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

Continue reading

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

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.

 

 

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)

Does it Matter that Congress is a Millionaire’s Club? Does it Have to Be that Way?

Political scientist Nicolas Carnes answers “yes” and “no”. I highly recommend reading both posts, but here’s a taste:

[L]awmakers from different classes bring different perspectives with them: how they think, how they vote, and the kinds of bills they introduce often depend on the classes they came from. The shortage of lawmakers from the working class tilts decisions about the distribution of economic resources, protections, and burdens in favor of the more conservative policies that affluent Americans tend to prefer. Social safety net programs are stingier, business regulations are flimsier, and the tax code is more regressive because working-class Americans are all but absent from our political institutions. . . .

Continue reading

Veterans Day

Some helpful reminders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

. . . In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

. . . The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

[Photo shows soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, as they waited for news about the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the Armistice went into effect.]