The International Criminal Court Seeks Arrest Warrants for Leaders of Israel and Hamas

Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), announced on May 20 that he has applied for arrest warrants for leaders of Hamas and Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza. A panel of judges will now consider Khan’s application for warrants for Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip; Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas; Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant.1

What Is the International Criminal Court?

The ICC is a criminal court located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, which brings cases against individuals for charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. It operates independently of other international organizations, such as the United Nations, and is separate from the UN International Court of Justice.2

The ICC was founded in 1998 by a treaty and entered into force in 2002. As of 2024, 124 countries are members of the court; Palestine is recognized as a member, but Israel, as well as the United States, Russia, China, and others, are not.3 If the ICC grants Khan’s application and issues arrest warrants for any of the five men, any country that is a member would have to arrest them and extradite them to The Hague.4

The ICC currently has arrest warrants for world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, for leading the invasion of Ukraine, and former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, for directing a campaign of mass killing and rape in the Darfur region.5

What Are the Charges?

The charges against Sinwar, Haniyeh, and al-Masri include “extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape, and sexual assault in detention.” Hamas militants killed approximately 1,200 people and took at least 245 hostages in the October 7 attack on Israel. The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant include “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.” When announcing the application, Khan said, “The fact that Hamas fighters need water doesn’t justify denying water from all the civilian population of Gaza.” The Ministry of Health in Gaza estimates that more than 35,500 Palestinians have been killed and more than 79,000 have been wounded in Gaza since October 7, but outside organizations have not been able to confirm those numbers.6

How Have World Leaders Responded?

Both Israeli and Hamas leaders have condemned Khan’s application. Netanyahu said the action was meant to target all of Israel. “I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in the Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” he said. Hamas said in a statement that it “strongly condemns the attempts of the ICC Prosecutor to equate victims with aggressors by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders without legal basis.”7

In the United States, President Joe Biden issued a statement in defense of Israel. “Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence—none—between Israel and Hamas,” he said. “We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”8

Congressional Republicans have also condemned the ICC’s arrest warrants. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) said the chamber may vote on sanctions against the ICC for seeking an arrest warrant against Netanyahu.9 Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), leader of the House Republican Conference, said, “The ICC is an illegitimate court that equivocates a peaceful nation protecting its right to exist with radical terror groups that commit genocide.”10

Not all Democrats agree with President Biden, however. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement, “The ICC prosecutor is right to take these actions. These arrest warrants may or may not be carried out, but it is imperative that the global community uphold international law. Without these standards of decency and morality, this planet may rapidly descend into anarchy, never-ending wars, and barbarism.”11 Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said, “If Netanyahu comes to address Congress, I would be more than glad to show the ICC the way to the House floor to issue that warrant.”

International rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released statements in favor of the ICC’s actions.12 Support is split in Europe, with leaders in France, Germany, and Belgium affirming the actions of the ICC and those of the United Kingdom and Czech Republic issuing press releases against the prosecutor’s inclusion of Israel with Hamas. The United States’ neighbor, Mexico, supports an investigation by the ICC.13 As of May 21, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had not released a statement about the action.14

What Happens Next?

The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber will assess whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused have committed a crime within the ICC’s jurisdiction. In past cases, the Pre-Trial Chamber has taken several months to decide whether to issue a warrant, and security experts expect the same for this case. The ICC does not have its own police force; therefore, it must rely on member countries to enforce the arrest warrants that it issues or the suspect to present themselves to the ICC voluntarily.15

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the ICC’s decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders? Explain your reasoning.
  2. If arrest warrants are issued, do you think the United States should help enforce them? Why or why not?
  3. If a world leader commits atrocities, how should we hold them accountable?

Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Piroschka Van De Wouw, Reuters
[1] Statement of ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC:
[2] International Criminal Court:
[3] United Nations:
[4] New York Times:,known%20as%20the%20Rome%20Statute
[5] Just Security:
[6] CNN:
[7] Reuters:
[8] Washington Post:
[9] Axios:
[10] The Hill:
[11] Senator Bernie Sanders:
[12] Amnesty International:; Human Rights Watch:
[13] Reuters:
[14] CTV News:
[15] Just Security:

Gun Violence & Public Health

In September 2023, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) declared gun violence in Albuquerque and the surrounding Bernalillo County a public health emergency, mirroring similar declarations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration was accompanied by the immediate imposition of a 30-day ban on carrying firearms in public areas and state-owned property in the region. Gov. Lujan Grisham defended the move as a necessary step in protecting children; gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in the United States.

The move was met by criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in New Mexico, a state with relatively few prohibitions on firearm possession and carry. Several days after the emergency declaration, gun rights organizations filed lawsuits resulting in a judge temporarily preventing the new rules’ enforcement. Gov. Lujan Grisham narrowed the emergency measures to only temporarily prohibiting the carrying of firearms in Albuquerque-area public parks and playgrounds, a move which resulted in a federal judge allowing the rule to become effective in October.

Gun rights groups, such as the National Association for Gun Rights, and individuals filed lawsuits against the emergency declarations as unconstitutional. Plaintiffs and political critics of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s move have cited both the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen (2022). The Bruen case introduced a new way state regulations on firearm carry will be tested for constitutionality, limiting what both existing and new regulations can prohibit. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) also voiced opposition to the rules as unconstitutional, though he stated he wanted stricter gun control. Opposition to the new rules, including the revised declaration prohibiting carry in only public parks and playgrounds, also reflects sentiment that the regulations prevent citizens from carrying a firearm for self-defense.

