Weekly Round-Up #9, 10, and 11: Super Post Edition!

Well, it is now finals week, and after a jam packed November, I find myself very far a wee bit behind on these wrap-up posts. While I’ve been buried under grading and my own projects, my students have continued to produce top-notch blogs about various issues of American public policy. To make sure their work is duly honored, I’m addressing the three rounds of posts here in this SUPER POST! (If I call it a super post it sounds better than just saying a bunch of posts talked about all at once, right?)

Despite my tardiness, I am incredibly proud of the work that these students have put into their blogs, and the course more generally. I hope that they are as well. If you agree with me, feel free to drop by their blogs and leave them comments. Moving forward, the blogs are their own, so some may choose to continue to post while others may not. Regardless of their choice, they have already all done superb work.

In her last three posts, Sam looks at how Title IX functions, and potential ways it could do more to ensure equality in collegiate athletics. Sam writes about how the ERA would have interacted with Title IX had the ERA been ratified. Sam also describes how Title IX relates to pregnant student athletes regarding participation, scholarships, and their position on their team. Sam ends her blog by reflecting on a semester’s worth of blogging, how it relates to her final paper for our course, and the future of Title IX.

Ben’s final posts focus in on the importance of reliable, accurate information, especially in the contexts of public education and mental health issues. Ben shares more of his personal struggles, while also arguing for better education and information for health care professionals to share with parents and their children regarding mental health issues. Ben also addresses much of the controversy surrounding Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, including her decision to remove 72 different guidelines pertaining to protections for students with disabilities. In his final post, Ben wrestles with the utility, and problems, with genetic testing regarding what they can offer, but also what you are giving up to the companies that administer these tests.

Kelly’s last few posts this semester get into the overall costs, defined broadly, of current American immigration politics, with a special focus on the ending of DACA. Kelly takes a break from writing about the human cost of immigration policies and ending DACA to discuss the incredibly high economic cost of ending DACA.  Kelly also explores the dehumanization in how we talk about and treat “immigrants” as a class in the United States. Kelly’s final post involves both a story from one of her classes, and her reflection on her own position regarding the current state of American politics around questions of immigration.

Hermina’s final posts continue to zero in on the effects of current changes being made to Title IX, as well as various activist efforts to push back against the harm being done to victims under the changes to the implementation of Title IX. Hermina writes about the differences between criminal and civil law, including burden of proof, and how this relates to the changes the Department of Education is pursuing regarding Title IX. Hermina also explains that a group, Equal Means Equal, is suing the Department of Education over its recension of the Dear Colleague Letter put in place by the Obama administration regarding the handling of Title IX incidents on campus. Hermina’s final post examines the accomplishments that Title IX has brought about, but more importantly she writes about all the work left to be done, and how it can be accomplished.

As has been the case with his blog this semester, Sung continues to explore various areas of the American economy and American economic policy. Sung explores the role of U.S. currency in international markets and what this means for the U.S. economy. Also, Sung evaluates the House of Representatives’ version of the tax bill, looking at what it means for various segments of the economy and the American public. Sung’s final post addresses the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the recent power struggle taking place at the head of the Bureau.

Nick wraps up his blog for this semester by looking at comedy and music, and what these intersections tell us about free speech and policies pertaining to obscenity and otherwise offensive speech. Nick takes a little bit of a deviation to talk about the comedian Lenny Bruce, and how his comedy challenged some of the policies around obscenity and free speech. Nick also writes about the Supreme Court case ruled on last term pertaining to trademarks and offensive language involving The Slants’ efforts to trademark their band name. Nick, in his final post, talks about George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” monologue, and how a broadcast of it sparked an important free speech case involving the FCC.

Alex’s final posts all pertain to what is happening with DACA now as various actors scramble to try to come up with a replacement after Trump has begun to end the program. Alex explains that there is increasing support among some Republicans in the House of Representatives to pass legislation creating a permanent fix for DACA. Alex also addresses some of the changes happening to DACA, including who may still renew their applications, and what is required to actually do so. Alex, in his last post, discusses the two major pieces of legislation currently being developed to replace DACA, the Dream Act and the BRIDGE Act.

In her final posts, Taylor explore what is wrong with current education policy, as well as offers up some potential solutions to address the large-scale problems she has blogged about all semester. Taylor explains how changes at the Department of Education are further impacting those who have been advantage of by for-profit schools. Taylor also provides a clear overview and explanation of what charter schools are and involve, given the Department of Education’s push to embrace charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools. Taylor’s final post involves her pitch for more centralized control over public education as a means to cut down on inequality and inconsistencies in the current system.

