Quote of the moment: Fillmore on sunshine in government, clarity in laws

March 25, 2007

Statue of Fillmore at Buffalo, NY, City Hall

Statue of Millard Fillmore at the City Hall in Buffalo, New York.

From Millard Fillmore’s second State of the Union speech, December 2, 1851:

The public statutes of the United States have now been accumulating for more than sixty years, and, interspersed with private acts, are scattered through numerous volumes, and, from the cost of the whole, have become almost inaccessible to the great mass of the community. They also exhibit much of the incongruity and imperfection of hasty legislation. As it seems to be generally conceded that there is no “common law” of the United States to supply the defects of their legislation, it is most important that that legislation should be as perfect as possible, defining every power intended to be conferred, every crime intended to be made punishable, and prescribing the punishment to be inflicted. In addition to some particular cases spoken of more at length, the whole criminal code is now lamentably defective. Some offenses are imperfectly described and others are entirely omitted, so that flagrant crimes may be committed with impunity. The scale of punishment is not in all cases graduated according to the degree and nature of the offense, and is often rendered more unequal by the different modes of imprisonment or penitentiary confinement in the different States.

Many laws of a permanent character have been introduced into appropriation bills, and it is often difficult to determine whether the particular clause expires with the temporary act of which it is a part or continues in force. It has also frequently happened that enactments and provisions of law have been introduced into bills with the title or general subject of which they have little or no connection or relation. In this mode of legislation so many enactments have been heaped upon each other, and often with but little consideration, that in many instances it is difficult to search out and determine what is the law.

The Government of the United States is emphatically a government of written laws. The statutes should therefore, as far as practicable, not only be made accessible to all, but be expressed in language so plain and simple as to be understood by all and arranged in such method as to give perspicuity to every subject. Many of the States have revised their public acts with great and manifest benefit, and I recommend that provision be made by law for the appointment of a commission to revise the public statutes of the United States, arranging them in order, supplying deficiencies, correcting incongruities, simplifying their language, and reporting them to Congress for its action.

Gauntlet down: Georgia challenges Texas (carnival-wise, that is)

March 25, 2007

At Georgia on my Mind, elementaryhistoryteacher took my challenge to Texans as a challenge to historians in Georgia, too — “Battle of the State Blogs.” Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to inspire with a locker-room speech.

It may take us a couple of months to get up to speed, of course, but this is the state that produced Molly Ivins, John Henry Faulk, J. Frank Dobie, Kent Biffle, and Dwight Eisenhower — not to mention Stevie Ray Vaughn.

C’mon Texans! Send in your blog entries: Fiesta de Tejas! Shooting to publish on April 2, no foolin’.

Easy submission form here, at the Blog Carnival.

Practice history, then teach it

March 25, 2007

Practice makes perfect, the adage says.

Teachers who practice analysis of primary documents can better translate the study of primary documents to their classrooms, according to an article I found through the American History Association‘s online version of Perspectives magazine.

One of my concerns for teachers of social studies — economics, history and geography — is that “in-service” training most often revolves around issues not unique, and sometimes not germane, to social studies disciplines. District-sponsored courses generally involved new or different methods to do paperwork, sometimes new programs hoped to spur overall performance by students on tests. In Irving ISD, Texas, social studies coordinator Sherry Perkins frequently provided sessions specific to social studies issues, and they were wonderful even when they didn’t pertain directly to the courses we taught (someone who teaches economics only, for example, may not have a lot of use for history exercises on presidential elections; but such exercises may provide ideas for others more directly related to economics).

Courses that immerse teachers in the subject matter tend to provide big benefits in the classroom. Many teachers do not have majors in the areas they teach, even after certification as “highly qualified” under new federal guidelines. Consequently, there are areas of history, or economics, or geography, where teachers are not much better informed than the students. Think of when you have had to give a presentation on a topic — you tread lightly in those areas where your expertise is least.

Investigators Kelly Schrum of George Mason University, Eleanor Green of the Fauquier County (Virginia) Public Schools, and Sarah Whelan of the Loudon County (Virginia) Public Schools, found that teachers often used too many original sources in lessons, after attending summer training sessions in the sources.   Read the rest of this entry »

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