How to do a field study– “But I’m not studying a field!”

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 6.18.07 AMNo, there are no fields in the city. That’s true. There are sidewalks, potholes, and tons of stuff that doesn’t remind me of cow tipping (Disclaimer–cows should be standing upright at all times. Disclaimer 2–I never tipped a cow. It is a mean rural stereotype. Don’t try this at home).

The objective of a field study is to use your five senses, combined with research, to make conclusions about a certain area. Ours–your first simple field study in social science–is in progress.  These projects are shaping up nicely. Let’s take a minute to analyze what you’ve done so far:

1. You’ve chosen a neighborhood of interest, yours or another, and you’ve really taken a look. You might pass Stanley’s or gone in to eat a burger every day, but have you studied the pulse of Central Falls? Pawtucket? Providence?

2. We’ve discussed data and what it’s useful for–we decided it can often lead us to false conclusions. We calculated the math. In the case study of Pawtucket, where 1:2 whites own houses, 1:4 African Americans and 1:4 Hispanics own houses, you first thought that indicated a wealth pattern. Then we analyzed that further and you said that it depended on who owned which houses.

Our conclusion: More information is necessary. That’s where your field-based research comes in. Numbers can be used to tell any story. The same numbers can be interpreted in different ways. Your job is to tell that story.

3. We decided that classifications are a tricky thing. Looking at the census, we examined ethnic classifications. “Black or African American” and “Hispanic or Latino” boxes on the census can be tricky–how do people identify themselves? And what is “white” or “other” anyway?  Again, this isn’t just about how people identify themselves, it’s becomes about numbers, populations, and the story of the area. You are telling this story–you will have to sort this out.

4. Interviews: You were given the task of safely interviewing some people with guided questions. A good interview gets the story out. It never forces the questions. We talked about good interviews and bad interviews–some of you have noticed “nobody in this area wants to talk to me,” or “They won’t answer my question.”  This is part of the game–the best interview is one where the story comes out and it seems like a conversation. Get people to let down their guard–they’ll tell you anything. I used to do this in investigations–it works. You have to establish rapport-a relationship.  It’s one of those “money skills” you’ll use in life.

Keep going–tell the story of your neighborhood. Is it improving? Declining? How do people use the government, community groups, and citizen action to get the job done? That’s civics. That’s all there is to it!

Your resources:  Please add more to the comments. You have been finding a ton.


Google Doc with the assignment and rubric


Can you be “Civil” in Court?

There are two main types of trials–and you don’t want to be caught up in either one of them. The first and most notorious is a criminal trial. We’ve all seen a thousand of them on television–Law & Order, SVU, CSI…we’ve grown up in the courtroom. The good news about the court system is that they always get the right guy and usually in under 60 minutes. Actually, much less than 60 minutes if you subtract out the commercials–unless you figure that the detectives are working while you go to the fridge for a snack. In any case, they wrap things up quite neatly for us so we can remain safe.

Jury of your peers?

Jury of your peers?

In the real world, it’s not so simple. We don’t always get the right guy, there are tons of “cold cases” that are never solved, and because everyone’s grown up in the courtroom, we all want Jesus himself to provide us with the evidence when we’re picked for a jury. There have been studies on this calling it the CSI syndrome–courts worry that juries have been so tampered with and ruined by cable TV that it would take a miracle to get a real objective and impartial juror in there.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 6.01.06 AMIn criminal cases, you are owed a “jury of your peers.” That doesn’t mean your twelve best friends get to sit on the jury. It means that you get twelve impartial citizens. This is not the easiest thing to find. Citizens who cannot be impartial are supposed to excuse themselves from juries, and tell the judge why they cannot be impartial.

With any luck, the proper amount of evidence will be present, it will have been handled correctly, and the right guy will take the fall.

Then, it’s up to the judicial system to impose a sentence. In some state and federal crimes, there are mandatory sentences. Some states have maximum and minimum sentences.

What’s that, you say? You didn’t think the trial was fair? You think it was a really awful case? You can appeal it. It then goes to appellate court.  If it goes your way, fine. If not, and good reason exists, it can get sent up the chain until it gets to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States decides which cases it will hear, and on what merit. If your case is heard and decided, it may overrule another earlier case or become a precedent.

