Goodbyes…sadness

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

So this is it, we’ve come at the end of the course, and the end of an election cycle.

Election Night: Candidate cake

The Election Night party was fun; I ended up getting a balloon with a little light in it — so much fun!

At times when states were “called” for one candidate or the other, you could hear an eruption of applause. There were three different news stations up, and many people on their laptops. Oh! There was presidential candidate cake!

Overall it was a fun night, and a nice way to spend the election. We returned to class Thursday, and this Tuesday (November 13) for a final lecture from Professor Andrew Civettini. He was nice enough to bring blue and red cupcakes to class. We also had a visit from Professor Kelton Williams’ dog, Hank.

Closing remarks:

Barack Obama is the president of the United States for a second term. Karl Rove had a public meltdown. Lincoln movie commercials were repeated. Often. And we’re at the point where we try to bring the country back together. A refrain of “let’s be friends again” is sung all over.

I personally would like to thank anyone and everyone who read this blog, Professor Civettini, all our lecturers, Hank and Madison (Professor Williams’ dogs), and Knox for hosting this.

It was a pleasure. Now go hug someone from across the aisle.

Election Night 2012 party

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The Political Power of Teachers’ Unions

Written by Robyn Wright ’13

Illustration: Teacher at chalkboard

Unfortunately, neither Democrats nor Republicans seem to support teachers’ unions. Our final week in Election 2012 focused on education, which was of great interest to me as my mother is teacher and member of the National Education Association.

During the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to spend a week volunteering for the NEA (National Education Association) in Chicago during its national convention. It was during this week that the delegates overwhelmingly voted to endorse Barack Obama for the 2012 election.

I don’t remember all the details about the debate that preceded this vote, but I do remember one delegate from Colorado frustrated as he made his case that the NEA was endorsing Obama too soon. His argument was simple—if the NEA held out another year, perhaps that could drive the president to do more for its cause.

Wisconsin, in particular, was not in favor of waiting another year. After all, Governor Scott Walker had just outlawed unions in that state. While Democrats have not done much to support teachers’ unions, at least they’re not trying to destroy them.

Although there are several teachers’ unions in the state of Illinois, there are two big national unions: the NEA and AFT (American Federation of Teachers). Together, these two organizations have close to 5 million members, and combined have donated over $80 million to the campaigns. The NEA alone ranks #5 in top campaign donors, but together the two organizations are #1.

I asked my mother as an Illinois NEA representative if she knew this fact, but surprisingly she did not. This made me reflect on the Colorado delegate…perhaps he was right and the union should have held out one more year. It seems as though the NEA as a whole doesn’t realize how much power it has in this campaign.

One can only imagine how the campaign season would have been different if the Obama endorsement had not passed in 2011. If Democrats want the continued support of the NEA, they better start paying teachers’ unions a bit more respect.

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The Right to Education

Written by Firas Suqi ’13

Illustration: Chalkboard

This (past) week was our last lecture before the election next Tuesday, and Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Kelton Williams discussed what he would describe as one of the least-debated topics, the role of federalism in public schooling.

Professor Williams petitioned us to come up with our own opinions on the objectives of public schooling, as well as whom we thought should hold jurisdiction over enacting these objectives. Needless to say, the class came up with an assortment of answers, a couple of them being “providing equal access to social mobilization” and “to create a conducive learning environment.”

Professor Williams then stumped the class when asking, “Why do we feel as though schools are necessary to provide the positive outcomes we associate with public schooling?” This stimulated the class to ponder the nuances of education and schooling.

The United States Constitution does not explicate federal authority relating to public education, according to Professor Williams. Instead, the state has assumed power in these issues from the 10th Amendment, which grants the state authority to delegate powers not granted to the federal government under the Constitution, yet still remain locally legal.

This is otherwise known as Federalism, with other examples including the regulation of interstate highways and determining the legal age of alcohol consumption. While the state has the right to regulate education, this doesn’t mean the federal government doesn’t have a say. The federal government’s involvement in education has become increasingly larger, allowing this issue to sneak into the presidential debates.

The historical purpose of education has shifted from “producing good Americans” in the 1790s-1830s, to “producing moral Christians” in the 19th century, to the contemporary purpose of “producing internationally competitive citizens.” This progression of objectives coincides with the changing identities of the United States.

