Why We Still Need Feminism

By Kaileen McGourty

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The feminist movement has never been unanimously popular – whether due to honest disapproval of gender equality, like that experienced by the Suffragettes, or a disbelief that feminism is still necessary today. And that’s why I’m writing this article, because of the recently blooming opinion that we don’t need feminism anymore. There are a significant number of people in this country, and possibly throughout the world, who believe that we ended sexism and gender discrimination (Yay! We did it apparently!) and therefore see feminism as redundant or even causing victim-hood among women. But that’s simply false. Discrimination based on sex is still very present in the US (and the rest of the world); those who do not see it either aren’t women or aren’t looking very hard. A good way to expose the ever-present sexism in our society is to examine dominant versus popular culture.

Dominant Culture

Let’s being with a definition. The dominant culture is made up of established societal aspects like language, rituals, or social customs. These aspects maintain dominance through institutions like the education system, law, politics, and business. This is the layer of society where first and second wave feminism focused – attacking where the most obvious and detrimental acts of gender discrimination existed at the time. The lack of women’s right to vote or own property, unjust pay, discriminatory educational practices, and workplace sexual harassment all were obstacles in the dominant culture. As a result of strong feminist efforts, we have seen great improvement in this sphere of society – this is what some are referencing when they claim that feminism is no longer necessary. Women won the right to vote and hold land. Laws punishing sexual harassment and encouraging workplace safety have come into effect. Title IX was created to insure educational institutions treat female students equally.

But have we really improved gender discrimination in the dominant culture as much as some may think? Let’s say we’re going to measure the presence of gender discrimination in dominant culture with wages. Over time, in the U.S. it is very clear that the average wage for women has moved closer and closer to that of men (see the graph below). However, we’ve yet to actually reach wage equality. As Harvard economist Claudia Goldin explains, if you calculate the average annual earnings of all full-time working women and divide that by the equivalent calculation for men the result would be around .77 – meaning, on average, women earn 77% of what men earn. So we can’t quite say there is gender equality in pay yet.

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But is this a fluke? Let’s try a different measure. How about the portion of political positions held by women? According to the World Bank data-bank, in 1990 women held a mere 6.6% of political seats in the U.S. and as of 2015 women held 19.4%. That is a huge improvement across time; however that number pales in comparison to the other one-hundred and eighty nine reporting countries in 2015. Ranking from highest percentage to lowest, the U.S. finds itself, just barely in the top 50%, at number 96 – below countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, nearly every “developed” country, and many more. So, sadly, we can’t claim political gender equality either.

Popular Culture

We have to accept that our country has not reached gender equity in dominant culture. That does not mean we’ll forget the huge improvements women have seen in our country’s history – something both genders should be proud of. But there seems to be a final obstacle preventing real equality and an end to gender discrimination. I believe that it’s the sexist foundations of popular culture standing in the way. Popular culture is more than the who’s who and what’s what. It’s defined as the sum of attitudes, beliefs, ideas, and values within the mainstream or dominant culture. It’s the culture of how we interact and what we believe. This is where those who believe sex discrimination has vanished lack an understanding or haven’t connected the dots, so to speak. Our popular culture is built upon the sexist cornerstone that women are not equal to men – this holds back gender parity in dominant culture and perpetuates potentially harmful attitudes. These attitudes account for things like street harassment and catcalling, “mansplaining”, and even rape culture. Let me give a few examples:

I asked twenty women I know, all of different ages, sizes, and locations, a question: how many days out of the week do you experiencing catcalling or other forms of street harassment? Accounting for how many days they actually walk on the street or use public transportation, on average they experienced some sort of harassment approximately 5 out of 7 days – and that’s not considering how many times it happened each day! And if you don’t believe me, ask the women in your life.

I am a huge hockey fan (go Blackhawks!), probably more knowledgeable on the topic than the average fan. But I cannot count with all my digits the number of times a man has tried to explain rules or aspects of hockey to me, based purely on the assumption that because I am a female I must not know about sports. Nor can I count the number of times someone, knowing my academic and professional experience, began explaining topics in my field of expertise because the intelligence of women is constantly challenged in our culture.

While those examples may seem harmless, and on the surface they mostly are, they are representative of a dangerous attitude – what women know, want, or say doesn’t really matter. And when that attitude gets applied to something more complicated than hockey knowledge, like sexual consent for example, heinous violations of women occur.

If you still aren’t sure that our popular culture is built on a foundation of gender discrimination I have a dare for you: in this awards season, watch all the red carpet (whatever color carpet) interviews. The presence of sex discrimination is thinly veiled at these events and is most apparent when comparing how male artists and female artists are interviewed. Compare the types of questions – are women being asked about their love life or beauty regime, while men are asked about their role preparation or inspiration behind a song? Of course, you already know the answer. This type of sexist interviewing goes undisguised in every sphere of pop culture, just watch how absurd the questions for female athletes are in this video by #CoverTheAthlete.

So What?

