Friday, December 22, 2006

Teaching about the U.S. Congress

The article Teaching about the U.S. Congress is another excellent ERIC Digest which gives ideas for teaching about American Congressional history and assorted helpful resources in teaching about it. It is from 2001. The authors are Thomas S. Vontz and Sarah E. Drake.

From past experience, teaching students about Congress is difficult. The students are either partisan (I am a Republican or I am a Democrat), cynical (all Congressmen are corrupt), or just plain ignorant with no desire to learn. They see all lessons I teach through one of these three lenses. Of course, there are always a few students who do keep an open mind. I guess my lesson plans should focus on moving past current events and focus on what Congress has done right in the past.

From the site:

Disagreements about the structure, functions, and powers of Congress were prominent at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Two proposals, the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, framed debates about Congress. In response to the impotence of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, both plans were designed to increase the power of the national government, including Congress.

The Virginia Plan called for a two-house legislature: one to be elected by the people and the other to be chosen by the first house. The plan also called for proportional representation based on the population of each state.

Delegates from states with small populations vehemently opposed the Virginia Plan because it diminished their power in Congress relative to the states with large populations. According to the New Jersey Plan, each state would continue to have equal representation in the unicameral Congress of the United States.

Settling the disagreement over representation in Congress was crucial to the success of the Convention. The Convention eventually made the "Great Compromise." It provided for a two-house legislature in which states were represented on the basis of population in the House of Representatives and represented equally in the Senate.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Time Person of the Year 2006 - Miland Brown

OK, I am exaggerating a lot. Time Magazine has named you (that means everyone) person of the year. But since that includes me, my headline is technically true. The article is You -- Yes, You -- Are TIME's Person of the Year.

Time has a good rationale for this. User generated content on the Web is booming and changing they way we find and disseminate information. The collective impact on history of millions of people contributing to Facebook, Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube, Blogger, etc. has made all of these people the ones who had the most impact on the world in 2006.

I will admit that Time took the easy road on the choice this year. If they truly picked the one person who had the biggest impact in 2006, it probably should have been President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. However, I am glad Time ducked that choice. It would have been a propaganda coup for the Iranian President which would have been easily used to make it appear that the Western media supported him and his policies. Pointing out that Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were also past winners probably would not have changed the propaganda value.

From the site:

The "Great Man" theory of history is usually attributed to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." He believed that it is the few, the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species. That theory took a serious beating this year.

To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened in 2006. The conflict in Iraq only got bloodier and more entrenched. A vicious skirmish erupted between Israel and Lebanon. A war dragged on in Sudan. A tin-pot dictator in North Korea got the Bomb, and the President of Iran wants to go nuclear too. Meanwhile nobody fixed global warming, and Sony didn't make enough PlayStation3s.

But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Siege – How to Take a Medieval Castle When You Don't Have a Catapult

I found this informative article at As the site allows for the reproduction of articles by blogs and other websites, I am going to go ahead and reprint it here. The author of the article is Will Kalif.

In the later centuries of the Middle Ages siege engines were often employed to take down the walls of a medieval castle. But in the early centuries an attacking army often did not have the skill, resources, or time to build and use siege engines so they employed other very ingenious methods including biological warfare.

A Medieval Castle is a fortress built out of thousands of tons of stone and designed for maximum safety and security yet they were still taken and often by very devious means. Here were some of these simpler and less technological ways that castles were sieged.

Deception: Spies were used to infiltrate the castle. They could, at night, open the castle gates or wreak havoc on the interior defenses of the castle. The most famous case of this tactic is the Trojan Horse.

Treachery: Someone trusted within the power structure of the castle could give misleading information that would bring down the castle. He could for example report that there were many more troops sieging the castle than there actually were. This would induce the castle residents to either revolt or surrender out of fear.

Starvation: This was a method used but it often meant many months, sometimes even a year or more. The sieging army would station itself around the castle and not allow any form of commerce. Eventually the inhabitants would surrender due to imminent starvation.

Biological warfare: Yep that's right. A sieging force could launch the remains of rotting corpses into the castle causing outbreaks of life-threatening illness.

Simple Storm: The sieging force could carry on an all out attack at various points of the castle. This overwhelming would hopefully break through in some places causing a collapse in defenses.

Tunneling: The sieging army would actually dig tunnels under the castle. The hope was not so much for an entry into the castle but for a way to collapse the castle defenses. It was because of this technique that many Medieval Castles had moats around them. A moat would cause the collapse and filling with water of any attempted tunnels.

Because the walls and fortifications of medieval castles were so well built an attacking army would often employ methods that didn’t directly attack them. Instead they found and used a host of other means to either attack the inhabitants or get them to surrender. It is partially due to this process that many medieval castles still stand to this day.

To Learn More about Medieval Castles visit the author's website at: The Medieval Castle Website