Contemporary Social Issues: Analyzing Critically, Arguing Persuasively

Fall and Winter, 2004-05

The Legislative Hearings Project

Groups and Panels (completed on Feb. 7)

Schedule of work & events

Links to the Washington State Legislature


Web-X Introduction

[Fall quarter library workshop, "Discovering the Lay of the Land." Here is the assignment for this workshop, due on Friday, Nov. 5, at 11am.]

I. The Process

Students will become experts on particular contemporary social issues.   They will focus their expertise on a question that bears directly on some aspect of  how that issue is being addressed in public policy.

Each question will be addressed by a group of four students in a simulated legislative hearing: two will argue one side of the question and two will argue another side.  Their testimony will be presented both as a written statement and in a public hearing.

For each simulated hearing, a panel of other students will direct questions to the testifying experts.  (Members of the panel will have read the written statements ahead of time.)  At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel will vote a recommendation for consideration by the “legislature” (the program students), who will discuss and decide whether or not the recommended policy should become law.

These hearings will occur in the closing weeks of winter quarter. 

  II. Historical note (an illustration):

When students carried out this project two years ago in the program "What's Love Got to Do with It?", the questions they settled on were:

  "Should same-sex marriage be legal?"

  "Should gays be allowed to adopt children?"

  "Should every family have a guaranteed income above the poverty line?"

  "Should parents be required, on a national level, to attend parenting classes to prevent child abuse?"

  "Should federal and state funding for incarceration of non-violent drug offenders be rerouted towards rehabilitation programs?"

  "Should public high schools provide contraceptives and birth control information?"

  "In Washington State, should only a psychiatrist be able to prescribe medication for treating ADD, ADHD, or bipolar disorder?"

  "Should abstinence be the focus of sex ed classes in school?"

  "Should the public schools be allowed to make contracts with private corporations either for advertising or distributing their products?"

  "Should marriage rights be abolished?"

III. Topics you might work on:

There are many issues that could be addressed:  sex education, welfare reform, domestic violence, marriage policies, military conscription, foreign policy in the Middle-East, tax policies, school reform, security from terrorism, domestic poverty, national policies toward genocides, affirmative action, juvenile justice system, prisons... 

These are all broad and would encompass many questions.  Here are a few possible questions (which would be refined as the group carries out its work):

  Should sex education classes stress abstinence only?

  What is the prevalence and cause of domestic violence?

  What should the legal policies be in cases of domestic violence?

  What is the proper distribution of social welfare resources between the elderly and children?

  What should our welfare priorities be in the next 5 years?

  Should federal welfare funds be used to promote marriage, e.g. to provide marriage education and counseling?

  Should we adopt parental leave policies, such as in Germany, expanded child care facilities as in France, or should we rely on the market to produce work-family solutions as in the United States?

  Should universities and professional schools preserve affirmative action policies in admissions?

  In cases where affirmative action is used, should its purpose be to promote diversity or to rectify past oppression?

  What policies should we adopt toward illegal immigrants?

   Should we replace the federal income tax with a flat tax?

  Should we retain tax incentives such as deductions for housing interest and new businesses?

  Should we legalize same-sex marriage?

 Should people who choose to cohabit rather than marry have the same legal obligations as married couples to share property if they part?

What is the main reform that is needed in the juvenile justice system?

What should be our incarceration policies for juveniles?

What is the solution to prison overcrowing?

IV.  What you should do now (week 5 of fall quarter):

Think about the issues and questions you would like to work on.  Search out web sites for advocacy groups that address these issues and related policies.

You might also go to the Justice Talking web site and see if there are debates on issues that interest you – very likely there are.

Next Monday, the library workshop will address how you can find scholarly resources that bear on contemporary social issues.  Come to the workshop.

Talk to your colleagues about what interests you.





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