However, in the post-COVID environment, gun violence—particularly gun violence against children—has been increasingly treated as a public health crisis. Researchers at Tulane and Johns Hopkins Universities have studied this possible approach, and research released in 2023 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Gun Violence Solutions recognized broad support for gun violence and public health solutions. Support was found among 61.8 percent of gun owners and 54.4 percent of Republicans for publicly funded programs that include conflict mediation and other social services. The researchers’ recommendations also emphasized restricting public carry of firearms, which they considered a primary impact of gun violence.

Tulane’s research noted that certain gun control measures—such as expanding prohibitions on firearm purchases by domestic abusers—may have a significant impact. The research also identified approaches unrelated to gun control measures that could reduce gun violence, such as beautification programs that develop vacant properties and improve societal wellness. Tulane’s research praised Advanced Peace, a California organization that practices violence interruption. Violence interruption is a set of practices that prevent cyclical violence by focusing on expanding community resources for individuals at heightened risk of perpetrating gun violence.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is gun violence an issue in your community? Does this issue impact you and people you care about? How? 
  2. Is gun violence an issue that should be addressed by changes to laws and regulatory policies? Why or why not? 
  3. Do you believe gun violence should be treated as a public health concern? Why or why not? What is the most compelling argument against your position?
  4. If gun violence is treated as a public health concern, should public policies emphasize gun control (e.g. restrictions on gun ownership) or community reform? 

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Boston University’s School of Public Health
Tulane University: Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue
National Public Radio: One Way to Prevent Gun Violence? Treat It As a Public Health Issue
Johns Hopkins University: Center for Gun Violence Solutions
National Public Radio: Some Big Health Care Policy Changes Are Hiding In The Federal Spending Package
Scientific American: Gun Violence Is an Epidemic; Health Systems Must Step Up


The 13th Amendment, Crime Legislation, and America’s High Incarceration Rate

Today, 25 percent of the world’s documented prison population is incarcerated in the United States. Despite America being the land of the free, there are more recorded prisoners here than in any other country: 2,068,800.

So, how did the United States get here? Over the last 40 years, numerous factors have contributed to the dramatic increase in the prison population. President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971. Ensuing legislation, such as the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, contributed to a rapid increase in the U.S prison population. Years earlier, even the 13th Amendment to the Constitution contributed to the growth of the prison population.

The 13th Amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Some refer to this clause as the criminal-exception loophole, which allowed the economic benefits of slavery to continue by prosecuting and imprisoning Black Americans for petty, ill-defined crimes such as vagrancy.

After the Civil War, Southerners struggled with the sudden lack of free labor and the economy began to deteriorate. To offset that stress, some states began the practice of convict leasing and enforcing Black Codes. This allowed prisoners to be leased out for their labor to those who paid small leasing fees to the government. Because Black Codes criminalized freed slaves for frivolous reasons such as lack of employment, lack of housing, or participating in business other than husbandry, there was quickly a plethora of laborers to lease out.1

This loophole introduced long-term consequences that are still catching up with us today. The effects of the 13th Amendment and current laws continue to allow convicted felons to be compelled to work without pay. And some legislators regard the U.S.’s highest incarceration rate as a pressing current issue.

How Citizens Feel About Our High Incarceration Rate in America

In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Campaign for Smart Justice conducted a public poll to gain a greater understanding of how individuals view the high incarceration rate in America. Of those polled, 71 percent agreed that it is important to reduce America’s prison population. That 71 percent included 87 percent of Democrat respondents, 67 percent of independent respondents, and 57 percent of Republican respondents. The poll found that 68 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for an elected official who supports reducing the prison population, and that 71 percent believe incarceration is counterproductive to public safety. Other studies and polls show similar results that liberals, conservatives, and moderates, for the most part, find some agreement on the high incarceration rate in America as a current issue.2

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) discuss sentencing reform and reducing rates of incarceration:

What Are Some Possible Solutions?

One proposed approach to reducing the incarceration rate is to begin back-pedaling on some laws passed with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the 1994 Crime Bill. President Donald Trump signed into law the First Step Act of 2018, which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. The main goals of the law were sentencing and prison reform. The law gave sentencing power back to judges by allowing them to reduce sentences below the statutory minimum; offenders who were sentenced for crack-cocaine-related charges prior to 2010 were automatically allowed to apply for resentencing. There were also a multitude of reforms to how corrections officials treat prisoners and certain aspects of how the Department of Justice and attorney general interact with the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Corrections to make living and labor conditions better for inmates.

