Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Real College Education

Today marks the first day of many class discussions to come in the Presidential Powers course. The class held a very interesting discussion about the Founding Fathers view of the role of the President, as stated in the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. I was intrigued to learn that the Founding Fathers were very legislatively oriented. I also learned that the Constitution was partially influenced by the attributes and experiences of George Washington.

As we are about one week into our 3.5 week trip, Milani and I decided to do some laundry this morning before breakfast.

I have found that as the days progress, my focus on my research topic narrows down. I have a much more clearly defined and specific thesis than I did two days ago.

This evening, like yesterday, I retreated back to the library to work on my outline for my research paper.

I like the structure of the Presidential Powers course very much. The course differs from my high school courses in many ways including its freedom of topic selection and individualized support. As students in the Presidential Powers course, we are free to choose any topic related to Presidential Powers that we wish for our 20+ page research paper, as opposed to picking from a pre-arranged list or even one specific topic the teacher assigns. We also have plenty of freedom to plan our study schedule on our own time. Doc Z provides plenty of guidance by recommending other sources and listening to our ideas to make sure we are on track, if we choose to seek out her help. The Columbia library system also provides a librarian consultation for assistance for researching a topic.

Some R & R

Today was rather uneventful, but that in itself is, in a way, a blessing; after a week of frenzied activity, its nice to breath easy again, curled up with a good book on a warm day with your homework done and tomorrow looking bright.

That right there is essentially my one and only major critique of this program. Yes, that whirlwind of college visits was incredibly informative and I'm grateful for the opportunity to expand my college list as well as rule out places unfit for me and my personality; and yes, the class I am taking here at Columbia is both rigorous and engaging, and again, I'm very grateful for the chance to further my academic interests. Neither of those things do I dispute, and I truly do appreciate them. But this past week has been undeniably very stressful, and the effects are long reaching: I found myself eating and sleeping less merely because I am worried and because it is what my body has adjusted to, and I've observed that I am now quicker to snap at others without really meaning too, more so than is anything I would consider a usual amount. The long hours at the beginning of this trip, added to the stress of being in a completely unfamiliar environment far away from family and friends, made it that much harder to fully grasp, utilize, and appreciate the myriad of opportunities that were being graciously presented to us, and I would say that, personally, its actually hampered my ability to perform here at Columbia. Just a side note: I'd like to point out that my aim here is not to whine or complain or unduly criticize, merely to inform and discuss so future ILC forays can perhaps have an easier time.

There is definitely something to be said for the “thrown in the deep end” approach to learning, one that I think works just fine... so long as there's someone at the edge shouting encouragement and advice. That's not to say that I feel that, if I had a real problem, I could not come to the ILC for help; but at least from my point of view, there seems to be a very small involvement from those not “on the ground” as it were. And perhaps there shouldn't be. Perhaps this is more of a social experiment, giving students a taste of real college life and watching, almost impassively, as they overcome obstacles in the hopes that the result of this close observation can help future college-bound students deal with the incredible shock that leaving home really is. But, if that is the case, I can help but wonder if that is the right approach. In all of the feedback I have gotten from current university students, many of whom have the trails of their freshman year, only a few months gone, firmly imprinted in their minds, they all stress the importance of time management. That has been duly noted by myself and I believe the rest of my cohort; but its one thing to say and another to do. Whatever good time management is depends incredibly on the person managing their own time, and I would make the argument that it takes a year (if not more) for every student, no, person, to fully know themselves enough from living on their own to really develop a system that works. I bring up this example because it seems as if the ILC is throwing this information at us and expecting us (or perhaps I should say “me” because I cannot speak for my cohort), expecting me to achieve in less than a week what takes most people a year or more by simply having the forewarning of that it is necessary. It appears, to me, to be an impossibility; but perhaps it is only my unique personality that makes me feel that way, and there are others so in tune with themselves that a forewarning can be immediately turned into a system that works for that individual. Again, none of this is meant as a criticism, merely an explanation of how I personally am coping (or not coping as the case may be) with the pressures that are part-and-parcel of the Ivy League Connection.

