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Posts Tagged ‘civics’

Fact Sheet: U.S. Teens, Politics, and Information Literacy

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series discussed how educators can choose controversial political issues ethically.

In December 2016, the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research polled 13- to 17-year-old U.S. teenagers on politics and government, civic engagement, and information literacy. Here is an overview of the results:

Politics and government. Overall, teenagers have a pessimistic view of U.S. politics and government. About 8 in 10 believe the nation is divided on important values. Many teenagers find little commonality with those who are different from them, such as people who live in other geographical areas and people in other political parties. Additionally, a majority of teenagers have negative views on the system and functioning of government, including how political leaders are chosen and the ability of government to solve problems. Despite teenagers’ pessimistic views, over half believe that the American dream still exists, and most have positive or neutral views on the future of the country.

Civic engagement. Teenagers have a high level of civic engagement. In fact, almost 9 in 10 teenagers have taken part in at least one civic activity, the most popular being volunteering and raising money for a cause. Fewer teenagers are involved politically, perhaps unsurprisingly given their age and their views on politics and government. A majority have never expressed their political beliefs online, and a whopping 88 percent have never participated in a protest, march, or demonstration (though this may have changed some given the high number of protests, marches, and demonstrations in recent months).

Information literacy. A majority of teenagers reported learning about information literacy skills in school, but a sizable number of teenagers said they have not. One-third had never discussed how to evaluate the trustworthiness of online content. Some 40 percent never discussed the value of evaluating evidence used to support opinions. And 42 percent never discussed how to find varying social and political viewpoints online.

There are some lessons to be learned from this poll. First, civic engagement is high among teenagers, but this fails to translate into political participation. Educators should focus on teaching students how they can be a part of the political system and effect change. Second, teenagers believe that they have little in common with those who are different from them. Educators can help break down barriers and close this empathy gap by exposing students to different people, ideas, and viewpoints. And third, too few students are learning the necessary information literacy skills, especially as they relate to cyberspace. With the spread of fake news, educators should prioritize strengthening information literacy skills for the digital age.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial political issues to students.

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SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

Town Hall Meetings: Direct Democracy in Action

Last week, my colleague Kim Carpenter and I attended a town hall meeting in our city to listen to Congressman Ted Deutch speak about issues that mattered to us on both a local and national scale.

Rep. Ted Deutch Town Hall Meeting

August 31, 2017: Town Hall Meeting with Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-21) at the Mae Volen Senior Center, Boca Raton, FL (Credit: Amy Shaw)

Town hall meetings have a long-standing tradition in America. The earliest recorded town hall meeting occurred in 1633 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. A form of direct democracy, town hall meetings give constituents the chance to speak openly and directly to elected officials and political candidates about issues that matter to them and their community. And, elected officials use this informal public assembly as an opportunity to gauge how their constituents feel about issues and policies.

While they are called town hall meetings, these meetings are not only held in town halls, but also in a variety of other locations, such as schools, libraries, and municipal buildings. In recent years, many politicians have begun experimenting with digital town hall meetings, as well.

The town hall we attended was held at the Mae Volen Senior Center in Boca Raton, Florida. The room was packed with several hundred people who raised many issues, including concerns about climate change, the Dream Act, President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military and the need for research money for childhood cancer.  Rep. Deutch thanked the attendees for allowing him to hear first-hand what mattered to them and promised to take those concerns back to Washington.

Photo of Kimberly Carpenter and Amy Shaw with Rep. Ted Deutch

ProQuest editors Kimberly Carpenter (left) and Amy Shaw (right) enjoy meeting Rep. Ted Deutch after a town hall meeting (Credit: Kimberly Carpenter)

South Florida Congressman

Congressman Ted Deutch (D) represents the 22nd district of South Florida, which includes Palm Beach and Broward County. He is currently serving his fifth term in the 115th Congress and he’s also a member of the U.S. House of Representatives on the Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, and Ethics Committees. His priorities include environmental health, economic growth, and honor and dignity for veterans, among many others.

For more information about Ted Deutch, visit his website and learn all about his legislation, services, and student resources.

Bipartisan Efforts

In an increasingly politically polarized America, it was refreshing to hear Representative Deutch mention several bipartisan efforts in recent years, including the Climate Solutions Caucus, which he co-chairs with Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). The purpose of this caucus is to find solutions to sea level rise and the effects of climate change. Membership of this caucus consists of equal representation by Republicans and Democrats.

