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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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:

 

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.

 

50th Anniversary of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S.

 Fifty years ago today, in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S., the Supreme Court declared constitutional Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbade discrimination by privately owned businesses, such as motels, theatres and restaurants, that serve as public accommodations.

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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.

State-Law-Abiding Citizens Facing 10 Years in Prison for Violating Federal Marijuana Law

Nicole Flatow reports:

More than six months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice once again changed its position on marijuana. In the wake of Washington and Colorado laws legalizing recreational marijuana and the proliferation of medical laws, the agency that oversees federal prosecutors called on its U.S. attorneys to avert prosecution of those growers and distributors complying with state law.

U.S. Attorney General Holder also decried the impact of mandatory minimum drug sentences, and directed his prosecutors to avert them in non-violent drug cases — even cases already pending. But in a case set to go to trial next week, federal prosecutors in Washington will seek a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence against a family of individuals with medical marijuana cards who say they were growing marijuana for their own use… (read the rest at ThinkProgress)

Democratic Party Expected to Have Significant Electoral College Advantage in 2016

Political Scientist Ben Highton explains:

If the 2016 presidential vote is evenly split between the parties, which one is more likely to win the Electoral College and therefore the presidency?  I estimate that the Democrats’ chances of winning the Electoral College vote are between 83 and 89 percent, giving them a significant advantage.  This argument contrasts with those who are cautious of a Democratic advantage, such as Jonathan Bernstein and Harry Enten.  The reason I predict such a significant advantage is because of ongoing, long-term trends altering the electoral outlook in a number of key swing states… (keep reading)

Highton offer a more technical explanation of his methodology here.

Boston’s Remarkable Experiment with Youth Engagement through Participatory Budgeting

Peter Levine reports:

On Friday, I had the opportunity to observe about 50 Boston young people at work on the city’s youth Participatory Budgeting initiative. I will write the whole story for GOOD Magazine, so this is just a teaser. In essence, volunteer young people (ages 12-25) have brainstormed more than 400 projects that the city could support out of its capital budget. I watched committees of youth come together to study, refine, and screen these proposals. In June, as many youth as possible will be recruited to vote for their favorite proposals at meetings across the city. The city will then allocate $1 million of its capital budget to fund the top-scoring projects.

This is an example of Participatory Budgeting, a process that began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has since spread to 1,500 locations in many countries, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project. It bears some resemblance to other processes, including the New England town meetings that began in the 1600s and still survive in some towns in our region, not to mention the 265,000 village councils of India and other participatory government mechanisms around the world. It is nevertheless an innovation. . . . (Keep Reading)

The Road Ahead?

Last week, Ezra Klein wrote an interesting column for Bloomberg News in which he argued American national politics is entering a relatively “dull” era, at least compared to the past thirteen years (since 9/11/2001). He argues that this most recent era in which the “federal government mattered more than at any time since at least the 1960s — perhaps the 1930s” is giving way to one in which Washington D.C. “just isn’t where the action is.”

Klein may or many not be correct in this assessment — and he admits that an unforeseen event could “upend the country” and bring the federal government back to center stage — but what I found most intriguing in his article was his concise but powerful overview of several interesting and important developments around the world in which the U.S. national government currently does not play a prominent role. Since most of these are of great import from a broader civic education point of view (regardless of the U.S. federal government’s centrality to them), I highly recommend reading the entire column. Here are the highlights:

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Great Resource on the U.S. Federal Budget

The National Priorities Project, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary and was nominated for the 2014 Noble Peace Prize, has earned distinction for being “the people’s guide to the federal budget.” The Project’s website is packed full of useful information and resources, but its Federal Budget 101 is the most concise yet informative guide to budget basics I have seen.