AP United States Government and Politics
Course overview: AP United Stated Government and Politics is a one semester course designed to help students develop critical thinking skills through the understanding of government and politics in the United States. This course will give students an analytical perspective on government and politics in the United States by including the study of general concepts used to interpret U.S. politics. Students will analyze American political institutions and will focus on the Congress, President, and the U.S. Supreme Court. The course will also include a brief description of the New York State government and local governments within New York State. Some of the course topics include separation of powers between branches of government, expansion of the federal government in the twentieth century, political party evolution in the United States, and current issue affecting American politics. Completion of this course should adequately prepare students to take the Advance Placement Exam in the spring of the school year
Structure of the course: Mastery of the material requires that students complete the reading assignment and attend class regularly. The lectures will assume that you have already completed the reading for the week and students are encouraged to complete the weekly reading assignment in advance before the due date. If absent from class, students are expected to see me to obtain any missed material on the day the student returns to school and are expected to turn in any assignments that were due on the missed class day.
Topics covered in each unit:
Unit One-The Constitution of the United States
1-Foundations of U.S. Government-U.S. Constitution (CR1)
A. Creation of the U.S. Constitution-Origin of the
B. Key Principles of the U.S. Constitution-federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial review, popular sovereignty, and limited government-Read Federalist #51 (CR8)
C. Amendment process and reasons for the
D. Theories of democratic governments
E. Federalism and federal grants/mandates
-Chart-cost of federal mandates and federal
CR7-This course provides students with practices in analyzing and interpreting data and other information relevant to U.S. government and politics
Unit Two-Political Beliefs (Two weeks)
2- Basic Political Party Beliefs (CR2)
A. Beliefs citizen hold about government
B. How citizens learn about politics
and what influences political beliefs
C. Impact of public opinion/public opinion polls
Chart-analyze various polls, conducted
by various groups or media outlets on current issues
D. Civic responsibilities and duties of the citizens
E. How basic party beliefs influence the political viewpoints of the citizens
F. Voter behavior and turnout
-Chart-registered voter turn-out in past years
G. Voter turn-out in presidential election year vs. non-presidential election years
-Chart-number of voters in recent president elections-2004 and 2000
H. Role of the Electoral College and whether it should still be used-
CR9-This course requires students to answer analytical and interpretive free-response questions on a frequent basis
and the analyses of the popular vote
I. H. Political contributions and campaign finance laws (CR9)
J. Balance between regulation of political contributions and
the 1st Amendment
K. Sample free response question-trust and confidence
in the government. Reasons why this may have declined in
recent decades. Complete together (CR9)
CR3-This course provides instruction in political parties, interest groups, and the mass media
Unit Three-Ways citizens organize and communicate ideas and concerns (Three weeks)
3- Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Mass Media (CR 3)
A. Historical evolution of the U.S. party system
B. Political parties and elections
C. Election process and the impact of the media
D. Electoral laws and systems
E. Interest groups, including political action committees
and reasons for their growth and influence
-Read Federalist #10 (CR8)
-interpret chart PAC contribution in past elections
F. What is the mass media?
-past presidential press conferences
G. Influence of the mass media on the election process
H Homework: Free response question, techniques of special interest groups.
Unit Four-The National Government(CR4) (Four weeks)
CR4-This course provides instruction in institutions of national government
4-Institutions of National Government: Congress, President, the Bureaucracy, and the Federal Courts
A. Policy making process of Congress
B. Powers of Congress
C. Leadership and committee structure in Congress-Article of past election results
D. Advantages incumbents have-chart turnover in the house and
-Map of Congressional Reapportionment-foreshadowing next Reapportionment?