The reason I had to tell you all this? Gender discrimination is not done. Women are still fighting everyday to be treated with respect and equality. Our culture still does not truly value women’s intelligence, work, sexuality, or opinions. While our dominant culture has made great strides in the past towards gender equity and the fair treatment of women, society as a whole is being held back by the final obstacles – how we think, how we act, and what we value. To truly reach gender equality and an end to sex discrimination in our dominant culture and in all of society we cannot leave behind a popular culture built upon sexism. We need to rally around feminism and women. We need to examine how our individual participation in popular culture is impacting the existence of sexist attitudes. And we need to say “enough is enough pop culture, get it together!” I think it’s about time.

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Kaileen McGourty is a Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service.

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Why Love Won

#LoveWins

Not every day do the worlds of law and pop culture collide so tremendously as they did today. Then again, not every day do you have Supreme Court decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges. Undoubtedly you have read close to 525,600 Facebook statuses, tweets, and news clippings about this landmark victory for gay rights. You may be rejoicing. You may be livid. Let’s put those emotions aside for a moment to assess the Obergefell opinion and figure out why love won.

First, a brief history…

Obergefell is certainly a revolutionary decision. But for those following the Court (and political trends) over the past fifteen years, it is hardly a surprise. Prior to the 2000s, a number of states had passed laws criminalizing certain homosexual acts. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, held that such laws discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and thus violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This was a huge step forward for gay rights, but there still remained the matter of gay marriage. In 1996, Congress had passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for all federal law purposes as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” However, in the ten years after Lawrence v. Texas, several states granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, either through judicial or legislative processes. Still, DOMA remained alive-and-well.

Then, in 2013, the Court held in United States v. Windsor (2013) that DOMA was invalid to the extent that it barred the federal government from treating same-sex marriages as valid even when they were lawful in the state where they were licensed. Again, a massive victory for gay rights. (And again, Justice Kennedy authored the opinion.) But what did this mean? It meant that, for example (and as was the case in Windsor), the surviving spouse of a same-sex couple could claim a spousal deduction from the federal estate tax. While this was another huge leap forward, it still did not legalize gay marriage. But by overturning DOMA, it did clear the way for other courts to do so.

Now to today’s opinion…

In the two years since Windsor, many same-sex marriage cases have reached federal courts of appeals, and gay marriage has been legalized in many jurisdictions. But there was still a major problem: A same-sex couple married in one state (where gay marriage was legal) could travel to another state (where gay marriage was not legal) and be denied the benefits of marriage. This meant gay couples could not take advantage of certain spousal tax benefits; evidentiary privileges; adoption rights; medical decision making authority; and so on.

Finally, however, some of these cases reached the Supreme Court in the form of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which is actually a combination of several similarly situated cases. In this case, the Court was confronted with the question of whether or not gay marriage is a constitutionally protected right. The issue could be avoided no longer.

As you now know, the Court’s opinion (once again authored by, you guessed it: Justice Kennedy) held that a “fundamental right to marry” can no longer be denied because the partners are of the same sex. Gay marriage–nationwide–is now not only legal, but constitutionally protected. The Court interpreted the two central provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment (the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause) to mean that same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are equal under the law.

The opinion itself is beautiful in its simplicity. Much of it is devoted to the judicial history summarized above (although to get a full view of that history, you should definitely read the opinion) as well as cultural and political developments spanning the entirety of human civilization. But the meat of the opinion, the real holding (a legal term meaning the binding law of the case), was this: The right to marriage is a right enjoyed equally by all people, gay or straight. This, the Court explained, is firmly rooted in our nation’s history: From past Supreme Court decisions affirming the equality of interracial marriage, to decisions affirming the autonomy of individuals to make of their lives what they will. The issue is not, as some people have framed it, whether there is a constitutional right to gay marriage, but instead whether there is a constitutional right to marriage period. The Highest Court of the Land has now firmly stated that there is such a right.

The majority encountered staunch opposition from the other justices. In fact, each of the justices in the minority (Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito) wrote a separate dissenting opinion. These dissents are of varying degrees of ire and outrage. Yet the one argument that you will most likely hear disparaging Obergefell is that the Court today engaged in “judicial activism.” Chief Justice Roberts encapsulated this argument when he criticized the majority, reciting the ages-old aphorism that, under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is–not what it should be.

As with all age-old sayings, I encourage you to take this one with a grain of salt. (But certainly I am not saying you are wrong if you agree with Chief Justice Roberts). Because the line between what the law is and what it should be is a very thin one and is entirely a matter of perspective. The Court’s opinion today affirms a strong heritage of individual autonomy when it comes to the most private and intimate decisions in life. In a separate string of cases (see Loving v. Virginia and Turner v. Safley), the Supreme Court has consistently held that the right to marriage is a right enjoyed by all. The Court’s decision today simply affirmed that sentiment, regardless of sexual orientation. That is what the majority believed the law is. This is what they believed Court precedent compelled them to do. You may agree or disagree (you would be in good company with 4 of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court), but the law is what it is.

