Can’t dance to it, but can you learn with it?

July 14, 2010

It’s an awkward scene.  John Goodman has a lousy role (and I’m not fond of the direction for him or Melanie Griffith here).  I’ve never seen the movie, “Born Yesterday,” and I don’t know the context.

But ten important amendments to the Constitution, to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a potentially useful mnemonic device for your U.S. history, and government students; it’s mostly accurate:

There is some skipping around —  the song covers the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, then skips to the Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments.  The First Amendment’s five freedoms are covered completely, other amendments not so much.

The actor in the scene, playing the senator who sings the Fifteenth Amendment, is former Tennessee U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson.  Thompson staffed the Watergate Committee chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina, earlier — wouldn’t it be interesting to hear his views on this scene, and song, and what other tricks he may have encountered in the Senate, from Sen. Ervin, or the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd?

It’s not Schoolhouse Rock, but it’s really very good.  Everything covered in the song is in Texas TEKS, but some things skipped, like the Fourteenth Amendment, are also required.  Can you use it in your classes?

And by the way, does anyone know a rap for the Bill of Rights?

Tip of the old scrub brush to the Facebook status of the Bill of Rights Institute.


Christian nation trap ensnares John McCain

October 5, 2007

Let’s put an end to the silly “Christian nation” notion once and for all. Can we?

I am a hopeful person. Of course, I realize that it is highly unlikely we would ever be able to disabuse people of the Christian nation myth.

Okay — then let’s at least lay some facts on the table.

John McCain, perhaps as Popeye

First, some background. John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona and candidate for U.S. president, granted an exclusive interview to a reporter from Belief.net. Read excerpts here.

In the interview McCain falls into the Christian nation trap:

Q: A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. What do you think?
A: I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn’t say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

Second, David Kuo properly, but gingerly, takes on McCain′s argument (hooray for Belief.net).

Then, third, Rod Dreher (the Crunchy Con from the Dallas Morning News) agrees with McCain, mostly.

McCain’s blithe endorsement of this myth, based in error and continued as a political drive to shutting down democratic processes. McCain may be starting to understand some of the difficulties with this issue. His remarks are a week old, at least, and there’s been a wire story a day since then. Will it make him lean more toward taking my advice?

Below the fold, I post a few observations on why we should just forget the entire, foolish claim. Read the rest of this entry »


Trial by Jury (grades 5-8)

September 30, 2007

Trial simulations put students into the middle of tough topics in government, economics and history — or can do, depending on how well the simulations work. In the middle of the fight is a great place to learn.

Scholastic.com features a series of lesson plans suitable for government and civics. Looking for Constitution Day lesson plans I stumbled into a trial-by-jury simulation, with the mock trial script all prepared for you, for grades 5 through 8.

It looks to me to be a good way to study the jury system (see Amendments 6 and 7 of the Constitution).  The lesson plans and materials were designed, and their dissemination supported by the American Board of Trial Advocates.  Yes, that’s a group with a view; no, the bias doesn’t show up in the classroom materials, really.

Here’s a graphic on amending the Constitution, from the same site. This could be reproduced for student journals, printed for small posters, or, check with your high school drafting classes to see whether they won’t print this out for you in a poster size, in color. Scholastic.com features nine graphic pages like that one.

Trial by jury provides the foundation for some of our greatest drama: On television with Perry Mason, Matlock, Law & Order, Boston Legal, or L.A. Law; on the stage with Inherit the Wind and Ayn Rand’s The Night of January 16th; in opera with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (okay, in operetta). This is the sort of thing students enjoy, and probably will remember.

How and why to show up for jury duty is one of the most important understandings our students can take away.

Justice by the People logo, from Scholastic.com


Dissent effective: Stimson resigns from detainee post

February 4, 2007

Charles Stimson resigned Friday. Stimson is the attorney who was deputy secretary of defense for detainee affairs. You may recall he was the person who suggested in a radio interview that business clients of lawyers who provide legal counsel to detainees should pressure the attorneys not to represent the detainees, a suggestion that is contrary to the ethical canons of attorneys.

According to the New York Times:

Stimson drew outrage from the legal community — and a disavowal from the Defense Department — for his Jan. 11 comments, in which he also suggested some attorneys were being untruthful about doing the work free of charge and instead were ”receiving moneys from who knows where.”

He also said companies might want to consider taking their legal business to other firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

The Defense Department disavowed the suggestion. Attorney General Albert Gonzalez also disavowed Stimson’s remarks. But Stimson said that the controversy hampered his effectiveness on the job. The NY Times said:

Stimson publicly apologized several days after the radio interview, saying his comments did not reflect his values and that he firmly believes in the principles of the U.S. legal system.

But it didn’t completely quiet critics.

The Bar Association of San Francisco last week asked the California State Bar to investigate whether Stimson violated legal ethics by suggesting a boycott of law firms that represent Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Earlier posts:


Lawyers, Bush officials quickly disavow Stimson remarks

January 15, 2007

Franklin is reputed to have said that truth wins in a fair fight. In the few days since Charles Stimson suggested the nation’s top lawfirms should not be representing clients being held in detention at Guantanamo Bay, condemnation has been swift, deep and broad. Even Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said lawyers should represent all accused. Perhaps the fight will be fair.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Stimson was not speaking for the Bush administration.

Stimson’s comments “do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the thinking of its leadership,” Maka told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Ethics courses, now required at all U.S. law schools, generally spend a great deal of time on the issue of the duty of attorneys to provide representation to all criminal defendants, even and especially those who are unpopular or held in disrepute. Such representation is queried on the ethics exams that all lawyers must take to be licensed.

History offers many examples of lawyers and the difficulties they face in providing such representation: John Adams representing the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre (Adams largely won; eight were tried, six were acquitted, two convicted and branded on their thumbs as punishment); John Quincy Adams representing the men being carried for slave trading aboard the errant Amistad ; Clarence Darrow’s representation of the accused murderers Leopold and Loeb, and other cases. In literature, we get the fictional lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the defense team in Inherit the Wind.

Perhaps we should be encouraged at the response to Mr. Stimson’s remarks. A lover of justice might be happier were these defenses of the legal system and the representation of all accused to be more apparently on display from government officials prior to and without such gaffes.

Also see:

Disclosure: A member of my immediate family is employed by Fulbright and Jaworski, one of the firms Mr. Stimson questioned — not in a legal capacity, not in representation of any of the Guantanamo Bay detainees. I was unaware of the firm’s being named by Mr. Stimson at the time of my first post. The views here, of course, should not in any way be construed as representative of any firm named, they are my own views.


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