READ: “Criminal Justice Reform: The First Step Act” on the Current Issues Blog

Another prospective solution is to amend the Constitution. In 2020, congressional Democrats proposed legislation to add an amendment to the Constitution that would eliminate the language that permits slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishment and make them unconstitutional under any conditions. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) argued for the bill’s passage, saying that the 13th Amendment “continued the process of a white power class gravely mistreating Black Americans, creating generations of poverty, the breakup of families, and this wave of mass incarceration that we still wrestle with today.” Former Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said such a change to the Constitution would “finish the job that President Lincoln started.”4

Although this constitutional amendment did not pass, some states are passing similar legislation to amend their own constitutions. In 2018, Colorado put a measure on the state ballot to remove the language permitting slavery from the state constitution and became the first state to do so since the 19th century. Two years later in 2020, Nebraska and Utah passed similar legislation by ballot. Then, in 2022, voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont officially made all forms of slavery illegal in their states.5

Supporters of these amendments argue that they will help rid America of modern-day forced labor in the prison system. Most prisoners are made to work during their incarceration. For example, much prison maintenance and upkeep is done by prisoners for $1 per hour or less. Activists say that compelling prisoners to work for such little money is synonymous with involuntary servitude, and they argue that passage of these amendments could balance morality scales and give prisoners more opportunity to save money to support themselves upon their release, thereby reducing recidivism rates and keeping communities safer.

Opponents, however, see a different view. They point out that allowing prisoners to collect higher wages would be difficult and expensive. For example, the California Department of Finance has estimated that it could cost $1.5 billion to pay prisoners the minimum wage. Opponents believe that such a move would reduce the beneficial impacts of certain prison programs that allow inmates to acquire job training and skills while working for no pay—programs that can assist them in having a more successful reentry to society.6

Discussion Questions

  1. How high a priority issue, if at all, do you think the high incarceration rate in the United States is? Explain your reasoning.
  2. What would be some benefits of taking steps toward reducing the incarceration rate? What would be some drawbacks?
  3. Do you think the criminal-exception loophole allows slavery and involuntary servitude to exist today? If so, how? If not, why not?
  4. When it comes to prison labor, do you believe inmates should have a choice to work or should they be compelled to work? Do you think they should be paid more to work or not? Explain your reasoning.
  5. Of the proposed policies mentioned above (or another that you have heard of), which do you believe would have the greatest impact on reducing the incarceration rate?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 


Featured Image Credit: Cornell Chapter of Amnesty International


Government Initiatives in Protecting Native Habitat

Conservation efforts to promote native habitat hardly ever make national headlines, but they have been a consistent part of both federal and state government initiatives for decades. However, if you live in states such as Missouri, Kansas, and Virginia, you may have seen your state government take up environmental legislation this past week against the Bradford pear tree, an invasive tree that gained its fame for a particularly foul smell and is already restricted in ten other states.

Bills introduced in state legislatures ranged from those offering trade-in programs, giving landowners native trees in exchange for Bradford pear trees in Virginia, to an all-out ban on the sale of the tree and other invasive vegetation in HB 2412 introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives.1 State politicians cite a number of reasons for bringing forward these policies, including the difficulty native plants have competing with invasive species and the unwillingness of the general public to commit to growing native plants on their land.

North America has been on a steady path of natural habitat loss since early colonization, with some of the largest causes being agriculture, climate change, and land conversion for development.2 Farming practices have largely relied on foods that are not naturally grown in our ecosystem or have been genetically altered to grow in mass quantities. Conservationists have seen this result in detrimental land erosion and natural habitat loss for native animal species.

In the 19th century, the United States saw a boom in land development along coastal regions, replacing what was once marshlands with private and commercial buildings.3 Florida, a state on the front lines of climate change, has seen its wetlands decrease by 44 percent since becoming a state.4 As the ocean rises and the southeastern part of the country experiences more extreme storms, landowners can see their land wash away, as they rarely continue to plant vegetation with root systems that can retain the water flooding their land, instead opting for plants that have a decorative appeal over the natural long grasses that once grew along the beaches. While the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife works to restore wetlands on public land, state laws make it difficult to enforce conservation policies on privately owned land.

At the federal level, there are a number of government entities that work to address the issue of native habitat loss, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. While these agencies have their own projects and initiatives, much of the work that’s done through these government organizations is done through grant opportunities provided to state agencies, research institutions, and nongovernmental organizations. The funding is created by acts of Congress, such as the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (which promised to mitigate the impacts of climate change) and the longstanding North American Wetlands Conservation Act of 1989 which still funds work done today.

While there are many organizations dedicated to the cause of conservation efforts, bills working to address the issue hardly ever survive the partisan politics of federal and state government initiatives. Opposing lawmakers cite the rights of property owners and argue that such bills are not an issue of importance for the government to invest in financially. Others cite conservation as a cultural issue and have taken to education and social media to combat apathy toward the issue. Once such organization is the Native Habitat Project based in northern Alabama, which has skyrocketed in popularity on TikTok and Instagram, with over 424,000 followers. The group seeks to educate the public on natural habitat loss and conservation efforts in the hopes that individuals will take up the cause of protecting their local forests, marshes, and prairie lands.5

Whether you agree that conservation is a political issue or a cultural issue, we will soon see a different reality of what native habitat looks like in North America, with the effects of climate change becoming more apparent each year.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is wildlife and habitat conservation an issue the government should prioritize? Why or why not? Is this an issue that should be addressed culturally instead? Why or why not?
  2. Should the government seek natural solutions to combat climate change, such as restoring wetlands? Why or why not?
  3. Should the government have the authority to address this issue on private property as well as on public lands? Why or why not?
  4. If conservation was an issue that you prioritized, how might you motivate the public to invest in habitat restoration?