Class today was a lot of fun, as usual, but I found no new information engaging enough to fill a whole blog within those four hours. We went over our reading in our morning lecture, learning about how Congress has used an enumerated power, the regulation of interstate commerce, to influence everything from monopolies to civil rights to even (and I found the justification for this incredibly weak) the growth of marijuana plants for personal (i.e. not commercial) use. Over lunch I met with Eric and our study partner Min from Sol, Korea to review the things we would need to know for the quiz in our afternoon session, which I believe I did remarkably well on, in no small part due to the help I got during that brief but useful half-hour of review. After the quiz our small class played Constitutional jeopardy where, according to our instructors, anything we'd learn so far was “fair game” and the subjects ranged from the Federalist papers to the Clinton cases to the system of checks and balances. After a meeting with Mrs L and dinner, I relaxed and recuperated for the rest of the evening and afternoon, getting to know a little bit more about my suite-mates as we all lounged about, a slow process of familiarization that I'm looking forward to progressing down as he days tick by.

Deadlines and Dead-drops

In the case that "first" rhymes with "worst," I take it that they are synonymous in their right. As in, my first draft, which is an extended outline at that, of the research paper I am putting together for my Presidential Powers course is my worst. It is scarce. It is unkempt. It is disorganized. It is rushed. It is incomplete. It is not entirely accurate. It is not scholarly material. And, the deadline is tomorrow afternoon.

But, it will get better. Because, it is a testament to the best of my ability to produce quality work within the given time frame. And, by no means is any other students' paper superior to mine to a large extent, if at all. Everyone struggled through this. But, it is, and was, a good struggle. I can admit that. As more time is allotted, more work will be accomplished, and more smiles will be smeared upon the face of an exhausted, yet proud student.

I don't smile too frequently, by the way.

After hours, and hours, and hours, and hours in the library, outside of the classroom mind you, I have begun to grow a lot more comfortable in and within the setting. I do not feel a perpetual need to check the clock. I do not rush out of the reference room as soon as the clock strikes 4:00 P.M. On the contrary, I feel as though I can do without a time measurement. I do not feel the stereotypical, high school student-associated library hatred that I have felt in the past. It's the university's magic at work, I tell you.

There's something academically encouraging about a large room, filled with various students, quiet, steady, resourceful, and timeless. It doesn't necessarily conform studying into some sort-of past-time activity for leisurely hours. It does, however, allow me think of study time not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary occurrence. I even find myself more willing to use novels, biographies, and other literary pieces in my research. Rather than searching Google with three to four relevant keywords related to the topic and clicking on the top five links, I hesitate to aboard the Internet's super-highway of information. Nay, I think I'll check out the Butler book-stacks instead.

The rigor is unpleasant, sure, but the values it is reinvigorating within me are essential. Four days in, and I already feel as though I'm two steps above the competition when I enter senior year. I feel like, in addition to my A.P. assignments, this summer will have provided me with a necessary academic continuation from my usual school year, so that there is no habit to re-develop when I enter Richmond High School in late August. I won't need to brush up on my material, or gradually come into my study habit and work ethic within the first few weeks. I will not have to do any of that nonsense, because I will already be in possession of such.

And, that's extremely valuable. Of other particular reward, I'm really getting a sense of life on campus, academics aside. I'm figuring out the day-to-day routines of college kids: the risks they take, the risks they don't take, the work they do or don't do, the places they go, the people they see. I'm getting an idea of time management, both from an academic and social perspective, and I feel as though when I attend college, wherever I may attend, I will be one step ahead of my new freshman class, just as I see myself with the advantage in comparison to other rising seniors.

Though my time at Columbia University be scarce, I have learned so much. I've learned things I thought I already knew, and things that I knew nothing about. I've learned what is real, and what is fake. To an extent, I've learned about myself as an individual. And, such knowledge has surely not climaxed. I'll be learning for a while--inside and outside of the classroom.

I suppose that's what this is all about.

I am relieved to be finished with my paper in the sense of Dr. Z's instructional guidelines for the extended outline, and I am ready to drop dead onto the bed.

As the end to the first week approaches, I'm excited to see just how far my first week progressed me, and what is to come in the following weeks.

Until tomorrow-

Almighty Commerce Clause

One of the focuses of our class discussions today dealt with the commerce clause which grants Congress the right to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." More specifically, our discussion focused on to what extent can Congress use the commerce clause to justify regulating institutions both private and public.

In the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, the motel refused to provide service for black customers. The appellate court decided that under the Civil Rights Act, the motel is prohibited from discrimination or segregation in all catering establishments, with the only exception being "private clubs" with less than five rooms. Because the motel has over 200 rooms, it is subject to this act. However, the motel appealed to the Supreme Court with the argument that the 14th amendment does not prohibit discrimination in privately owned public accommodations unless private discrimination is "sanctioned by the state" or "done under state authority".