In his last few posts, John discusses various aspects of current American law and policy that further challenge the idea of a separation of church and state. John writes about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIP), what it does, and some of the controversy around how it has been used in a few situations.  John also addresses, and critiques, three different arguments put forth on behalf of maintaining tax exempt status for churches and religions. John’s final post looks at the tax exemption for housing allowances for various religious officials and discusses this in the context of contemporary American politics.

~~~

These students have demonstrated a remarkable grasp on the policy areas they have been studying, and often how these policies intersect with various areas of contemporary politics. As a professor, I could not ask for more regarding the level of engagement, learning, and professionalism on display in these blogs.

I’m not crying…you’re crying!
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Weekly Round-Up #8: A Day Late and a Blog Short

We I am perpetually still a bit behind on this blog as I try to catch up from NPSA and taking students to Philadelphia. Also, we have hit the point of the semester where it is almost, but not quite, Thanksgiving, and everyone is super exhausted and a bit loopy (not that this post has any evidence of this, “carefully” “hidden” in the lines. Nope, none at all). But, onward, upward, and closer to being on time, and closer to Thanksgiving!

Sam and Hermina both address Title IX in their posts, with Sam discussing its (past) expansion, and Hermina writing about its (current) contraction. In her post, Sam discusses The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, which expanded Title IX coverage. Sam explains what changed, and how these changes interact with Title IX and other laws and benefits. Hermina addresses what the rescinding of the “Dear Colleague” letter by the Department of Education means for survivors of sexual abuse who also have disabilities. She explains the ways in which these problems compound, and how students with disabilities are a particularly vulnerable, often victimized group.

Taylor brings things around with a very different topic within higher education: the price tag. Taylor speaks to the rising cost of four-year colleges in her post. She discusses student loans, employment, and other concerns related to the overall cost, and value, of a college education. And speaking of price and monetary concerns, in his post, Sung writes about the often-discussed, but little-understood, “offshore bank account.” He describes what these are, the laws around them, and why attempts to address foreign tax shelters are inherently problematic.

Given how obscenely expensive college can be, and the inappropriate amounts of money that can be involved in offshore accounts (okay, yes, I know, I’m stretching here), and how gauche it is, based on some community standards to talk about money, it makes sense to talk about pornography! Or, well, read a blog about a Supreme Court case about pornography. Nick’s focus in his blog is the Supreme Court case, Miller v. California, which is an incredibly important precedent for free speech and obscenity concerns. Nick provides the history of the case, details what the Court held, and highlights the test that emerged from this case.

Moving on, we come to two blog posts that address rights and autonomy. Theressa writes about how debates over abortion address questions of viability and government’s interests regarding fetuses. Theressa explains what the debate is, how viability is a shifting target, and what this means for women’s autonomy. In his post, Ben shares his experiences and what these experiences reveal about the need for rights education. Ben explains how knowing your rights, even if no claims are made, can be useful in employment situations.

While on a different topic, Kelly touches on some of the same themes present in Theressa’s and Ben’s posts. Kelly’s post is about the lawyers getting involved to help those who are affected by the Trump administration’s various immigration policies. Kelly shares her experience about hearing a commercial from these attorneys while she was at work.

Wrapping up the blogs for this week, John’s post touches on the Constitutional prohibition of religious tests for office holders. He discusses the origin of this provision, its use over time, and how it has arisen recently.

 

Photo: The White Rabbit from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

Weekly Round-Up #7: Professors Are People, Too, Edition

Hello everyone and welcome back to this now quite late round-up post. As those familiar with academia know, October tends to be the month where, somehow, everything is due and because we are all professional procrastinators super busy with all of our work, sometimes we fall very far behind. With a conference paper deadline—and then the actual conference (hi from Philadelphia, btw)—well, I did not get to the post for the blogs the students wrote for October 30 until now. So, without putting myself even further behind with more inane ramblings deep thoughts about academia, on with the show!

The room where it happened!