Developing Civic-Minded Students

How to Prepare for a Town Hall Meeting

Infographic: 6 Tips on How to Prepare for a Town Hall Meeting (Credit: Amy Shaw and Kimberly Carpenter)

As students are the next generation of citizens and voters, teachers should consider engaging them in the political process by having them attend a town hall meeting in their community or participate in a mock town hall meeting. To get your students started, print out our Infographic with tips on how to prepare for a town hall meeting.

Teachers can also direct students to eLibrary’s Research Topic pages on civics issues. A good starting point that showcases many of eLibrary’s civics Research Topics pages is ProQuest Research Topic Guide: Civics (U.S.).  SIRS Issues Researcher also includes Leading Issues on Government Ethics in addition to issues currently being discussed in town hall meetings (e.g., climate change, heroin abuse, and minimum wage). Below, we have also included links to town hall resources and lesson plans.

Town Hall Resources

Call to Action: Use to find and call your Congressional representative.

Find Your Representative: This site from the U.S. House of Representatives matches your ZIP code to your congressional district, with links to your member’s website and contact page.

Town Hall Project: Identifies Congressional town halls nationwide.

United States Senate Directory: provides information about former and current senators.

Lesson Plans

Town Hall Meeting: Drama-Based Instruction

Lesson Plan: Civic Engagement and Ways for Students to Get Involved

Our Town: Teaching Alternative Energy Sources and Decision-Making Through a Town Hall Meeting

Takeaways

  • All the personal stories that people shared with the crowd and how Ted Deutch responded with compassion and understanding for each one. Individuals were directed to staff members who would specifically help them find answers.
  • The age range of people attending. From elementary school students who recited the pledge, college students who lined up to ask questions to retired veterans who publicly asked for help with nursing home care.

Tweet Us!

Have your students participated in a town hall meeting? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us at #ProQuest!

How Educators Can Choose Controversial Political Issues Ethically

This is the third in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. Previous posts in this series discussed the benefits and aims of teaching controversial political issues.

How Educators Can Choose Controversial Political Issues Ethically


In 2014, school officials in Rialto, California, had to apologize after students were asked to write an argumentative essay on whether the Holocaust occurred. The assignment presented students with a false controversial issue and implied that Holocaust denial was a valid position despite empirical evidence that proves otherwise. Although extreme, this incident demonstrates the ethical perils of choosing topics when teaching controversial political issues.

How can educators choose and present controversial political issues ethically? There are no easy answers. Educators, however, can take some steps to ensure that teaching about a controversial political issue doesn’t become a controversy.

Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy, authors of The Political Classroom, argue that educators should be well prepared and use good professional judgment, which considers classroom context, evidence-based research, and educational aims. To prepare, educators should be able to identify four types of issues and consider three criteria to determine whether an issue is indeed controversial.

Identify the Type of Issue

Is the issue empirical or political?

Empirical issues can be answered through methodical inquiry. All empirical issues have a “correct” answer based on facts, although the answer may not yet be known. Political issues involve matters of public policy. Although empirical data is often used to support public-policy positions, political issues also involve considerations that are not necessarily fact-based, such as ethics and morals.

Is the issue open or settled?

Open issues are a current matter of controversy. Settled issues are no longer controversial and have widespread agreement. Both empirical and political issues can be open or settled.

Here’s an overview of the four types of issues:

1. Open Empirical: An issue that can be answered with facts, but a debate is still occurring because the evidence is conflicting or lacking. Example: Are self-driving cars safer than traditional cars?

2. Settled Empirical: An issue that has been answered with facts. Example: Are opioids addictive?

3. Open Political: A public-policy issue that has multiple, opposing viewpoints. Example: Should the United States implement single-payer health care?

4. Settled Political: A public-policy issue that is no longer considered controversial or open for debate. Example: Should women have the right to vote?

Why is identifying the type of issue important? Educators teaching controversial political issues must be sure not to present settled issues as open. Educators must also recognize the difference between issues that can be answered with facts alone (empirical issues) versus those that can be answered with opinions in addition to facts (policy issues).

Consider the Criteria for Controversy

Identifying whether an issue is empirical or political and open or settled may seem easy, but things are not always so simple. Some issues are empirically settled, but large segments of society may not agree. According to scientists, climate change is real and genetically-modified foods are safe, but sizeable numbers of Americans are skeptical of those positions. Some educators believe it is unethical to present issues as controversial when empirical evidence or their own moral code suggests otherwise. Other educators believe they are doing their students a disservice if they ignore issues that are currently being debated in the political sphere.

Here are three possible criteria to consider when choosing a controversial issue:

1. Behavioral: This criterion considers an issue controversial if sizeable numbers of people in society disagree on the issue regardless of empirical evidence.

Upside: This standard reflects what society thinks.