E. How bills become laws
-Reading-lawmaking process of Congress and the NY State legislative body
F. Presidential powers/Understanding the American Presidency
G. Checks and balances-Congress working with the President-articles explaining
disagreements between the President and Congress and Presidential vetoes
H. Judicial system/judicial selection process-Federal Court system
I. US Supreme Court-functions and the impact of recent decisions
J. Federal judges and attorneys
K. Understanding bureaucracies
L. Influence of bureaucratic behavior
M. How bureaucracies have changed
Unit Five: Public Policy Process (CR5) (Three weeks)
CR5-This course provides instruction on public policy
A. Policy making in a federal system
B. Influences on the policy process (political institution and federalism, political
parties, interest groups, public opinion, elections, and policy networks)
C. Managing the economy-Government spending
D. Federal budget process/federal revenue and expenditures
-Chart showing sources of government revenue and government spending
F. Structure of Government taxes
-Reading-types of government taxes
G. Government regulation of business-common political party beliefs
H. Health Care-current policy and possible reform-national health care article
I. Education reform-possible reform
J. The making of foreign policy. Conduct a comparison of government structure and leadership transitions of other countries such as China, Great Britain, Iran, Canada, and Mexico. (CR 7)
L. Analyze the transition to a democratic government in Iraq
M. Discuss the results of public opinion polls from other countries
M. Include a free response question on unit test-complete together-A comparison of the President and Congress in regards to foreign policy
CR9-This course requires students to answer analytical and interpretive free-response questions on a frequent basis
Unit Six: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CR6) (Three weeks)
CR6-This course provides instruction in civil rights and civil liberties
6-Significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the importance of the 14th Amendment
A. Development of civil liberties and civil rights by judicial interpretation
B. Knowledge of substantive rights and liberties
C. 1st Amendment rights/cases-freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly,
D. The impact of the 14th Amendment on the constitutional development of rights
and liberties-equal protection and citizenship-case study-equal protection
E. Rights of the accused-Amendments 4-6
F. 2nd Amendment debate
Grading: The course grade will be made up of chapter exams, homework assignments, student presentations, and a final project.
Current Events: Students are expected to follow current events throughout the course. Reaction papers that focus on current events will be assigned on occasion. Students will be expected to read the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle or other newspapers located in the library and read on-line editions of national newspapers such as the New York Times. (CR 8)
Class discussion/debates: Students will be expected to contribute to class discussion on content topics and recent events. Class participation through random debates will be a component of the class average.
Make-up exams: Make-up exams will only be considered in the event that a student misses an exam due to a medical, and sometimes, personal emergency. Students are expected to speak with me at one of my office hours before an exam day to discuss circumstances. I reserve the right to ask for documentation of the emergency should the need arise.
Academic Dishonesty: It is assumed in this class each student and I will act in a professional and honest manner. Therefore, any student who engages in an act of Academic Dishonesty, such as cheating on an exam, etc., will receive a failing grade for that task and in most cases a failing grade for the course. If you have any questions about Academic Honesty or expectations in the course, please see me as early as possible in the semester.
-Declaration of Independence
-Articles of Confederation
-Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers
-Locke’s Second Treatise of Government
Text: Wilson, James Q., and John J. DiLulio Jr. American Government: Institutions and Policies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Research Paper: (CR9) Students will write a research paper by selecting a specific political issues currently affecting United States Government. Students will:
- Define the issue and provide a historical background
- Describe alternative views on this issue
- Create a thesis based that includes the student’s viewpoint
and support the opinion with factual information
and any relevant statistical data. Students will use both primary and secondary sources
Political Science Department
Writing a Political Science Research Paper
Political Science students are asked to write a number of different kinds of papers, including reaction papers, compare and contrast essays, close reading/textual analysis papers, and synoptic papers. The research paper is thus only one type of political science paper. It is, however, a type that has quite specific components and requirements.
The Thesis Statement
The most important and most challenging task for students writing a research paper is developing a thesis. A thesis is a non-trivial, contestable, specific claim about political phenomena that can be proven or defended through the analysis of primary source material.
(1) Your thesis must be non-trivial
A reader will want evidence that you are exploring an important question or topic. Explorations of the unimportant (e.g., "Canada's orange industry has been underappreciated") will not entice any but the most insensate readers. Readers will recoil, in particular, from faux theses that merely state what the author has done (e.g., "I have researched the European Union's trade policy").
(2) Your thesis must be contestable
Do not seek to prove the obvious (e.g., African American voters disproportionately support Democratic candidates for the presidency). The best theses make counterintuitive claims (e.g., revolutions often occur when conditions improve in a country after a long period of deprivation). There must be, at a minimum, alternative explanations for the phenomena you are exploring or different possible answers to the question you are posing. A good research paper directly engages these competing arguments by demonstrating that its explanation or answer is the most plausible.
(3) Your thesis must make a specific claim
A thesis should reference specific concepts and focus on a delimited field of inquiry. Statements such as "religion is the chief cause of conflict in the world," "the International Criminal Court violates political sovereignty," and "the Russian people always want a czar to lead them" are neither specific nor delimited. An example of a specific, focused thesis would be "Religious divisions cause social conflict to increase in Northern Ireland when they are reinforced by other cleavages or divisions." This statement sports two concepts—social conflict and cross-cutting vs. reinforcing cleavages—that the author must develop or support in order to address the influence of religion on conflict in a specific context.
