Vox Populi: Rights and Retribution

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Conversations with nonvoters and the otherwise disengaged usually dredge up the question, “what difference does it make to me?” A very active colleague’s anything but active spouse actually pointed to his wallet in one of these exchanges. He was asked why he wasn’t more involved. His wallet was his answer. The point was that no one had shown him how any of it made a difference to the purchasing power he held in his wallet. A simple cost-benefit analysis suggested he had better things to do with his time. Hordes of economists explain political behavior exactly this way and it’s…

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This Week’s Canvas: Complications–in Taxes, Health Care and Hope

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Three themes from the week ending May 6th, 2017 The push to make 100 days matter dumped a whole lot of headlines on everyone this week. It was tempting to stick with Star Wars socks and not so fun facts about the Civil War for this round. Too Simple Math A single-page tax plan from the Executive Branch has everyone talking about what’s missing. The specifics are scarce and the math doesn’t add up. The Boston Globe offers a nice rundown of the proposition under the title, “We’re a Typical Family. What Would Trump’s Tax Plan Mean for Us?” The paper’s answer…

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Ralph Ketcham: A Champion for Civic Education

Ralph Ketcham: A Champion for Civic Education

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Civic Education lost a powerful voice for meaningful civics this week. While some count political wins with states adding the citizenship test to graduation requirements, Ralph Ketcham led the charge for civic education that was “interdisciplinary, team-taught and driven by deliberation on current events.” That’s civics worth doing and adds up to a political life worth sharing. When I attended an institute with Ketcham’s biography of Madison on the reading list, I was skeptical of the agenda. 761 pages published in 1971 for a one-week institute in 2005. I will, however, recommend it today and every time I’m asked until my…

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This Week’s Canvas: Counting, Courting and Creative Opposition

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Three themes from the week ending April 29th, 2017 What’s 100 days? There’s some truth that this is an arbitrary marker. FDR planted the flag as he took office picking up the pieces after the Great Depression. He wanted the American people to know he was on the job and it’s a marker we’ve observed ever since. Trump isn’t the first to feel the pressure so why should we forego the ritual and the fun? With a particularly apropos approach, The Telegraph turns to the new President’s Twitter feed to reflect on his first 100 days. It appears that he has been getting…

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My Fellow Americans: Good Government is a Good Thing

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Shortly after Donald J. Trump took the oath of office, one of this country’s most treasured celebrities posted a new status update. I’m talking about George Takei. He told us we had to “remind ourselves that good government is a good thing,” and added a warning that,” Without this belief, we are lost.” He navigated the Star Trek universe so Takei’s lead is a good one to follow. This belief in good government helps us make sense of our past and think through the citizen’s role today. It helps us parse the words of elected representatives who understand who we are…

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Editor’s Note: November 2016 and Finding the Way Forward for Civic Education

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Returning to “online news” with a fair measure of caution, I read a suggestion to “find solace in your tribe,” and I knew exactly who I needed to talk to in the days ahead. I have always counted a particular network of civic educators as one of the priceless assets of my career. Failing to put a value on it, however, puts it at risk of the same calculation that has allowed STEM education to push civics out of classrooms. All signs indicate that our communities might be more at risk than ever. We need civics. It’s time we pull…

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Let’s Talk: A Conversation about Faith & Understanding at a Texas High School

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The posters extended an invitation: “Let’s Talk.” The next line hinted at a joke that could get uncomfortable… “A Christian, a Muslim and a Hindu Walk into a School.” At Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, three students looked beyond that discomfort to step into the spotlight and answer questions about their beliefs. Jay Schlaegel, a Senior there, crafted the invitation to get people talking about the event. He recalls noticing the frustrations he knew from national headlines had started to gain traction in his community. Jay talks about the “small shifts” he saw in how people talked to one…

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Notes from Our Past: Understanding the Threat of a Demagogue

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There’s no clearer sign about the character of this year’s presidential contest than the renewed interest in asking Google,  “What is a demagogue?” Senator Joseph McCarthy (led the Communist witch hunt) and Governor George C. Wallace (defended segregation) have landed in the news again as everyone grapples with whether or not we’re on the verge of electing a demagogue to the highest office. We all know demagogues are bad and could probably name a couple. What we really want to know is if we have the self-governing skills to recognize a demagogue without the benefit of reading about it in a…

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A Student Steps Up: Creative Impatience and the Willingness to Act

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As a High School Civics teacher, I am often and absolutely embarrassed by my own lack of civic activism. While I am encouraging and requiring and rewarding my students for getting involved in something – ANYTHING! – that they care about to protect or improve their communities, I nearly never practice what I preach. And it’s not simply that as a young, charter school teacher, my time and energy seem to disappear into an unending vortex of planning/grading/updating/bureaucracizing. OR the fact that as a perpetual presenter of the fair and balanced, I am daily forced to equivocate, moderate and pause…

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