Scavenger hunt: 

1. What is the process of a criminal trial?

2. What is a precedent?

3. How is the “CSI Effect” making it more difficult to get a fair trial? Do you think YOU would be affected by the CSI effect?

4. Give some examples of some cases in US history with terrible outcomes–which do you think has been the most horrific, and has it been corrected by the court system and overturned to date?


[image: and]


What is the Goal of the Criminal Justice System?

The United States leads the world in so many areas–including the percentage of incarcerated citizens. In 2010, the United States had 2010 prisoners in the criminal justice system, an increase of 66% from the prior decade.  Read these alarming statistics, as well as how the United States views corrections on journalist Maggie Messitt’s Learnist board “Prisons in America: A Primer.” 

Critical questions: 

1. What is the goal of the criminal justice system in the United States? Is it to get the bad guys off the street, or to improve society so that offenders do not reoffend?

2. Why are certain groups and populations represented disproportionately? Which groups, by percentage, are most likely to be incarcerated, and why? How can the criminal justice system better serve those groups?

3. Is there a role for restorative justice in the criminal justice system? Should offenders make amends, and is letting them do so helpful to victims?

4. What are the economics behind the criminal justice system?

5. What, if any, are some of the effective programs in corrections? What helps stop the cycle of crime and abuse, truly improving communities? Consider prison gardens, writing programs, dog training programs, and other programs meant to build job skills and raise awareness of what it is to be a good citizen.

6. The death penalty has been a hotbed political issue. Should the death penalty be legal? How does it affect society? What are the economics behind the death penalty?

We will discuss these and other issues. Please discuss in the comment section.

What can you change?

We watched a film clip about change. Students, the East LA 13, organized and staged a protest to correct inequality in their school system. Recall that we discussed the climate of the times, and that violence was often a risk of protest.

Please review the Learnist boards linked above and consider the elements of protest.

Critical questions:

1. What makes your issue important enough?

2. Do you have support?

3. How does the community view you?

4. What are the risks of conducting this action?

5. Is everyone dedicated enough to see this through to the end?

Your task today:

1. Make a short list of things you would like to see changed.

2. Which, if any, pass the test?  Do you need to do something small to fix them or something very large-scale?

3. Choose an item. Make a plan for fixing it. Remember–things that need change do not always need boycotts, protests, and actions, as seen in this movie. Sometimes things are very simple to fix using the proper channels. That is the goal of civics–learning about those channels, and applying them to issues that affect you.

The Executive Branch

The President often gets all the credit for heading up this branch of government, but in reality it’s more than just him.  The Vice-President, the Cabinet, and all the Executive Agencies also contribute to making this third of the Federal Government strong.

This Prezi by “Beth” explains the general structure of the Executive Branch of the United States government. I wish I knew who she was to give her proper credit, but I appreciate her, just the same.

Critical Questions: 

1. Just how much power does the President have?

2. If the President is healthy, what the heck does the VP do all day?

3. What role does the Cabinet play in advising the President’s policies?

4. Which are the critical agencies in the government, and how did they come to be? How do they affect us personally?

Answer the questions before we start our inquiry, and we’ll compare our knowledge before and after we take a good solid look into this branch of government.


What is this comic saying about the power of the Executive Branch?

What is this comic saying about the power of the Executive Branch?

[image source:]








The People Who Represent You

We’ll be looking in depth at our state senators and congressmen, developing this post to include issues of importance to you, their committee work, and initiatives you’d like to see them tackle. You are their constituents.

Here are the links to their websites:

Senator Jack Reed

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Congressman Jim Langevin

Congressman David Cicilline



Critical Questions: 

1. What are they doing now–what initiatives and committees are they involved in?

2. What do they do when they come back home–do they meet with people, talk in forums, keep in touch with the district and state?

3. Have you had any direct contact with any of your senators or congressmen?

4. What would you like to see them active in proposing or accomplishing?



Analyzing a bill

Congress makes tons of laws–some are great and some are lacking. The goal of Civics is to have the skill to analyze and determine any government policy that might affect you, and to be able to work within the system to affect change.

In this case, we’re analyzing the text of a state bill–Arizona House Bill 2549.  We’ll also examine an editorial that comments on this bill.

