Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rating a President

What will We be Looking for in Mr. Obama?

The transition leadership is taking shape as President-elect Obama is forming his economic and foreign policy teams this week. The pundits, both critics and apologists, are having a hay-day with speculations and predictions of the soon to be Cabinet and White House. On a daily basis the newspapers and online news sites are full of great teaching points. I hope you have been cluing your classes in on these marvelous opportunities.

This week, however, I want to take a different angle on the Presidency. In Lesson 19 in the Executive Branch unit of Hippocampus' AP Government it talks about the qualities of the men who are our presidents. Particularly, there is a discussion of the ideas of James McGregor Burns. Burns has written that as we judge the effectiveness of a President we need to keep in mind if he had clear focused goals going into office and if he was indeed able to achieve those goals. This, Burns would contend, defines presidential greatness.

I would like to call your attention to several fine articles that you will be able to locate on-line that may be a supplement to Lesson 19. You will find them in the PBS Frontline site under "the choice 2004: what makes a good president". The first of these articles is by Fred Greenstein entitled "The Qualities that Bear on Presidential Performance." Greenstein in this article identifies six important qualities that must exist for a President to reach Burns' idea of successful. These traits are: the ability to communicate effectively with the public, possessing organizational capabilities, understanding and using political skills, having a vision for the administration, maintaining a solid cognitive style, and possessing emotional intelligence.

A possible lesson plan for the above article would be to have your class read the article and then break up into small groups. Each group would be assigned one of the modern presidents. They would need to do research on the president and then rate him on the above criteria. Each group would then report out to the class on the man, the president, and his success/failure based on Dr. Greenstein's standards.

The second article is by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. entitled "Rating the Presidents: Washington to Clinton". This article was based on a 1996 ranking of presidents by leading historians and political scientists. The Presidents were rated in one of five categories: Great, Near Great, Average, Below Average, or Failure. If your class has done the above activity or if you have simply read the Greenstein article and discussed it in class, this article will make predictions of greatness by the class very relevant.

The site also has articles by several other authors (one is Karl Rove) that are interesting and can be used in an AP class studying the presidency. This year it would be fun to have a class discussion on the apparent strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Obama, and have the students make their own informed prediction on his White House success. You can have a "you are the pundit" time with the kids. If you do any Socratic seminars this would be a good topic.

Next week I will continue to look at other aspects of the presidency. Until then...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Moving to the Presidency

The Next Couple of Weeks...

The hottest ticket in Washington is the Presidential inauguration. The city will be packed for the event; pretty exciting stuff. The hottest ticket for AP Government teachers right now is getting into our units on the Presidency. This is my personal favorite area to teach. I really get into looking at the Executive Branch and all of the intricacies that go into the formation of the White House.

In the next couple of weeks I would like to turn our discussions to the White House, President Elect Obama, President Bush, and the myriad of details that surround the Executive Branch. A presidential election year is always special for a government or political science teacher. For one, the creation and formation of a new administration happens right before our eyes. This morning I watched the Sunday pundits agonize over the new cabinet picks and White House insiders. The process is fascinating. The Internet brings such transpency to the process. Those of you who taught AP Government during the transition period for Clinton and even for Bush (II) will remember how difficult it was to get reliable information quickly. We almost have too much information now.

In that vein, I would point you in the direction of the CCN Election Center for a site to send your students. Next week my students will be asked to give me biographical information on 3-4 of Mr. Obama's Cabinet selections. This will be a jumping off point for discussions on the politics of selecting a Cabinet that is acceptable to the Senate confirmation process and capable of handling the issues of the day for the President. We will do our own vetting of the candidates anticipating the final selections and confirmation.

I will also ask the students to read another CNN article hopefully to stimulate a conversation in class about the best type of that falls in line with the President and his philosophy ( for example, our current President) or one that has a Lincoln style of adversarial opinions. If you spend any time discussing the management style of the President (Hub and Spoke, Pyramid or Military, Ad Hoc) this article can lead to some great analysis and spectulation. Will Mr. Obama be more like a John Kennedy in his management style, an Eisenhower, or a George W. Bush? You will find this in Lesson 21 in Hippocampus' AP Government and Politics.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I have been very thankful for having the opportunity to share with you this fall in the Hippocampus Government Blog. Until next time...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Congressional Bibliography

Some Sources for the New (and Old) Teacher

From time to time younger teachers in my district and region have asked me for help with Advanced Placement Government and Politics. I have always been very happy to help with suggestions and resources. Teaching should be a collaborative effort. I was taught this by Dr. Will McLauchlan from the Purdue University. A number of years ago at a one day seminar, Dr. McLauchlan gave each participant a CD containing his entire lecture series for a 101 Poly Sci class. His generosity blew me away. For years I have based my entire AP Course on his gift.