Sam looks at the public comment process and the final interpretation offered by the Carter administration to help put Title IX into practice at universities. She explains how this approach created the three-pronged approach, and what this means.

Theressa writes about victim blaming around rape, and how it relates to questions over abortions. She discusses what victim blaming is, why it is a problem, and how it unnecessarily complicates needed policy discussions.

Ben discusses the war on drugs and what it has to do with mental health. Specifically, he looks at how policies to end the war on drugs could interact with policies surrounding better treatment of those with mental health issues.

Kelly blogs about two recent immigration stories to reach the news. She explains who these two people are, and the very different experiences they have regarding their immigration status.

In her post, Hermina talks about some of the challenge and conflicts inherent in Title IX procedures on college campuses. She relates these to questions of due process, as well as the adversarial nature of U.S. law.

Sung writes about recent stats on the U.S. economy and its overall health. He discusses what the figures mean, and why we should be cautious in celebrating growth in consumer spending.

Nick’s post is about Trump’s recent attacks on various news organizations, and the role of the FCC. Given that some of these tweets implicate the FCC, Nick explains what the FCC does and how it relates to Trump’s threats on the mainstream news media.

Taylor, in her post, talks about who the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is. Taylor talks about who DeVos was before her nomination, the controversy surrounding her nomination, and some of the controversy arising already during her tenure as Secretary of Education.

Michelle writes about a resource through the Southern Poverty Law Center pertaining to immigration. She discusses what information the resources has, as well as the importance of this given past and recent immigration decisions.

John discusses Sharia Law within the context of the U.S., and the various concerns about Sharia that have arisen in the U.S. He talks about courts, spurious claims, as well as the various legislative attempts to pass anti-Sharia bills.

Weekly Round-Up #6: Reflections and Pedagogy

It is that time of the (blogging) year (or, well, semester) again: blog audit week! This is the week, about halfway through the time students spend blogging in the class where the students stop and reflect on their blogs. They look back at the old posts, as well as think about what is coming up ahead. It is an important part of the process where students are encouraged to engage in wide-ranging reflection. Given that they are also writing research papers for this course, it is a chance to pull together what has been written, and think about what still needs to be said.

Also, as I say every time we hit this week (because it is true), it is also hard to write a summary post about the students’ reflective posts. It is not that the reflections are not good (they are incredibly thoughtful), but summarizing people’s personal reflections is a bit difficult. I will try to keep it brief and fair.

Sam looks back at her past posts, reflecting on how she has occasionally veered into current events instead of sticking strictly on topic. But, she thinks this has been informative, and is aiming her future posts towards the final paper assignment.

Theressa discusses how she has set up her posts to address her final paper, but has largely skirted her central claim regarding an approach to abortion policy that centers the autonomy of the pregnant woman.

Ben examines his posts and detects patterns in the set-up of his posts and the topics that he covers. He talks about how his overall blog has been structured and how he will maintain his approach in the future.

Kelly reflects on her posts and notices that she still is affected by the data that she presents regarding immigration in the U.S. She talks about what unites her posts, and how there is an intent in each post to be respectful of those who are affected by these real policies.

Hermina discusses the tone and content of her previous posts. She talks about what she has done and why, and how this will relate to future posts.

Sung talks about how the more he learns as he writes his posts, the more he is guarded in his language and claims as he realizes how much information is out there. He also reflects on what some of his posts say about his own politics, as well as the standard left-right breakdown.

In his audit Nick chronicles his eventual change from discussing drug policy to looking at free speech, especially around the FCC and questions of censorship. He explains what led to this change, and how his posts have shaped up since changing topics.

Taylor looks back at her previous posts and notices that she, largely, has been angry about the many ways in which various disadvantaged groups are treated within educational policy. Taylor sums up what has united her posts this semester (and in previous semesters for previous classes).

John remarks on the changes to the tone and presentation of his posts. He discusses what unites these posts, how his tone has shifted, and possible topics for moving forward.