So what does this mean for me?

You now have permission to unpack those emotions we put aside at the beginning of this article. This is an opinion that invites a lot of passion from both sides, and rightly so. Even the Supreme Court itself was sharply divided in this close 5-4 decision. You will hear people rejoicing in the spirit of equality. You will hear people decrying the opinion as an affront to Christianity or other religious and moral beliefs. The vehemence of these opinions will not fade quickly. But I am sure that, eventually, it will fade.

From a legal perspective, I loved the decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. In my opinion it got the law exactly right. People may disagree because gay marriage does not fit into their religion; yet the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing or favoring a religion, so it cannot prohibit gay marriage on those grounds. People may say that gay marriage is not supported by the history and tradition of our country (echoing, in some ways, that same religious argument); yet there is a dearth of case law proving otherwise; and moreover, just because we have always done something does not mean we should continue to do it (e.g., slavery, subjugation of women). People may say that they hate this opinion because, honestly, they just hate gay people. I wish those people did not exist in our society, but they do. And unfortunately, there is no logical or constitutional argument that can persuade people out of their hatred.

Apart from the legality of it all, though, I think it is quite definitely the most beautifully written opinion I have ever read (and as a law student I have, regrettably, read thousands of opinions). It is simple, artful, and bold in ways that causes one to pause and realize that you are indeed witnessing history unfolding before you. There are not many 28-page opinions I enjoy reading, but Justice Kennedy wrote so wonderfully that it sang. It was in many ways a masterpiece. You should really take time to read it (and form your own opinions).

Personally, I am so incredibly happy today for all my gay friends, that you have had your love recognized as a constitutional right that is now the law of the land. Today must feel like a dream come true, and I am truly, truly glad for you. And to all those who are disappointed with today’s ruling, I want to remind you of this: You can disapprove of the Court’s decision but still be happy for the millions of people who are today reveling in love. You can oppose the law without opposing the people affected by the law. You can fight for change without fighting one another. That is the difference between opposition and prejudice. And that is how we can make sure that love really does win.

*****

An Assortment of Favorite Passages From the Opinion

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a character protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.

*****

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. The idea of the Constitution was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.

*****

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

*****

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

*****

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

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David Postic is a third-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

29 Things I Learned From The World Cup

By David Postic

 

2014 World Cup


 

As we draw near to the end of the year’s greatest sporting event, I would like to get a few things off my chest. First of all: I know next to nothing about soccer (or fútbol, for those of you who actually know things about soccer). I played it for years growing up, but there were way fewer rules and the game mostly consisted of us kids running around in a pack, waiting until halftime so we could have Capri Sun and Fruit Gushers. This is not the soccer I’ve seen in the World Cup. So on behalf of all the non-soccer fans out there, here are my observations:

1. There isn’t as much head butting as I was led to believe.

2. However, there is more biting than I was led to believe.

3. It is apparently mandatory for most soccer players to have the Macklemore haircut.

4. The amount of gel in your hair is directly proportional to how good you are.

5. Bonus points for having a shape and/or words shaved into your hair.

6. Penalty kicks are the worst thing in the history of the world.

7. Soccer announcers are glorious human beings.

8. The most random countries are really good at soccer.

9. For example: Bosnia-Herzegovina? Chile? Croatia? Gondor? Narnia?

10. America is not really good at soccer.

11. American fans are pretty good at being soccer fans, though.

12. Soccer fans are generally insane.

13. Teddy Roosevelt is a soccer fan.

14. Ergo, Teddy Roosevelt is insane (also dead).

15. Stoppage time is dumb. We have technology. Just stop the clock.

16. I have seen way fewer bicycle kicks (0) than I expected (every single kick).

17. Brazil seems super upset right now.

18. Germany scored 7 goals in 90 minutes.

19. That’s a rate of 1 goal every 13 minutes.

20. Argentina and Belgium combined for 0 goals in 120 minutes.

21. That’s a rate of 0 goals every infinity minutes.

22. I can score 0 goals every infinity minutes.

23. Watching someone score a goal is one of the most exciting parts of my life.

24. Soccer players are really nice to each other.

25. Except when they’re biting each other.

26. Not having commercials is by far the biggest draw of watching soccer matches.

27. I still don’t get what constitutes offsides.

28. I also don’t get why Pitbull was chosen to sing the official 2014 World Cup theme song.

29. I miss the 2010 World Cup theme song.

And those are my thoughts on soccer.

After watching literally days of World Cup soccer, I can honestly say that I still barely have any idea what’s going on. But I am learning. More importantly, the game is really growing on me. The world’s most popular sport has this inexplicable charm to it that makes it a joy to watch. And on those rare occasions (other than the Germany-Brazil match) where someone actually scores a goal, I find myself yelping with joy. It is a wonderful, wonderful game. And I will thoroughly miss it for the next four years until America cares about it again.

See this post on BuzzFeed.

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David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

10 Most Important SCOTUS Decisions of 2014

By Lester Asamoah and David Postic

U.S. Supreme Court


 

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores set the social media world (and the regular world, for that matter) on fire. Suddenly, people who usually couldn’t care less what those nine crazy old people say got all excited and started tweeting about it. In other words, Hobby Lobby was essentially the World Cup of Supreme Court rulings.

However, Hobby Lobby was not the only case the Supreme Court (or SCOTUS, for those who like acronyms) covered this term. In our opinion it wasn’t even the most important. Considering that the Court hears between 80 and 90 cases each year–on a wide range of issues–it is important to know what they decide outside of this one little case. Below we have ranked and summarized the ten most important cases from this term.

1. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission

Background: If you don’t know anything about the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision from 2010, stop now and go learn about it. Essentially, this case (like Citizens United) is about how much an individual can contribute to a political candidate, political party, or political action committee (PAC). McCutcheon was not arguing for the right to donate more money to a single candidate; rather, he wanted to be able to donate money to more candidates/parties/PACs. However, limitations on aggregate contributions constrained his giving, supposedly violating his First Amendment right to free speech.

Holding: The Court ruled in favor of McCutcheon 5-4. The practical effect of McCutcheon is that individuals will still be subject to a limit (currently $2600) on contributions to any one candidate and higher limits on contributions to any PAC or party committee.  Now, however, donors will no longer be limited in the number of candidates or committees they may support in any given election cycle. Viewed together, Citizens United and McCutcheon strike a major blow to proponents of campaign finance reform.

2. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Background: The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requires employers to provide their female employees with health insurance that includes no-cost access to twenty different kinds of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby, a craft store owned by a Christian family, objected to the requirement, specifically claiming that four types of contraceptives (two kinds of “morning after” pills and two kinds of IUDs–interuterine devices) are abortifacients and therefore burdensome to the free practice of their Christian religion.

Holding: The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby. The first important thing to note here is that this ruling was not one centered strictly on the Constitution. Rather it was mainly a statutory issue concerning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The decision here did not destroy Obamacare’s individual mandate; it also did not grant all businesses religious exceptions to Obamacare. The majority claims that this ruling is a narrow one that applies only to closely-held corporations and only on an issue such as contraceptives and only when it places a significant burden on religious freedom. Nevertheless, the dissenters (led by Justice Ginsburgh in what may be one of her most fiery dissents in recent years) claimed the majority established dangerous precedent that could have ramifications in racial discrimination, same-sex discrimination, and other issues.

3. Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Background: If you are unfamiliar with affirmative action, take 5 minutes to orient yourself. In 2006, Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, which prevented the state’s public colleges and universities from granting preferential treatment in the admissions process on the basis of race.

Holding: In a 6-2 decision (Justice Kagan recused herself), the Court ruled that voters can end state affirmative action programs. The opinion will not prevent universities from using race as a plus-factor in admissions processes; it merely stated that voters have the power to ban the use of racial preferences. Nevertheless, the dissent and proponents of affirmative action believe that this is a major setback for racial equality. While the decision focused on race-based admissions factors in universities, it would presumably also permit voters to end race-based policies in the hiring of state and local employees and in awarding public contracts.

4. American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo

Background: Aereo invented a technology that allows subscribers to view and record television broadcasts over the Internet by swiping the broadcasts from the airwaves with thousands of tiny antennas. Because the startup did not receive permission to stream these broadcasts, broadcasting companies sued Aereo, claiming copyright infringement. However, Aereo claimed that they were not infringing on any copyrights–they were simply renting antennas to consumers and they were doing the rest.

Opposing Aereo were the broadcasting companies, as well as corporations such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball, which earn hundreds of millions of dollars selling their broadcasting rights. On Aereo’s side was the cable industry. If Aereo won, cable companies would be able to sell their own Aereo-esque technology and provide broadcast content without paying broadcasters a penny. Interesting to note here: When Aereo won its case on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals last year, CBS and Fox threatened to go off the air.

Holding: The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo in a 6-3 decision. The justices seemed anxious to avoid a ruling that would imperil the legal foundation of cloud computing services such as Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Music. Instead, the majority said the decision pertained only to Aereo’s system so far as it enabled its viewers to view copyrighted TV programs “live,” or after only a brief delay. In the increasingly dramatic fight between cable companies and broadcasters, Aereo affirmed in part the power of the broadcasting industry.

5. Riley v. California

Background: A California police officer stopped the petitioner, Riley, for a traffic violation that eventually led to his arrest on weapons charges. When Riley was arrested, his cellphone was taken and searched. The police officer found photo and video content suggesting that he was involved a particular gang shooting. Riley moved to suppress the evidence from his phone connecting him to the gang, but the trial court denied the motion and he was convicted.

Holding: In a 9-0 decision, the Court held that the police may not search the cellphone of an individual who is arrested. All nine justices maintained that such digital content may only be searched with a warrant. Riley does not have a direct impact on allegations of government monitoring personal information, but it is a big win for personal privacy and the Fourth Amendment by reaffirming constitutional protections in an increasingly digital world.

6. Town of Greece v. Galloway

Background: Town board meetings in Greece, NY open with roll call, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer and have done so since 1999. The town’s prayer program is open to all creeds, but all of the local congregations are Christian. Thus, nearly all of the prayers are Christian prayers. Respondents Galloway and Stephens argued that the prayers go against their personal religious and philosophical beliefs – they arguethe town should have “inclusive and ecumenical” prayers that would not associate the government with one belief system.

Holding: In a tight 5-4 decision, the Court held that the town of Greece was not violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The prayers have Christian elements, but they also invoke a sense of spiritual and civil principles. Additionally, the majority believed that reasonable attempts were made to include clergy of different faiths. Regardless, this case is big for religious freedom. The “traditional” protections that Congress and state legislatures have for prayer are now extended to local civil entities. City of Greece 1 – Laicism 0.

7. Hall v. Florida

Background: A man (Hall) kidnapped, beat, raped, and murdered Karol Hurst, a 21 year old newlywed. After killing her, Hall and his accomplice planned to rob a convenience store but were stopped by in the parking lot by a sheriff’s deputy. The two men then killed the deputy. The State of Florida recommended the death penalty for both counts of murder. Hall argued he cannot be executed on account of his intellectual disability. Hall’s IQ score is 71, but Florida laws state that an IQ score of 70 or below is required to present additional evidence of an intellectual disability to vacate the sentence.

(Note: Highly recommend reading the opinion brief, Hall was tortured by his mother and faced other troubling circumstances. The Florida jury and appellate court opinions are also worth the read.)

Holding: The Court ruled 5-4 that the state IQ threshold was unconstitutional because it put intellectually disabled individuals at unreasonable risk for being executed. Prior case law has established that any execution of intellectually disabled individuals clearly violates the Eighth Amendment. Florida’s hard and fast IQ threshold was a problem because the law did not account for standard error.

8. NLRB v. Noel Canning

Background: Several members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were appointed by President Obama via the Recess Appointment Clause, which states that the President has the power to temporarily appoint officers without the consent of the Senate if the Senate is in recess. The NLRB members in question were appointed during a three day recess.

Holding: In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Court ruled Obama’s appointments invalid. Basically, the Justices felt that a three day recess is far too short to make appointments without Senate approval. There is no concrete definition on what is “too short” of a recess. However, it is generally regarded as a “significant interruption of legislative business” (e.g. Summer Recess). The ruling blocks the president from sneaking appointees past the Senate. Yet in a highly partisan Senate, it also slows down the appointment process of key political officials.

9. EPA v. EME Homer City Generation

Background: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through the Clean Air Act, established national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for pollutants at levels that will protect public health. Once the EPA determines NAAQS, they determine the “non-attainment areas” where a regulated pollutant exceeds the NAAQS. A state with a non-attainment area must submit a solution to the EPA within three years. If the EPA thinks an the solution is inadequate, the EPA develops a Federal Implementation Plan where the EPA takes control. A solution can be ruled inadequate if it is in violation of the Good Neighbor Provision, meaning that the plan must include provisions to prevent regulated pollutants from one state from adversely affecting another [downwind] state.

In 2005, the EPA Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) sought to regulate nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide in 27 upwind states. However, the D.C. Circuit Court found fault with CAIR, so the EPA came up with a complex cost-based formula for determining how states should compensate one another. If this case sounds complicated, that’s because it is.

Holding: In a 6-2 decision, the Court reversed the D.C. Circuit’s decision. The decision is significant because President Obama announced an EPA plan last month to combat climate change. The aforementioned Clean Air Act is the source of the EPA’s authority–instead of creating a new law, the EPA regulations are interpretations of the Clean Air Act. Environmental politics are dicey, but the Court gave the EPA a victory.

10. McCullen v. Coakley

Background: The Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act made it a crime to knowingly stand within 35 feet of a public way or sidewalk of an entrance or driveway to a reproductive health care facility. Petitioner McCullen argued that he and others engaged in “sidewalk counseling” by giving women walking toward abortion clinics information about alternatives to abortion. McCullen claimed that the Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act significantly hampered his efforts of “sidewalk counseling”, and thus was a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Holding: In a 9-0 decision, the Court ruled the Act unconstitutional. Quite simply, the Justices believed that the State of Massachusetts did not do enough to address clashes between abortion opponents and advocates before passing the Act. In so deciding, the Court continued a strong trend of protecting free speech, even when it is perceived as hateful.

—–

Lester Asamoah is an International Security Studies senior at the University of  Oklahoma.

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David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

7 Things You Need to Know About Charter Schools

By David Postic

7 things you should know about charter schools


If you find yourself talking about education policy, you’re probably going to end up talking about charter schools. At its core, the charter school movement is a relatively simple concept, but it has become complicated in practice and politics. Luckily for you, we have put together a short primer to unravel these complications so you can fully understand the context of the charter school debate.

