POLSC231: Introduction to American Politics

Course Syllabus for "POLSC231: Introduction to American Politics"

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This course will serve as an introduction to American government and politics. We will focus on several major themes in the course’s five constituent units. In the first unit, “American Political Foundations,” we will consider the core concepts and theoretical underpinnings of the American system of government: American political culture, the Constitution, and federalism. A solid grasp of these concepts will help you better understand the underlying reasons for the structure of the American political system. In the second unit, “American Political Behavior,” we will examine the key components of “politics” in the American system, including public opinion, the mass media, political parties, interest groups, campaigns, elections, and electoral participation. In the third unit, “American Institutions,” we will analyze the major governing bodies in the United States: Congress, the presidency and the bureaucracy, and the courts. Unit 4, “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in America,” will highlight how American government shapes and influences the individual freedoms and rights of its citizenship. In our final unit, “Making Policy in the American Political System,” we will take a close look at social, economic, and foreign policy and the ways in which the broad themes of constitutional principles, political behavior, and governmental institutions have intersected to shape it. Upon completion of this course, you will have a strong understanding of the American political system and be well prepared for the courses you will be required to take should you choose to pursue the political science major.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to

  • explain the major purposes of government;
  • distinguish between different forms of government and democracy, underscoring the American political system;
  • differentiate between American political ideologies, particularly conservative and liberal, and attitudes about the scope of government;
  • analyze the roots of the American political system, the failure of the Articles of Confederation, and the adoption of the Constitution;
  • discuss the fundamental principles of the American political system, such as separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism;
  • define the term public opinion and explain how it is measured in American politics;
  • define the major factors of political socialization in American society;
  • describe American political culture and values and discuss their connection to social and demographic characteristics;
  • describe how the media influences the American public and political behavior;
  • evaluate the role of the media in the American political system;
  • discuss the various modes of participation available to individuals in the American political system;
  • outline the evolution of suffrage in American political history;
  • compare political participation rates in different types of American elections (i.e. presidential vs. congressional) and in relation to participation rates in other democratic countries;
  • explain the role of political parties in the American political system;
  • trace the evolution of political parties in the United States;
  • compare the major ideological differences between the modern Republican and Democratic parties;
  • distinguish between different types of campaigns and elections, and evaluate the role of money in campaigns and elections;
  • explain the process of electing a president;
  • evaluate the role and strategies of interest groups in American politics;
  • account for the increase in and importance of interest groups in the American political system;
  • outline the history and structure of the Congress (House of Representatives and Senate);
  • analyze the factors that influence the outcomes of congressional elections;
  • explain the legislative process and how a bill becomes a law;
  • describe the importance and role of the committees in Congress;
  • compare procedural and organizational differences between the House and Senate;
  • analyze the sources of presidential power and how the powers of the president have evolved over time;
  • assess the role of public opinion polls and approval ratings and their impact on presidential power;
  • define the executive branch and the bureaucracy;
  • trace the evolution of the bureaucracy and bureaucratic reform;
  • assess the impact of the bureaucracy on public policy making;
  • outline the history and structure of the judicial branch;
  • explain the origins and importance of judicial review;
  • describe the nomination process for federal and Supreme Court judges and how it has changed over time;
  • evaluate the role and impact of the Supreme Court in American society;
  • distinguish between civil rights and civil liberties;
  • explain the history and importance of the Bill of Rights;
  • examine the rights protected under the First Amendment and key Supreme Court cases that have defined these First Amendment rights;
  • discuss the various viewpoints on the Second Amendment;
  • analyze the “right to privacy” and its origins, and discuss Supreme Court rulings on privacy;
  • explain the process of incorporation and extending the Bill of Rights to the states;
  • trace the history and outcome of the Civil Rights Movement;
  • differentiate between de jure and de facto segregation;
  • discuss the process of expanding civil rights to minorities and women;
  • evaluate the history and impact of affirmative action;
  • distinguish between different types of public policy;
  • describe the role of policy making and the main steps of the policy-making process;
  • explain theories of economic policy and their implementation in American politics throughout history;
  • discuss the budget process and key components included in the budget;
  • examine the major objectives and outcomes of US tax policy;
  • trace the history and development of social public policy in the United States;
  • assess the creation, evolution, and future of Social Security;
  • evaluate welfare reform and its impact on society;
  • evaluate federal education reform and the role of the federal government in creating education policy;
  • outline the key players and institutions in the foreign policy-making process;
  • discuss the history and current goals of US foreign policy; and
  • discuss the impact of globalization on US foreign and domestic policy.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:
√    have access to a computer;
√    have continuous broadband Internet access;
√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Adobe Flash);
√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;
√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);
√    have competency in the English language;
√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook; and
√    have completed The Saylor Foundation's POLSC101: Introduction to Politics.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC231: Introduction to American Politics. General information about this course and its requirements can be found below.
Course Designer: Nicole Bartels
Primary Resources: This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials. However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

You will be prompted to read sections of the last two resources (textbooks) throughout the course. You may choose to download the full text now and skip to the appropriate section as prompted by the instructions in the resource boxes, or you may simply download the specific sections of the text assigned as you progress through each resource box.
Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. Although all of the units will allow you to gain a foundational understanding of American politics, pay close attention to Unit 1, as it will lay the historical framework for future units. You will also need to complete the following:

  • ACE Practice Tests (Chapters 1-20)
  • Unit 1 Current Events Challenge
  • Unit 2 Current Events Challenge
  • Unit 3 Current Events Challenge
  • Unit 4 Current Events Challenge
  • Unit 5 Current Events Challenge
  • Unit 1 Assessment
  • Unit 2 Assessment
  • Unit 3 Assessment
  • Unit 4 Assessment
  • Unit 5 Assessmen
  • Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the exercises and assessments listed above.
In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.
Time Commitment: This course should take approximately 164.25 hours to complete. Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 29.5 hours. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunits 1.1 and 1.2 (a total of 18.75 hours) in week one; subunit 1.3 (a total of 8.5 hours) on Monday and Tuesday night of week two; etc.
Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.