~~~~~

In the spirit of this post, I am going to reflect a bit on the class itself. Specifically, I am going to talk a bit about the pedagogy I am using in this class. The course is an upper-level government and politics course about American public policy. While the blogging component is not new for courses I have taught, this is the first time that I have used it in a class not explicitly about the American legal system. Most past classes have been about a specific area of constitutional law. While the material has been different, the blogs have been of an equally high caliber as past semesters. It is too early to say if the blogs will aid in the final papers, but the blog audits suggest some students think the blog is a helpful way to move towards the paper.

Beyond the blog, however, I would like to discuss another aspect of the course design. In addition to the blogging assignment, the students have been preparing reading memos and leading class discussions. They are each responsible for doing this twice across the semester, having signed up for specific classes. I provided a sample memo for one of our classes, providing a template for them to follow. The memo is supposed to summarize the main points in a reading, provide some analysis, and offer up a few discussion questions for the class to talk about. The students get the memos to me the day before class where they are leading discussion, and I distribute the memos to the entire class. So far this approach has been incredibly effective. As an educator it is hard to turn over control of the class. There is always the concern that the students might not cover the “important” points or will miss connections I want them to make. So far that has not happened. The discussions have been incredibly productive, and often involve more student participation than a standard faculty-led class.

The discussions do not always focus on all of the points I would have, but they also bring up important points I probably would not have. This has been a rewarding experience. It not only has been a success as far as pedagogy, but it has been rewarding to see students take charge of their own education and succeed without much intervention on my behalf. I will add, however, that I sometimes worry that too much of the focus on the course’s main topic—public policy—is sometimes lost in these (still very productive) discussions. I have found that online discussions at the end of a unit, in particular, can be useful for addressing any lingering points I would like the students to consider from material that we have covered. Even with this lingering concern, I believe the benefits have exceeded potential concerns, and I will likely continue this approach in future courses.

Weekly Round-Up #5: Defining Conditions and Considering Changes

We are cruising around the midpoint of the semester right now, and class is really on a roll. This week’s posts are indicative of this. The posts, with all of their various topics, break down into two basic categories this time around. There are posts that look at important terms, conditions, and statistics that help define a given policy area in an attempt to grapple with what is included and what is not. Then, there is another group of posts that looks at past, current, or proposed changes and evaluate what these changes have done or are likely to do to a policy area. These groupings demonstrate how the student bloggers are evaluating their policy areas, and making strides towards policy analysis and critique. I’ll briefly summarize these posts below, but as always, I encourage everyone to go read the originals as they are far richer than I capture here.

No, wait, context and terms matters! Oh, forget it.

Nick writes about Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). This case was important for the Court’s attempts to define what constitutes obscenity. In this sense, he is quite literally (for the context of the categories I have set-up above for these posts) discussing the definition of a key term for law and policy purposes.

Alex, in his post, investigates immigration numbers. He looks at recent trends and discusses what the numbers could mean for changes to US immigration policies. By looking at how many people we are even talking about when addressing immigration policy, we can get a better sense at the scope of these policies and any changes involving them. On a related point, Kelly’s post addresses where we are actually detaining the undocumented migrants that ICE rounds up. She talks about the various practices, and the challenges that arise from the sheer number of detentions that are happening.

Sam, for her blog, read about some arguments against Title IX in college athletics. These arguments largely hinge on the context for various policies, and potentially questionable motives. She looks at arguments about whether Title IX limits chances for female athletes, as well as the NCAA’s role in many of the related issues.

Theressa addresses questions of viability and legal standards regarding when fetuses are alive. Given the law has latched on to the concept of viability as a key deciding point, figuring out when this is, and how technology keeps shifting our understanding of viability has become central to much of the debate around abortion restrictions.

Taylor looks both at terms and policies in her analysis of an important element of high school education. Taylor discusses comprehensive sex-ed in her post. She talks about the benefits of scientifically accurate information about sexual activity, as opposed to abstinence-only education.

John writes about the political balances between Congress and the Supreme Court that occasionally arise regarding religion in the law. John looks at two cases and explains what they show us about political will, legislation, and the Court’s role in interpreting the law. Both cases involved Congress responding with new legislation, showing how Court rulings can lead to different policy changes.

Ben expounds upon time off, leave policies, and mental health issues. He explains how mental health interacts with sick days or other time-off policies, and offers suggestions for how to better accommodate those with mental health issues in employment settings. Here Ben is making connections between his topic, existing policies, and what he sees as beneficial changes to these policies.

Finally, both Hermina and Sung examine very different recently proposed bills. Hermina writes about new legislation introduced by Democrats in Congress called the Title IX Protection Act. Hermina walks through what the proposed changes would entail, and how they respond to the recent actions of the Department of Education. Sung discusses a Democrat-sponsored bill recently introduced that aims to review and potentially dissolve major financial institutions that harm consumers. Sung evaluates this proposal and offers up some alternatives for what could, and perhaps should, be done.

Weekly Round-Up #4: Policy Failure and Challenges

Hello again! Welcome back for another round of student public policy posts. They are as good as ever, only more depressing than most weeks. I don’t think the students covertly all decided to write about various policy failures and challenges, but it certainly feels that way. Maybe that’s just 2017. Hard to say. What is easy to say, however, is that the posts are fantastic and every one of them is worth a read. Technically not all of them are depressing (for me, at least), but many are. At least the depressing one are also well written? Maybe that helps? Maybe?

