Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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3. Federalism: U.S. v. The States, Using the Video
Topic Overview Using the Video Readings Critical Thinking Activity Web-Based Resources

Classroom Applications Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion Watch the Video and Discuss Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion




Using the Video Unit 3

Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion (30 minutes)

Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:

  • Why does Congress, according to Chief Justice Marshall, have the power to create a national bank?

  • What would our national government look like today if it possessed only the enumerated powers?

  • What view of federalism is applied in the Dred Scott decision?

  • Discuss the role the national government plays in secondary education. How has the government come to play this role?

  • What kinds of powers should be held by the states alone?

Take a list of commonly provided public services-Roads and Highways, National Defense, Health Care, Public Housing, and Education. Which level of government is best suited to take primary responsibility for providing the service? Why?

Watch the Video (30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]

The video includes three segments:

1. Federal Wolves at the Door

This story highlights the federal Endangered Species Act, passed by Congress in 1973, which imposes federal mandates on states to protect animal species that are deemed in danger of becoming extinct. In this story, the state of Idaho is grappling with a federal mandate that says wolves, an endangered species, must be reintroduced into the state and managed by state authorities. In the end, despite protests from many Idahoans, the Idaho government realized it must comply with the national government's mandate.

Discussion Questions

  • On what grounds did the national government mandate that the state of Idaho had to allow the reintroduction of wolves?

  • By requiring that Idaho manage the wolves once they have been reintroduced, the national government was enforcing an unfounded mandate. Can you think of other unfounded mandates that are imposed on your state?

  • Why shouldn't the states be allowed to decide what is to be done about endangered species?

2. Using Federal Dollars To "Buy" Interstate Highway Safety

The federal government sometimes uses grants-in-aid programs to expand into policy areas that are traditionally (and constitutionally) controlled by the states or local authorities. This story involves federal efforts to impose a national drunk driving standard, as measured by a .08 blood alcohol level, at the urging of national groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In the 1980s, states were put under pressure to adopt the national standard or risk losing millions in federal highway funds. South Carolina, a state with a long tradition of resistance to federal encroachments on its authority, has yet to adopt the national standard for its citizens. The story closes in 2002, when the .08 bill died in the South Carolina State Legislature. As a result of the committee's action, the state has kept its constitutional authority to set its own standards, but it risked losing 64 million dollars in federal highway funds if it failed to adopt the national standard by 2007.

Discussion Questions

  • It is clear that the national government cannot directly legislate on the issue of drunk driving. How has the national government managed to implement a national blood alcohol standard?

  • What is the difference between the carrot and the stick approach to national mandates?

  • Are there other areas where the national government uses its financial resources to force states to enact specific laws?

3. When Welfare Depends on Where You Live

This story explores one example of "devolution," a process where the national government reduces its authority over some issues and shifts power to the states. In 1996, President Clinton signed a welfare reform bill that provided federal funds to the states in the form of block grants, but allowed states to set their own welfare policies. Supporters of the bill, officially entitled The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, hailed it as a way to allow states to determine for themselves how they should assist their citizens, while critics charged that some states were unwilling to or incapable of providing sufficient help to the people who need it most. In the first five years after the law was enacted, over one million people, mostly women, went off welfare, while welfare rolls dropped by more than 50 percent nationwide. However, the aggregate statistics don't reflect significant differences among states in how they have run their welfare programs and in how successful they are. For example, some states have reduced their welfare rolls by 90 percent, while others saw much smaller reductions.

Discussion Questions

  • What is devolution and why has it gained favor in recent years?

  • Those who advocate stronger states often argue that the states can serve as laboratories for policy experimentation. Is the story of welfare reform a good example of that argument?

  • To what extent is it appropriate that the benefits one receives depends on state residence?

  • Can you think of other examples where services or benefits depend on where you live?

  • What services, if any, should be uniform across the country?



Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion (30 minutes) [Top]

Try the Critical Thinking activity for Unit 3. This is a good activity to use with your students, too.

1. Determining What Is "Necessary and Proper" in Practice (15 minutes)

According to Chief Justice John Marshall, Congress is not constricted to simply the enumerated powers. Instead, it may justify legislative action if it is "necessary and proper" to the carrying out of any enumerated power. List some examples of congressional use of the "necessary and proper" justification. Discuss whether or not the laws are in fact "necessary and proper" to carrying out the enumerated power to which they are linked. Try crafting your own law (e.g., some version of educational reform). Develop an argument to support your position that the proposed law is necessary and proper to carry out a power enumerated to the national government.

2. Imagining a Unitary Government (15 minutes)

Assume that the framers of the Constitution had decided to establish a unitary form of government instead of a federal system. What would have been the advantages or disadvantages of such a change? Would we have had a Civil War? What would have happened to individual freedoms? Would public services be better or worse?




Homework [Top]

Read the following Readings from Unit 4 to prepare for next week's session.

  • Introduction-Civil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual

  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "Effects of the Tyranny of the Majority Upon the National Character of the Americans-The Courtier Spirit in the United States"

  • Locke, "An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government"

  • Mill, "On Liberty"

  • Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"

  • Read next week's Topic Overview.



Classroom Applications [Top]

You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities: Determining What Is "Necessary and Proper" in Practice and Imagining a Unitary Government. They are provided for you as blackline masters in the Appendix of the print guide.



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