Whether it’s federal, state, or local government, there is a wealth of resources that residents can access in order to engage government structures and hold them accountable to their constituents’ needs. For many people, however, simply knowing that these resources exist is a huge accomplishment. It’s an even greater feat to know what these resources are, how they are typically used, and how to access them.
Civics for Citizenship
A study by Xavier University found that only 65% of Americans can pass the naturalization test required of immigrants to become citizens. Click here to read more – including the ten questions that those surveyed were asked.
Does the Constitution still work for 21st Century America? That’s what Peter Sagal sets out to discover on his motorcycle in this new four part PBS series full of awesome classroom-ready clips that argue both sides of multiple current constitutional debates. Click here to find episodes (and supplementary learning materials) online.
Councilmatic: An App to Watch Your Alderman
Councilmatic, one of a growing number of new apps designed to make Chicago’s open data more accessible to the city’s residents, allows users to track how each alderman has voted on any piece of legislation dating back to 2010. Click here to learn more.
Deconstructing the State of the Union
Explain to students that Article II, Sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution requires that “The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Since January 8, 1790, when George Washington personally delivered the first annual message to the country, presidents have “from time to time” delivered what has become known as the State of the Union Address. It wasn’t until 1923 that the public could actually hear the speech on a radio broadcast.
Understanding that the purpose of the State of the Union is to update the country on how things are going and what direction the president thinks we should move in, have your students watch the State of the Union speech, keeping track of ideas, trends, and tone throughout the speech.
Click here to link to a New York Times historical perspective on patterns of speech in the last 75 years of state of the union addresses.
Government Lessons and More
The Youth Leadership Initiative, a program of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, offers a wide range of government related lesson plans written by teachers as well as the opportunity for your students to participate in an online mock election and/or e-Congress. Click here to find out more about YLI.
Hurricane Katrina — Federalism at Work
Perhaps no modern example can illustrate how federalism works (or failed to work) than the botched Hurrican Katrina relief effort. Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levee Broke offers a good view into this debacle. If you do not have the film, it is available at youtube.com
iCivics: Online Interactive Learning
iCivics offers a variety of online interactive games and activities for students to do to help them learn about separation of powers, constitutional law, and the three branches of government. Click here to visit the website.
“Billy Wants a Dog” is a video created by a lobbying firm that provides a description of lobbying. Can be a good companion piece to the activity “Alex’s Dilemma” and the lobbying lessons found in Unit Three of Democracy in Action.
Making Your Voice Heard: How to Work with Congress
Teachers and students interested in learning more about how Congress works and the best and most effective ways for citizens to make their voices heard and draw Congressional attention to their preferred issues/causes should check out the Center for Congress at Indiana University’s website. Click here to go to the site.
The Miller Center at the University of Virginia recently launched a new website that aims to equip its users with a deep understanding of the government of the United States, the political workings of our system, and the historical background that helps inform the events of today. Click here to visit the site.
Think You Can Balance the Budget?
The Center for American Progress website offers an interactive tool that offers teachers and students alike an opportunity to examine what percentage of the federal budget is currently spent on what and to consider in which areas they would make cuts to reduce the deficit. (While the intro given above the tool is admittedly partisan, the tool itself is not.) Click here to visit the site.
We the People
In an attempt to help Americans make their voices heard by President Obama and his administration, the White House has created an online petition site that invites Americans to start their own petitions (and browse/sign those started by others). If petitions meet a threshold number of signatures, the WH will respond. Click here to access the site.