Professor Williams mentioned that “nobody tries to educate as many people as we do” when referring to the class discrepancies and ethnicities of those in the public school system when compared to the rest of the world. This brought us to question whether the American school system is actually failing, or if we just haven’t figured out an approach that can be applicable to the diversity of students in the public school system.

Both candidates seem to take similar stances on how this question should be addressed, but these have been overshadowed by the debates of the economy and America’s foreign policy.

As this is the last lecture of the term, I now feel as though I have a better understanding of the platforms both candidates are running under. This class has definitely prepared me to be a more conscientiously informed citizen as I exercise my right to vote for the first time and participate in the democratic process.

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This Week on the Magic Schoolbus…

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

This week, we discussed the behemoth, education policy, with Kelton Williams, Knox assistant professor of educational studies. The central question was: Who gets to decide on the education of millions of students?

Professor Williams gave a general introduction to the history of education policy in the United States.

Kelton Williams

Schooling was left mostly to local authorities from the 1790s till the 1830s. The purpose of those schools was to produce good Americans with an identity distinct from the European ones they repudiated in the revolution.

When the 1830s rolled in, a tension rose between local and state authorities, with the purpose changing to produce good, moral Christians (of the Protestant beliefs).

When the states mostly won out in the 1880s, the purpose was again shifted to produce “good neighbors.”

The 1950s saw a rise in conflict between the state authority and a national authority over education, thanks to one little satellite: Sputnik. (I thought it would have been the issue of Brown v Board of Education which desegregated schools, implemented by President Eisenhower, but I guessed wrong.)

Yes, the round spindly thing scared the U.S. government. The Soviets were in the lead in the race to space, and the U.S. had to catch up.

Citing Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which says Congress may use its power “for the common defense,” the national government argued that funding education in math and science through the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was part of the common defense. (I know, it’s a little redundant given the title… sue me.)

This was the beginning; later attempts at national control would come out of the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution, you know, the clause everyone tries to use for one thing or another…

The historical overview ended with today, when we are still in the struggle between state and national authority. And with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) it seems like the national government is winning.

While conservatives and liberals have usually been at odds with each other on national intervention (you know, Week 1 we talked about Big vs Small government), this year’s candidates are pretty much on the same page about everything — except vouchers — according to Professor Williams.

There are a load of problems with vouchers, according to experts (like Professor Williams).  Governor Romney is in favor of them, President Obama isn’t.

So with both parties thinking similarly (also similarly to President Bush) about education, one could wonder why there aren’t any other creative solutions…

A lack of a good education, maybe? Go figure.

Next Tuesday is Election Day! Go out and vote. Make it a party, I know I will.

Speaking of parties, on Election Day, a class viewing party will come complete with a panel of professors speaking on various issues. A fun way to end the class, and the election season.

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Didn’t Catch That? Don’t Worry; It’ll Be Replayed on Every News Channel, Forever…

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

This week, Professor (David) Amor shared his knowledge on the role of the media in elections, what he called “like the role of water in the life of a fish.”

Because there are no face-to-face interactions between the candidates and most of the voters, we rely on media appearances or reporting to get to know more about them. This was a great topic to have, given that Monday, October 22 was the final presidential debate (on my favorite: foreign policy).

As Professor Amor put it, media are symbols of reality that we don’t get full pictures of; the political imaginary, if you will. This is a very broad definition of media, encompassing anything that is not face-to-face with candidates themselves.

Really, debates are the closest we get to them. And the candidates themselves use this to create a coherent narrative, what Professor Amor called “narrative fidelity.”

People are carried over by a story, not facts. In some ways, we are being, if not lied to, fed something that’s kind of fudged.

Looking back on the debate, it came up clearly. Governor Romney’s narrative fidelity is that he’s experienced in the private sector, and the government doesn’t create jobs. Not saying that what he said is true or untrue, but that’s the story he’s telling everyone.

President Obama’s narrative this year, according to Professor Amor, is not as easy to follow.

I would disagree on that point. President Obama has been pushing his “forward, not backward” slogan a lot. In the last debate when he compared Governor Romney’s economic plan to that of the ’20s and such, he was really pinning that down.

