I have a new friend, Trish, who told me that if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
I have been thinking about this a lot over the past few days.
Teaching often places you as the 'smartest,' or in my case, 'most educated,' person in the room on a daily basis. You know, working with high school students and all that jazz. You are attending those meetings, you know the ones that everyone knows should have been an email.
My kids teach me new things every day, but the way teaching has things set up, this tends to be a one way street of me imparting knowledge to students who willingly imbibe said knowledge.
I love this arrangement for what it is, yet I need to be in environments where I am being schooled.
And that is what brings me to the Liberty Fund.
Long story short, I was pondering on my favorite thing to ponder, campaign finance reform. I was thinking about the concept of corporations as people under the 14th Amendment, and was like,
Whoa! That is so weird, cause they totally are not! :(
I got to researching some books to read, including Raoul Berger's Government by Judiciary. Did some more research, and found out that the publisher, Liberty Fund, loves to teach teachers about this and other things related to the government.
They have tons of online resources on liberty and government (which before you go, eh... sounds conservative, remember... there is nothing wrong with exposing yourself to all sides of the debate. You may just learn something!) and they also host a ton of seminars with all kinds of organizations... but the most interesting to me was a joint effort with the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. (You will hear more about these guys in future posts, I promise. They are LEGIT. Besides offering online masters of History to educators, they also run the Teaching American History blog)
I chose the seminar about Slavery and the Constitution just a stone's throw from NoVa... and boy, do I feel lucky to have made the cut.
About that being the smartest one in the room? Yeah, wasn't your girl.
When you are in a room with more Madison Fellows than you can close your fist around, you know you are in for it. We had state and national finalists from the We The People competitions, folks spouting off long passages from Madison's collective thoughts, APs who quit being APs so they can work to make TEACHERS smarter (and who were accomplished teachers on their own accord), teachers who work at Harvard, PhDs, and even an Union negotiator turned English teacher who schooled us on decoding text. Folks who are doing the good, hard work of teaching from every corner of our great nation... from Massachusetts to Florida to Arizona to California and pretty much every other state in between
And oh, yeah, Dr. Gordon Lloyd. Yeah. That Dr. Gordon Lloyd.
We had the whole of Colonial Williamsburg at our command. Research experts and re-enactors who showed us what slavery was like, not just talked to us about it.
We read, ate, and imbibed knowledge. (One of my favorite quotes: I love that we are using words like manumission over a beer. I can't do this at school.) There are other benefits that you receive from the folks at Ashbrook and the Liberty Fund... but I am going to keep that under wraps. Maybe they can be additional surprises for you along the way, things to add delight to the excitement of talking about government and American history with other exquisite minds.
You know what, no. I can't. I don't. But I wish I could.
So, I kind of don't want to tell you about these Seminars offered by the Liberty Fund and Ashbrook. I kind of want to keep it for my own knowledge so I can keep going and don't have to compete with the likeness of YOU.
But that is counterproductive.
You should do it because you are exposed to a landslide of knowledge. You discuss and tease out things that are not apparent in a superficial reading, and that are done under the guise of one of the leading experts on these constitutional issues. There is nothing asked of you except your participation. Your thought. No lesson plans, no convergent thinking. We had liberals and conservatives of all stripes. You network with teachers who are ahhh-mazing. (And seriously, I learned SO much from these teachers. I hope I see them again and again and again.) And you get some well needed rejuvenation with your content.
Because like all kinds of love, date nights with your content bring back that honeymoon phase that fade quickly when working in education. And it is great.
Recently, the great Commonwealth of Virginia has decided to make some serious changes to their licensure requirements that directly impact me as a teacher. Okay, this is actually not new news, because I feel like changes come about on a yearly basis from the Commonwealth. This change more precisely impacts me as a government teacher: I have to show the state that I fully grasp the complexities that make up what is Virginia government. You know what? Good for them. Maybe I should. After all, I was born and raised in Ohio... Virginia's rival for the claim to home to the most Presidents. (A hotly contested debate, no doubt. Oh, who would have guessed that William Henry Harrison would complicate this debate.)
So, when my employer asked me if I wanted to go on an excursion to learn more about my adopted home, I immediately took up the charge. FIELD TRIP! Let's learn more about the western hemisphere's oldest legislature in continuous operation! (est 1619) Let's learn more about one of the first bicameral legislatures in the new world (The House of Burgesses, circa 1643 thanks to Sir William Blakeley), or how the radical actions of George Mason moved to separate the powers of each branch by removing the governor from the judicial branch AND the legislature, thereby establishing the Senate. So, great... Massachusetts can keep the claim to the oldest Constitution in the world (1780), it's not the oldest settlement thanks to Jamestown. Maryland can keep the oldest state capitol, Virginia is not far behind. And, besides... scenes from the movie Lincoln were shot there. It's just that cool.
Crazy. It's Jan of 2015, and this is the only video footage of a Supreme Court oral argument. Sure, you can listen to the arguments, but there is something lost in the lack of a panning lens.
So, let me describe for you what it is like to sit in the courtroom during an oral argument based on my early Christmas present of attending the Supreme Court's oral arguments on Monday, December 1st, 2014.
I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the highest court with a close friend who works with me. We looked over the Docket in the early fall, and decided which cases we would most like to hear. Getting these passes without standing in line, and essentially being in front of the viewing public (we were on the left of the court, second row from the bar, seated one person in from the aisle) took knowing someone who works in the court system. We had to submit our personal information for a background check, and then get our behinds to the court on an unseasonably warm Monday in December.
The court is gorgeous. The building was completed in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, on time and under budget. But the white marble hallways are impressive and beautiful. But we did not spend much time in the hallway. It's the courtroom that we got to know very well.
We sought out the Marshall of the Court, surrendered over all of our electronic devices, and assembled in the Court to await the justices.
The room is cavernous, with elaborate carvings of historical judges and rulers flanking the floor in bas relief. Carved flowers adorn the ceiling, and the entire lofty assembly is perched upon great imported marble pillars. Look down and you see a different, less airy assembly of seating. Members of the Supreme Court bar sit in simple wooden chairs in front of the bar, with the Petitioner and Respondent right beneath the great wooden podium/table. They stand less than ten feet from the Chief Justice. Beyond the bar is the public gallery, complete with stiff, high-backed benches and minimal cushioning. It is always packed in the public gallery, while the seats reserved for guests of the Justices have more space. Clerks line the right of the court; the press lines the left. In the rear, behind the columns is a separate mini-viewing gallery where the public can cycle through for a three to five minute glimpse of the proceedings.
And what the public views? The wooden lectern, complimented by towering crimson drapes between large columns of marble. The chairs; black leather high backed swivel chairs, will become the vehicles of the Justices shortly. (Fascinating fact, each chair follows justices as they move up in seniority on the court. Upon retirement, the justices are gifted the chairs by their peers on the court.) The only break in the monotony is a single brass clock, purely for the view of the public. I never saw the councils look up to see their pace.
So you sit. and sit. and sit. and wait. I did not mind. After all, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had spent the Thanksgiving break in the hospital receiving a stint; she fell ill while working out with her physical trainer the week before. I was giddy with anticipation. The first case, Perez v Mortgage Bankers Assn., was not as interesting as the 1st Amendment challenging Elonis v United States.
Once the Supreme Court of the United States Police discusses expectations (one of the very few bureaucracies associated with the judicial branch), the Marshall introduces the justices.
Look, I don't know what I expected. More prestige and elaborate ceremony, I guess. But this is not a dog and pony show. These are nine very real and seriously intelligent people doing their job. They get right to it. They do not have some big flourish that is used to wow the crowd. They sit, and immediately their personalities come out.