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 


Featured Image Credit: STLIPR/NPR photographer Mangrove Mike
[1] USA Today:; National Public Radio:
[2] National Wildlife Federation:
[3] NOAA Shoreline:
[4] Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
[5] Native Habitat Project:


Social Spaces for Kids and Teens


Last fall, 41 state attorneys general sued Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging that it “knowingly designed and deployed harmful features … to purposefully addict children and teens.”1 In January, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing to address online child safety issues.2 And this month, the House of Representatives voted to ban TikTok if it did not address data and privacy concerns.3 Despite a bipartisan consensus acknowledging the social media risks for youth, no substantial legislative action has been taken to protect them from exploitation and psychological harm.

Recognizing the widespread harms of social media children face online, opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg recently wrote in the New York Times about the need to help kids and teens step away from social media. With so much of their lives centered on apps and the internet, she made the case that kids and teens deserve to have better physical spaces to congregate and hang out with friends. Goldberg recommended that local governments and businesses create, maintain, and support “parks, food courts, movie theaters, even video arcades,” among other locations, to encourage offline connections and activities.4

Profiles and For You Pages

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with access to cell phones and social media. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these were helpful tools for young people to stay connected amid school closures and stay-at-home orders. Being on your phone is not necessarily a bad thing; social media can be used in healthy ways to develop and maintain friendships, learn new information, and express yourself. But addictive algorithms can hook kids, rewarding them for their engagement and spiraling them down deep rabbit holes of dangerous content, from eating disorders to suicide.5 A Gallup survey from October found that the average teenager spends nearly five hours on social media each day.6

Kids today are increasingly struggling with their mental health and experiencing heightened feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.7 In 2023, the Journal of Pediatrics published a report claiming that the “primary cause of the rise in mental disorders is a decline over decades in opportunities for children and teens to play, roam, and engage in other activities independent of direct oversight and control by adults.”8 That year, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory linking excessive social media use to the youth mental health crisis.9

Offline and Physical Places

Local governments could prioritize the well-being of young people by increasing the availability of youth-centered public social spaces. When the local library in Falls Church, Virginia, was renovated, it tripled the size of its sections for children and teens.10 In the Bronx, local government leaders and community organizers are currently working together to fix up two dilapidated skate parks.11 By supporting such projects, communities could increase the opportunities young people have to socialize in person as an alternative to social media. Promoting and encouraging their use could turn them into valuable public resources.

Having social spaces for kids and teens to hang out could help them de-stress, stay active, and make connections, all while strengthening their social skills and increasing their sense of belonging. Goldberg cited social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who states, “While kids are under-protected on the internet, they’re over-protected in the real world.”12 With space to play and socialize, kids could get face-to-face interactions and the benefits that come from both engaging with others in person and taking a break from the toxicity of social media.

Just the First Step

When choosing to create these community spaces, local decision-makers must look out for the safety and overall well-being of kids. Other considerations include accessibility and availability. Are these spaces indoors or outdoors? Do kids need transportation to access them? Are they open at reasonable hours? Are they pleasant to visit and free to use?

Goldberg’s call for quality social spaces is a small step meant to encourage young people to spend less time online—something they desire but just don’t know how to do. 13 One high schooler in a focus group on youth social media use believes “we’d all feel a lot better if we were on [our phones] less,” and that taking a break “almost sets you free in a way.”14 More social spaces would provide the infrastructure and opportunity to do so, but ultimately the decision to use them comes down to parents and individual kids. This is not the only solution to mitigate social media risks for youth, as the underlying issues and their effects on kids still need to be addressed through parental controls, content moderation, and updated legislation.

Discussion Questions

  1. How much time per day do you spend on social media? (You can check your phone’s settings to see your Screen Time on iOS or Digital Wellbeing on Android.)
  2. Have you seen or experienced negative effects of social media?
  3. Does your community have dedicated places for young people to socialize? How would you rate the quality of these places?
  4. Where do you or people your age hang out in your community?
  5. What types of social spaces would you ideally like to have in your community?

 Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 


Featured Image Credit: PeopleImages/iStockphoto/Getty Images
[1] Office of the Attorney General of New Jersey:
[2] Associated Press:
[3] Associated Press:
[4] New York Times:
[5] Axios:
[6] Gallup:
[7] New York Times:
[8] New York Times:
[9] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
[10] City of Falls Church:
[11] Bronx Times:
[12] New York Times:
[13] CNN:
[14] Ibid.


Is Instagram’s Political Content Limitation a Recipe for Silence or Progress?

Instagram’s recent introduction of a feature limiting political content on its social media platform reflects a broader shift away from actively recommending such content. In a statement, parent company Meta said, “If you decide to follow accounts that post political content, we don’t want to get between you and their posts, but we also don’t want to proactively recommend political content from accounts you don’t follow.”1

Users now must manually adjust their settings to view political posts from accounts they do not follow, aligning with Instagram’s aim to offer a more personalized experience. However, concerns have arisen regarding potential biases and the impact on political discourse.

Defining “Political” Content

Some users initially welcomed the decision to limit political content on the social media platform, seeing its potential for curbing the spread of misleading or divisive content by algorithms and mitigating the risk of users being led into harmful online echo chambers. However, the lack of parameters from Meta quickly raised alarms among other users who questioned both the extent and reasoning behind it, particularly in the lead-up to a presidential election.

