CIVICS LESSON #5: SOME IMPORTANT NOTES ON VOTING

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is the fifth of FJ Rocca’s Civics Lessons series.

In the US, we have a constitutional republic in which government consists of elected public officials who do not control us, but who represent us in a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Representatives to Congress are elected every two years, Senators every six years, and Presidents every four years. The cycle of local elections for mayors and of state elections for Governor vary by state and municipality.

The electoral system is called representative democracy, because citizens vote into office officials who are sworn by oath to represent them. We elect our Congressional representatives in organized voting districts within states, our governors by State and the President by what is called the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was put in place to guarantee that votes in sparser populations, such as rural areas and in less populous states, are treated with equal weight to those in larger populated areas, such as cities and more heavily populated states. Without the Electoral College, heavily populated states, such as California, New York and Ohio would always determine who becomes President and votes from smaller states, such as Alabama, Rhode Island and the Dakotas, would have little power.

The Electoral College system has been criticized, usually by the larger states, who argue that their heavier votes are being neutralized in favor of much lighter votes from less populous states, but the Founders, in their wisdom, questioned the fairness of states with large urban centers deciding the ultimate fate of representation of these smaller areas. Until a fairer, more practical system is instituted, it is probably a fair assumption that the Electoral College will remain an operating feature of Presidential elections for the foreseeable future.

State legislatures may “redistrict” areas within a state in order to give sparser populated areas the equal voting power of larger urban areas. This redistricting can and often is used to change the party representation so that members of the party in office in that state will get more votes than the opposing party. This is known as gerrymandering, one definition of which is “To manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.” While this practice is not illegal, it is only marginally ethical at best and is often frowned upon because it allows those in power to manipulate votes to keep that power, even when people want them out of power.

Democratic voting is a process and not a governing principle, because the US is a constitutional republic and not a pure democracy. In John Adams’s eternally true words, the US has “a government of laws and not of men.” We do not elect representatives to make decisions independent of our wishes, but on their sworn oath to preserve and protect the rights of each and every individual citizen against encroachment by government. Many politicians lust after power. We must be on guard against them.

It is a battle to keep voting fair. If not properly monitored, voting can be falsified by what is called “voter fraud,” although voters usually have nothing to do with it. Voter fraud can take various forms. Agents of a particular candidate may inflate the vote in favor of that candidate by putting fake votes to the ballot box, or “stuffing” it. Votes for an opposing candidate may be destroyed or hidden so that they are not counted. Voting machines may be rigged so that the vote count is falsified. A particularly creative kind of voter fraud is to register dead people onto voter rolls and actually vote in their places. All these are illegal punishable as crimes.

But there are also ways for the vote to be skewed legally, if unethically, for example by a candidate telling malicious lies about his opponent either in print or on television. This is called “smearing” and is unethical, even if it is marginally legal. Or, a candidate can lie about his or her position on issues or on his past performance. Overcoming these requires careful scrutiny by voters.

The important thing for citizens to remember is that casting a vote for a candidate who can be trusted is the strongest protection against bad government. But voters must beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, in the form of candidates who promise to protect and preserve our freedom and individual rights, while actually working to undermine them. To be on guard against this eventuality it is necessary to be skeptical of any and all politicians who make promises other than to protect and preserve the principles outlined in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. When someone promises to fundamentally change America, that person must not be trusted, because no change that takes away the fundamental freedom and rights granted to Americans by those founding documents can be a good change.

That being said, it is also easy to preach that voters are free because they have the vote. In order to exercise their vote to their benefit, citizens must be given candidates who truly represent the model set out by our founding fathers; people who are honest, trustworthy and patriotic. Any candidate who is not worthy should be rejected out of hand.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

4 Comments

Filed under Civics Lessons, Guest Post

Combat Diaries #3: SENT INTO BATTLE WITHOUT A GUN

This is the third entry in Dana R. Casey’s Combat Diaries series.

This morning I climbed four flights of stairs to start my school day. The climb is a struggle, not just because I am not in the shape that I used to be, but because I am lugging three packs of printer paper and half a gallon of water, all purchased by me. I must climb these four flights because, as usual, the elevator is out of order. I must lug these heavy bags because I never receive most of the basic supplies that I need for the school year.

At the beginning of the school year, most teachers across this city receive only one case of paper, a box of pens, a box of chalk, an eraser, a few markers, a box of paper clips, a box of staples, and a roll or two of tape. We get another case of paper at the beginning of second semester. Some of the other supplies may or may not be replenished upon request.

I brought water with me today, because there is no water available to me unless I go down the four flights of steps to the lobby and get it from the one water cooler in the building. There are no water fountains. There is supposedly lead in the building’s pipes. Every water fountain was removed from every school in the school system regardless of the presence of lead or not for fear of lawsuits. There is not even a water cooler in the bare unwelcoming teacher’s lounge for teachers to access. There can be no water coolers in the hallways because the students will take the five gallon water bottle and dump it on the floor.

I only have enough English text books to use in the classroom; there are none to send home. No grammar books at all. I have received novels for the new modules from the school system this year; however, I did not get enough of the second title to send the books home with students. I let students sign them out overnight if they requested. More than half of those were never returned.

I received none of the third title and scrounged the building to find enough for at least a class set. Seven of these books have disappeared (though I can’t fathom why since most students don’t read them), so I currently do not have enough for every student in a class period and students have to share this small paperback.

I received enough of the final novel, but the book is more demanding than most of my students can handle especially with essentially five weeks of classes left, so I will be running off chapters of another more appropriate book, but only a class set since I will be buying all of the paper.

Keep in mind that I only get two cases of paper per year. I have 130 students in five periods. That means that I have enough paper to run off 1.9 sheets of paper per week per student. Without adequate textbooks, I need to run off many more pages per student to provide them with work.

I have an LCD projector and a document reader, which have been a blessing; however, the bulb on the projector burned out a month ago and it has yet to be replaced. A colleague who does not use his projector generously lent me his. The LCD projector can project an image from multiple sources like a computer or DVD player. The document reader has a camera lens under which one can place a book or worksheet and project the image. I use it to review directions or corrections, to have students present work, or to point out specific passages in a text. I use it daily. It is completely useless without a bulb.

My printer was damaged when the room above flooded from a leaky radiator. I had been waiting a month for ink anyway. I asked for another printer; I sent a second request two weeks later; I sent a third request two weeks after that. Finally, I brought in my own printer from home and spent $54.00 to buy replacement ink cartridges.

There are two laptop carts in this building; however, they are dedicated to the math department who must use a specific computer program for their classes, a program which costs a fortune and which the math teachers say is terrible. Scores at the top math school in the system, a school which garners praise and high SAT math scores, dropped when this computer program was added to their curriculum.

There is a “computer lab”. It is padlocked and few of the computers work anyway. There is no printer in there. There is no wireless in the building.

There are two other rooms with 25 computers. These are for the technology classes so they are not available to other classes. There are supposed to be enough computers for every student to have their own; however, there are 32 students in the class and 8-10 computers that are not functioning, so the ratio of computer to student is 2:1 instead of 1:1.

We have a “library”. There are no books in it. I literally mean ZERO books (see photo). There are five computers, but usually no one to supervise them and the library is generally locked.

I could go on, but I think that you get the picture. This is not just my experience; this is the experience of every teacher in my building, in my system, and in too many systems across this nation. The nation keeps calling for holding teachers accountable, but teachers are not provided with basic tools like paper, while they are also battling the culture of Blame and Complain/Accuse and Excuse (and if that doesn’t work, SUE!).

My first entry of “Combat Diaries”, which is about the chaos that is the norm in many schools, elicited this reply from one reader, “No school operates this way.” When I told my colleagues about this reply, each and every one laughed. My purpose in creating these diaries is to show America the truth about what is going on in the classroom. Those who are not in the classroom don’t have a clue. Liberals have it wrong; conservatives have it wrong; the average American citizen has it wrong. They don’t know the truth of what too many teachers face daily. If it seems too unbelievable, too outrageous to be the truth, my point is made.

There are millions and billions being poured into education. Pearson[i] is making a fortune[ii] creating curriculum, texts, and tests like PARCC[iii] which will be forced on every student in America. Pearson is influencing the style and structure of the SATs so even home schooled students will not be protected. Bill Gates, who also was involved in forcing Common Core onto the states, will earn millions more than what he donated through the sale of the computers that will be mandatory to deliver the tests created by Pearson. Consultants who have never been in a classroom are paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to come up with brilliant gems such as (and this is a true example) “the schools should be kept clean”. Contractors are paid tens of thousands of dollars to paint classrooms that are never painted.

There is plenty of money being thrown at education, but it rarely arrives in the classroom, it is rarely there for teachers to use, and it rarely benefits the students.

I am sure that there are schools in this country where there are beautiful computer labs, libraries full of books, storerooms full of supplies, gymnasiums full of equipment, theaters full of costumes, and students who are more often than not ready to learn, but for most urban students and teachers this is a seemingly elusive dream.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­______________________________________________________________________________

Post Note: A colleague of mine, fairly new to the system, had an experience this week quite familiar to me. One student was trying to attack another student, but ended up kicking the teacher in the shin quite hard. The teacher is pressing charges; the parents have accused her of racism. I have been accused of the same at least once a year for my entire teaching career. Clearly, the accusations must be correct which is why I have dedicated my twenty years of service to a majority African-American population of students (in case you missed it that was sarcasm). However, for this young lady, it was the first time to experience such unearned vitriol. The parents were more concerned about keeping their child from being held accountable than they were about the truth. This is an example of what I call Blame and Complain/Accuse and Excuse.

She told me that the experience made her sick to her stomach. I completely understand. When you have considered yourself a kind, sympathetic, and compassionate person your whole life, being confronted by unjust accusations such as these can cut one to the quick, especially considering that she was the victim of his casual violence. The irony here is that she is a member of a protected minority herself; she is a gay woman. But as a gay woman working in an urban system where students are not expected to maintain basic civility she has been bombarded with “faggot”, “lesbian”, “dyke”, “dyke bitch” , and “white bitch”  repeatedly. Too many students and too many of the students’ parents who are so concerned that others respect their humanity have little respect for hers. She has gone home beaten down every day when she started this year full of enthusiasm for teaching. I weep for her; she genuinely bleeds. I teach my students (when I can teach) that we don’t have to agree with other people in order to respect their humanity. Her humanity, and the humanity of many teachers, is daily degraded; the whole of the nation tells us we are worthless all of the time.



[i] Pearson is an education publishing and assessment service to schools and corporations, as well as directly to students. Pearson owns leading educational media brands including Addison–Wesley, BBC Active, Bug Club, eCollege, Fronter, Longman, MyEnglishLab, Penguin Readers, Prentice HallPoptropica and Financial Times Press. (Wikipedia)

[iii] Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

Dana R. Casey is a veteran high school English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system.  She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Guest Post, Speaking Out