Of course, this is all observation in hindsight with knowledge I had just acquired through Professor Amor.

So the question is, once we know this is happening to us, how do we prepare for it?

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Election 2012 and the Media

Written by Robyn Wright ’13

Professor (David) Amor dumbfounded the class this week with the following statement: “Everything we know or think we know about the candidates we know from the media.”

Not one member of our class has met either Mitt Romney or Barrack Obama in person, yet these names hold such meaning to each of us. I have been fortunate enough to meet Vice President Joe Biden, but even meeting a candidate once isn’t enough time to fully understand all their positions and views.

It is from this mediated knowledge that the political imaginary is built.

While the world of politics has a familiar structure that we take for granted, we must remember that everything we read or view has at least been edited to some degree. This is one of the key reasons so many viewers tune in to watch the presidential debates.

Although presidential debates are also edited and biased with regard to the network one chooses to view it on, they are the closest to truth we can reach on a national level.

Even this “truth” carries a fictional story used to motivate voters. In 2008, Obama’s story was “yes we can.” This story doesn’t fit anymore with the 2012 election.

Earlier this October, John Oliver of The Daily Show made fun of Obama’s new story — “Yes we can, but….”

Obama still hasn’t found a good story, but rather has a case or argument this time around. The best story he has is about Mitt Romney. Essentially, Obama’s story is that he is the better of the two options.

At this point of the election it is probably too late to develop a more streamlined message, but with a story of “Hey, at least I’m not him,” the President isn’t doing so bad after all.

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Media’s Influence in the Election

Written by Firas Suqi ’13

“Asking what the role of media is in the presidential election is like asking what the role of water is for fish.”

David Amor (Knox College Instructor of Journalism and Anthropology-Sociology) mentioned this quote when explaining the influence of media in this year’s presidential election. Over the last couple of decades, there has been a tremendous growth in the sheer amount of media sources available due to the increased access of information which technology continues to produce and make available.

David Amor

It is through the influence of media that we, the consumer of it, use to make our own judgments on who to vote for or whether we should vote at all.

Very few of us have had the opportunity to meet or discuss the issues at stake with either candidate in the election. Since the general public doesn’t have this opportunity, we rely on narratives spun by various sources of media in order to understand the profile of each candidate. This is what Professor Amor called our “political imaginaries” — representations of our world outside of direct experience that allow us to construct our own viewpoints and opinions.

While political imaginaries are generated from our own understandings, political narratives are a strategy that candidates use to influence our imaginaries.

“The media don’t tell us what to think; they tell us what to think about.”

This is a quote (from Ben Bagdikian) that Professor Amor cited and I found to be reflective of the pervasiveness found in political advertisements in influencing how and what we think about a candidate.

As we all can attest, political campaigns are starting to dominate commercial space on all sorts of television programming and online media.

By conceiving each advertisement as a narrative, I will now pay particular attention to the characteristics each candidate is trying to demonstrate in order to seem as though he is the protagonist that will eventually earn the right to sit in the Oval Office.

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Déjà Vu: Scary When History Repeats Itself…

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

Gay marriage. It’s a hot-button issue of civil rights. Am I for it? Yes (always have been).  But the reason why really wasn’t clear to me until this lecture by Professor (Catherine) Denial.

Before, for me, it was a simple civil rights thing: equality for all means equality for all, ‘nuff said. The historical context makes this choice even bigger, and I believe that was Professor Denial’s aim.

By going through the historical context of marriage in the United States one sees how EVERY (I’m not kidding, literally every) argument that has been made against gay marriage has been made against eliminating coverture over women, and against interracial marriage.

Coverture is the idea that all rights a woman has are through her husband. Ladies, you can’t vote, but when your husband or father votes, let’s hope he keeps your preferences in mind. Fingers crossed.

Sounds medieval? Well, this practice survived from pre-revolutionary America till the 20th century with cases like Thompson vs. Thompson in 1911. In this case, a wife, Mrs. Thompson, was abused by her husband, but the court decided that anything happening within a household was not its business. (Ironically, the same argument for privacy here was later used in contraceptive cases.)