Ginsberg usually asks the first question, which is directed to the Petitioner; on this day she did not. Justice after justice peppered the counsel with questions; rarely was there time to answer the question in full. This is referred to as a hot bench, where the justices are actively involved in discussing issues via the counsel. (The court room antics you see on TV, with a passive justice, is referred to as a cold bench.) Sometimes the justices are hostile, as was Justice Kagan during an exchange with the respondent's counsel in the Perez case. (It was so painful to listen to the counsel try to disagree with Kagan.) Yet, it is fascinating to see Justices all but say exactly what they want to come of the decision. Justice Breyer, when he wasn't sleeping, learing around the bench, rocking in his chair, or swiveling around to talk to Justice Thomas, made plain that he did not want the Perez case to be a general decision, but instead a very narrowly crafted one. Some Justices barely speak, as did Justice Alito. I did not catch much from him until the very end of the Elonis case, where he made a very astute prediction as to how this case could impact free speech and threatening language.
Additionally, sitting in the gallery is hard. After the thrill of seeing the Justices, and the odd assortment of semi-celebs like Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog and Nina Totenberg of NPR, you are in it for the long hall.
The benches are painful, and there is no relief from the rigidity. The material is incredibly detailed; recalling an impressive subject-matter expertise coupled with agility in arguments. The questions are relentless; it is hard to keep up with. I was so keen on understanding Perez (a fascinating case about rulemaking and allowing comment from industry and special interest) that I was exhausted for Elonis, and found myself struggling to keep up. In essence, I was impressed with the intellectual prowess on both sides of the bench.
It's the final day before the end of the first quarter, and I am in the midst of the senior shuffle...
All day, kids walk in and beg for forgiveness and mercy to review for the final... to get an extension... to turn in late work...
I sit and listen to them with poise and compassion, and dole out indulgences with an even and just disposition.
These kids are trying to be the best students they can. I know that in my 36 years of wisdom, I have forgotten what it is like to be on the other side of the desk. To sit through four blocks with no physical ed is TORTURE! Power points and lecture notes and labs seem unending!
So, today I am sitting and reflecting on what I can do to be a constantly improving teacher. This is for my fellow lovgubbers and all teachers in general.
I work with too many professionals who are ridiculously wise, but find collaboration and sharing to be a threat.
I get this. I am a former collegiate athlete. Competition is truly a drug, and I want to be the best. But, my experience in life tells me this can't happen. I can't be the best teacher every day, day in and day out, to the 125 kids revolving around my universe. I get sick, distracted, frustrated, tired... and I miss the mark completely even though I tried my hardest.
So, I seek refuge in collaboration. My collaboration happens with an awesome peer network at my school... but if you don't have that or WHATEVER... there is life out on the web.
I started this website to collaborate and share at the same time as many other government teachers started to do the EXACT same thing.
Here are some of my favorite teacher created government resources on line:
I also collaborate on FB in secret groups and on Edmodo. There are so many awesome resources out there.
Beyond this, there are a ton of apps and on-line materials that help lovgubbers teach gov better. And they are often reliant upon primary and secondary materials... not pithy commentary from wikihow or answers.com.
Here are some of my favorites:
BONUS: MOOCs from UVA and Stanford...
Apps and Services to make your classroom BETTER
All of these are free, and make my students happy. I use Prezi and Grid to sort and present information. I use Open States, Congress, Track Bill and Congressional Record to data mine. Socrative, Poll Everywhere and Kahootz let me quiz and assess my kids. Edmodo gives me online and moderated collaborative study sessions. Celly and Remind allow me to communicate with my students on field trips and outside of class time via text messages. Ted and Youtube... well, you know what that is for! And I keep my knowledge together and to date with Drive, TeacherPayTeachers, and Flipboard.
Do I use these daily? No! Not all of them... I really use them at particular times of the year... but they are all free, all easy for the kids, and reaches the kids how they want to be reached. It's accessible, fun, and translatable.
I know this is overwhelming. Doing something well will be overwhelming. But the great news is that there are awesome teachers, resources, and tools that are out there for you to use everyday in your classroom. You now have knowledge... start hacking away at the data! Collaborate something beautiful! Stay a mindful learner and teach so your kids remember the material! You can do it!
Wow. The new school year has really hit me hard this year. I have been scrambling to keep up with all of the new fun demands of the school board, two preps (both government, but both of them requiring significant effort and retooling), new students, and all the demands of life outside of teaching.
I find myself trolling the Internet routinely for new ways to teach and reach my students.
I look for games (online and old-school), primary source lessons, ideas, apps, interviews, videos, tech-based, and otherwise. I have found so much, and want to share maybe ten really cool things that I am having some luck with in my classroom.
Social Networking is my friend
I am finding that my own, personal social networking accounts are converting over to extensions of professional development.
Twitter has a set crew of government teachers who meet on Sundays from 6-7pm PST and share resources and ideas on pre-arranged topics. I perused their latest chat on elections, and was blown away by the variety of content shared. Check them out... do a search for #hsgovchat and share or pose a question! If you want more, including archived resources, check out their website... Best thing here, you do NOT need a twitter account to see what they say, but an account is necessary if you want to say something.
Facebook has a similar private group for AP Government Teachers. I like this format because it is more dialogue and sharing of actual ideas and units than just posting of resources around the Internet. It is closer knit, with a puprose, and has a lot of collaboration with subject-matter experts in the AP Government world. Look them up on FB and ask for permission to join.
All hail the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia for giving us this great day to celebrate the Constitution. The great orator of American lore enables us to consider the greatness of the Constitution a little bit more.
In honor of this illustrious day, I give you some resources.
Constitution Day Hall Pass
I love the Constitution Center up in Philadelphia, and have taken a few batches of students up there to meander the fantastic interactive exhibits. My teammate and I are also trying to schedule a "field trip" that comes to us... (please PTA)...
But even more fun is the new Constitution Day resource offered by the Center, Constitution Hall Pass
Here, in a video as well as a guided discussion, the Bill of Rights (written almost exclusively by James Madison) is discussed, along with the truly revolutionary 14th Amendment and the Supreme Court case J.S. v Blue Mountain.
The Center gives lots of insight, along with materials for use in the classroom.
A lovely introduction to the evolution of the Constitution.
I am in the midst of a unit on our constitutional rights, but this year has been hectic on snow days, and I feel like my discussion of the Bill of Rights in general was very light.
Made me think, what is out there that I may consider next year? Here is my list. Hope you enjoy.
ConSource: The Amendments as Proposed
I take a fair amount of time to remind my kids that while J.Madi originally thought that a Bill of Rights (like the English version (1689) many of the colonists were familar with) were paper chains on a sovereign monarch... and that the best impediment is to fracture the powers of legislature, executive, and judicial amongst three co-dependent and equal branches... he ended up caving under pressure from the Anti-Feds and penning a BoR anyways. It was kind of like the first campaign promise; that a Bill of Rights would be written... in order to get the Constitution passed.
But J.Madi wrote 19 amendments pretty much by himself in his first action as House Floor Leader.
Here is a great resource that has all 19 of them spelled out. Thanks, ConSource.
Constitution Center: Traveling History!
I haven't taken students to Philadelphia in quite some time... it's been eight years, actually. (Mental note; I really should. The Constitution Center and Constitution Hall is AWESOME.)
I was playing around on their website today, and was SUPER EXCITED to see that they come to us! What? YES! Their program is called Traveling History, and has materials and programs for all grades, (K-12).
I think my favorite possible opportunity is the "We the Jury" activity.
In addition to this awesome opportunity, they also have a very cute game (that is geared towards 6-8th grade, but I can see used as a hook activity) covering the Bill of Rights.
**And when you have time, here is a great link to a BoR online RPG for the kids to play.
Bill of Rights Downloadable AP DBQs
More mad props to the BoRI for their great, ready to go DBQs on case law.
They do lots of training to support their materials, so look at their website for dates and times for training, and they are nation-wide. Plus, all the heavy lifting is done for you. It's plug and play.
DBQs combine writing and accessing primary and secondary resources. Students have to be crafty in synthesizing original thought after their exposure to the topics. The great thing about these is that they are all FREE. :)
And while I am on the topic of DBQs... you can try these resources, too:
Additional on-line stuff
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.
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan