Gallows Humor from Another Time Nuclear War Feared to be Imminent

Current events highlight the need for teaching about the Cold War, the logic of nuclear deterrence, the nature of high-level diplomacy, arguments for and against disarmament, the continuing challenge of nuclear arms control, and simply the utter horror of these weapons of mass destruction. I have long thought Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove, and The Day After  are useful films for teaching those topics. But I just heard this Tom Lehrer song for the first time, and think it could be great for teaching the fear that was felt during the height of the Cold War and the impact of the specter of nuclear war on attitudes toward war in general.

Bowdoin College’s Civic Education Videos: “Founding Principles”

“Narrated by Bowdoin College Government Professor Andrew Rudalevige, [Founding Principles] provides an introductory overview and basic understanding to American government, but one that is crucial to building citizen-leaders, promoting civic engagement, and working toward the common good.”  The Founding Principles website is located here.

Here’s a Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: American Governance in Theory and Action
  • Chapter 2: Federalism
  • Chapter 3: Congress

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Organization Aims to Reinvigorate Civic Education

“The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools was created to expand and improve civic learning in our schools, K-12 and in Higher Education. The Campaign works with its 60+ coalition partners, the Campaign’s Steering Committee, to bring about changes in state, local, and national policy that promote civic learning and implement the recommendations in “Guardian of Democracy: the Civic Mission of Schools” report published by the Campaign in 2011, an update and expanded version of the Civic Mission of Schools report, published in 2003 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on civic Learning and Engagement ).”

Their website provides a lot of useful information for civic educators. Of particular interest to me is their list of “core competences” (broken into the categories of Civic Content Knowledge, Civic Skills: Intellectual, Civic Skills: Participatory, and Civic Dispositions); their endorsement of the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement’s call to action entitled A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Failure; their searchable repository of civic learning resources; and six recommended “proven practices, that, together, constitute well-rounded civic learning.”

Teaching the Principles of American Government with China’s “Charter 08”

News of the tragic death of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo–who was serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in the writing of the democratic reform document called “Charter 08“–led me to read an English translation of that remarkable expression of yearning and advocacy for liberal democracy. Charter 08–publicly released in China on the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (on December 10, 2008)–begins by identifying “democracy and constitutional government” as “the fundamental framework for protecting” the “universal values” of “freedom, equality, and human rights.” It then goes on to advocate for the establishment in China of laws, practices, and institutions that have long been hallmarks of the American system of government and politics. Among other things, it advocates for rule of law and constitutionalism; the separation of powers (especially an independent judiciary); free and open elections; protections for the freedom of speech, Continue reading

How Not to Report on Social Science Research

The Seattle experiment with a very high minimum wage has presented a rare opportunity for economists to study the impact of large minimum wage increases. This, in turn, could potentially contribute to a better informed public debate over the costs and benefits of minimum wage increases. Unfortunately, a report today in the Hutchins Roundup (published by Brookings Institute) provides a glimpse into how the interaction between social scientific research and media reporting is likely to play out. Based on that glimpse, I would have to say the likelihood of that interaction resulting in a better informed citizenry is negligible.

It is important to keep in mind that Brookings is a think tank, and therefore is more likely to report on the social science in a responsible manner than is a typical news Continue reading

Sites for Exploring Government Through Data

I’m going to begin a post dedicated to curating sites that are aimed at facilitating learning about government through data and/or data-driven simulations.  I will update this as I find more sites. I’m aiming here at quality more than quantity. For starters, I know of only three:

 

Bright Line Watch – Monitoring American Democratic Health

Four political scientists — John Carey, Gretchen Helmke, Brendan Nyhan, and Susan Stokes–have started a group devoted to monitoring the health of American democracy. The group is called Bright Line Watch. The following is an excerpt from their Mission Statement …
“One of the greatest threats to democracy is the idea that it is unassailable.
The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign taught us not to assume that the country’s political leadership will follow the practices and norms that help guarantee American democracy. In the wake of a campaign in which candidates sometimes showed disrespect for an active, investigative press, demonized immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities, and failed to discourage grassroots political violence, we established Bright Line Watch. Our overarching goal is to use our scholarly expertise to monitor democratic practices and call attention to threats to American democracy.The danger to our democratic norms and institutions has not subsided since the election. It is thus more urgent than ever for scholars to remind leaders and the public how democracy works and to highlight the risks to our system of government. In this spirit, BLW brings together a core group of political scientists to monitor democratic practices, their resilience, and potential threats…”

Disturbing American (and Global) Decline in Support for Democracy

Polyarchy, a political science blog now at Vox.com, recently summarized data showing a disturbing decline in support for democracy in the United States and around the world. Younger Americans are less likely than older Americans  to say that living in a democracy is “essential.” Americans overall (but particularly those who are among the top 15% of income earners) are increasingly likely to agree that Americans would be better off with “a strong leader” instead of “elections.” Americans, and democratic citizens throughout the world, have become more likely than in the past to say that “army rule” would be a good way to run the country. Clearly, education about the advantages of democracy, and the abundant disadvantages of nondemocratic alternatives, needs to become a top priority of civic educators.

 

 

U.S. Territories and Voting Rights

Richard Gardiner, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Georgia State University, produced this nice map showing the seven inhabited territories over which the United States claims sovereignty around the world. Those inhabited territories are American Samoa, Guam, Midway Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Islands. (The uninhabited territories, which are not depicted on this map, include Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Navassa Island, and Palmyra Atoll.)

U.S. Territories

As John Oliver recently discussed on his show, a longstanding question has been over whether or not citizens of the inhabited U.S. territories ought to have the right to vote.

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What does “Politics” mean?

I have long been fascinated (and sometimes amused) by the different definitions given by political scientists, political theorists, political leaders and other commentators of the word “politics” (or “the political”). I have decided to start compiling these definitions here. For now, they will be in no particular order, but I may eventually try to bring a little method to the madness (and maybe even take a stab at offering my own definition). And in a few cases, I will list quotes about politics and/or politicians if I think they say something relevant about the meaning of politics (or if they are too funny not to list).

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Useful Blog Post for Provoking Critical Thinking about Civil Liberties

I find Radley Balko’s blog, The Watch, to be a generally useful source of materials for discussing current events pertaining to civil liberties. The fact that his blog is highly opinionated is, in my view, an asset insofar as discussion questions encourage students to critically evaluate his perspective. But at the end of 2014, Balko offered an especially useful post entitled “Horrifying Civil Liberties Predictions for 2015.” The entire post reads, as the title would suggest, as a set of predictions for 2015, but it is actually a roundup of the stories and developments chronicled on The Watch in 2014. I would think this is a wonderful way to get students thinking about civil liberties.

 

How a Bill Becomes a Law Today (and Why Most Bills Never Do)

Vox.com, Ezra Klein’s  “explanatory journalism” venture, is off to a great start. So far, my favorite “articles” have been one called “40 Charts that Explain Money in Politics” and another entitled “Beating the Odds: Why One Bill Made it Through a Gridlocked Congress — and So Many Don’t.” Both are packed full of useful insights into the present state of our political system and policy making process. I highly recommend following the links to these articles and, for that matter, perusing the wealth of insightful content provided at Vox.com. But here I provide an example of the kinds of content they are providing. This is a video they describe as “an updated Schoolhouse Rock lesson for our polarized, dysfunctional Congress.”

Local Explanatory Journalism at its Finest

Anna Clark, at Columbia Journalism Review, reports on “an exhaustive, densely analytical, data-rich four-part series (one, two, three, four) on partisan polarization in metropolitan Milwaukee, produced this month by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.” As Clark, notes, this series presents a serious challenge to the conventional wisdom that says high quality, deeply explanatory and data-driven journalism is only possible at the national level.

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Your Bill of Rights

It is a few years old now, but I just now found out about this excellent series of short videos on the Bill of Rights produced by Time. As they describe it,

In this series of ten short videos, TIME brings to life the words of the Founding Fathers and explores how these deeply felt ideas about liberty and property have evolved into the amendments as we interpret them today.