Author: Andrew Crocker, Instructor, Ozarks Technical Community College
In my opinion, Congress is one of the three biggest conversations we have with our students every year on the subject of American government.
It’s where the political rubber hits the road. We take literally everything we learn about politics, debates, civil rights, liberties and interest groups—Congress possesses the ability to change it all.
But in this metaphorical cell of political activity, there’s a veritable mitochondrion that takes the policy input and churns out tangible bills. These bills possess definitive changes, additions and subtractions to our laws: congressional committees. They’re where the lawmaking work is truly done.
They also present a powerhouse ability to bring students into the world introduced to them in any PLS 101 class. Here are a few tips to engage students on this topic of congressional committees:
Tip 1: Pick a Committee.
Present your students with a list of the congressional committees in the United States Congress. Allow them to pick any committee, as long as it’s a standing committee, since they tend to be more standardized.
Tip 2: Do Research.
From there, ask students to look up their committee of choice—each committee has their own website detailing everything you need to know about them.
For instance, if your student chooses the House Natural Resources committee, its website serves as handy one-stop-shopping for information about it.
Tip 3: Write a Recap of the Committee.
Ask your students to write a short paper about their chosen committee; you can determine the format, of course.
In that paper, they can simply use the website as an accessible (and occasionally dense) rundown.
Questions to consider:
- What does the committee’s website say about what the committee specializes in?
- Who is the committee’s leadership?
- What pieces of legislation is the committee working on?
- What subcommittees does it have, if any, and what do they specialize in?
Another resource: all standing committees have social media accounts. Ask your students to access them and report back on what they find.
All of this serves a general purpose of making congressional committees tangible and immediate. Students typically better understand the concept once it becomes more relevant and less technical or sterile.
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