1. Charter schools haven’t been around all that long.

The first charter school was founded in Minnesota in 1991. Since that time, the number of charter schools has increased dramatically, with 5% of public school students in the United States now attending a charter school.

2. Charters are, in some ways, similar to traditional public schools.

Both traditional public schools (TPS) and charter schools are technically “public” schools: They are funded with taxpayer money, don’t charge tuition, and are required to accept any student who wants to enroll. But while public schools are governed by local school boards and school districts, charter schools are operated by independent groups.

There are other important differences as well. Some charter schools can hire teachers who are not certified by the state. Many charter school teachers are also paid based on performance. In general, charter schools have greater flexibility than TPS in setting curriculum, school hours, teaching method, and hiring/firing teachers.

3. Charter schools do not have admissions policies.

Rather, charter schools are not supposed to have admissions policies. A Reuters investigation in 2013 found that some schools get around this requirement through a variety of different screening methods. As a result, those schools can pick the students they want and avoid those they don’t. However, charter schools backed by state law (such as KIPP, Success Academy, etc.) generally ask for little more than name, grade, and contact information in their applications. It is the stand-alone charters, which account for more than half of all charter schools in the U.S., that make up their own admissions policies. These schools are the ones who skirt the “open” and “inclusive” rules of charter schools. Many charter schools are located in high poverty areas and actively target disadvantaged students.

4. Many charter schools spend less on the classroom.

Unlike TPS, some charter schools are run for a profit. Nationally just under 13% of charters are run by for-profit entities. However, that number varies from state to state. For example, an estimated 85 percent of Michigan’s charter school students attend schools run by for-profit companies. These for-profit charters typically spend about 50 percent of their budget on instruction compared to close to 60 percent for traditional public schools. These for-profit charter schools typically obtain their profits by spending less in four areas: Teacher compensation, special education, transportation, and concentrating on K-8 schools rather than high schools. Opponents of charter schools focus in on this fact: From a taxpayer standpoint, would we rather see dollars go to teachers or corporate profit?

5. You don’t actually pay more for charter schools.

Taxpayers are not obligated to pay any more simply because a new charter school opens in their area. Charter schools are public schools, and tax money that is allocated to education goes to charter schools as well as TPS. Professor Paul Hill of the University of Washington simplified the issue: “Basically, there is money that used to be in the hands of the public school system that now goes to charter schools. But it’s not more money, it’s the same, and in some cases actually less… So it isn’t that the public is paying more for charter schools. In fact, sometimes they’re paying less.”

6. However, charter schools do take money away from TPS.

Charters and TPS get money for every student that enrolls. So technically, each student that enrolls in a charter school results in less money for TPS. On one hand, public schools no longer have to spend money on those lost students, but on the other hand they may have trouble reducing their costs to the same degree. Nevertheless, charter school enrollment does mean less total funding for TPS. The important question to ask: Is it worth it?

7. The results of charter schools are mixed.

One of the leading studies on charter school performance, organized by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), has been used to suggest that charter schools are outperforming TPS. Like similar studies, the CREDO research has been repeatedly distorted and mischaracterized by parties on both sides of the charter school debate.

The central result of the study is that approximately one hundredth of one percent (0.01 percent) in the variation in test performance can be attributed to charter school enrollment. Charter advocates took that statistic and ran headlines around the nation that “charter schools improve test performance.” Obviously that implication is misguided.

Part of the reason for all this mischaracterization is the promotional effort of education reformers. This statistical research burst onto the scene in 2009 when it was referenced in the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” The ‘Superman’ narrator tells the audience that “one in five” charter schools is excellent. The actual finding from the CREDO study (which was a precursor to the updated 2013 study referenced above) is that of the charters researched, 17% (which is really one in six) had better results than the comparison student results attributed to conventional public schools, while 37% did worse.

Bottom line: Performance results of charter schools are mixed. The underlying issues are far too complex and understudied to determine that charters are all-around better than TPS.

So those are the charter schools basics.

At their core, studies show that charter schools perform about as well as TPS on average. However, the same factors that contribute to success in traditional schools–good teachers, good administrators, high levels of family support–also make good charter schools. The movement is still relatively young, so the results are only beginning to be evaluated. Nevertheless, as charters grow to become a larger part of the national education debate, it is important to understand what they are and how they may affect your community.

—–

David Postic is a law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Education Links We Love (July 4th, 2014)

Education Reads

Each Friday, we here at Thirty-Eight Minutes post our five favorite education-themed articles from around the web this week. Alas, we are but five guys with limited time to surf the furthest reaches of the Internet. So, as always, we would love any additional articles worth reading. If you find any, please post them below and share your discoveries with us.

Why We Still Need Affirmative Action (Washington Post)

What’s Missing From the Merit-Aid Debate (Chronicle)

College Debt and Home Buying (NY Times)

5 Powerful Videos on Global Education (Edudemic)

To Close the Achievement Gap We Need to Close the Teaching Gap (HuffPost)

… And for the most obvious headline of the week…

Bonus: Education is Key to Making Oklahoma Competitive (NewsOK)

8 Reasons Teachers Are The Worst

By David Postic

teachers are the worst


Teachers are the worst…

 

1. Teachers don’t have that hard of a job. 

They basically just babysit kids for seven hours a day. Anyone could do that. Never mind that, if we paid them like babysitters, we should be paying them $250,000 per year rather than $44,000.

