Thursday, August 20, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Money and Health Care

This post applies more to AP Government than AP World History, but anybody in either class can respond to it.

As if the health care reform issue weren't complicated enough for the average American, consider the role special interest groups play in framing the national debate. This situation is not unique; special interest groups are a serious force to be reckoned with in the American political system.

Click here to read an article that does an excellent job describing why the various special interest groups care so much about this issue and what they're doing to ensure their groups' concerns are protected in any health care reform legislation. Then respond to one or more of the following questions:

Why DO the special interest groups described care so much about this issue that they're willing to spend huge sums of money to impact health care reform legislation?

In your opinion, are the activities of special interest groups such as those described in this article a more positive or negative force in American politics? Explain why.

As a citizen, why might it be important to know what groups are sponsoring some of the ads on health care reform?

What does Mary Matalin mean when she says in the article, "They're stakeholders when they're with you, and they're interest groups when they're against you"?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Is America Ready for Women in Combat?

OK, Rex Truax, this one's for you: you wanted controversial issues, you got it.

Historically, women were not permitted to serve in combat roles in the U.S. military. However, that seems to be changing with our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Click here to read a New York Times article about this issue; then respond in writing to one or more of the following questions:

Why do you think women in the U.S. have not been allowed to serve in combat roles? What has changed, if anything, that makes a change in this policy possible?

In your opinion, should women be permitted to serve in combat roles? Be sure to explain WHY or WHY NOT.

Should American public opinion play a role in determining whether women should serve in combat roles? (The article will tell you how Americans do feel about this issue.)

If the draft were ever reinstated in our country, should women be drafted, just as men are? Why or why not?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Media Censorship in Venezuela? Or More Democracy?

The Venezuelan government has shut down the operations of 34 radio stations, many of which have been critical of President Hugo Chavez and his policies. The government says closing these stations will create a stronger democracy in Venezuela, because about a third of Venezuelan radio stations are owned by 27 families.

Click here to read an article about the radio station closings, and then respond to one or more of the following prompts:

How important is a free press to democracy? How could closing media outlets pose a threat to democracy in Venezuela? Do you agree with the Venezuelan government that closing some radio stations will strengthen democracy there?

How do you think international scrutiny of the radio station closings will affect this situation, if at all?

Do you think this type of situation could occur in the U.S.? Why or why not?

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, spin control is "the act or practice of attempting to manipulate the way an event is interpreted by others". Is spin control taking place in this situation? If so, who are the spin doctors (those who practice the art of spinning)? Does our own point of view affect our answer to this question? How so?

Friday, July 31, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Online Grassroots Politics: "Take Back the Beep!" Campaign

Don't you hate that 15 seconds of useless airtime when you call someone and want to leave them a voicemail? Did you know the cell phone companies are making MILLIONS of $$$ from us consumers for those collective 15 seconds? Why not just have a beep? We KNOW what to do!

David Pogue, tech blogger and columnist, wrote an article in the NY Times recently that started the "Take Back the Beep!" campaign in which millions of annoyed cell phone users are writing to their cell phone carriers to get rid of that dead 15 seconds we're paying for.

Want to get into the act? Here's a link to a website that provides the email addresses for all the major cell phone carriers so you can express your opinion.

If you twitter and you're interested in technology, you might want to start following David Pogue @Pogue, where you'll be able to get updates on how the campaign is going.

As an avid observer of politics and social networking technology, I can't wait to see if it works! Join the cause if you're interested, and/or respond to one or more of the following prompts:

In what ways do cyber campaigns like this one alter politics and policy making in America?

Do you think online grassroots campaigns like this one are positive or negative forces in American politics? Explain why.

Predict how and why the major cell phone carriers will respond to this campaign.

Monday, July 13, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Should/can judges be above politics?

Today, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee began its hearings to determine whether to confirm President Obama's first nominee, federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, to be a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. By the time some of you read this post, Judge Sotomayor may already have been confirmed -- or rejected -- by the Senate.

Click here to read the article about the first day of the confirmation hearings, and then address one or more of the following prompts:

How do these hearings provide an example of the Constitutional concept of checks and balances?

If confirmed, Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic American and only the third woman to ever serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Do you think diversity on the nation's highest court is important? Why or why not?

Some Senators are concerned about comments made by Judge Sotomayor in a 2002 speech when she said that, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." What do you think she meant by this? Do you share these senators concerns? Why or why not?

All federal judges are first nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate. Knowing that, do you think there is any way for them to be "above politics"? Why or why not? Should they be?

Friday, June 19, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Can $25 Help Change the World?

The article posted here is actually several years old, but still applicable. It's about an online organization called Kiva that allows people around the world to loan small amounts of money (as little as $25!) to other people in developing nations who are trying to start businesses to improve the economic viability of their lives, their communities and their nations. Click here for a link to the article.

One reason I am posting this article is that my husband Glen and I have become involved with Kiva and have been making loans to some of these entrepreneurs (look it up if you don't know what that means!) in other countries, but we want to have my students decide where to loan that money in the coming year. To do this, you need to become familiar with Kiva so please check out the Kiva website and explore its features.

