• Redington HS

    Course Syllabus

    American Government



    Ms Delia Doss




    Course Information

    1. Course Name: American Government


    1. Prerequisites: None


    • Course Description: Course presents philosophical principles, governmental machinery and political processes of the federal government. Content includes political culture, the Constitution, civil liberties and civil rights, government institutions, political parties and interest groups, public opinion, and public policy decision-making. 


    1. Learning Objectives: This course is designed to help students achieve an understanding of:


    1. The American democratic principles and procedures, and the ways in which these are embodied in the U.S. constitution.
    2. The process by which citizens develop their political values, and how these get expressed in public opinion, party politics, and interest group activity.
    3. The organization of the national government, including the interrelationships between and among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
    4. The relationship between the national government and the states, with an emphasis on Alaska government.
    5. The nature of public policy issues, including civil liberties.


    In addition to the above objectives, this course will help students develop the following: 

    1. Identify, define, analyze, interpret, and evaluate: ideas, concepts, information, and their consequences.
    2. Communicate ideas, concepts, and information through written means.
    3. Demonstrate an understanding of cultural diversity as it relates to the individual, the community, and the global society.
    4. Academic Integrity: Students and employees at Redington J/S HS are required to demonstrate academic integrity and to follow Redington’s Code of Academic Conduct. This code prohibits:
    • cheating,
    • plagiarism (turning in work not written by you, or lacking proper citation),
    • falsification and fabrication (lying or distorting the truth),
    • helping others to cheat,
    • unauthorized changes on official documents,
    • making or accepting bribes, special favors, or threats, and
    • any other behavior that violates academic integrity.

    There are serious consequences to violations of the academic integrity policy. Redington’s

    policies and procedures provide students a fair hearing if a complaint is made against you. If you

    are found to have violated the policy, the minimum penalty is failure on the assignment and, a

    disciplinary record will be established. Details of the Code of Academic Conduct can be found in

    the Student Handbook.

     Outline of Topics: In order to accomplish this, the course will follow this outline of topics:

    The Democratic Values and the Constitution

    1. The basic values of democracy as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as in the writings of the Founding Fathers.
    2. The background of the Constitution.
    3. The grants of power contained in the Constitution
    4. The limitations placed on the federal government by the Constitution: the Bill of Rights
    5. Federalism
    6. The U.S. and Alaska constitutions compared
    7. Political Parties and Voting
    8. The nature of American political parties: historical development, traditional functions, current structure, strengths, and weaknesses
    9. Political Socialization: the origins of party, issue, and candidate orientation
    10. The factors that influence voting behavior
    11. The nature of campaigning: styles, strategies, impact, etc., and how these have changed over time
    12. Interest groups and their involvement in the electoral and policy process


    1. The functions of Congress
    2. The distribution of power in Congress: seniority, leadership positions, the committee system, voting
    3. The strengths and weaknesses of Congress

    The Presidency and the Bureaucracy

    1. The constitutional and accrued powers of the President
    2. Sources of presidential power: formal and informal
    3. The bureaucracy: an arm of the president
    4. The bureaucracy: an independent center of power
    5. The Executive Office of the President
    6. The power of the President in relation to the power of the Congress

    The Courts

    1. Law in a democracy
    2. The origins and uses of judicial review
    3. The structure and functions of the judiciary
    4. Politics and the courts
    5. Civil Liberties
    6. Comparative Political and Economic systems
    7. Political Systems
    8. Economic systems
    9. Political Participation


    VII.         Methods of Instruction: Classes will include a variety of instructional methods such as: lectures, in class discussions, group activities, document and film analysis, and the use of new technologies.

    VIII.        Course Practices Required: Students will be required to:

    1. Read a standard textbook or research materials.
    2. Write outside of class the equivalent of a term paper, summaries of journal articles, short

    research papers, and/or other kinds of writing.

    1. Participate in in-class and out-of-class activities.


    Course may be taught using face-to-face, media-based, hybrid or online course.