This blog is an outgrowth of this willingness to cooperate and share lessons, thoughts, ideas, and curriculum. I know that for readers who are experienced AP instructors, some weeks my blog offers nothing new. But for a new teacher in this field and this curriculum area, I hope that each week I can give some insight into some aspect of teaching AP Government that will assist you in developing your lessons and your teaching philosophy.

This being said, this week I want to share a short "annotated" bibliography on books on Congress that every AP teacher should keep in his/her library. I have found these books excellent references and resources over the years. Many of these are time tested being in the double digit editions. If you have a limited library on the subject of Congress, these might be good suggestions for the Santa Claus in your life.

Congress and Its Members by Davidson and Oleszek: often used as a college text, this book is a wonderful source for detailed informations on how Congress really works. The chapters run 30 pages or so, and are a bit long for students to do as an assigned supplimental reading in high school, but I do use exerpts to help clarify concepts.

The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track by Mann and Ornstein: These two are leading authorities on Congress and this book has given me great ammunition to discuss Congress with classes. The material is pretty heavy reading for high school students, but it is indispensable for teachers. I highly recommend it as thought provoking reading.

Congress Reconsidered by Dodd and Oppenheimer: I'm not sure what addition this is now in, but you need to own one of these. The collection of essays will benefit you especially when students ask the hard questions. I have used excerpt of these readings with my students. They find the level of reading challenging but understandable.

Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the President by Louis Fisher: I use this in the early part of the semester in discussions on Constitutionalism and separation of powers. I have pulled excerpts for students to read and consider. It is another book that brings up issue for all of us to think about.

Unorthodox Law Making by Barbara Sinclair: I have a rather long lecture I call "Hi, my name is Bill" (yes, we watch the School House Rock version) that I could not give without this book. Sinclair really gives good insight into the process of legislating bills through the House and Senate.

I swear I am not on anyones payroll and no commissions will be forthcoming by these promotions. In a world of millions of books available on Congress, these stick out as some of the best. I would put them on an AP Government teachers book shelf. If you have other suggestions please comment back and let me know...I will post those comments. Until then...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Continuing Ed Opportunities

The Election First...
Every four years I get pretty emotional with my classes. I tell myself I won't do it this year, but... How can we not get emotional. One of the greatest political miracles happens right before our eyes. The most powerful man on earth voluntarily steps asides and hands his job to another who may or may not be a political rival. This miracle doesn't happen everywhere folks. It always happens here!

This year I sort of out did myself. I actually opened the windows of my room and asked the student, "What do you hear?" Beyond a bird or two and a couple of cars they responded "not much." "Precisely," I said. "No tanks, no marching troops, no gun shots or rocket explosions. The miracle of a free election with no threat of military coup, no violence, no blood shed. What a special nation this really is."

Of course the kids think I am an old man who has lost it, and maybe they are right. However I have now lived through this transition of power beginning with Harry Truman returning to Independence, to George W. handing the reigns of power to an African American. Truman desegregated the military and bureaucracy and now a Black man will occupy the White House. Regardless of who you supported this election, you must admit that America grew up just a little bit. 2008 wasn't an election about a Black man becoming President. It was an election about domestic, economic, and foreign policy that just happened to be between a White man and Black man. I am really proud of US (pun intended). I hope you too have passed that on to your students.

.....Then Some Opportunities You Might Want to Check Out

Here are a couple of continuing education opportunities I wanted to share with you. The first is the Bill of Rights Institute. This organization has been around since 1999 and works with a $4 million annual budget. Their mission statement is to education students on the Bill of Rights and the liberties of the American people. If you go to the site, click on Teachers and go to the list of seminars. The one day seminars are absolutely fantastic. Mr. Brett Helm taught a seminar I attended earlier this fall on Supreme Court cases that changed history concerning civil rights and affirmative action. Along with a law professor from the University of Kansas Law School the day was a learning opportunity that no AP teacher should miss. This year the Institute is hosting week long seminars at Mount Vernon in June and August. Several of my colleagues have attended the summer seminars and gained huge amounts of information. Check them out!

The other opportunity might actually fit better in the Hippo History Blog, but then where does history end and political science begin? (my apologies to Karen if I am stepping on her toes :))This is the Gilder-Lehrman Institute. While many AP History teachers are familiar with Gilder-Lehrman, I find that many AP Government teachers have never heard of the organization. G-L's mission is primarily in the history field, but I have applied for a gem of a summer institute this summer (see the list) on the role of the Court in US history. Several other topics offered around the country this summer are very much cross-over topics.

Both of the above mentioned continuing education opportunities will add to your arsenal of knowledge. I have experiences with both organizations and highly recommend them...satisfaction guaranteed.

With changes in Congress, the administration building, and an inauguration around the corner there are tons of great teaching opportunities available. Drop us a line and let us know what you are doing with your classes concerning the transition government. Until then...