Then we see interracial marriage, which was only made legal 45 years ago. The rule was that white people could only marry white people. In Loving v. Virginia (1967), the court struck down the law saying that Mr. and Mrs. Loving’s marriage (between a white man and black woman) was illegal.

After listing these three past issues, you may be wondering how this relates to gay marriage. Well, again, every argument used against gay marriage was used to maintain an idea of marriage.

Marriage was never (in the history of this country) a religious issue; it was always controlled by the State. A marriage license was always issued by the State, not a preacher of any kind.

Ever heard of this? “It is not natural or right for people of the same sex to marry each other.”

Well, in the 1800s it was: “It is not natural or right for women to have the same rights as their husbands.”

That was literally the case of Bradwell v. Illinois (1873), when Mrs. Bradwell’s law license was revoked because she was married. Justice Joseph Bradley said that because historically women were not given equal rights, women are not fit by nature to have those rights.

Or let’s try: “It is not natural or right for whites to marry non-whites.”

Just a few decades ago, a justice argued that the divine creator put all the races on different continents so that they wouldn’t mix.

There are tons more examples of this. At the end of the day, it’s like we’re just a bunch of dogs chasing our tails round and round, as if it’s something new.

You know what they say, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

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The Right to Love

Written by Robyn Wright ’13

Illustration: Marriage

Last week in Election 2012, we went back in time and looked at the history of marriage in the United States. In order to fully understand the debate of legalizing gay marriage, we had to go all the way back to 1705.

A key trend was noticed throughout history; whether it is women’s rights, Native American marriage, interracial marriage, or gay marriage, it is the same argument used over and over again: God made the world this way, and that is how it must remain.

Before the Supreme Court case of Loving vs. Virginia, trial judges had ruled God had put different races on different continents for a reason and that a black woman was forbidden to wed a white man. Today, the argument is God separated the sexes for a reason, so gay men or women are forbidden to marry each other.

The key idea to take away from lecture this week is that marriage in this nation’s history has always been a state-created and state-run business. Having power over who can marry and who cannot is a method by which a government can control its people.

If black women were to have mixed-race children, they would then be able to inherit their father’s property. This was, under no circumstances, allowed to happen. Therefore, interracial marriage was deemed unnatural and unlawful. History disagrees with what is and isn’t natural.

Part of “civilizing” Native Americans involved persuading them to embrace a new concept of marriage. In different tribes, there are records of men marrying men and women marrying women, and when it came to divorce, women could simply move their tipi elsewhere while their husband was away.

Our country is supposed to be a symbol of freedom, but if we deny citizens the right to love, we are denying life’s greatest joy.

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‘Paperless’ Voting

Written by Jessica Oakley ’15

Elections 2012: Jaime Spacco

It is certainly true that our society has changed in innumerable ways since voting started, following the Revolutionary War. Arguably, one of the most important advances we have made is in the field of technology, specifically within the last 50 years.

Many corporations, government offices, and people have gone virtually “paperless.” To most people in our generation, it would seem natural that something that affects as many people as voting does would take that turn, too. The “traditional” method of voting, by filling out paper ballots or punch cards is not only slow, antiquated, and costly — it can lead to complicated election recounts and controversy.

While there has been a move toward electronic-voting systems, most notably through a company called Diebold, it has not come without challenges. There are three companies which hold the vast majority of government contracts for voting machines.

While use of these machines has begun to be more widely accepted, many still question the security of these systems. However, due to the design of both the hardware and software being under multiple copyrights and patents, it is impossible for almost anybody outside the Federal Election Commission to see how truly safe the software is.

Illustration: Ballot box

And, even for those who do have access, next to none are technologically savvy enough to understand the software and determine any security faults/issues.

During his lecture, (Assistant Professor of Computer Science) Jaime Spacco, argues that the software behind the voting machines should be considered “open-source.” That is to mean that anybody can access the “inner workings.”

While some may perceive it as a potential security threat, it is actually a benefit, due to the fact that now many different eyes can see the systems, and suggest improvements to make them as secure as possible.

Opposition to this plan comes mainly from the three very politically connected companies, on the basis that this would reveal trade secrets and not allow the companies to benefit and compete.

Is the tradeoff of security worth a slight decrease in privacy for these companies? That decision is yours to make.

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