2. Teachers don’t take care of their classrooms. 

The books are just falling apart, the desks are old and broken, and I have to contribute classroom supplies for my kid every year. Never mind that funding for common education has been cut dramatically over the past decade, and never mind the fact that teachers make do with substandard classroom resources, often using their own money to give their kids a quality educational experience.

3. Teachers indoctrinate my kids with anti-religious nonsense.

If I don’t want my kid learning about evolution, the teacher shouldn’t be allowed to teach evolution. Never mind that teachers are charged with opening minds, exposing children to new worlds of ideas, all the while putting up with hell from parents and special interest groups for teaching a curriculum over which they have little to no control.

4. Teachers complain too much about not getting enough money for their schools.

I don’t even have kids–why should I have to pay my hard earned dollars for someone else’s kids? Never mind the fact that education funding has decreased across the board since the Great Recession; that good school districts often result in greater benefits to everyone living there; and that “kids are the future” and all that jazz.

5. Teachers get off work at 3pm.

Never mind the countless hours they spend grading papers, preparing lesson plans, tutoring students, or pulling all-nighters to get ready for class.

6. Teachers get a three month summer vacation.

Never mind the professional development seminars they attend, the workshops they travel to, the classroom workdays they set aside, the lessons they plan, or even the second jobs they have to work to make ends meet.

7. Teachers complain too much about standardized tests.

Never mind the fact that such tests measure only “low level” thinking processes, take education out of the hands of educators, allow pass-fail rates to be manipulated for political purposes, and radically limit the ability of teachers to adapt to learner differences.

8. Worst of all, though, teachers try too damn hard.

Never mind that they come to work every day not for the meager pay but for a chance to make a kid smile because they understand the world a little bit better than they did before. Never mind that they try to have an impact and make a difference. Never mind that they try to change lives. Never mind that a lot of people don’t support them, don’t listen to them, don’t understand them, and don’t respect them.   …Never mind that teachers try anyway. Because that’s just who teachers are.

Yeah. Teachers are the worst. And we should all want to be like them.

—–

See this post on Thought Catalog.

David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Education Links We Love (June 27th, 2014)

Best Education links of the week

Each Friday, we here at Thirty-Eight Minutes post our five favorite education-themed articles from around the web this week. Alas, we are but five guys with limited time to surf the furthest reaches of the Internet. So, as always, we would love any additional articles worth reading. If you find any, please post them below and share your discoveries with us.

Why (and How) Teachers Are Using Twitter (Edudemic)

Congress Combats Sexual Assault at Colleges (Washington Post)

5 Key Areas of the Senate Democrats’ Education Bill (Chronicle)

Using Entrepreneurship to Transform Student Work (Edutopia)

Q. and A. About Student Debt (The Upshot)

Note: that last source–The Upshot–is a relatively new section of the New York Times that I highly, highly recommend reading for a variety of subjects.

Africa, the Single Story, and Self-Demoralization in Black Culture

By Ernest Ezuego

In the summer of 2012, I became a mentor in a program called Sooner Upward Bound (SUB). An installation of the U.S. Department of Education’s TRiO program, SUB serves low-income students from the Oklahoma City area by providing them with resources that help make pursuing a higher education an achievable reality.

I went into that summer with one main goal: Do everything I can to show these kids their value where their schools had not. To that end, I encouraged my students to be open and honest concerning any doubts or fears they had about getting into college so that we could tackle them together. The majority of SUB students during the summer of 2012 were minorities, and naturally a lot of their doubts and fears were race-based. After a lot of talks about how to fit into the higher ed scene, one of my students asked a question that framed the remainder of our summer: “Mr. E, you had to learn how to talk white to fit in here, huh?”

“…Huh?” I responded, not really knowing what else to say.

“You know… full words and stuff, all properly, uppity… you know, white.”

I didn’t know where to begin. The question was an affront to my identity. I spent the majority of my life growing up in the lower-income neighborhoods of the Twin Cities, but my mom moved us to Allen, Texas (arguably best known as the city that wasted $60 million on a high school football stadium… and these) to give us the chance of a great public school education. So being accused of “talking white” aggravated insecurities over my identity.

But then I stopped to think. Why was I so upset about being accused of “talking white”? Was I mad because I saw it as an affront to my identity, or did it have more to do with the subtle assertion that a man couldn’t be both black and well-spoken? Furthermore, what was the source of that assertion? What gave the notion merit?

It has now been two years since my SUB kids challenged me to think deeper about the self-demoralization that is all too common in the black community, specifically among the youth. In those two years, I’ve developed something of a theory for the source of the “white is intelligent, black is ghetto” mentality, and why this mentality persists. This is my attempt to break it down.

