Dear IGGI Community,

The Journal for Political Science Education (JPSE) has published IGGI’s article on, “Freedom of Information in the Classroom: Teaching for Empowerment in the Social Sciences and in Ethnic Studies.”

Public records act requests (aka “sunshine requests” or FOIA requests) are underused in college teaching. Yet, learning how to implement them provides students with an invaluable resource for student empowerment and also, for government accountability.

After completing their records FOIA assignments, students, for example, “expressed greater understanding about the role of transparency in government. One student noted that he or she had never thought about the significance of transparency until the course. Another student summarized, ‘I learned that the role of transparency in good government is essential … In class, for example, we learned that the definition of transparency is availability of information that is allowed by external actors who monitor the performance of an organization.’ A third student remarked that transparency helps people to ‘feel more inclined towards making a change’ to do better, as opposed to becoming ‘complacent and apathetic toward government.’ A fourth student observed that transparency made it possible for America to hold war criminals responsible for violating civilians:

‘The lack of respect for human life exhibited by the My Lai massacre was nothing short of revolting. Through transparency, the American people were able to weigh in on the massacre and give their public opinion. No one, including military officials, is above the law. Lt. Calley, one of the culprits in the mass murder, was found guilty in the eyes of the public, and sentenced to life imprisonment … No excuse could take away from the merciless, gory killings of innocent and harmless Vietnamese men, women, and children both young and old.’

Thus, students understood that transparency allowed Americans to be actively engaged as monitors for good government” (p. 14-15).

Put succinctly, instructors may public records act requests to support an informed citizenry as is essential to American democracy.

This article describes public records request assignments in courses in political science and in Asian American Studies. Beyond commonly known activities like voting, volunteering, signing petitions or peacefully protesting, students should gain experience in exercising their rights to an expansive set of government records that fall within the domain of “the people’s business.” Few courses include public records requests (e.g., implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state sunshine laws) as part of formal coursework assignments at the undergraduate level, although responsive records would be useful in, for example, course papers and in class oral history projects. For scholars of Asian American Studies, the FOIA can be used to uncover invaluable data and information that would otherwise be unavailable in traditional scholarly publications, textbooks, news articles and online posts. More generally, many students report that they are more interested in politics, knowledgeable and empowered regarding their political efficacy, as well as critical of bias in information flows from pundits in the media and from other sources after completing FOIA exercises.

Temporarily, a free copy of the article can be downloaded here 

Yours in good government,

Dr. Le on behalf of IGGI


Loan K. Le (2022): “Freedom of Information in the Classroom: Teaching for
Empowerment in the Social Sciences and in Ethnic Studies”, Journal of Political Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/15512169.2022.2058955

Image Source: Journal of Political Science Education (c) 2022 JPSE

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