(4) You must employ primary sources to demonstrate or defend your thesis
A literature review or a review of pertinent secondary sources (i.e., published books or articles that interpret or analyze primary sources) is not sufficient to demonstrate a thesis. A literature review is, as noted below, a significant component of your research paper, but your objective is not merely to review what other scholars have said about your topic. Your objective is to say something novel about your topic. This will require you to step outside of the published literature to mine information that you acquire firsthand. Primary sources include (but are not limited to) public opinion surveys, demographic data (e.g., U.S. Census data), government documents, open-ended interviews conducted by the author, oral histories, archival materials (e.g., letters, policy memos, diary entries, interoffice communications, transcripts of conversations, etc.), and speeches.
The Literature Review
A literature review should accomplish two goals:
- Introduce your reader to the range of scholarship on your topic. This exercise can help you to provide your reader with some purchase on the complexity of your subject.
- Identify the most important competing arguments or claims about your topic.
As mentioned above, accomplishing #2 is integral to your effort to demonstrate or defend your thesis. You must first acquaint your reader with both the strengths and the weakness of competing arguments before you can demonstrate that your argument is superior.
Your literature review should address the most important or influential works on your topic. You will need to review books, monographs, and journal articles. Doing the last will require you to employ such research databases as JSTOR, ProQuest, and PAIS.
The Data Analysis
The form that your data analysis takes will be determined to a large degree by your choice of method or approach. If you are using statistical methods (e.g., regression analysis) or formal modeling (e.g., game theory) to analyze your data, then your paper will consist principally of justifying your choice of method, specifying your variables, and presenting and interpreting your results. Students performing quantitative analysis will need to think carefully about how best to present their findings (e.g., graphs, tables, charts, etc.). Such students could profit from reviewing Edward Tufte's classic book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, particularly Tufte's discussions of "chartjunk."
If you are using qualitative data and methods, your paper will need to weave your findings into a narrative that is coherent, compelling, and probative. Students, for example, who decide to use the "case study approach" must devote some time to addressing the "small n problem." This, in short, is the challenge of explaining to the reader why one can generalize from a single or a small number of cases to a larger universe of cases. What makes your particular case or cases "crucial" or explanatory? It is not sufficient merely to claim that, for example, "there is a lot of information available on my case." You must choose your case or cases for sound theoretical reasons. Robert Michels, for example, decided to study the German Social Democratic Party to test his theory that all organizations are subject to "the iron law of oligarchy" because he posited that if power was concentrated in a small number of hands in a political party that sported a democratic ethos, then such oligarchic rule would surely occur in less ostentatiously democratic organizations.
A good conclusion should explain to the reader how your analysis has demonstrated that your argument is more persuasive than competing arguments. It should, in short, explain your contribution to the extant literature. Some pitfalls to sidestep when composing your conclusion are the following:
Do not go beyond your data
Even seasoned scholars can be guilty of concluding their pieces with grand statements that are not supported by their data. You can underscore your contribution to the literature without claiming that you have, for example, refuted all that has been written on your topic hitherto or created a "new paradigm." Showing respect for the work of other scholars, even that with which you disagree, is both courteous and sensible. Take care to identify the limitations of your findings or even some of the questionable parts of your analysis. Doing this will, if not immunize your work against criticism, at least allow you to get a jump on addressing some of the critiques that will be leveled at your work.
Do not sprinkle your conclusion with "questions for future research"
This is a complement of the above. Bear in mind that you are a novice researcher. It is more than a bit presumptuous to claim that your piece can be the foundation upon which other scholars will build.
Avoid boilerplate phrases such as "time will tell" or "no one can know for sure"
Conclusions are notorious for vaporous phrases that leave readers wondering, "What does that mean?" Take care that every sentence in your conclusion is meaningful (i.e., that it pertains to your argument). Short, tightly constructed and -argued conclusions are preferable to voluble, flabby conclusions that do not advance your case.
For Further Reading
Howard S. Becker with Pamela Richards, Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986)
Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995)
Gregory M. Scott and Stephen M. Garrison, The Political Science Student Writers' Manual (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1995)
Ian Shapiro, Rogers M. Smith, and Tarek Masoud (eds.), Problems and Methods in the Study of Political Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information (Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 1990)
Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, second edition (Cheshire, Conn.: Chart Graphics, 2001) (pdf available online)