Africa is a Continent, not a Country

If we’re going to try and tackle the source of the demoralization of black youth, we really have to make sure that we can get down with the basics, and this is the most basic basic of them all:

africa4
I’ve noticed that something very odd happens whenever someone comes upon the opportunity to talk about a place in Africa. Rarely is a specific city, region, or country mentioned by name. For some reason, there is an affinity for using the word “Africa” as a blanket term to generalize every aspect of this multifaceted, billion-person-strong landmass of 47 contiguous countries and six islands.

(Brilliant satire on how to write about Africa.)

This phenomenon can be found everywhere Africa is discussed, from journalism to pop culture. A quick glance at social media during what I’m convinced has somewhere, somehow been coined “mission trip season” will show you that Africa, more often than any specific country or region in Africa, is a common destination for service. Even corporate PR executives mess it up.

The act itself is more often than not an honest mistake or misconception, but the reality of its implications are much more severe.

The Danger of the Single Story

Even those who know and understand that Africa is not a country have a hard time seeing the continent as anything other the labels that it is too often prescribed: helpless, poverty-stricken, AIDS and malaria-infested, violence-plagued. I would argue that the West has a perception problem; we generalize Africa in a way that is demoralizing more often than it is positive, and the way we see Africans in America (important distinction) is often affected as a result.

This phenomenon is known widely as the “Single Story mentality,” and there are few people in the world that explain it better than Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie did in her talk at TEDGlobal 2009 (which I strongly suggest you watch before continuing).

In her talk, Adichie shares with us her epiphany that demonstrates just how “Single Story thought” can affect the way we talk to and even see others:

“What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

The Miseducation of the Black Child

And you know what does little to nothing to combat the dangerous of a Single Story mentality when it comes to Africa? Our classrooms. Care to guess what is the first event in history discussing black people (African, African-American) en masse that most students learn about?

Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with Timbuktu being the center of learning from the 13th to 17th centuries or the rich histories of several African empires.

Here’s another hint: it’s slavery.

We are literally teaching our young black boys and girls that slavery is the first time they are significant enough to come into the broader picture of history.

I don’t have statistics or data concerning the impact of this charge, but I don’t need it. I have personal experiences to support my claim. I have the experiences of the many young black students I have mentored since I got into the game, and with those experiences, I can tell you this:

When little black boys and girls are taught that the history of their people began with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, they are taught that their people have a history of being less than adequate. No amount of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” or “now we are equal” can change that. (I will admit that Civil Rights is a prominent topic in the teaching of history that does empower people to believe that they can take steps towards overcoming oppression, but fast forward to the world that we live in today, and most people will prove that the struggle is still not over.)

When black students learn that our founding fathers omitted the denunciation of slavery (not passed on or never discussed, but included and then took out for the sake of making agreement/ratification easier) in not one but two of the nation’s most influential, most celebrated governing documents, they are coerced into being proud of our country’s “commitment to liberty” that institutionalized the demoralization of colored people.

Something isn’t right, here.

(Further reading for another time: The Miseducation of the Negro: History is a Weapon by Carter G. Woodson)

Connecting the Dots

It’s important to note that this isn’t about assigning blame or making excuses. At the end of the day, there are many more factors that contribute to the epidemic of self-demoralization in black culture. Not unlike most problems we face, this, too, is multifaceted, and I understand that. But quite frankly, this is real. Negative self-association is real. And it deserves to get the pedestal treatment so that we may begin looking at ways to tackle its catalysts.

The truth is that the generalization of Africa hurts far more than it helps. When something bad happens (say, Sudanese conflict, or the LRA), generalization causes all of Africa to be painted with the same brush. The same thing happens when, for example, your friend (bless his/her heart) tells you that he/she is going on a mission trip to “Africa.” The implication–that they are going somewhere that needs their help–is extended over an entire continent, whether or not you realize it.

The generalization of Africa helps perpetuate a Single Story. It feeds the tendency we have to generalize for the sake of making things simpler. Unfortunately, it enables us to generalize Africans (and in some cases, even all black people) as if they have less and mean less. It persuades us to look at the statistics (e.g. disproportionately high incarceration rates, ghettoes created in the aftermath of housing discrimination, etc.) instead of the individual people and their stories. Worst of all, it reinforces what our education shows us: a disproportionately large history of the black community enduring failure, suffering, and struggle rather than progress.

All of this makes it easier to self-associate with being unintelligent, while seeing white people as generally better off and more intelligent. It advances the theory that we have to “talk white to fit in.” And when our youth believe that it’s okay, that it’s the norm to find being well-spoken or intelligent as extraordinary rather than average, the prophecy fulfills itself.

It’s up to all of us to pay attention to how we generalize people, cultures, and ideas. To recognize the danger of a Single Story for any group, and work from there to make sure that our communities don’t perpetuate anything that might make another person feel comfortable with being less than.

—–

Ernest is a Political Science senior at The University of Oklahoma and the founder of Thirty Eight Minutes.