Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Welcome Back Teachers!

It has been a very busy and very exciting summer season here at the Center. The buzz is all about our upcoming Liberty Medal ceremony honoring Tony Blair on September 13; our next installment of The Exchange on September 16; our free and fun Constitution Day Celebrations on September 17; and our new exhibit Art of the American Soldier opening on September 24.
Our new blog is under construction, and we really appreciate your feedback. Look for the full launch of the site later this fall. For now, check out for our alpha version!

The Education Team wishes you all the best for an engaging, stimulating, and very successful school year!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The NCC Welcomes Kathryn Venzor as Education Manager

The NCC is pleased to welcome Kathryn R. Venzor as our new Education Manager. Kathryn began her museum education career at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. After three years of educational programming and archaeological collections research, she moved to New Mexico to pursue her Master's degree in Anthropology, with an emphasis in Southwestern Archaeology. At New Mexico State University Kathryn served as the Public Programs Coordinator for the University Museum, where she also designed and implemented a Southwestern ceramics research database of the Museum's collections, and assisted in ceramics research for the University's archaeology field school. After completion of her Master's degree, Kathryn moved back east for a position at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. While at Penn, she worked in both American Section collections research as well as a digital initiative with the Penn Libraries Rare Book & Manuscript division. Her work was never far from museum education, however, as Kathryn began work with the Stenton House Museum in Historic Germantown and the History Hunters Youth Reporter Program soon after moving to Philadelphia.
Kathryn is thrilled to be the Education Manager of the NCC, and she looks forward to working with the NCC's 15,000 teachers!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why is Washington there?

On April 23, 1789, President-elect George Washington and his wife Martha moved into Franklin House in New York City, the first capital of the United States. A year-and-a-half later, in late 1790, the Washingtons moved to Philadelphia, which would remain the temporary capital of the nation for a decade.

Shortly before the Washingtons' move to Philadelphia, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal capital of ten square miles in size, the site of the capital to be determined by President Washington. Congress had been given the authority to establish a federal district as the "Seat of Government" under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Washington chose a location on the banks of the Potomac River within the borders of Maryland and Virginia.

The district was termed the "Territory of Columbia," and the city that comprised the capital itself was named "Washington" after the president. The city was built on the Maryland side of the Potomac River (the French architect Charles L'Enfant's 1792 design is pictured above). Eventually, Congress would return the land south of the Potomac to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Have your students research why George Washington chose the site on the Potomac River as the location of the nation's capital. Why did the Framers of the Constitution consider it important to designate federal land as the nation's capital instead of simply housing the capital in an existing city, like New York or Philadelphia?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The 17th Amendment

April 8 will be the 97th anniversary of the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which mandated the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote, rather than by state legislatures. This Amendment overrides Article I, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution. U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) recently called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, arguing that this action would do much to restore states rights.

The Framers of the Constitution called for the election of senators by state legislatures not only to maintain a balance between federal and state power but also to provide a filter for popular opinion. The Founders had apprehensions about making government too democratic, as they believed that the common man might succumb to "passion" (emotion) instead of reason and elect unqualified representatives. Over time, as the right to vote broaded to include more of the American populace, people began to call for the direct election of senators.

Voting rights have expanded throughout our country’s history. Have your students play the National Constitution Center’s Seize the Vote game and learn more about voting history as they attempt to win their character’s right to vote.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fighting During Recess

"The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session."
- U.S. Constitution: Article II, Section 2, Clause 3

The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis.”
- President Barack Obama

Circumventing constitutional Senate vetting is dangerous because President Obama’s track record in vetting nominees and other high-level appointees has been very poor. . . . Many of the people President Obama is granting recess appointments will hold high level positions that will greatly influence job creation in this country.”
- Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina

Though there is little evidence as to the intentions of the Constitution's Framers in creating the recess appointment clause, it seems that it was meant to allow the President to maintain the continuity of administrative government through the temporary filling of offices during periods when the Senate was not in session and thus could not consider nominees.
This interpretation was bolstered by the fact that Congress had both relatively short sessions and long recesses between sessions until the beginning of the 20th century.

Presidents, however, have sometimes used recess appointments for political purposes--as opportunities to side-step a Congress controlled by the opposition party. Attorneys General and the courts have added to the president's recess appointment power by interpreting broadly the phrase “vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate." The recess appointment power is now generally accepted to include the right to make recess appointments to any position that became vacant prior to the recess and to positions that became vacant during the recess.

President Clinton made 139 recess appointments, and President George W. Bush made 171 in their two terms in the White House. President Obama has made 15 recess appointments in his year-and-a-half in office.

Current Events & the Constitution

Ask your students to deliberate the positives and negatives of recess appointments after first reading Article II, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution. Then ask them to look at the history of recess appointments at the Senate's web site and what each political party has to say about President Obama's recess appointments.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Freedom of Internet Speech

China and internet search giant Google are at odds over Google’s decision no longer to censor its site. Google has redirected users going to to Google’s unrestricted Hong Kong site Google was demonized by some in the West and within China for its initial decision to submit to the Chinese government’s censorship policy. Google has now signaled that it wants to "meaningfully increase access to information for people in China." This would entail no longer filtering from Google’s search engine results sites critical of the Chinese government . The Chinese government says that Google has violated a written promise to filter out sites the Chinese government finds objectionable.

"Network neutrality" is the principle that data on the internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination, or source. Those who favor network neutrality believe that it protects the free market by ensuring that all small and independent sites, such as blogs, are on an even playing field with large, corporate-owned sites. Critics of network neutrality want a two-tiered model, where ISPs would be able to charge owners of Web sites a premium fee for priority placement and faster speed across their networks.

Both of these internet controversies are about the concept of freedom of speech: that of the Chinese people and that of small independent web sites.
In the United States, freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but in some countries, like China, such a right does not exist in law.

Ask your students these questions:

Is “freedom of speech” an inalienable universal human right? Why, or why not?

If ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can decide what kind of content moves at what speed on the internet, do they then have the ability to determine what types of content internet users have access to?
Explain your answer.

Does the concept of freedom of speech translate to the internet? Why, or why not?

Monday, March 22, 2010

To Lead or to Follow?

Yesterday, President Obama's healthcare legislation passed Congress, despite its apparent unpopularity with most American voters. This fact brings up the interesting question of whether, in a democracy, elected representatives should simply follow the wishes or their constituents or whether they should decide how to vote without regard to public opinion.

The former theory of representation is known as the "delegate" theory and was famously championed in American history by the Anti-Federalists during the debate about ratification of the Constitution. The latter theory is called the "trustee" theory of representation and was adovocated by Edmund Burke (pictured above), the 18th-century Irish-born British statesmen who sympathized with the American Revolutionaries and who is seen as the godfather of modern conservatism.

Though the delegate theory is more often associated with the American Left and the trustee theory with the Right, in the case of the health care debate, it seems that the two ends of the American political spectrum may be favoring the opposite theory this time around.

Have your students discuss which theory of representation is better for democracy.