Inching closer to the light after Citizens United?

In writing for the majority on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, Justice Kennedy hit several times on the idea of disclosure as a balancing factor to opening the ceiling on corporate elections donations.

If voters know who’s financing candidates and ballot initiatives, the logic goes, then the prejudicial effects of whatever they’re financing will be diminished. Modern technology, Justice Kennedy wrote, “makes disclosures rapid and informative.”

Somehow, following the ruling, Congress took little note of the window the Supreme Court opened in affirming disclosure requirements in campaign spending.

Luckily, the Internet, America’s shadow democracy, stepped in to model transparency and disclosure possibilities.

Here are a few of note for voters, teachers, and students heading into the final countdown of this election season.

The Sunlight Foundation has a host of tools and apps for investigating elections funding, the activity of Congress, and the movements of state legislatures.

One of my personal favorites is Checking Influence which “shows you how companies you do business with every day are wielding political influence.”

Voter’s Edge is designed to throw light on the funding of ballot initiatives. As of this posting, VE has information on initiatives in CO, CA, and FL. Clicking through, viewers are able to track who is funding efforts for and against the initiatives, the effects of the initiatives’ passage and contact information for major supporters or opponents of initiatives.

One of my first tools for investigating my options as a voter, Project Vote Smart has only improved over the years as it’s harnessed the power and possibility of the Internet. Billing itself as the “voter’s self-defense system,” Vote Smart includes candidates and initiatives at the state and federal level.

A quick search of my address revealed my state rep, her challengers and their records. For incumbents, this includes voting records, while all candidates’ recent public statements as well as campaign finance information can be reviewed through the site.

Finally, a direct connection to campaign finance is FollowTheMoney.org from The National Institute on Money in State Politics. Through this site, readers can track financial influence across state elections and more completely understand the flow of cash through candidates’ coffers. After the electorate-useful information, my favorite feature of FTM is its meta-disclosure, “Where do we get our money?

Bringing the Phone Tree out of the Moth Balls

Never having played sports in school (or ever, really), the phone tree, as I understood it being used by soccer moms, never really entered into my life. I got the concept, but never needed.

When talking to a music teacher a few weeks ago about how he was using technology to care for students, the phone tree became suddenly relevant.

After a marching band gig, the teacher had sent a mass text to all of his musicians thanking them for showing up and performing. A simple act this teacher hadn’t thought much about until I’d worked to underline the importance of the ethic of care in the classroom.

It was a simple act that, after the instruments had been packed away, reminded the students that what they did mattered to other people and that they were valued.

Nice.

It also got me thinking about a possiblity for phone trees in the classroom. Apps are great and I’m all for welcoming kids to bring tech into school spaces. Oftentimes, this transitions to a mandate or a platform requirement.

Enter, phone ring.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. At a class’ opening, each student is linked to another. A to B, B to C, C to D, etc. until Z is linked back around to A in the end. (More of a phone ring, I’m realizing.)
  2. Working on anything – homework, projects, whatever – if C has a question she can’t quite figure out, she gets ahold of D via whatever means necessary. It can be text, IM, e-mail (gasp), phone call (double gasp). D and C work together find an answer.
  3. If they can’t, that’s cool. The ring continues. D says, “I think we need another brain,” and gets ahold of E. The ring continues.
  4. Knowing the system is in place, the teacher begins the next class asking if any questions or troubles made it around the ring since their last meeting. It’s a formative assessment gold mine.

Student are practicing social skills, it’s low-threat collaboration, it values the asking of questions. It’s low-cost and allows for the use of mobile technologies without requiring them or the installation of new functionalities.


P.S. In putting together the chain, I’d probably take personalities into consideration and try to build in as much student choice. The easiest way I’ve found is starting with a conversation of what it means to be connected to someone who supports your learning and then asking each student to write down the names of three students they know would support their learning if they were linked and one student who would probably derail their learning. After that, it’s up to teachers’ professional opinion to make matches that foster student growth.