“Meta seems unable to define ‘political’ content,” said The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel. “To be fair, it’s a tough ask, especially in an election year because politics is not some neatly confineable element of life—it is intertwined with culture, pop culture, and news about everything from tech to business to health and science.”2

It is also important to note that, according to the Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz and Naomi Nix who spoke to Meta about the policy last month, the limitation will apply to “accounts” rather than individual posts.3 Therefore, if content creators frequently share politically oriented content, it is suggested the new update will impose account-level restrictions. So, even sporadic political postings could result in reduced reach for affected accounts.

Battling Social Media Misinformation and Compulsive Content

Experts who favor the update have supported it as a means to reduce algorithmic bias to provide a neutral platform for all users. “Facebook has overhauled how it promotes political and health-related content. With surveys showing users were tired of strife, the platform began favoring posts that users considered worth their time over ones that merely riled them up,” recalled the Wall Street Journal’s Keach Hagey.4 By defaulting to limiting political content, Instagram can empower users to engage in political discussions willingly.

Other proponents see the update as a tool to combat social media misinformation spread through political content. Prioritizing personal connections over politics is seen as a way to create a more positive environment. Additionally, the update aims to enhance the user experience by decluttering feeds and reducing stress associated with constant exposure to political debates.

Harming the First Amendment

Critics’ main objection to the update is that Meta’s definition of “political” content appears overly broad, encompassing a range of topics such as laws, elections, and social issues. 2 This is evidenced in a report by The Markup: “Our investigation found that Instagram heavily demoted nongraphic images of war, deleted captions, and hid comments without notification, suppressed hashtags, and limited users’ ability to appeal moderation decisions.”5 This broad categorization included discussions of LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, COVID-19, and more.

Keith Edwards, a Democratic political strategist and content creator, has suggested that the limitation or removal of entire accounts that post political content could potentially exacerbate the issue of echo chambers, where users are exposed only to viewpoints that align with their own. By restricting certain accounts from sharing political posts, social media platforms risk further isolating users within their ideological bubbles and hindering the discovery of diverse perspectives.

“The whole value-add for social media, for political people, is that you can reach normal people who might not otherwise hear a message that they need to hear, like, abortion is on the ballot in Florida, or voting is happening today,” Edwards told the Washington Post.6

Striking a Balance

While aiming to personalize experiences and combat social media misinformation, concerns linger about stifling dialogue and the broad definition of “political” content. Balancing user preferences, platform integrity, and freedom of expression requires ongoing dialogue and scrutiny. As Instagram refines its approach, stakeholders must monitor its impact on diverse perspectives and democratic engagement. Striking a balance between mitigating harm and preserving rights will shape the future of online discourse.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe Instagram’s decision to limit political content is a step forward or a restriction on free speech? Why?
  2. Think about those who disagree with you. What do you think is the most compelling argument on the other side? Why?
  3. What would you define as “political” content?
  4. Do you believe Instagram’s update will reduce misinformation and divisive content? Why or why not?
  5. How might Instagram’s limitation on political content affect your engagement with the platform?
  6. In your opinion, what could Instagram do differently to address concerns about biased content moderation while still promoting healthy discourse?


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Claudio Schwarz, Unsplash
[1] Instagram:
[2] CNN:
[3] Washington Post:
[4] Wall Street Journal:
[5] The Markup:
[6] Washington Post:


What Role Should Parents Have in Public Education?

In the years following students’ return to in-person classes after the COVID-19 outbreak, questions about parents’ role in education and curriculum development—and the appropriateness of discussing controversial topics such as sex and gender orientation in the classroom—have come to the forefront of political debate.

A bill recently introduced in Congress, the Books Save Lives Act, seeks to answer some of these questions. Sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), this bill would classify discriminatory book bans as violations of federal civil rights laws, require public libraries and school libraries to maintain diverse book collections, and ensure that schools have trained librarians.1 This bill, along with similar acts such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent bill that would prevent school boards from banning books, is one response to a rising tide of states and politicians supporting stricter policy on what some view as inappropriate content in schools.

READ: Full Text of the Books Save Lives Act

On March 28, 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Act, into law. Opponents have referred to the law as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.2 The law states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”3 The law was expanded in May 2023 to extend the prohibition on sexual orientation or gender identity instruction through eighth grade.4 Since the Florida law’s passing, legislators have passed similar laws in North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa, and Indiana.5 The increasing popularity of such bills indicates that there is a growing population of citizens who believe that education regarding sexual orientation and gender identity should be left up to parents and guardians, or at least not up to schools.

One of the leading parental rights groups in support of these kinds of bills is Moms for Liberty, a conservative political organization that defines itself as “Moms, Dads, Grands, Aunts, Uncles, and, Friends … dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating, and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.”6 In addition to supporting legislation similar to HB 1557, Moms for Liberty has also organized multiple demonstrations at school board meetings around the country, galvanizing parents and other concerned community members who believe that schools are overstepping their bounds in how they educate children. The message of Moms for Liberty has spread into the presidential race as well, with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a former presidential candidate, partnering with the organization. “Parents have one job and that’s to get this right for their kids,” said Haley. “And we have to fight for them to make sure that they get that.”7

WATCH: “Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley Says She’s ‘Excited to Partner’ with Moms for Liberty on the Campaign Trail,” from Fox News

