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 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?


Things I Know 353 of 365: It isn’t all for everyone

A successful tool is one that was used to do something undreamt of by its author.

– Stephen C. Johnson

My stepdad was explaining at lunch today why Facebook just wasn’t how he connected to people. I understood.

“What about Twitter?” he asked. “I haven’t looked at that.”

Knowing him as I do, I told him to stay away. “It wouldn’t be useful to you.”

I get the feeling this is was unexpected piece of advice coming from me.

It took less than a semester for people at Harvard to come to expect my nerdiness.

Even at SLA, a school that breathes technology, I was one of the nerdiest.

Here’s the thing to remember, I like technology. I will totally geek out on the newest gizmo, gadget or app. Being a beta tester is a source of pride for me.

When thinking about systems and considering a task to be completed, however, one of the last things I’d advocate is technology for its own sake. Out of context or usefulness, there are few things I can think the use of which I’d advocate for their own sake.

This is because the misuse or thoughtless application of tools, structures, and systems can be an ugly, counter-productive thing.

I’ve seen it in the teacher with access to 1:1 laptops who makes the worksheet using Word and distributes it for her students to type in their answers and then print them out to be submitted.

I’ve heard it in the arguments of those who call for changes in schooling so that students can, as a result of those changes, do better at school.

While I think most every teacher could benefit from jacking in to the network of educators on Twitter, I don’t think every teacher should. Requiring every teacher in a school to sign up for this account or that account is a great way to insure you’ll never have 100% participation in that market.

The best way to make a tool useful is to wait for the use of that tool and build the capacity to recognize when it is called for.

Had I encouraged my stepdad to sign up for twitter, I would have been giving the world another person complaining about twitter’s uselessness.

That’s not my bag.

Things I Know 172 of 365: The container matters little if at all

Your essay should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides.

– Purdue Online Writing Lab

In freshman English, Mrs. Miller would not accept any papers with “the fringies on them.” If we were turning in an essay from a spiral-bound notebook and hadn’t torn along the perforations, we were required to remove the “fringes” before submitting our work.

Not removing said “fringes” would result in the loss of a letter grade for our overall score.

Far beyond writing in a spiral-bound notebook, I find my current classwork governed by the exacting standards of the American Psychological Association. Margins, I have learned, are to be 1” at all times.

The quality of my writing will, of course, begin to degenerate were my margins to shrink or expand beyond the 1” mark.

A few months ago, unthinkingly, irresponsibly, stupidly, I submitted a multi-page document without changing the default margins from their 1.25” measurements.

Luckily, my stalwart instructor was paying attention to what mattered most and dutifully docked three points from 20 for my final score.

Each of these examples serves as a reminder of the standard training at the K-12 and collegiate levels meant to bring about an understanding of the importance of the container.

Sunday, I witnessed another example.

Following the demonstration of the systems and structures his state had worked to put in place to facilitate discussions of professional learning for otherwise isolated or siloed teachers, a presenter opened the floor to questions from the assembled masses.

“Who moderates the discussions?”

“Who hosts all this?”

“What’s the name of the program you’re using?”

“Who’s paying for the installation?”

One after another, the masses queried the fringes.

They wanted to understand the container, not the contents.

They were consumed by the tool, not its purpose.

For nearly half an our, we’d been privy to an explanation of how teachers were working together to share knowledge, build practices and deepen learning for their students. Where a road of conversation had been paved before us, we admired the curb rather than asking where it could lead.

I understand the fascination with the containers of our learning. We’ve been trained from the early years of our educations to believe there was a correct way and an incorrect way to store our learning – be it double spacing or indenting.

What few of us ever heard or were encouraged to learn was that knowledge and skills are not solids with corresponding intellectual tupperware in which we should store them for the correct moments. Instead, these things are the soup of learning. They are fluid and malleable – shifting to fit the shapes and structures of the situations to which we apply them.

While container certainly matters for audience. As it is important when considering the end goals, no situation has a set container. Some fit better than others.

A document margin of 4.5 on all sides would interrupt the transmission of message.

But no iteration of the communication of learning should preclude the next iteration of learning.

Containers, should fit our purposes, allowing thinking we pour into those containers should shift according to need.