Critical Questions:

1. What is the intention of this bill?

2. Why is it being amended?

3. What are the unintended consequences?

4. What is the public opinion of this bill?

5. Do you think this bill limits free speech or protects people from harassment and stalking?


Debrief: You must be able to project unintended consequences, analyze policies that affect you and make changes. I

I’m just a bill

This quarter, we’ll be discussing the three branches of government.  Let’s start with a discussion about how bills really become laws.  You have suggested that Congress may not be receiving the highest approval ratings in your minds.  Let’s analyze the causes.

Start with the job of Congress, which is to make the laws.  Take a look at this Learnist board on “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” 

Critical Questions: 

1. Who is at fault when bills get deadlocked in Congress?

2. What influences does the average member of Congress have pulling at him or her on any given day? Who wants stuff from them?

3. What things may slow a bill in committee?

4. What role does partisan politics (political parties not playing well with others) play in slowing down the passing of bills?

5. How could the efficiency of Congress be approved?

6. Does the threat of a presidential veto have any effect on Congress?

7. Who do you think is more effective–a freshman Congressman who has new energy and ideas, or a seasoned incumbent who knows the system and has contacts?

Survey Time

This year, we have endeavored to change around the classroom a little bit.  I have added some technology and systems including the Learnist boards and this blog. Please take some time to fill out this survey by midterms.  It would be helpful if you did this ahead of time–feel free to come in the morning during advisory, or pop on a computer at the end of class.   I’ve left space for additional feedback on the survey, but if you would like to take some time to discuss the technology survey with me personally, I would welcome any feedback you provide.

Thank you!

Your Favorite Right

The Founding Fathers added a ton of things into the Constitution so it wouldn’t be weak like the Articles of Confederation.  Still, they were afraid their rights would be trampled, and took the next step–debating and adding the Bill of Rights. If we examine the Bill of Rights and the rest of Amendments we get a snapshot of how America developed its ideas about freedom.  Freedom in Colonial and Federal times wasn’t the all-inclusive freedom you consider your right.  That developed through decades of struggle.  Freedom for all Americans–women, African Americans, the poor–those didn’t come until much later.  I think back on some of the people who have struggled for those rights and freedoms.

Roger Williams: left Massachusetts Bay Colony to come to Rhode Island, which he founded upon the principle that all men should be free to worship as they choose.  This idea was not held in isolation–James Madison took that with him when he helped design what would become the United States Constitution.

James Madison: felt strongly about the idea of separation of church and state.

Frederick Douglass: former Maryland slave, author, abolitionist. He traveled the world, crusaded for abolition and women’s rights, and became the United States minister-consul in Haiti.

Mahatma Gandhi:  WAIT. He’s not American.  True.  But, his idea of satyagraha (peaceful resistance) influenced and entire globe, including the great Americans who brought us Civil Rights.  Without Gandhi, Africa might well have stayed under Colonial rule, India might have achieved its independence very differently, and certainly Martin Luther King Jr. would have had no thoughts or inspiration for his struggle. To be fair, Gandhi got his thoughts from Indian history and Hindu philosophy–so let’s give a shout out to his influences as well.

Susan B. Anthony: Suffragist from Rochester, New York, who put herself on the line to get women the right to vote. A detail worth noting is that both she and Frederick Douglas are buried in the same cemetery–Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

I could write about the great people who helped us get our freedom all day. I’ll edit and add to this list as the day progresses, but the point of our discussions on freedom has been this.

1. Freedom is earned. These people fought for your freedom. The men and women of the military continue to do so. You pay them back with your thoughts and respect.

2. Freedom comes with responsibility. If you want freedom in any area, you must act like a responsible citizen. No questions asked.

3. The definition of freedom is ever changing. This site explains what you need to become a web designer as well as some tips and tricks.  If you’re starting from scratch, it will help you begin to focus what you will need to learn to get the fundamentals down, and how to put yourself in the best position to land a job.  During the colonial period, freedom was not “free” as you would imagine it. It got much moreso during years of struggle. Today, we have many freedoms, but we also balance the need for safety against some of those freedoms, causing a dialogue between many people in society today–what freedoms should we have and where does safety trump freedom. It’s an interesting social and constitutional conversation–one worthy of your thoughts and research.


Take a moment to comment on some people who need to be added to the list of those who struggled for our freedom. There are too many to mention, and I just started us out this morning.  Comment on your favorite rights and amendments–those which you could not do without. And pause to be grateful for those freedoms and to the people who ensured they were ours.