Hi! Do you remember me? Your NYE Resolutions?
Yep, it's time to check in on my promise to myself to push my learning to the limits this year. So far, so good.
1.) I have been reading. Finished two of the books, have another one coming my way via the local library. (They were great! You should check them out... Scalia Dissents and Congressional Anecdotes! Beautiful!)
2.) I have been taking field trips. I went to the LOC and got my library card... I went to the National Portrait Gallery to create a visual literacy lesson... and I went on an AMAZING, (nearly) all-expenses paid retreat/college course in two and a half days.
Specifically, I attended a workshop on Congress, the Constitution, and Contemporary Politics put on by the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution. Our guest lecturer was William F. Connelly Jr., PhD. He is the John K. Boardman Politics Professor at Washington & Lee University, and had insights on the political and procedural composition of Congress that made the trip well worth it. (Dr. Connelly spent time as an elected member of the Connecticut General Assembly, and worked as a legislative assistant in Congressman Cheney and Senator Lugar's offices. He has been published again and again, and wow! what a gift that I got to talk shop with him on a financial award.
See, that is the beauty. There are workshops like this one offered by the Robert H. Smith Center. There are workshops that run throughout the year on the Presidency, the Courts, and many other Constitutional topics, as well as the acclaimed "We the People" program, and the "ConText" (a collaborative Constitution interpretation program.)
I can tell you that I intend on applying for additional weekends. The opportunity to get away and completely submerge myself in Constitutional history, interpretation, and understanding is beautiful. Not to mention, you meet great people, eat great food, and stay in beautiful accommodations. What are you waiting for?
Okay, hear me out.
I was convinced (prior to reading this book) that Scalia is a total jerk. I had a friend suggest to me last Fourth of July that the American thing to do would be to read Scalia Dissents. He said it was all the rage with lawschoolers. I put it on my "must read" list on Good Reads and moved on.
A few weeks ago, the library told me I was next in line, and I prepared myself. It has been, actually, quite amazing. Now, to be honest... Kevin Ring (the editor/commentator) is a Scalia apologist. You can feel it in his intro, it's dripping with Scalia adoration.
But jumping into Ring's framing of each issue (like religious freedom, abortion, homosexuality, and judicial activism) is exquisite and accessible... and puts the cases into context.
Moreover, taken as a body, Ring paints an unadulterated view of Scalia's originalism. (I know, they are not representative of his whole body of decisions, but you do get a great sense of the respect that Scalia has for the Constitution, like it or leave it.)
I have tons of quotes I have underlined and highlighted; dog-eared pages that are ripe with lovely standout explanations of how Scalia sees American democracy.
I particularly was in love with Scalia's dissent in Morrison v Olsen, which touched on the constitutionality of a congressionally created special prosecutor that was outside the reach of the president. Absent of specifics of the case, his view on the separation of powers is clear and concise:
It is unthinkable that the President should have such exclusive power, even when alleged crimes by him or his close associates are at issue? No more so than that Congress should have the exclusive power of legislation, even when what is at issue is its own exemption from the burdens of certain laws... No more than this Court should have the exclusive powers to pronounce the final decision on justiciable cases and controversies, even those pertaining to the constitutionality of a statue reducing the salaries of Justices. A system of separate and coordinate powers necessarily involves an acceptance exclusive power that can theoretically be abused.
Obvioulsy, there are tempting zingers that pepper Scalia's scorn for decisions made by the marjority (See Grutter v Bollinger; Planned Parenthood v Casey.)
He riddles the use of racial preferences, stating that...
[Racial discrimination in undergraduate admissions] is not an "educational benefit" on which students will be graded on their Law School Transcript (Works and Plays Well with Others: B+) or tested by the bar examiners (Q: Describe in 500 words or less your cross-racial understanding)
Particularly poignant in Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. (A great interview with Lee Bollinger was aired on NPR this morning with projected fall out from yesterday's decision.)
Scalia gets even more contemptuous (and humorous) in his disdain for decisions surrounding abortion, stating in Planned Parenthood that the court had destroyed the concept of precedent and stare decisis in their attempt to proact social change. In doing so, justices become more influential, more political than politicians. And that is unconstitutional. He charges:
It seems to me that stare decisis ought to be applied even to the doctrine of stare decisis, and I confess never to have heard of this new, keep-what-you-want-and-throw away-the-rest version... No government official is "tempted" to place restraints upon his own freedom of action, which is why Lord Acton did not say, "Power tends to purify."