    1. Instructional Materials: Magruder’s American Government (Prentiss Hall)


    Other readings as assigned


    1. Methods of Evaluation: Exam’s will be given in addition to other required papers and assignments. Student’s can use notes on all exams and assignments. Students will also be evaluated on a combination of written assignments and in- and out-of- class assignments.
    2. Other Course Information:
    3. Support Services: Teacher and peer tutoring is available.
    4. If you have a documented learning, psychological, or physical disability, you are entitled

    to reasonable academic accommodations or services. All students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements. 


    Course Outline


    Here is detailed information about the weekly progress of the course. Please contact the instructor if you have questions about the contents of this section.


     Introduction to the course and this syllabus


    What is American government? Government is a set of institutions by which one group exercise power over or on behalf of another and by which public policies are implemented. There are many ways in which this is accomplished, and we will investigate the way it is carried out in the US. We’ll study the structure and the functions, the philosophies and ideas and the people and laws involved.


    America in this context means the United States. On the way to learning about its government, we’ll see what makes it different and also what makes it the same as in other places. The US is the richest, most powerful country in the world, but it has one of the most dysfunctional governments anywhere that is not involved in a civil war. This confers advantages on certain people and certain classes of people, but in strict terms of the implementation of public policies and the exercise of power, the US government as a whole is relatively weak and inefficient.


    Politics are all about power: who has it, what they can and do with it, and the causes and effects of these and why things are the way they are. During the course we’ll discuss factors which affect those components of politics in the US.


    Put these pieces together and you have an idea of what’s in store. We will investigate the causes and effects of current events, government structures and policies, and cultural trends in the competition for prize of state power.


    Objectives of the course


    By the end of the course you should be able to declaim unprompted on at least two topics from the syllabus, on political, social and economic problems in the US generally and on the pathologies of government and power in civil society there. You also should have a good understanding of American politics. This means that you would be able to describe contemporary political and cultural circumstances there as well as the causes and effects of those phenomena, and that you would be able to offer an evidence-based argument about solutions to some high profile political problems. This does not mean that you should become experts on US government or American politics or the topics we study. It isn’t possible over one course. The material in this syllabus is here to help you develop a solid understanding of problems and cases by presenting a range of material from which you can choose.


    During this course, students will:

    • Understand the basic concepts of democratic thought
    • Analyze the formation, concepts, and components of the United States Constitution
    • Investigate the idea of federalism and explain the role of states and the national government in America’s political environment
    • Explore America’s political culture and examine the traits and beliefs of the American voter.
    • Identify America’s major political parties, the core beliefs, and the impact special interest groups can have on their actions
    • Understand the electoral process in the United States
    • Examine the components and functions of Missouri’s state government
    • Analyze the organization and purpose of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government
    • Understand the role and structure of the federal bureaucracy
    • Investigate the modern media and its impact on public opinion
    • Examine the concepts of civil rights and civil liberties and their impact on American society


    Components of the course


    This course is highly interactive. We will use many learning formats, but discussion is the most important. This means that you will participate as much as possible, so you should come prepared, having done reading and research and the assignments. We will engage a new theme in each unit, and the units are structured such that each is a building block in a larger story. So, it is essential that you prepare thoroughly for each unit in order to perform well in the course.


    For each unit you should complete the assignments, read as much as time permits and complete some research so you can participate in discussion effectively. You needn’t commit unreasonable amounts of time to these exercises, and assignments are structured so that you shouldn’t have to. If you’re having trouble with the workload it’s your responsibility to raise the problem.


    Grading will account for your performance on exams and on written assignments and your participation in discussion. There will be an exam in the middle of the term and an exam at the end of the course. Completing the exams and written assignments and making comments in discussion each week are the minimum required to pass the course. How well you do each of those things will make the difference between minimum passing marks and something better. Participation in discussion is the most important component of your final grade. One meets the criterion or doesn’t. There are no shades of meaning discerned between letter grades or points on a scorecard attributed to your performance during the course. If you are concerned about these criteria or about your grade or your progress, it’s your responsibility to ask the instructor.


    How to use this syllabus


    There is more reading here than the average student could complete, but that isn’t the point. The readings that appear here are choices. You decide how much you want to learn and read accordingly. Remember, the more you learn and the more this is evinced on assignments, in discussion and on exams the better your grade. It’s up to you. Still, there’s no substitute for reading. If you want more than a passing understanding of anything in the course, you must engage intimately with the topics we study. Read as much as you have time for, use the internet liberally to keep up with current events, and above all else discuss what you see. The more you read, the more you will develop opinions, and the more you discuss them the better they will get. The better your opinions and the more often you use them, the more sophisticated will be your critical faculties, which are the key to learning.





    Unit 1- The Constitution


    Topic Covered

    Methodology Example

    Assessments During Unit



    Review class organization

    Write understanding for class



    Computer Lab Research

    Worksheet to prepare for debate


    School Decisions

    Partner work; develop proposals for debate



    Creating Govt. Debate

    In-class debate on how to create govt.

    Student presentations


    Conventional Wisdom

    Conclude debate; compare to Constitutional Convention




    Analysis of document and video

    Worksheet regarding document



    Review textbook homework

    Open-note quiz over homework



    Small group discussions over Federalist 10

    Comparison to Anti-Federalist paper


    Searching for Constitution

    Student search through Constitution for items

    Worksheet, “Constitution Search”


    Federalism- Take One

    Small groups answer Constitutional questions of federalism



    Federalism- Take Two

    Supreme Court cases dealing with federalism

    Student groups predict case outcomes


    Checks & Balances

    Textbook/Constitution examination of checks and balances

    In-class check and balance quiz


    Epic Cases

    Small group explanations of McCulloch and Marbury

    Simulations of cases and arguments


    Modern Constitution

    Examine on-line newspapers/student homework for modern examples of checks and balances

    White-board categorizing of checks and balances



    Unit 2- Civil Rights and Liberties


    Topic Covered

    Methodology Example

    Assessments During Unit


    Amending the Constitution

    Unit Intro; Video on Civil liberties & 9/11

    Movie worksheet


    Amendments to the Constitution

    Students categorize amendments and discuss which impact them directly

    The “Great Amendment Challenge” Review game


    1st Amendment:  Got Prayer?

    Small group work:  Freedom of Religion Supreme Court cases

    Students predict outcome of cases


    1st Amendment:  Speak up!

    Group interpretations of free speech cases

    Worksheet on hypothetical 1st Amendment conflicts:  What’s legal?


    2nd Amendment

    2nd Amendment Video

    Class discussion on Constitutional meaning and application of 2nd Amendment


    Give me Liberties!

    Power Point on Civil Liberties



    Research Day

    Computer lab research for panel discussions



    Civil Liberties & Race

    Article on Justice System and Race; Video:  Gratz and Grutter vs. Univ. of Michigan



    What do my Classmates think?

    Small groups critique Constitutional arguments of classmates

    Small group critiques

    10 & 11

    Here’s my opinion…

    Panel Discussions on Constitutional Issues

    Assessment of student arguments and use of research in panel discussions



















    Unit 3- The Presidency


    Topic Covered

    Methodology Example

    Assessments During Unit


    Intro/Presidential Trivia

    Review course handouts and assignment regarding Presidential elections



    Election Night

    Analysis of electoral college map and census demographic maps

    Students write campaign strategies for Republican/Democratic nominees


    Money and the Presidency

    Notes/Video on campaign fund raising

    Compare American election system to British method of selecting a Prime Minister


    Washington D.C. and the White House

    Power Point/Virtual Tour of Washington D.C.



    Right Man (and someday woman) for the Job?

    Group analysis of personal and political factors allowing Presidents to win elections

    Students diagram history of factors impacting Presidential elections


    Powers of the President

    Small groups detail President’s ability to impact economy, social, and foreign policy

    Students “re-write” Constitution with powers of President and Congress


    Balancing the Budget/Bureaucracy

    Power Point/Article on Federal Budget and Pork-Barrel Spending

    Students predict spending totals of federal government in areas of mandatory and discretionary spending


    Lemme Hear Ya Say Amen!

    Articles and discussion on role of Catholic voters and religion in politics



    View from the Top

    Small group discussion of parent interviews



    Foreign Policy

    Examination of Current Foreign Policy Topic (e.g. what to do with Iran?)

    Controversy Guide Reading over current foreign policy topic


    Unit Review

    Student review game



    Unit 3 Exam







    Unit 4- Congress


    Topic Covered

    Methodology Example

    Assessments During Unit


    The First Branch of Govt.

    Pass out new unit and explain simulation



    Powers of Congress

    Examination of Article I of Constitution and Power Point on Lawmaking

    Students create flow chart of Lawmaking process based on homework and Power Point


    Pennsylvania Avenue

    Jigsaw readings of current News Articles  on Administration goals in Congress

    Students compare legislative strategies in small groups; critique actions of Administration


    Political Parties & Committees

    Student-created chart detailing differences in Republican & Democratic priorities

    Worksheet, “Are You a Liberal or a Conservative?”


    All the News That’s Fit to Print

    Small group work comparing news coverage of current events

    Homework, “Media Analysis Worksheet”


    Interest Groups

    Small group comparisons of interest groups

    Peer assessments of Interest groups papers


    3-Day Simulation on Lawmaking

    Day 1- Prep WorkDay 2- Committee Hearings

    Day 3- Media, Polling, Presidential News Conference, Sunday Talk Show

    Students assessed upon role portrayed in simulation


    Tying it all together

    Review of Congress and Lawmaking



    Final Say

    Unit 4 Exam

    Students write essay critiquing lawmaking process








    Unit 5- President & Congress:  Making Policy


    Topic Covered

    Methodology Example

    Assessments During Unit



    A prominent topic of debate in Congress over past session is presented in class

    Students generate a KWL chart regarding topic


    Can we Work Together?

    Readings and video presented comparing efforts of President and Congressional factions to influence bill

    Students compose list of questions for guest speakers


    Real Life

    Guest speakers who would be impacted by bill are brought into class (e.g. doctors/insurance providers for a medical bill; business owners for a tax bill, etc.)

     Students conduct interviews with guest speakers


    Thumbs up or down?

    Small group work- web mapping of bill’s impact



    Can I Twist your arm at all?

    Lecture and video regarding tactics of President and Congress in influencing legislation

    Letter to member of Congress due









    Unit 6- Judiciary and Legal System



    Topic Covered

    Methodology Example

    Assessments During Unit



    Discussion:  What is Justice?

    Flow Charts of Ideal Justice System


    Federal Court System

    Power Point on Federal Court System and Supreme Court



    Landmark Cases

    Small groups assigned and research landmark cases


    4- 5

    Lights!  Camera!  Constitutionality?

    Small groups re-created events leading to landmark cases; present legal arguments

    Group presentations of cases; student-predicted outcomes


    Iowa Court system

    Review of Iowa Courts system and steps taken during legal process

     Quick Quiz:  What parts of Constitution were applicable?


    Read me my rights!

    Partners compare legal arguments of Miranda case



    Legally speaking…

    In-class tv “cop show” presented in small groups, each assigned legal vocab terms



    Working in the system…

    Small group comparisons of how to search for legal terms; critique of which level of government is most difficult to work in.

    Legal search exercise


    Judgment Day

     Unit 6 Exam





    Unit 7- Political Involvement



    Topic Covered

    Methodology Example

    Assessments During Unit


    Is this heaven?

    Power Point over State of Iowa government

    Small groups predict duties of Iowa government


    State your case

    Current issues of importance to Iowa read in class

    Jigsaw readings in small groups


    County Govt.

    County government duties handed out in class; students either add or subtract 10% from county budget; compare “vital” and “non-vital” services

    Students either add of subtract 10% from


    My hometown

    Students generate list of “problems in Cedar Rapids”; small groups examine city budget and structure to assess ability to handle problems



    Future planning

    Day 5- Future plans of city analyzed

    Day 6- City leader comes in to guest speak; address future planning

    Letter to mayor composed about future of city


    Somebody has to pay…

    Taxation Project; students research how taxation impacts their family at federal, state, and local level

    Parent interview; Family tax relief plan generated


    Party Time

    Platforms of Democratic and Republican parties compared



    What do you believe in?

    Students bring in issues of importance to them on federal, state, or local level.

    Pro/con arguments presented to class


Last Modified on August 14, 2018