One of the more controversial stances that parental rights groups such as Moms for Liberty have taken in recent years is that of banning certain books from schools. Supporters of such measures argue that parents have a right to know what sort of literature is being presented to their children in school classrooms and libraries and to have a say in whether or not material they find questionable should be allowed to stay. This increased pressure by parents, school administrators, and lawmakers has led to a sharp increase in the number of books removed from schools in the past few years. According to a study from PEN America, there were 5,894 instances of book banning in U.S. schools between 2021 and 2023.8 During the 2022-2023 school year, there was a 33 percent increase in such instances from the previous year.9

WATCH: “Debate Over Content in School Books Intensifies at Pine-Richland,” from WTAE

The banning of books and laws such as HB 1557 has drawn criticism from opponents who argue that they are discriminatory toward the LGBTQ+ community and disrupt and degrade students’ learning environment. There have been efforts at both the state and federal levels to prevent book banning in schools, including bills such as the Books Save Lives Act. Some students who oppose greater restrictions in classroom content have protested by staging walkouts or creating banned book clubs.10

As the 2024 presidential race heats up, it is likely that the national debate about the role of parents in student’s education and related issues will intensify. For those who believe parents should have a greater role in education and curriculum development, this may mean increased scrutiny of books in schools and reviews of educational materials in the classroom. And for those who view these actions as discriminatory and harmful, there may be a greater sense of urgency to block or roll back such actions.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you seen any examples of curriculum changes or banned books in your own school or community? Do you think they were justified? Why or why not?
  2. How should the views of parents impact curriculum at public schools?
  3. What if parents in a school or district do not agree about what to teach? Should schools teach what the majority of parents demand? Protect minority views and voices? Something else?
  4. Do you believe that removing instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity for children in certain age groups is a form of discrimination? Why or why not?
  5. Do you support the Books Save Lives Act? Why or why not?


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Fallon Silcox, Spectrum News staff
[9] Ibid.


Recovering from Pandemic Learning Loss

On January 31, Harvard and Stanford Universities released the Education Recovery Scorecard, an assessment of student achievement following the COVID-19 pandemic learning loss.1 The report detailed the gains third- through eighth-grade students in 8,000 school districts across the country have made in their math and reading scores.2 The Education Recovery Scorecard results show that there has been significant recovery in these two subjects, though more needs to be done to help students reach basic levels of proficiency.

Students struggled when schools closed and pivoted to remote learning. These disruptions had real effects on students’ ability to learn foundational skills in the classroom. Last summer, I wrote about the National Report Card decline in history and civics scores in the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Reading scores were also down three points, mirroring scores from 30 years prior.3 Math scores dropped five to eight points, their largest decline since the test began in 1990.4 During the pandemic years, students lost an average of half a year of learning; since then, they have recovered only between a quarter and a third of that time.5 This can have a compounding effect; once you’re behind, it’s easy to fall even further behind unless there’s serious intervention.

Signs of Student Improvement 

The 2023 data gives reason to be optimistic about the post-pandemic learning loss recovery. While the 2022 NAEP scores were historically bad, the Education Recovery Scorecard shows that, rather than continue to decline, math and reading scores have actually started to increase. Even with these gains, many states’ scores still fall well below the national average and students still struggle to reach the proficiency levels for their grades. Only one state, Alabama, has surpassed its pre-pandemic math levels, while only Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi have reached their pre-pandemic reading levels.6 Those pre-pandemic scores were often not great to begin with, so despite the improvements, students are still generally underperforming in both subjects.

The pandemic worsened existing inequalities, widening the achievement gaps between richer and poorer students. Students from richer school districts scored higher and made stronger improvements than students from poorer ones.7 Even within the same school district, this was true for richer families and poorer families.8 During the pandemic, students who were behind in math and reading fell even further behind. Low scores sunk even lower. As scores recovered this past year, students with lower scores faced an even deeper hole to climb out from—one that they are still stuck in today.

Reasons for the Pandemic Learning Loss Recovery

It was feared that the pandemic would permanently leave students behind—that once they lost learning time, they would never be able to fully make it up. However, the return to in-person instruction and innovative methods by teachers, administration, and school districts have succeeded in starting to get students back on track.

Schools have cut down on truancy, expanded tutoring opportunities, implemented after-school and summer school programs, and even increased the length of the school day.9 “This did not happen by accident,” said Adrienne Battle, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, whose students scored among the highest in math and reading according to the Education Recovery Scorecard. “Many, many people were involved at all levels across the district.”10

Though most education decisions are made at the local and state levels, the federal government sets goals and provides some funding to support schools. The actions schools have already taken, with much success, align with three major educational goals set last month by President Joe Biden’s administration: increasing school attendance, providing high-dosage tutoring, and increasing summer learning and after-school learning time.11

Schools across the country have also made use of federal funds—more than $122 billion—to aid in their recovery, though these funds will run out in the fall.12 There’s always a need for more money, more time, and more resources, especially now as many public schools find themselves underfunded and struggling to support their students.13

Continuing the Trend

What a student learns and achieves today affects their quality of life in the long run. Low scores can correlate to lower wages, fewer opportunities, and a higher likelihood of unemployment or incarceration later in life.14 That’s on top of the challenges students currently face in the wake of the pandemic: increased levels of stress, anxiety, and loneliness.15

Educational achievement impacts the U.S. economy and our ability to advance and compete as a nation. On a global level, math scores for 15-year-olds ranked 28th out of 37 among similarly industrialized countries from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.16 There will always be a need for skilled workers and a well-educated population that can think critically, analyze information, and problem-solve to improve their own lives and their communities. Without these foundational skills, individual people—and the country—fall behind.