In all, I think I am going to actually try to read what Scalia has to say for myself. He's conservative, and occasionally writes decisions that make my blood boil, but he has a fascinating way of communicating and seeing the world. It is, indeed, worth the time.
In summation, I am working my way through this book. It is delightful. And to balance myself off, I am going to read up on Amazon's suggestion; Former Justice John Paul Steven's new book.
Oh, I can't wait to go to the pool and rock these books.
I have made it a personal commitment to find at least one in-house field trip per year from experts out in the community. I don't know if you have ever invited folks into your school, but it really helps put your students process and contextualize your lessons.
(I secretly think they believe I am crazy when I throw out big fancy words. It's definitely a boost to my street cred when people, fancy people, use the same words. Even bigger boost when the kids understand the fancy words.)
Last summer, I was looking into a way to bring lawyers into my classroom to give more expert light to the legal process. While this is really Fairfax County, Virginia specific, I am sure that if you contact your state's bar, you will find something similar.
Today I had the Fairfax Law Foundation out to my school, complete with a panel of five lovely lawyers representing criminal law, civil law, and family law. There were two criminal defense attorneys, one criminal prosecuting attorney, a family law and a civil law attorney.
It is wonderful to have subject matter experts to explain law to the students in a way that is compelling and true to life. I love moments like this, because I frequently learn from these experiences, too.
For instance, I learned about crimes I frequently associate with young adults like reckless driving and shoplifting ($200 and more) can be a class 6 felony in VA, and result in a year of incarceration for adults. WOW!
FLF also has a Devonshire program for at-risk youths AND a court tour program.
Other resources I have used in the past are local politicians, like state legislators and our Congressmen, as well as members of the various federal agencies that pepper our area.
BUT I AM NOT FROM FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA!
I know this seems like it is only applicable in the DMV, but many of these resources are available in your community. State and local officials, federal employees outside of DC, and lawyers are usually excited to come and talk to students. And the kids enjoy it, too.
It must go back to my experience as a fifth grade teacher. My curriculum totally lended itself to playing educational games... (I feel the same way to putting concepts to song.)
Over the weekend, I picked up a sweet little game with the intention of adding it to my classroom library. Keep your "Clue" and "Game of Life" at home, we are blending educational with academic here!
So, the sweet little game I picked up, Constitutional Quest, comes with great reviews on amazon. (Although one of the reviews had to have been written by a troll.) I can't wait to use my mandatory study hall time to get kids involved in board games instead of texting or doing other people's homework.
I also have the game Power Grid chilling in my class, which I use during my comparative econ unit. I will admit, this class is not as intuitive as CQ, and I have modified the instructions so that we can get a few rounds in within the 80 minute block. However, kids do get to apply basic economic concepts to the game, and I have them do a written summary at the conclusion.
I quickly thought, what else is out there? Well, here are my top three picks for games to purchase in the future.
1. Parli-Cards U.S. Senate Game: This game has been on the market for about four years, but gets some pretty cool reviews. There are also games that teach kids the alphabet soup of DC, and a Founding Fathers and Presidents pack.
2. Founding Fathers Game: There is nothing like an RPG that sends kids back to that hot, stinky, smelly summer of 1787. While the major critique of this game is that it is highly textual and reliant upon your knowledge of the convention. Well, I think my kids may be able to handle it.
3. The Presidential: Another great example of a well-reviewed RPG, here kids work through the nomination and election of the presidency. Even has a great review from a teacher!
If you are looking for ways to review or use dead class time in fun and exciting ways, here is a way to start. Doesn't matter the skill level of your kids; all can benefit from friendly competition and application of content!
I also have to give a shout out to my PTSA. They have been super supportive of purchasing some of these games for my classroom, to really extend and enrich learning. That is what an awesome PTSA does!
This came my way today... a great resource that not only allows you to view Constitutions of the world, but to compare what they say on different key issues, like government construction, legislature, principals, rights and responsibilities, and other super fun constitutional stuff.
I stumbled on this resource, which tracks presidential popularity going back to the Truman administration. It's pretty detailed, and has a lot of demographic breakdowns. You can also compare different presidencies, and look at general trends.
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan