As part of a collaboration with the National Writing Project, this is the first in a series of teacher-created educator guides on key topical issues. Written by two NWP-affiliated high school English and media arts teachers – Kirsten Spall of Natomas Charter High School (Sacramento) and Chris Sloan of Judge Memorial Catholic School (Salt Lake City) – the guide helps teachers explore and navigate the highly-charged political and emotional issues behind the topic of gun control. Based on content featured on The Lowdown, the guide provides ideas for integrating the issues into English language arts and social studies curriculum. It includes Common Core Standards Alignment, a synopsis of key background information, integration tips, and lists of issue pros and cons, creative writing prompts and best classroom practices.
Using the news to connect our past and present
Ever since the first Europeans landed here over four centuries ago, America has had a conflicted relationship with its newcomers. It’s a serial drama that continues today in the halls of Congress, as legislators wrestle with a new generation of immigration reform. We are, of course, a nation of immigrants: the U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, but is home to about 20 percent of its migrants. And the vast majority of us – everyone, in fact, except for American Indians – can trace our roots to foreign lands. Despite that common thread, though, America has not always treated its newest residents with the most empathy.
There have been four major waves of immigration to America, the last of which – mainly from Mexico and other Latin American countries - continues today. Several themes play out consistently in all four chapters:
- Each successive wave of immigrants has been, to an extent, a reflection of conditions elsewhere in the world.
- Each cycle of newcomers has faced animosity and backlash from the already assimilated.
- The history of America’s immigration policy is one of continual repetition and vacillation, a revolving door that often swings open during periods of economic prosperity and slams shut when times get tough.
Scroll through the timeline below to follow the tangled history of America’s ever-changing immigration policies. The interactive chart beneath it shows rates of legal immigration from 1820 to the present (use the scroll bar to zoom into specific chunks of time).
Number of Foreign-Born Legal Permanent Residents, 1820 to 2012
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics
Happy Earth Day!
To start, a quick quiz:
1. Who said the following quote:
“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they, more than we, will wreak the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later.”
2. Which organization contributed the most money and support to the first Earth Day?
(Yup, you guessed it: you gotta read the post to find the answers.)
Although incredibly infrequent, bombings in crowded public places are unfortunately not a new phenomenon in America. This week’s Boston Marathon explosion harkens back to an often forgotten local tragedy nearly 100 years ago, when a bomb tore through downtown San Francisco during a major public event, killing 10 people and leaving scores of others seriously wounded.
The Preparedness Day Bombing, as it became known, was the worst act of terrorism in San Francisco’s history. It occurred just after 2 p.m on July 22, 1916 during a huge San Francisco parade that had been organized to drum up public support for the United States’ imminent entry into World War I. Not long after the 50,000 person march began, a huge blast echoed through the streets, set off by a pipe bomb filled with explosives and steel slugs that was hidden inside a suitcase and placed near the intersection of Steuart and Market streets, a stone’s throw from the Ferry Building. Continue reading
The last time the Supreme Court took up a case on marriage equality was 46 years ago when about one-third of all states in the country still had laws that banned people of different races from marrying each other. This week all eyes are on the High Court as it prepares to hear oral arguments on two cases related to same-sex marriage. At issue is whether gay marriage bans violate the rights those couples have to equal treatment under the law, as guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The Court’s rulings on both cases – expected by June – will likely be considered landmark decisions, ones that could potentially result in a dramatic widening of marriage rights for same-sex couples throughout the country … or a preservation of the status quo. The issue, though, harkens back to another, often forgotten, landmark civil rights decision from 1967 that similarly addressed marriage equality and the concept of equal protection of the law, long before the notion of legalized same-sex marriage was considered even a remote possibility. Continue reading
On March 20, 2003 U.S. forces invaded Iraq under the false pretense that its government was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Intended to be a brief mission to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime and find the weapons, the Defense Department estimated the effort would cost about $60 billion. Today, 10 years later, Iraq is still reeling from a prolonged conflict that, according to a recent study, has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion (and growing) and brought a death toll of nearly 190,000 civilians, soldiers, journalists and aid workers.
While the U.S. occupation did lead to the overthrow of Hussein and the semblance of a fragile democracy, it also launched the country into a state of civil war, fueled by an ongoing period of political instability and intense sectarian violence. The U.S. occupation officially ended in December of 2011, but today the bloodshed continues on a nearly daily basis as large swaths of Iraq remain mired in conflict.
This collection of visualizations illustrates some of the war’s cold hard facts, the big milestones, and the many layers of miscalculation and deception. Continue reading
Much of President Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday centered on the theme of boosting America’s dwindling middle class.
“It’s our generation’s task,” he implored, “to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.”
Among the more tangible policies mentioned that evening to further that objective, the president proposed raising the federal minimum wage – from $7.25 per hour to $9 by the end of 2015 – and provide for annual cost of living adjustments. (This would apply to most hourly jobs, with some exceptions, including some tip-based work.)
“Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty,” he said. “Working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up, while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.” Continue reading
When Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he neglected to mention a third absolute: our government’s eternal failure to agree on how high those taxes should be and what they should pay for.
As long as our nation continues to spend a lot more than it takes in, the issue will continue to be a saga between conservatives and liberals, the former fighting for lower taxes, fewer public services, and smaller government; the latter pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy, more government revenue, and a preservation of the social safety net. It’s like a really boring, annoying version of the NeverEnding Story (without the cool flying animals). Just think about the last few months in Washington: we narrowly averted hurling ourselves over the fiscal cliff only to re-enter into a battle over the debt ceiling. Continue reading
Disclaimer: This is a video produced by the White House, not an independent source.
Change is a–coming to the president’s Cabinet.
As President Barack Obama prepares for his second term in the White House, he’ll be joined by a handful of new faces to help guide him through the sausage factory we call government. The Cabinet includes the vice president and the heads (or “secretaries”) of 15 executive agencies, each of whom helps advise the president. PBS NewsHour Extra lists a good description of each position (you know, in case you’re looking for a new job).
It’s pretty common for a president entering a second term to switch up his Cabinet a bit. Of course, whether the departing Cabinet member has chosen to leave or was told to get packing is not always clear.
Each new Cabinet member is nominated by the president, but most need to be confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate. The practice of picking Cabinet members dates back to America’s first president, George Washington, who had a four member Cabinet that included Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War and Attorney General. Continue reading