The results of the Education Recovery Scorecard show that learning loss recovery is possible when multiple groups of decision-makers prioritize childhood education as the urgent issue it is. The improvements we’ve seen are good, but third- through eighth-grade students are generally still lagging behind. “We’re slowly recovering,” said former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, “but not fast enough.”17 Students still have a long way to go to reach basic levels of understanding in math and reading. This is just the first step in helping students make up what they lost so they can ultimately meet and exceed the proficiency standards for their grade levels. Schools must maintain this momentum with sustained support to accelerate this upward trend.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does your school offer any additional resources to help support students who may be struggling in math or reading?
  2. Check out the New York Times resource below. Is your school district’s data included? What does it look like compared to the average scores of your state?
  3. The Biden administration set three goals to improve student achievement: increasing school attendance, providing high-dosage tutoring, and increasing summer learning and after-school learning time. Can you think of additional ways to support student learning, both inside and outside the classroom?
  4. Should Congress provide more federal funds to help students recover from the learning loss? If so, what programs, trainings, or resources should those funds go toward?

Other Resources

Related Post


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Azul Sordo/The Texas Tribune
[1] Harvard University:
[2] Ibid.
[3] National Assessment of Educational Progress:
[4] National Assessment of Educational Progress:
[5] New York Times:
[6] Harvard University:
[7] New York Times:
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] The Tennessean:
[11] The White House:
[12] New York Times:
[13] Economic Policy Institute:
[14] New York Times:
[15] CNN:
[16] New York Times:
[17] New York Times:


Revisiting the Child Tax Credit

What is the Child Tax Credit Proposal?

There is an ongoing bipartisan effort in Congress to pass legislation that would provide financial support for families with young children. The bill would allow parents and guardians to receive a larger tax credit of up to $2,000 with the entire credit being refundable. This would provide some families with an additional $700-$1,400 dollars each year.1

The House of Representatives has already passed the bill. The Senate is now considering it.

WATCH: “What’s in the Bill to Expand the Child Tax Credit?” from PBS

What Would the Child Tax Credit Bill Do?

According the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), this bill would benefit roughly 16 million children and would bring approximately 500,000 children out of poverty. In the first year:

  • Overall, more than one in five children under 17 would benefit from the expansion.
  • More than one in three of all Black and Latino children under 17 would benefit.
  • Three in ten of all American Indian and Alaska Native children under 17 would benefit.
  • One in seven of all white and Asian children under 17 would benefit.2

The Child Tax Credit bill would impact different families in unique ways according to income, the number of children they have, and whether or not they are single-parent families. According to the CBPP, these are some examples of the ways in which families could benefit:

  • A single parent with two children who earns $13,000 working part time as a home health aide would see their credit double (a $1,575 gain) in the first year.
  • A single parent with two children who earns $22,000 as a child care worker would gain $675 in the first year.
  • A married couple—with one parent earning $32,000 as a nursing assistant and the other parent staying home to take care of their three young children—would gain $975 in the first year.3

READ: “Child Tax Credit Proposal: Impacts by the Numbers” from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

What Are Legislators Saying About the Bill?

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a lead author of the bill, said, “Fifteen million kids from low-income families will be better off as a result of this plan, and given today’s miserable political climate, it’s a big deal to have this opportunity to pass pro-family policy that helps so many kids get ahead.”4

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said that the overall bill does not yet have his support but he is working with committee members to make changes. “We have not resolved everything yet,” he said. “I hope we are able to get a bill, and I’ve been working on this bill for three years.”5

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) expressed frustration that the bill doesn’t do more. “You know I’ve been told that a half a loaf is better than none,” he said. “This isn’t even half a loaf, but I’m going to vote for it because our families and businesses need help.”6

“The tax bill we are considering today contains several wins for families and our economy, but one piece falls short. The child tax credit expansion would still leave behind millions of kids in families that need it the most,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.). “I will still continue leading the effort to fully expand the child tax credit.”7

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also expressed anger at the bill not going far enough. “This bill provides billions of dollars in tax relief for the wealthy, pennies for the poor,” she said. “Big corporations are richer than ever. There is no even split.”8

Some lawmakers have argued that the bill goes too far. For example, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said, “What is a refundable tax credit? It’s welfare by a different name. We’re going to give cash payments, checks, to people who don’t even pay taxes.”9

What Are Others Saying About the Bill?

Steven Hamilton, a professor of economics at The George Washington University, said, “We know that the child tax credit is an incredibly effective, well-targeted mechanism for delivering relief to families with children.”10

Responding to criticism that the bill is too small, Nikhita Airi of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center said, “Even a small boost of income can pay really big dividends.”11

The American Enterprise Institute, a policy think tank, argues that the Child Tax Credit bill would lead to people leaving the workforce because of the tax credit. They argue that because the bill does not have a work requirement, some families may earn more from the tax credit than from work, which will lead people already in poverty to give up on jobs that might eventually help them increase their earnings.12

What Comes Next?

The bill now goes to the Senate, and it may be sent back to the House if significant changes are made. As the arguments outlined above show, there is still work to be done to develop a bill that can pass the Senate. This is a good time for the public to make their voices heard and express support for or opposition to the bill by reaching out to their members of Congress.