Sam, Kelly, and Nick all respond to recent political developments, and not all (only 2 out of 3!) are in response to something the president has said or done. Sam’s post goes a little off topic, in her words, and addresses Cam Newton’s recent remarks making jokes at a female reporter’s knowledge of football. Given Sam’s focus on Title IX and female athletics, this connection makes a lot of sense. Kelly turns closer to home as she discusses the connections between Kent Syverud, the chancellor of Syracuse University, and the Trump administration. Kelly explains how Syverud has been working on government advisory board, but is potentially leaving this position over Trump’s decision to end DACA. Nick responds to one of Trump’s recent tweets calling for equal time after being ridiculed by late-night comedians. Nick explains the Fairness Doctrine, how it developed, and how the president is invoking this former policy to call for more air time to respond to the jokes made at his expense.

Taylor addresses funding for public schools in her post. She discusses how most schools are funded through property taxes, and how this disadvantages schools with smaller tax bases. She also goes into detail discussing some of the problems Colorado is facing based on legislation the state passed in 1992.

Speaking of funding and taxes, Sung also gets into elements of tax policy and the U.S. economy. Sung’s post this week focuses on the American debt. He discusses where it is owed, its size, and what this means for average Americans. He also explains the potential ramifications of the push for more tax cuts, as well as ways in which the government could start to try to address the debt.

Hermina writes about Title IX compliance, or more accurately the basic lack of Title IX compliance in K-12 schools. Not only is compliance sorely lacking in these institutions, but often time victims of sexual assault can be punished in what are clearly non-complaint actions by schools.

John address the Johnson Amendment and recent efforts to repeal the amendment to make it easier for faith-based groups to engage in overt political campaign activities. He explains the amendment, its origins, the current efforts against it (and how some faith groups actually support the amendment), and what its repeal might mean.

Finally, Ben and Theressa both, in their own ways, start to pull things around to slightly more positive looks at their respective policy areas. Ben argues for why there is a moral obligation to provide healthcare for those with mental health issues. He engages the philosophical concepts of brute luck vs option luck to help explain his argument. Theressa writes about the connections between state laws and federal laws regarding abortion policy and funding. She gives a specific example of policies in Delaware and how they relate to trends at the federal level.

Weekly Round-Up #3: Free Falling

Once again this semester’s bloggers are back with superb posts. It seems with every new day the topics covered by these students become ever more relevant. I remain impressed by the work of these students, and the level of personal narrative that helps to inform how so many of these topics really do hit home for these bloggers, and so many others. Additionally, many of the posts for this week take complex policy issues and explain them in clear, accessible terms, which is no small feat.

In his post this week Ben connects the topic of his blog, mental health issues, to his own experiences. He relates events from his own life, tying them into broader themes surrounding mental health policy and how individuals with mental health issues are treated.

Taylor writes about the issue of disparity in education while looking locally at the schools in the greater Utica area. She provides data on racial diversity while also discussing funding and test scores to paint a picture of how not just large cities are suffering from many of the commonly discussed challenges in education today.

Kelly discusses the impact of Trump’s various immigration decisions. She presents stats on how many lives are being affected, and in what ways, by the various decisions being made by the current administration. These numbers help bring perspective to exactly what we are talking about when we discuss the impacts of changes to immigration policies.

Theressa addresses many common stereotypes and misconceptions around multiple issues related to abortion. She talks about what these stereotypes are, and provides evidence to push back against these mistaken beliefs.

John expands on his previous post, discussing recent Supreme Court cases involving religion, and how Satanists are using many of these principles to push for their own religious displays and acknowledgment. The Satanists’ goals seem to be to either publicly undercut Christian symbols and messages in public by also having Satanists symbols, or require governments to forgo Christian symbols to avoid having to also include Satanist-approved displays and messages.

Hermina discusses ways in which activism has risen to address various policy silences or failures surrounding gender equality issues. Specifically, Hermina discusses Raise the Bar and Safe Bar, two programs that aim to train others on how to identify, and then intervene, in issues around sexual harassment or other unwanted sexual attention. If you are unfamiliar with these programs, you should definitely check out Hermina’s post.

Sam does a great job of breaking down exactly what Title IX means in the context of collegiate sports. She looks at the language in the law, and explains what some of the key provisions mean.

Nick writes about the origins and development of the FCC. He explains some of the changes this agency has undergone over time, and indicates he will be using this post to inform future posts on the FCC’s connections to free speech issues.

Sung investigates the world of cryptocurrencies, with Bitcoin being one of the more common examples. He explains what they are, how they work, and the advantages and disadvantages of these forms of currency compared to state-issued currency.

As always, if anything grabs your interest, please go check out the students’ full posts. Also, feel free to leave them a comment to let them know you are reading and also appreciate the quality of the posts they are producing. Given all the negativity and waves of mass tragedies right now it is helpful to see so many bright people engaging with important topics in a public forum.

And, while I’m at it, I’ll just leave this here: