I love the idea of study trips for students. They are great opportunities to make the curriculum more real, and they can make lifetime memories. Our school offers a number of trips through the foreign languages department (I actually get to chaperone the German trip), but I’ve always wanted to offer a study trip for one of my courses. As such, I’m thinking of offering a trip to London and Brussels to study British politics and the EU.
Why those topics?
One of the courses I teach is AP Comparative Government & Politics. It’s probably my favorite course to teach because we focus on six countries (China, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and the UK), and the EU is part of the curriculum.
On top of that, I’ve been to Brussels before (once as part of a trip sponsored by the Delegation of the EU to the US, and another time for a seminar hosted by the German Marshall Fund). Plus, in the past five years I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve been fortunate to have made a number of connections with people who work in EU institutions or write extensively about the EU.
Here are my learning objectives for London, followed by ideas to accomplish them:
- Learn about the parliamentary system and the functions of the House of Commons and the House of Lords- Tour Parliament (talk w/ MP’s?)
- Learn about the major political parties (Conservatives, Labour, LibDems, UKIP, SNP, etc.)- Meet with members of political parties (tour HQ?)
- Learn about the election process- Meet with somebody from the Electoral Commission
- Learn about the role of the media- Tour BBC and The Guardian, and maybe talk with journalists
- Learn about unions- Meet with representatives of the Trade Unions Congress
- Learn about the NHS- Meet with representatives
- Learn about UK foreign policy- Tour the Foreign Office and talk about US-UK relations and Brexit
Here are my learning objectives for Brussels, followed by ideas to accomplish them:
- Learn about the EU institutions- Tour and talk with representatives of the European Parliament, European Council, Council of the EU, European Commission
- Learn about the role of the media- Tour PoliticoEurope and viEUws and talk with journalists
- Learn about transatlantic relations- Meet with representatives from the US Mission to the EU and the US Mission to NATO
As it stands, the students will pay for the entire trip, but I wonder if there are any grants for such opportunities, especially ones that promote transatlantic relations.
What I Would Like from Readers
If you have ideas about how to make those objectives happen- people to talk to, places to see, funding, etc.- please leave a comment below. Also, if you happen to work in one of the places I mentioned, or you know somebody who does, please leave me a comment with the best way to contact you. Finally, one of the factors I have to consider is that some places want a certain of ratio of students to chaperones, so if you’re aware of anything like that, please let me know as well.
Ideally, I would love for this trip to occur every other summer; so, if I can make this first one a success, I should be able to continue offering it.
**UPDATE: As I’ve been doing research and talking with all of the people who have made suggestions/offers on Twitter, I’m thinking it might be easier for me to make the first trip a Brussels-only trip. It will be easier for me to plan and get my feet wet in the world of study trips. I will, however, still definitely welcome suggestions for London for future trips.
Thanks for reading.
For a few years now, I’ve thought that the US needs to move to proportional representation (PR) for our electoral system. Now that we’re done with the conventions for both major parties here, it is more apparent than ever that we need to move to it.
What is Proportional Representation?
Basically, PR is an electoral system in which parties on a ballot are given the same percentage (or as close to it as possible) of seats in the legislature as they received in the election. Usually, parties have to receive a certain percentage of votes (a threshold) in order to receive seats. For example, if your party of choice received 25% of the votes in the election, it would have 25% of the seats in the legislature. It should be noted, however, that PR is used in parliamentary systems, which means the US would have to move to one as well.
Why Is Now a Good Time for the US to Adopt a PR System?
PR is much more democratic than our current First Past the Post system. As it stands, all a candidate needs to receive to win is a majority of the vote. So, if they receive 51%, they win and go on into office. That also means that 49% of the population now feel they are not being represented.
A PR system would also make voting more pleasant in situations like we now find ourselves. We’ve got two candidates for president that are quite disliked. Take a look at this article, for example, over at fivethrityeight, “Americans’ Distaste for both Trump and Clinton is Record-Breaking.” In it, Harry Enten, points out that “Clinton and Trump are both more strongly disliked than any nominee at this point in the past 10 presidential cycles.”
In addition to the unpopularity of the candidates, the two major parties are split over their nominees. As we saw at the recent Democratic convention, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are unhappy with the process and the results. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz spoke at the convention about voting one’s conscience (i.e. don’t vote for Trump if you don’t like him).
So, if you don’t like either candidate, for whom do you vote? Progressives are being told to suck it up and vote for Clinton because if they don’t, Trump will win, and that could lead to a dictatorship. Conservatives are being told to suck it up and vote for Trump because if they don’t, Clinton will win, and that will mean at least four more years of Obama-esque policies. They’re also being told a vote for the Greens and Jill Stein, or the Libertarians and Gary Johnson, is just a wasted vote and could lead to Clinton/Trump winning. What do you do then if you truly believe in the platforms of Stein or Johnson?
What Might a PR System Look Like in the US?
Based on the current situation, I think we would have at least six big parties. These are just generic names, so you can name them whatever you please- Greens, Social Democrats (Bernie Sanders’ supporters), Moderate Democrats (Hillary Clinton supporters), Moderate Republicans (non-Trump supporters), Nationalists (Trump supporters), and Libertarians.
This system would truly allow people to vote their conscience and feel represented in government. It might also help avoid the gridlock and government shutdowns we currently experience.
What do you think- is it time for the US to change our electoral system?
Thanks for reading.
Today, January 8, the House voted on and passed H.R. 30, the Save American Workers Act of 2015. The final tally of the vote was 252 ayes (12 of whom were Democrats), 172 noes (not a single Republican), and 5 not voting. Following the vote, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) tweeted that the bill passed with his support. Since I hadn’t heard about the bill, I did a little digging, and this is what I found.
First, the summary given by Congress.gov states that “This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to change the definition of ‘full-time employee’ for purposes of the employer mandate to provide minimum essential health care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from an employee who is employed on average at least 30 hours of service a week to an employee who is employed on average at least 40 hours of service a week.”
Second, the Congressional Budget Office came up with a cost estimate. The two findings that stood out to me were the following:
1. The legislation would “Increase the number of uninsured—by less than 500,000 people.”
2. “Enacting H.R. 30 would increase budget deficits by $18.1 billion over the 2015-2020 period and by $53.2 billion over the 2015-2025 period.”
While I am concerned that the number of people without insurance would increase (in fact I believe that we should adopt a health insurance system similar to those in Europe), I was also intrigued that the GOP would support legislation that would increase the deficit. The GOP! The party that proposes deficit reduction plans and the party that wrote about President Obama’s deficit “problem” at the end of his first term. Given their past, and ongoing, concern about the deficit, how is it that almost every single member of the GOP voted for H.R. 30? Simple, it does not really matter to them; instead, they would rather dismantle the ACA and see more people go without health insurance.
Thanks for reading.
Since I’ve started the first course of the International Politics and Practice certificate, I haven’t had much time for writing new pieces here or reading the books I wanted to for the Politics and IR Book Club. In fact, I haven’t had much time for anything else besides work (teaching high school history and government), parenting three energetic kids, and my course on international political economy. I’ve got ideas for future posts (thank you Brussels Forum), I just don’t know when I’ll have the time. So, if you notice a longer gap than usual between pieces, you now know the reason.