The question the Supreme Court had to answer was that because the majority of the motel's customers are from out-of-state, does that qualify as interstate commerce. If so, then the appellants argument would be void because interstate commerce isn't "done under state authority". The Supreme Court came to their decision based on the following reasons:
  1. In a society which is becoming increasingly mobile, prohibiting service to blacks causes barriers for blacks to travel to other states in search of jobs, which may contribute to interstate commerce.
  2. Because the motel's customers are primarily from other states, about 75%, discrimination isn't protected under the 14th amendment. Interstate commerce is regulated by Congress who has the right to enforce the Civil Rights Act.
While this decision my appear straight enough, it has a lasting impact on how the court interprets the commerce clause. The same logic was applied to the case Katzenbach v. McClung where Ollie's Barbeque refused to serve blacks. The Supreme Court ruled that because the establishment imported a significant amount of meat from other states, Congress has the right to enforce the Civil Rights Act because the importing of meat was deemed to be interstate commerce. More recently, in 2005, the court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that Congress can regulate a homegrown product even if it doesn't enter interstate commerce. By applying the commerce clause, the court reasoned that if a civilian smokes marijuana that he/she grew, Congress can regulate the product because if the civilian grew it, he/she isn't purchasing from possibly, out-of-state vendors.

Should the commerce clause be extended to this extent? I don't believe so. What if someone brought to suit that Congress should regulate tomatoes produced in one's garden? The justices will apply the precedent and can vote to regulate the purchase of tomatoes by using the same logic applied in Gonzales v. Raich. In my opinion, the Supreme Court has given the legislative branch too much power to regulate commerce. The power has been extended to situations where it is possible that interstate commerce may be related, instead of situations like Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States and Katzenbach v. McClung where it was known that the institutions were involved in interstate commerce.

The library is my new "home".

My morning started off with the one of the biggest accomplishments ever: doing my laundry sufficiently. I was able to wash, dry, and fold my clothes all before class started. My clothing was not damaged in the process, so I'm giving myself a pat on the back. I guess I'm already starting to learn time management. This is going way off topic to what I'm supposed to be writing about, but I found it really cool that you can set your phone up to receive messages when your laundry is done. You just text the number of the dryer and it will send you a message when it's done. You can also check the availability of the machines so if they are full you don't have to waste a trip. Pretty convenient.

We spent our AM session discussing the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. I was pretty scared at taking part in the discussion, but once I did it wasn't so scary after all. You're simply stating your opinions and its hard to get a "wrong answer". Dr. Z is a fountain of information. No matter what question you ask she always seems to have an answer and details to go along with it. She explained to us why the American colonies blamed the King of England and not Parliament in the Declaration of Independence and helped us focus in depth on the executive powers in the early stages of US government.

I am very proud of myself for the work I accomplished in the library today. It is required that we finish a 5-7 page outline for our research paper for Friday. I only spent 4 hours in the library today and I was able to manage my time wisely and finish almost all of my outline. I finished 11 pages of outline (I think I went a little too detailed) and the only thing I have to worry about tomorrow is finishing my bibliography and making some final formatting adjustments. This is the first assignment we are turning in and I hope I did it right!

I ended my night by going to the gym to relax after all the strenuous researching I've done in the past 3 days. I know this is only the beginning of the 20 pages, but I feel like I'm on a great start. Hopefully the professor will like my work. Tomorrow I am going to wake up at 5:30 AM to go with an RA group to see Beyonce perform in Central Park. Don't worry, we'll be back before class. I adopted a new motto in the last couple of days: Work Hard, Play Hard.

In the Library

This morning’s class began with a talk with Doc Z about the expectations for the outline of our paper. She went over the proper format of the bibliography, introduction and much more and as a result, I now have a much better idea of what to include in my paper. The rest of our morning class time was spent listening to a riveting lecture from our professor about the American Revolution.

Today was my first day in the Butler Library stacks, the large collection of books located in the middle of the Butler library. I am a now a big fan of university libraries. Having never previously studied at one, I am thoroughly impressed with the extensive print and online collections in the Columbia catalog and the immense resources the university offers, including librarian consultations.

I spent some of lunch locating my books, browsing through them and putting them on hold. For our afternoon session of class, I preferred to walk over to the Lehman Library where I had the opportunity to briefly discuss my research topic with Doc Z and she gave me some names of important figures and authors pertaining to my subject. Following dinner, I spent a few hours in the Butler Library, reading the books I selected on my subject.

After three days, I am finding American Presidential Powers to be a very stimulating course. It has truly opened my eyes to the intricacies of political science and I am pleased to be learning this at such a wonderful university. I really do appreciate the support the Ivy League Connection has received from the sponsors and administrators that keep this program around.