A related reason I'm posting this article is that I think students learn more when they do more than just read about what's going on in the world. Our Kiva class project will allow you to become actively engaged in what's going on in the developing world by having an economic impact on the lives of those to whom we lend. Maybe it's just a few lives that are being impacted, but when you add up all the loans being made by individuals around the world through Kiva, the potential for change is immense.

Once you've read the article and checked out Kiva's website, respond to one or more of the following questions:

Should we as people of the richest nation in the world lead the way in helping developing nations, simply because it's the right thing to do (moral idealism)? Or should we do it because we might get something in return (political realism)? What benefits might result from assisting developing nations?

Does Kiva refute the argument that technology isolates people? Why or why not?

Are you surprised that virtually everybody who receives a loan from Kiva pays it back? If so, why are you surprised? If not, why not? Are your personal biases about developing nations reflected in your response? What is your image of the typical loan recipient?

Why do you think Kiva has taken off the way it has?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: And you thought Facebook was just for fun...

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm pretty addicted to Facebook and Twitter. I love finding out what friends and family are up to and what they're thinking about. But social networking isn't just for socializing; it can be used for business, educational and even political purposes. In Iran, for example, where the results of the recent presidential election have resulted in massive demonstrations and political upheaval, the government has shut down access to events in the country to members of the foreign media. Find out how individuals in Iran are getting information out to the rest of the world, including the U.S., by clicking here. Then respond to one or more of the following prompts:

Why is it so important that "technology is able to play its sorely needed role in the crisis"?

Who might try to shut down access to social networking sites by Iranians? Why?

Why do you think the U.S. is trying to stay out of the election outcome dispute in Iran?

Can you think of other ways that social networking could be used politically in the U.S. or any other country? Please describe.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: English Milestone: One Millionth Word

At 5:22 a.m. on June 10, the English language gained its one millionth word, according to the Global Language Monitor. Find out what that word is when you click here to read the article! Then comment on one or more of the questions below:

Do you think including words (or word phrases) like "Obamamania," "defriend," "wardrobe malfunction," and "zombie banks" are legitimate additions to English, or should we be pickier about what we include? Explain why or why not.

I like this article because it provides one more example of globalization, in this case, by one language. Is this a positive development in your opinion? Why or why not? If your answer is yes, would you feel the same if the dominant language was something besides English? Why or why not?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Health Care Reform

I found a terrific article that paints the big picture of some of the problems with the American health care system. Click here to read it.

During the school year, we will occasionally use a procedure called the Inventional System of Problem Solving. Below are some of the questions that the problem solving model poses. To respond to this post, please address some of these questions, based on the article and any other background knowledge you have on the issue of healthcare and healthcare reform (do some additional research if you need to):

What evidence exists that there is a problem with our healthcare system?
What harm is resulting from the problem?
How widespread is the problem?
What is causing the problem?
Is the status quo (the way things currently are) at fault?
Should the present system be changed?
What are some possible solutions to the problem (either partial or comprehensive)?
What might be some positive outcomes from these solutions?
What might be some negative outcomes from these solutions?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: Obama's Speech in Cairo

On June 4, President Obama made a speech at Cairo University in Egypt that was televised in many parts of the Islamic world (except Iran which blocked satellite transmission of the speech).

Click here to read a commentary on the president's speech, and then respond to one or more of the following prompts:

What do you think President Obama was trying to achieve in making his speech in Cairo?

Perform an internet search for the author of this article, Arsalan Iftikhar, and comment on how his background might impact his point of view in this article.

Do you agree with Arsalan Iftikhar's analysis of the president's speech? Why or why not?

The author of the commentary points out that "President Obama concluded his remarkable Cairo address by highlighting the individual mandates for peace in each of the major Abrahamic religions". Why do you think the president may have chosen to do this? Do you think it's appropriate that he did so? Why or why not?

Why do you think would Iran block the transmission of the speech so that Iranian's couldn't watch it?

Study the cartoon on this post. Who are the people in it? What's up with the big ears? Why do some of the people look happy and some of the people look grumpy, and how is that related to age and gender? What is the cartoonist trying to say?

SUMMER PROJECT: China and the Missing Modernization

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the Chinese government's violent crackdown on demonstrators in Beijing's Tienanmen Square. While China has made enormous progress toward achieving the "Four Modernizations" (agriculture, industry, technology and defense) it set forth in 1978, the so-called "5th modernization" of democracy remains a direction the Chinese government has been totally unwilling to go. Click here to read an article about the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square incident; then respond to one or more of the following questions:

Why do you think the Chinese government is so unwilling to pursue steps toward democracy?

Do you think the U.S. government should apply more pressure on China to embrace democracy? Why or why not?

Freedom of the press is a fundamental principal of any democracy. How are advances in communications technology such as the internet threatening the choke hold the Chinese government has on the spread of democracy?

