Social Science Education

POLSCI 201A

INTRODUCTION TO AMERICAN POLITICS

Fall1999 Dr. Michael Erisman
Office Hours:314 Holmstedt Hall
MWF 11-12 (also by Tel.Ext 2429 appointment)
Internet Information:
My e-mail address is: h-erisman@indstate.edu
The Internet homepage for the ISU Political Science Department
provides information about a wide variety of topics, including
grad school/job opportunities and links to assist in doing
research. Its address is: web.indstate.edu\polisci


This course is designed to be an introduction to American
politics for college students, particularly those in the earlier
stages of their university careers (i.e., frosh and sophomores) .
As suchj its emphasis is more on breadth than depth, which means
that we will cover a large number of topics--e.g., the nature of
the U.S. Constitution, various forms of political participation,
the structure and dynamics of various branches of the Federal
government, and several key policy areas such as civil liberties, _.
the economy, and perhaps even foreign affairs. since there are
entire courses devoted to many of these subjects in the Political
Science Department and elsewhere in the University, it is obvious
that we are only going to be able to scratch the surface in our
explorations here.


A major concern in the course will be to look at various
explanations of WHY things occur within the government and the
larger political arena. In other words, we will be concerned not
only with what has and is happening in the world of American
politics, but also with the various forces within the government
and/or in the larger society that cause these events to occur. It
is when you begin to grapple with and to understand these "why
questions" (technically known as cause/effect analysis) that you
will be on the road to truly knowing what you are talking about
when you discuss American politics.
We will, however, also be concerned with going beyond just
understanding (in a cause/effect sense) how American politics works
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to making some value judgements about how it operates and what it
produces. Here we will be interested in such controversies as: Is
the u.s. electoral system unfairly loaded in favor of the major
parties and incumbents?; should legislators closely follow public
opinion in making their political decisions (e.g., deciding whether
to convict Clinton on impeachment charges and remove him from
office)?; should the laws and the courts support Affirmative Action
programs?; etc. It is within the process of making some of these
value judgements that we should have some vigorous, interesting
debates.
REQUIRED TEXT:
Karen O'Connor and Larry Sabato, American Government:
continuity And Change (Allyn and Bacon, 1999)
Supplemental Readings:
In order to help you keep abreast of current developments
in American politics, you should read one of the major
national newspapers or national new magazines. with regard to
newspapers, it is suggested that you look at the Sunday
editions of either The washington Post or The New York Times
(I personally think that the Post is the better of the two) .
Both newspapers have special sections in their Sunday editions
that deal with current events in general, including American
politics. You should check these special sections carefully
because the articles in them will normally include an
explanation of events as well as a description of them. with
regard to weekly news magazines, the most popular are Time,
Newsweek, and U.S.News and World Reports (I personally this
...that U.S. News is the best of the lot, although there is note
much difference between them) .
Most ,of the above news sources and many others are
available on the Internet--see the ISU Political Science
Department homepage for links to these news pages. The
publishers of your textbook also put out a FREE guide to the
Internet. Let me know if you want a copy.
since i will try to use current events to illustrate some
of the main points covered in the course and since we may at
times move away from the "academic" course material in order
to discuss current events, it is crucial that you do such
supplemental reading to familiarize yourself with what is
occurring in the world of American politics today. Moreover,
I may very well include some current events questions on the
reading quizzes that you will be taking. Thus self-interest
demands that you do such reading. Simply watching television
newscasts will not suffice; the information which they supply
is quite sketchy and does not give you a sufficient background
to begin to understand fully ~ the complexity of the
situations involved.
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Exams/Grades:
Your overall grade for the course will be based on several
objective quizzes (i.e., multiple choice questions and perhaps some
true/false questions) involving assigned readings and current
events material, two essay exams (midterm and final), and your
class attendance record. A summary of the breakdown of these grade
considerations is as follows:
A. Objective reading quizzes, with the average grade for all
the quizzes accounting for 40 percent of your overall
course grade.
B. Two major analytical essay exams (midterm and final),
with the average grade for the essay exams accounting for
50 percent of your overall course grade.
No-Final Option--you may, if you wish, choose not to do
the final essay question in the course's final exam and
instead take the grade that you have based on the
remaining course requirements. Details will be provided
later regarding the procedure you should follow in order
to inform the instructor that you wish to choose this
"no-final" option.
C. Class attendance, which will account for 10 percent of
your overall course grade.
If your miss no more than ten percent of the scheduled
classes without a valid excuse, you will receive the full
10 percent credit for attendance. If you have a valid
excuse for missing a class (i.e., you received prior
approval from the instructor to miss the class or you can
document a valid reason for missing a class) , the excused
absence will not be considered a missed class for grading
purposes.
Each unexcused absence above the 10 percent limit will
result in a deduction of 2 percent from the credit that
you would otherwise receive for good attendance.
Grading in this course will operate on a 100-point scale, with
the grade breakdown being as follows:
A 90-100
B+ 85-89
B 80-84
C+ 75-79
C 70-74
D+ 65-69
D 60-64
F Less Than 60
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In the case of a borderline average when all of your grades for the
course have been computed, various non-graded considerations may be
utilized to determine whether you will receive a higher or a lower
grade for the course. The three primary considerations here are:
(1) attendance--if you miss more than 10-15 percent of the
scheduled classes without a valid (i.e., approved by the
instructor) excuse, it is extremely unlikely that a borderline
grade will be raised to the next level; (2) participation in class
discussions--quality participation will increase the likelihood
that a borderline grade will be raised to the next level; and (3)
a pattern of significant improvement or decline in your grades over
the course of the semester.
Class attendance is crucial!! There has almost inevitably
been a high correlation in my courses between class attendance and
student performance; if you miss a lot of classes, it is almost
certain that you will not perform very well on the essay exams
which constitute the largest component of your overall course
grade. Likewise, you are more likely to do better on the reading
quizzes if you are solid in the attendance area.
Course outline and Reading Assignments
I. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
A. Nature and Goals of the Course
B~ Before Beginning An Exploration of U.S. Politics: Some
Basic Political Ideas and Some Basic Information About
American Society
Read: Chapter 1
II. THE BACKGROUND AGAINST WHICH AMERICAN POLITICS IS PLAYED OUT
A. The Constitutional Framework
1. The Basic Constitution
Read: Chapter 2
2. Constitutional Controversies: Rights In Conflict
Read: Chapters 5 and 6
III. THE GENERAL PUBLIC'S INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS
A. Political Socialization, The Media, and Public opinion
Read: Chapters 11 and 15
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B. Participation and Voting
Read: Chapter 13
IV. THE PROFESSIONALS' INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS
A. Political Parties
1. A General Overview of the Two-Party System
.Read: Chapter 12
2. Parties and Elections
Read: Chapter 14
3. Interest Groups: Self-Aggrandizement is the Name
of the Game
Read: Chapter 16
V. THE INSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT IN ACTION
A. Congress
Read: Chapter 7
Issue Focus: The Economy and the Federal Budget
1.- Read: Chapter 18
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B. The Executive Branch: The White House and the
Bureaucracy
Read: Chapters 8 and 9
Issue Focus: "Safety Net" Questions--Social Welfare
Policy
Read: Chapter 17
C. The Supreme Court and the Judicial System
Read: Chapter 10
VI. American Politics Confronts World Affairs
Read: Chapter 19

 

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