Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Homework

I'm taking it easy on you over the break.  All you have to do is this:

Write me a four-paragraph e-mail.  Reflect on the first four months of the school year.  Include highlights of social studies for you, things you plan to do to improve, and things that we could to improve the class in general.  You can also tell me how your Christmas/holiday is.  I should receive the e-mail any time before we return to school on January 3.

I'd highly recommend that you take the time to complete an extra credit assignment too!
Update: A list of options for your extra credit assignments is listed here:

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and happy new year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Obama Refers to Our Wednesday Lesson

On Wednesday, we simulated a car assembly line in our eighth grade classes, with varying degrees of success.  Then we learned how Henry Ford used the assembly line to produce cars cheaply and efficiently, making them affordable to most Americans.  The car changed American lifestyles in many ways.  But Ford also made a crucial decision for his workers: he'd pay them good wages.  Remember what we read in Joy Hakim's The Age of Extremes:
Henry Ford understood that if ordinary people were going to buy new products, they needed to earn reasonable wages.  So, in 1914, when the average American worker earned $2.40 a day for a nine-hour day, Henry Ford announced that he would pay his workers $5 a day for an eight-hour day.  That was an astonishing decision.  It was also smart.  That $5 a day meant that workers at the Ford Motor Company could afford to buy Ford cars.  Henry Ford was creating his own customers.
If you've been paying attention to the news, you know that many people are complaining about income inequality in America: the rich keep getting richer, while everyone else just stays the same or gets poorer.  This is the big message of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

And now, President Obama is getting in the act.  On Tuesday, he gave a major speech in Kansas, criticizing corporations for paying their workers too little and generally lamenting income inequality in America.  But there's more: he used Henry Ford to strengthen his argument!
The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her workers now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade, the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about six percent. This kind of inequality–a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression–hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity–that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars they made.
There, he called for the rich to pay higher taxes, claiming that this would help poor and middle-class people to get better wages.
[W]hen President Clinton first proposed these tax increases, folks in Congress predicted they would kill jobs and lead to another recession.  Instead, our economy created nearly 23 million jobs and we eliminated the deficit. Today, the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century...Under President Clinton, the top rate was only about 39%. Today, thanks to loopholes and shelters, a quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One percent. This is the height of unfairness. It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million...And I know that many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute a little more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.
Well, what do you think?  Are you surprised by President Obama's arguments?  Are you surprised by the income inequality that he describes?  Why do you think he referred to Henry Ford?  Would you support higher taxes on the rich?  Do you think that would really make our economy better?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Violating the 14th Amendment Today?

Hey all, it's been a while since you mostly ignored my post on Lupe Fiasco.  Grr.  Thanks, Daphne, for being willing to put fingers to keyboard and share on that topic.

Today, though, I'm writing about something entirely relevant to what we've studied in the past two weeks: the Fourteenth Amendment.  As you know, it grants citizenship as a birthright to all Americans, it requires state laws to adhere to the Bill of Rights, and--most importantly for today--it grants equal protection of the law to all people.  In other words, if the government is going to make laws that treat different groups of people differently, it had better have a good reason for doing so.

According to Linda Greenhouse, Florida is violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.  How?  Florida runs a state university system.  Florida charges much higher tuition to students who come from outside the state than to students who are residents of the state.  That's how all states run their universities.  If you go to a SUNY school, you will pay much less in tuition than a student who comes from New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

However, Florida has decided to charge the higher, out-of-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants.  These are students who were born in the United States--in Florida--so, according to the Constitution, they are American citizens and residents of Florida.  But, because of their parents' immigrant status, they are being charged a higher rate.

Linda Greenhouse calls this "perhaps the most bizarre and pointless anti-immigrant policy" that she's heard of.

She continues: "Consider the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition at the University of Florida: $5,700 a year versus $27,936. The disparity is similar at the state’s community colleges, although the price tags are lower. It is the difference between a college education and none."

She is glad to hear that some students have decided to sue to overturn this policy: "The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of 'all past, present, and future United States citizens' affected by the policy, names five individual plaintiffs. Two were forced for financial reasons to withdraw from Miami Dade College when the policy took effect. Two others can’t afford to take all the credits necessary to complete their degrees on time, and one, who would have received a full scholarship as a resident, couldn’t afford to enroll at all. Four were born in Miami and one in Los Angeles. All are eligible to be president of the United States."

What are your reactions to this policy?  Are you surprised that it exists?  What should be done about it?  Is there anything that you can or should do to deal with this policy?