In our increasingly globalized world, do you think democracy is inevitable in China and other countries that are resisting it? Why or why not?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: North Korea: Growing Threat to International Security?

On May 25, North Korea conducted another nuclear test, provoking the condemnation of the U.S. and many other nations. Click here to read an article about this increasingly tense international dilemma, and then respond to one or more of the following questions:

How should the United States respond to the aggressive behavior of North Korea? Consider one of the following options, or come up with your own:

1) The U.S. should take whatever UNILATERAL (look it up) action it deems necessary to protect its national interests, including the option of military response. As the world's policeman, it is up to us to shoulder the burden in order to solve this problem.

2) The U.S. should consult with the nations of the world to formulate a MULTILATERAL (look it up) plan of action in which the nations of the world make a decision and contribute financially, militarily, etc., to the solution, which might involve economic sanctions, military action or other options.

3) The U.S. should focus on our own problems and security needs and stop trying to solve the problems of the rest of the world. This may mean abandoning some of our alliances with other nations.

4) The U.S. should provide foreign aid to North Korea in the form of food for its people and economic assistance to draw it out of its isolation and encourage it to join with the peace-loving countries of the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SUMMER PROJECT: New Supreme Court Nominee

President Barack Obama has nominated federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor as a U.S. Supreme Court justice to replace retiring justice David Souter. To become a member of the Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate will now have to confirm her nomination. Click here to read an article about this nomination, and then respond in writing to one or more of the following questions:

Why do you think the Constitution requires the U.S. Senate to confirm the president's appointments of federal judges?

Do you think it was important and/or desirable for the president to nominate a woman? a Latina? Why or why not?

Why might Senate Republicans feel they need to "tread lightly" during her confirmation hearings?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Twitter: A Tool for Organizing Political Upheaval?

Here in the U.S., Twitter, Facebook and other social networking applications are mainly used by young people for fun. But in Moldova, a small former Soviet republic, young people are using it to organize protests against the Communist government. Here's the link:

Questions to ponder:

Should we be alarmed or excited about the potential of online social networking to generate political expression and change in Moldova and other places around the world? Explain why you think so.

How could online social networking be used in the USA -- to generate positive political change by youth for youth? Describe a SPECIFIC example in which an issue or cause or movement or candidate might benefit from grassroots organizing driven by online social networking.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Right to Watch Porn vs. School Funding

While we were all on spring break, students at the University of Maryland were fighting some Maryland state legislators over their right to show a XXX porn film as a student activity. Read the article on the link below to find out what happened:

Then ponder and respond to some or all of the questions below:

Do students at a public university (i.e., funded by taxpayers) have the Constitutional right to free expression in choosing to show a porn film as a student activity? Why or why not?

Do you think it's appropriate for state legislators to threaten to withhold funding for the university if the porn film is shown against their wishes, or is this an abuse of their power?

What if state legislators object to a book or a professor's lecture or a student organization on campus and threaten to withhold state funding to the university? Could censoring the porn film lead to further restrictions on free expression?

If you were a student leader at the University of Maryland, what would you have done in this instance: shown the film or canceled the movie event?

Who Says "Men in Black" is Fiction?

Another article that begs the question, "Just because we CAN do it technologically, does it mean we SHOULD?" Read the article at the link below that describes how scientists may be able to erase certain painful memories in humans:

What are the pros of this breakthrough technology?

What are the cons?

Assuming it works as well on humans as well as it does on animals, on balance, do you think it should be legal to use this treatment on humans? Why or why not?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Death Penalty Debate

New Mexico is the most recent state to repeal the use of the death penalty in its criminal justice system. Read the article below:

and then comment on or more of the following questions:

What are some arguments Governor Richardson and others in New Mexico offered in support of this change?

What might be some reasons to keep using the death penalty?

Should public opinion play a role in deciding whether a state uses the death penalty? Why or why not?

What is your opinion on this issue? Be sure to substantiate your position with sound, logical arguments.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Texting at School...A Conundrum

First of all, if you don't know what a conundrum is, go look it up at

Then, check out the article "6473 Texts a Month, But at What Cost?" at

Finally, share your thoughts on this important topic right here on the blog. Schools all over the country are struggling with this issue, so it's a very important dialog that needs to happen among administrators, teachers, parents and students. So I'm hoping some people from all those groups get into the discussion.

Here's the question you should consider and address: When it comes to cell phones, how can schools best serve their students to maximize learning and prepare them for the 21st century?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tech Czar

Barack Obama is being hailed as the most tech savvy president we've ever elected. So perhaps it's not surprising that he has a plan to appoint the first national chief technology officer ever. The article at the link below is co-written by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. First, read the article:

Then, respond to one or more of the following questions:

Do you think it's a good idea for the U.S. to have a CTO (Chief Technology Officer)? Why/why not?

Based on Jimmy Wales ideas, what the goal(s) of the CTO be? How would these goals benefit Americans and American society?

Do you think it's possible for the CTO position to be "non-political" as Jimmy Wales suggests? Why/why not?