How Much Power Should the Federal Government Have Over States?
Award-winning Harvard academic, Professor David Moss, will lead a case study debate on federal vs. state power on November 13.
How much power—and what kind of power—should the federal government have over the states? This foundational question, first debated by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, will be the focus of an innovative program on November 13 offered by the League of Women Voters of Greenwich, together with the Greenwich High School Social Studies Department and the Harvard Club of Fairfield County.
Replicating his popular class at Harvard Business School and Harvard College, the event will be based on Professor Moss’ recent book, Democracy: A Case Study. The book applies the Harvard case study teaching method to nineteen pivotal episodes in American political history, from the drafting of the Constitution to the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
The event will give participants an opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of delegates to the Constitutional Convention and debate a question that is still enormously relevant to our politics today: how far should the powers of the federal government extend? Those attending will read the short case in advance and take part in an illuminating discussion and learning experience. The League has organized the program with balanced participation between adults and high school students.
According to Deirdre Kamlani, League Board and Program Committee member, “We are honored that Professor Moss agreed to come to Greenwich to moderate this case. Our hope is that this program will encourage more cross-party dialogue and enthusiasm around political engagement, both of which are at the heart of the League’s work. We also plan to help scale the adoption of this program by League chapters throughout our state, and eventually, across the U.S.”
While many schools around the country are integrating Professor Moss’ cases into their civics and history curricula, the League—one of the country’s oldest and largest non-partisan civic organizations—plans to use them to create a series of community programs. The League’s goal is to encourage voters to recommit themselves to the process of informed and reasoned debate, something League members see as the cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy. Professor Moss published the book in part to remind Americans that constructive conflict has always been part of our political process, allowing for different perspectives and interests to be accommodated in a marketplace of ideas. For those who are concerned that this productive tension has taken a negative turn in our politics today, Professor Moss offers this observation:
“Democracy in America has always been a contact sport…American democracy has survived and thrived from one generation to the next on the basis not principally of harmony but of conflict—sometimes intense conflict—mediated, generally, by shared ideals.” One of the central questions the cases seek to answer is why this conflict has proven to be highly constructive at many points in our history but dangerously destructive at other rare moments, such as the lead-up to the Civil War. Better understanding past behavior and outcomes can provide us with a guidepost for more fruitful political engagement in the future.
“We have had an overwhelming community response to this event, with participants of all ages and political backgrounds signing up to take part,” said Aya DeSimone, League Board Member and Program Chair. “Recreating a constitutional debate with so many different viewpoints will shed light on the challenges faced by our fledgling democracy.”
Nancy Duffy, League Board Member and Nominating Chair, added, “I think these discussions will also help members of our community better understand the challenges faced by today’s elected officials and citizen-advocates. Those who set out to improve public policy do work that is both demanding and inspirational.”
Greenwich High School’s Social Studies Department has partnered with the League to offer this program.
Lucy Arecco, Bella House and Social Studies Program Administrator at the high school, was an early supporter of this collaboration with the League and the case study approach. She said, “We had three AP teachers attend a training session at Harvard in September, where they were instructed by Professor Moss and his team. They returned from that experience very enthusiastic about incorporating the cases into their classes.”
Karen Boyea, Social Studies Learning Facilitator at the high school, was one of the teachers who attended the Harvard training. She added, “I am excited for members of the Greenwich community to be able to experience class with Professor Moss. The Harvard case study method fosters critical thinking and a deep understanding of defining moments in American democracy. I have been impressed by the depth and quality of my students’ discussions about the case studies, and I am looking forward to teaching more cases this year.” And, while Greenwich High School is hosting and co-sponsoring the event, students and teachers from Brunswick, Greenwich Academy, and Sacred Heart will also be participating.
Anne-Marie Hesser, the League’s new Board Member and Youth Outreach Coordinator, supports the program and hopes it will be the first of many. “Professor Moss has given us the opportunity to create long-term engagement with students who are just starting to get involved in the political process. Student evaluations and interviews have suggested that those participating in these cases are more likely to vote and more likely to think about running for office in the future.”
The event is being held at Greenwich High School in Room 900 on Monday, November 13 starting at 6:30pm. Although admission is free, space is limited and early registration for non-school participants is required through Eventbrite at:
If you are a student or teacher at one of the participating schools, you need to register directly with your school liaisons. Any questions can be directed to the League at [email protected]