Downside: This standard may ignore empirical evidence. If sizable numbers of people believe in a conspiracy theory, despite the evidence, is it ethical to present this as a controversial issue?

2. Epistemic: This criterion considers an issue controversial if sizable numbers of people in society disagree on the issue, and there are multiple, logically grounded viewpoints on the issue.

Upside: This standard reflects what society thinks while also considering reasonable, evidence-based viewpoints.

Downside: People disagree on what is considered reasonable, which suggests that educators should ignore controversial political issues if viewpoints are considered unreasonable.

3. Politically Authentic: This criterion considers an issue controversial if it is being debated in the political sphere (e.g., legislation, political campaigns, and protest movements).

Upside: This criterion addresses current issues being debated in the political sphere, which prepares students for life in a democracy.

Downside: Viewpoints on politically authentic issues are not always grounded in logic.

Although The Political Classroom’s Hess and McAvoy recognize that each standard has its merits and disadvantages, they most prefer the politically authentic criterion because it directly addresses an important aim of teaching controversial political issues to students: political literacy.

As stated earlier in the post, there are no easy answers on how to choose and present controversial political issues ethically. But thinking deeply about controversial political issues and using good professional judgment will help.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial political issues to students.

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The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

6 Aims of Teaching Controversial Political Issues to Students

This is the second in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The first post in this series discussed the benefits of teaching controversial political issues.


Educational aims are the hopeful bedrock on which every curriculum is built. They transcend class objectives, which are typically measured with tests and term papers. They are ideals that give teaching a higher purpose. They are long-term.

So what are the educational aims of a political education?

Critics often cite indoctrination, but a political education is not about forcing—or even forming—political viewpoints. It is about deliberation, the process of carefully considering and discussing political issues. It is about instilling and honoring democratic values—liberty, equality, justice—and participating in the democratic process. Although Thomas Jefferson never said that “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people,” he surely believed it. Democracy itself depends on concerned citizens who understand democratic values and the political process.

In The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy identify the aims of teaching controversial political issues to students. Six are defined here:

1.  Political Equity

Citizens are political equals, both as a birthright and as individuals with unique needs and perspectives.

2.  Political Tolerance

Citizens have unalienable rights, regardless of political viewpoints. Those in the majority rule cannot use public policy to discriminate against or persecute those who are in the minority.

3.  Political Autonomy

Citizens are free from oppression or coercion and free to form political opinions and participate in the political process.

4.  Political Fairness

Citizens think individually and collectively about finding the best solutions to promote the common good.

5.  Political Engagement

Citizens participate politically by staying informed, debating, voting, protesting, and campaigning.

6.  Political Literacy

Citizens think critically about controversial political issues and also understand the larger political context, such as historical context, the role of government, etc.

Although these aims are not always attained, they are ideals that democratic societies hope to achieve. And research suggests that some of these aims are indeed achieved, at least to some degree, when students are exposed to controversial political issues in school.

Young adults are often criticized for not voting as soon as they turn 18, yet many of them were never exposed to controversial political issues in school. This is illogical. A high school student quoted in Hess and McAvoy’s The Political Classroom explains why the aims of a political education are vital: “We are seniors. We are going out into the real world in a few months, a few weeks, actually, from now. And, you know, we have to be exposed to that stuff some time or another. Otherwise, you are going to be completely clueless.” (105) Well said.

The next post in this controversial political issues series will address how to pick topics when teaching controversial political issues to students.

Subscribe via email to Share This and never miss a post.


The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

6 Benefits of Teaching Controversial Political Issues to Students

This is the first in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students.

6 Benefits of Teaching Controversial Political Issues to Students


Political polarization is growing, and schools are not immune. Political divisiveness, which has been simmering in schools for a while now, boiled over during the 2016 presidential election and exposed a major problem: students struggle to talk civilly about controversial political issues. Headlines chronicling this problem are everywhere. Last October, administrators cancelled a mock election at an elementary school because they feared divisive talk. This month, Middlebury College students resorted to violence to block a controversial speaker because his viewpoints differed from their own.

Teachers, facing pressure from parents and school administrators, are now questioning whether they should be teaching controversial political issues, which have long been a part of the curriculum. According to a 2016 Southern Poverty Law Center survey, more than half of K-12 teachers reported an increase in uncivil political talk among their students, and over 40 percent said they were reluctant to teach about the 2016 presidential election.

So, we are left with one question: Should teachers cover controversial political issues in the classroom?