CONTACT: Reach out to your elected officials about this or any other issue!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is poverty an issue in the community where you live? What evidence do you see of poverty, especially child poverty, in your area?
  2. Which arguments about this bill do you find most persuasive? Do you think it is a good bill? Does it go too far? Not far enough?
  3. What do you think should be the role of the federal government in trying to reduce or eliminate poverty?
  4. If you were talking to a member of Congress about this issue, what would you say to them? What would you want them to do?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Erin Woodiel/Missouri Independent
[1] ABC 7 Chicago:
[2] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Roll Call:
[5] Ibid.
[6] ABC 7 Chicago:
[7] American Enterprise Institute:
[8] Ibid.
[9] Associated Press:,gives%20lawmakers%20on%20both%20sides
[10] CNBC:
[11] Ibid.
[12] American Enterprise Institute:


The Congressional Border Deal

On Sunday, February 4, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a compromise bill intended to address border security concerns and to provide further funding for Ukraine’s military defense against Russia.1 In this post, we will examine the immigration-related contents of the compromise legislation and explore different perspectives about the border security bill.

What Is in the Border Security Agreement?

The border security bill includes $20 billion in investments to:

  • hire new Border Patrol officials;
  • hire employees to process asylum requests;
  • provide funding for shelters and services in cities struggling to meet the needs of new immigrants;
  • expand detention facilities to hold those who cross the border illegally; and,
  • increase screenings for fentanyl and other illicit drugs.2

Additionally, the border security bill would increase the scrutiny of those seeking asylum to screen some applicants out of the process more quickly to preserve resources.3 The goal of many of the provisions connected to the asylum process would be to reduce the wait time from 5-7 years to six months. Over the next five years, the agreement would allow an additional 50,000 immigrant visas each year and would establish faster pathways to permanent status for people from Afghanistan who resettled in the United States.4

FURTHER READING: White House List of Provisions in the Bill

In addition to these provisions, the bill would give the president the authority to close the border if the number of migrant encounters exceeds 4,000 per day over the course of a week, and would automatically close the border if the number of encounters exceeds a daily average of 5,000 during a week or exceeds 8,500 on any single day.5

WATCH: The Associated Press Outlines the Senate Bill

What Are Supporters of the Bill Saying About the Immigration Provisions?

Although this border security bill was developed in a bipartisan manner in the Senate, there is no guarantee that the bill will pass. Advocating for the bill, President Joe Biden said, “It will make our country safer, make our border more secure, treat people fairly and humanely while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation.”6

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who was a lead negotiator on the bill, argued that fellow Republicans who are skeptical about the bill should appreciate that the legislation “clears up a lot of the long-term issues and loopholes that have existed in the asylum law and it gives us an emergency authority that stops the chaos right now on the border.”7

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I–Ariz.) was also a lead negotiator on the border security bill. “America is and continues to be a bastion of hope for true asylum seekers,” she said. “But it is not an open door for economic migrants. It has been, as we know, exploited dramatically by cartels in the last four to five years.”8

What Are Opponents of the Bill Saying About the Immigration Provisions?

This bill faces scrutiny both from progressive activists and from conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump. For example, Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of Indivisible, a progressive organization, said they oppose “bringing back failed Trump-era immigration policies, and we oppose handing a future Republican president new powers to inflict their cruel agenda on migrants and asylum seekers.”9

“I am still reviewing the text of this proposal, which was constructed under Republican hostage-taking and refusal to fund aid for Ukraine without cruelty toward immigrants,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a progressive member of the House of Representatives.10

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is a leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, said, “Joe Biden will never enforce any new law and refuses to use the tools he already has today to end this crisis. I cannot vote for this bill. Americans will turn to the upcoming election to end the border crisis.”11

Former President Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president, also opposes the bill and urged congressional Republicans to not pass the bill. “This is a gift to Democrats, and this, sort of, is a shifting of the worst border in history onto the shoulders of Republicans. That’s really what they want. They want this for the presidential election, so they can now blame the Republicans for the worst border in history.”12

What’s Next?

The bipartisan border security bill already appears to have stalled, as many Republican legislators have said they oppose the bill. “Any consideration of this Senate bill in its current form is a waste of time,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in a joint statement with Republican leaders on Monday. “It is dead on arrival in the House. We encourage the U.S. Senate to reject it.”13

President Biden is continuing to push for the border security bill and will likely campaign on the issue. “Now, all indications are this bill won’t even move forward to the Senate floor,” said President Biden. “Why? A simple reason: Donald Trump. Because Donald Trump thinks it’s bad for him politically, even though it helps the country. He’d rather weaponize the issue than actually solve it.”14

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think immigration is a high priority issue for the government to address? Why or why not?
  2. Which of the provisions in the border security legislation do you support, if any? Which do you oppose?
  3. Members of Congress have attempted to create compromise bills to solve immigration issues many times since the presidency of George W. Bush. Each effort at major reforms has stalled. Why do you think that immigration is such a challenging issue for legislators to solve?
  4. What would be your priorities if you were proposing changes to immigration policy?

Related Posts


As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Eric Gay/AP
[1] Reuters:,from%20the%20House%20of%20Representatives.
[2] Fox News:
[3] The White House:
[4] Ibid.
[5] New York Times:
[6] The White House:
[7] Associated Press:
[8] Ibid.
[9] The Hill:
[10] Fox News:
[11] New York Times:
[12] The Hill:
[13] New York Times:
[14] ABC News: