dangers of not understanding the system. When we think about it, the answer is simple:

  • cut spending in big ticket items (like Medicare and defense)
  • tax reforms that increase revenues (like ending Bush era tax cuts)
  • a compromise that includes pieces from both of these two options

But we just don’t get it. According to a 2010 World Public Opinion poll, rather than seeing the obvious, most of us would solve the budget problem by cutting foreign aid from what we think is the current level (27% of the budget) to a much more realistic 13%.

The actual percent of the budget in foreign aid? Less than 1%.

A January 25 CNN poll found out that 71% of us want a smaller government but huge majorities of around 80% don’t want to cut Medicare or Social Security.

And not only are we confused about things like the budget and other government underpinnings, many of us just don’t care anymore. This is especially dangerous. Newsweek broke out the data a bit more based on Republican and Democrat test takers and discovered some frightening statistics. The more conservative you are or the more liberal you are, the better you did on the test. Moderates didn’t do so well.

This illustrates something quite dangerous. The operative theory about America’s political situation holds that the fringe of each party is poorly informed, and the middle possesses the wisdom, but our numbers show it’s actually the extremes that are engaged—and thus, up on their facts—while the middle is relatively ill informed. More than lacking knowledge, a lot of Americans, particularly in the middle, have completely tuned out.

Stop and think a bit here about the “so what.” Our current system is based on the idea of compromise. Compromise between branches of government, compromise between political parties, compromise between state and federal. Thomas Jefferson once said

I see the necessity of sacrificing our opinions sometimes to the opinions of others for the sake of harmony.

But it seems as if the extreme ends of the political spectrum – those more likely to “fan flames” and less likely to seek compromise – are the ones engaging in the system. The middle – those most likely to listen and look for solutions – is choosing to retreat from participation. If only the loud and strident campaign and vote, then only the loud and strident will be elected. And consensus and solutions will be difficult to come by.


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