Let’s take the long view and turn to facts grounded in research. Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy, co-winners of the 2017 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award, published The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education in 2014. The book presents findings from their landmark four-year study on the teaching of controversial political issues in the classroom, including observations and interviews of high school teachers and their students. Hess and McAvoy found that students want to indeed learn about controversial political issues. They also found that teaching controversial political issues has real benefits for students, even—or especially—in these politically polarized times.

Here are six benefits of teaching controversial political issues to students:

  1. Engagement. Students participate more, especially when they are encouraged to be a part of class discussions.
  2. Political Literacy. Students stay more informed about controversial political issues.
  3. Tolerance. Students respect and understand other viewpoints.
  4. Confidence. Students grow more confident in holding their own viewpoints and discussing politics in general.
  5. Civil Discourse. Students learn to engage in civil discourse.
  6. Political Participation. Students vote more often later in life.

Of course, teaching controversial political issues does not come without risks. Educators face challenging ethical decisions, along with a partisan political climate. Some students may be sensitive about certain issues because they are affected in their own lives. Students need a safe environment and guidance, and teachers need to be clear about their expectations, including what is acceptable and respectful behavior. These concerns cannot be ignored.

But political divisiveness in schools doesn’t mean educators should stop teaching controversial political issues. It means educators should be teaching them more. Debating controversial political issues civilly isn’t innate. It is learned. If students are not taught to engage civilly in political debates, they cannot be expected to do so as adults. Students in Hess and McAvoy’s study demonstrated a remarkable level of maturity and intellectual growth because it was expected of them. If today’s students learn how to deliberate and discuss, they will become adults capable of civil discourse. Imagine that.

Future posts in this controversial political issues series will address other considerations, including the aims of teaching political issues, ethical issues of teaching political issues, and rules to promote civil discourse.

Subscribe via email to Share This and never miss a post.


The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

It’s Tax Day … Yay.

It’s April 15–Tax Day–the most dreaded Tax Formsday of the year for many Americans, especially those who have waited until the last minute. But, how did it all start?

The first federal income tax came in the form of the Revenue Act of 1861, which sought to pay the Union’s massive debt resulting from the Civil War. The legislation was repealed, replaced and declared unconstitutional. The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act was passed in 1894. While it had its supporters and opponents, it also was stricken down as a violation of the Constitution’s ban on direct taxation. The income tax was here for good with the 1913 ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed apportionment requirements on taxation.

Tax Day was originally March 1, then March 15 and was moved back to April 15 in 1955. And, on this day every year, Americans turn in their forms and wonder where all the money goes.

Dig into eLibrary to find out more about taxes and just about any other topic. Here are some other eLibrary resources devoted to taxation:

For a good overview of taxation, see our Research Topic page: Taxation

This is a general article on tax day history.

See these Research Topics for information on other tax topics: Tax Evasion, Capital Gains Tax, Flat tax

 

 

 

The Government Shutdown and Recent Budget Battles

Day three of government shutdownOn October 1, 2013, the U.S. government went into  a partial shutdown, resulting in the furlough of 800,000 federal workers, the closing of national parks and government offices and sending cable news commentators into a frenzy. The basis for this shuttering of the government is a showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the previously enacted Affordable Care Act. House Speaker John Boehner has been pressured by members of his party and the Tea Party Movement to defund or delay “Obamacare,” which they see as a potentially disastrous overreach of federal government, and such provisions were included in a continuing resolution, a bill that would temporarily fund the federal government until a budget is approved or another continuing resolution is accepted. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were resistant to any change in the the ACA, which they see as settled business and a signature accomplishment of Obama’s presidency.

There have been numerous shutdowns in the past, the most recent being a 1996 impasse over funding for various federal programs. The current battle is latest of numerous bouts of brinksmanship that have happened in recent years, including the debt-ceiling and “fiscal cliff” fight that led to the 2013 sequestration, a raft of across-the-board budget cuts that many warn will negatively affect the economy.

Also complicating the current picture has been a looming mid-October deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk having the U.S. default on payments to creditors and the resulting damage to the reputation of American creditworthiness.

eLibrary’s large collection of newspaper, magazines, books and other resources allow for effective research on the workings of the federal government and up-to-the-date content on current events. Follow the links in the text above and search in eLibrary for Research Topics pages and plenty of other documents related to federal budgets and the political battles that surround them. Research Topics are returned with regular results while searching in eLibrary (you can use the lists that drop down as you are typing search terms to aid in discovering them) and they can also be found by clicking the “Browse Research Topics” button. Among other RTs that will be useful for context and background on this topic include National Debt and Deficit, Economy of the United States, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, Branches of the U.S. Government, Republican Party (U.S.), Democratic Party (U.S.)