Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ripped From the Headlines--Mid-term Elections

Mid-term Elections...Changing the Face of Congress?
Reference CNN sites:

Reference Hippocampus: Lesson 14

The picture of Tea Party rallies around the nation has become all too common in our daily news. These Americans, tired of paying high taxes and feeling neglected by those inside the Washington beltway, have taken their protests to the streets, parks, and meeting halls calling for lower taxes, an end to health care bills, and for the major parties to listen to them. Sarah Palin has address them, Republicans have applauded their efforts, and Congress has listened. The question now is, will these dissatisfied citizens speak where it counts the the polls next November.

Right now is a great time to have a class discussion on the midterm elections. I have offered you two articles from CNN to help you with this. The first article is a good ice breaker for your class. Even though it came out before the passage of the health care bill, it brings out many of the points you will want to discuss with your class.

For example, the article points out that many American express concern about single party control of Congress. It also points out that Democrats feel that the health care bill will solidify its voters while the Republican feel like it will drive Independents to the GOP candidates.

What do we know about midterm elections? First, the party in power in the White House almost always loses some seats at the midterm. Wikipedia (Midterm elections) has a nice chart on this you might want to share with the students. Mr. Obama can almost count on losing some seats. The question will be if the health care bill and the Tea Party movement will compound this enough to change the balance of power in Congress.

This is where the second CNN site can be good. This site isn't an article, rather it is an interactive graphic showing how many Republicans and Democrats are leaving Congress thus creating open seats. Since we know that incumbents win in the House at almost a 90% clip and in the Senate at just slightly less of a rate, the open seats might be the deciding factors in the election.

As the time of the year approaches when many of us will begin reviewing students for the Exam, a lively discussion on midterm elections could be very beneficial. First, you can use it as an opportunity to check your student's understanding of Congressional elections and incumbency. Second, you can review elections and campaigning using current issues for examples. Third, you can encourage your students to get out and vote their convictions next year. While many of our students (if they are seniors) have turned eighteen by now, most will not have a real voting opportunity until the November midterm election. While achieving your teaching goals, you might just make this election a salient one for them and promote their responsibility as citizens by getting them out to vote next fall.

November is eight months away...will people still be discussing health reform? Will the Tea Parties die out or will they find new issues to rally around? Will Mr. Obama maintain his majorities in Congress? Will Americans get tired of Washington politics? Wow...a plethora of topics and all timely for AP review. Enjoy!!!! RV.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ripped from the Headlines--The Court and the Freedom of Speech

The Court and the Freedom of Speech
Reference Hippocampus: Lesson 35 and Lesson 34

Here is a case that is actually near and dear to my heart. In the 1970s I lived in Topeka, Kansas about two blocks from the home/compound of the Fred Phelps family. I had several neighborhood encounters with this now infamous family that were less than pleasant. I never dreamed back then that the Phelps family of lawyers/ministers would be the center of attention in a Free Speech case that gained national notoriety. So now, 35 years later, I am watching with interest while Topeka enters center stage in a national controversy.

The case of Snyder v. Phelps won't be heard until this fall by the Supreme Court, however, it can offer you an interesting teaching opportunity this spring. Here is what I am planning on doing with this case:

1st...I am having the students read several article on the case including the one from the NY Time noted above and also one from the Topeka Capital Journal in addition to any other articles they can find.

2nd...I am placing the students in small groups of two or three. Each group will be assigned as lawyers for the Snyder family or for the Phelps family or as an interested "outside" group that would present friend of the court briefs. The task is to create a legal argument (brief) supporting their family or interest group using past Court cases. Interest groups could include conservative church groups, gay rights coalitions, veteran groups, and city/state governments. In addition, one group (of three) will be Justices. The Justices will each be asked to research the case and write their opinions.

To help with this I am referring the students to a site that actually gives information on hate crimes and fighting language that will give the students case histories and access to Court opinions. In addition to the concept of Free Speech, I will encourage the kids to consider the Free Exercise Clause and subsequent cases given in Hippocampus.

3rd...The task for the students will be to write a brief arguing their point of view. We have discussed briefs in class and will look at templates for briefs that are on-line. I am asking the students to keep their brief simple and succinct. Once these are done, we will present the briefs orally to the Justices and the Justices will render a Court opinion on the case.

While the class won't know until next November or December the decision of the real Supreme Court, this exercise will allow them to review important cases from the 1st Amendment while gaining further understanding of how the Court arrives at decisions.

Depending on your time, you can make this as complicated or simple as needed. I am getting pretty stretched for time in my classes, so I will make this a simple and quick project. You can tailor it to fit your needs. Prepare yourself, however, for some pretty brisk class discussions. This case seems to bring out knee jerk reactions in all who discuss it. RV

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ripped From the Headlines--Guns and Incorporation

Guns and Incorporation....Continued

Dear Readers....

This is just a postscript to Sunday's blog (see below) on the McDonald v. City of Chicago hand gun case now before the Supreme Court. One of my favorite news broadcasters did this nice piece on the case after the Tuesday oral arguments were heard.

This is a nice 5 minute story including quotes from the Justices and lead attorneys during the Tuesday session of Court. If you are following this case with your class, this might be a nice addition to material you are presenting....RV