Syllabus Spring '12


AP American Government and Politics



Instructor:  Ms. Berryman                                                                  Office:  215 Carr Collins Hall

                    e-mail                                                   Wed 4:00-6:00 pm

                    phone (555) 555-5555                                                                   or by appointment




Course Description:  This course explores the structure and dynamics of American national government, providing a broad-based introduction to the ideas and institutions that shape politics in the contemporary United States.  We will focus our analysis on three major areas: the Constitution and the debates of the founding era, the institutions of modern American government, and the political behavior of the American mass public.  We will study the strategies, roles, and limitations of both governmental elites and ordinary citizens, with particular emphasis on how they communicate and interact within the constitutional “rules of the game” to promote (or inhibit?) the achievement of public goods.  Our analysis will draw heavily both on documents from America’s formative period and on insights from modern political science, allowing us to examine important political phenomena from a variety of perspectives.  Ultimately, the goal of this course is to help each member of the class arrive at a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the forces that shape American government and politics, so that he or she may be both a more discerning student and critic of the system and a more informed and reflective participant in it.



Readings:  In this course, we will use a textbook and a collection of readings, supplemented frequently with additional materials from a course pack and from on-line reserves.  The books, Cal Jillson’s American Government: Political Change and Institutional Development (Fourth Edition) and William Lasser’s Perspectives on American Politics (Fifth Edition).

            Timely reading is critical both for achievement as an individual student in this class, and for the success of the course as a whole.  The reading load in this course is reasonable—on average, assignments will run less than twenty pages per class session.  As a result, students are strongly expected to come to class having read the material carefully, thought about it, and prepared to discuss it in class.  Failure to do so will result in lessened comprehension of class lectures, poorer exam performance, and a lower participation grade.  Conversely, dutiful attention to the reading will greatly enhance the intellectual experience of the course for the individual student, and enable him or her to contribute meaningfully to the class as a whole.



Course Requirements and Grading:  Grades for this course will be determined by a combination of several factors: in-class examinations, independent essays, class projects, homework, journals used in class, and class participation and preparedness.

            There will be three  exams during the course of the semester.  These exams will consist of multiple choice and identification items, and will cover material from both readings and lectures.  They will test both mastery of important concepts and the ability to integrate ideas discussed in class.  Each will cover material from one major section of the course.  Together, these exams will comprise 30% of the student's grade.

            Students will also be responsible for two independent analytical essays during the course of the semester.  Assigned essay topics will be distributed at least two weeks prior to the due date for the papers.  Essays should be approximately five or six typed pages (1500-1800 words) in length, and will be expected to incorporate material from the assigned readings.  These papers will be graded according to the soundness and intellectual rigor of their argument, their use of relevant class material (both from reading and lecture), and the quality of their written expression.  Together, these essays will comprise 20% of the student's grade.

            There will be three class projects during the semester. Each project will relate to a different branch of government. Project will be announced and grading rubrics will be distributed at least two weeks before they are due. There will be limited classtime to work on projects, meaning that students will be expected to work at home. All three projects will total 20% of the student's grade.

            Homework is worth 15% of the total grade.

            Journal entries will be made every class period and handed in at the beginning of the following week. Journal entries that are missed due to excused absences will have the chance to be redone. All other instances of missing entries will have point deductions.  Entries will equal 5% of the final grade.

            Finally, class participation is a very valuable part of the learning experience in this course.  Questions are welcomed, and time will often be set aside for discussion.  Students are expected to come to class prepared to share their questions, comments, criticisms, and insights with others.  This course will be greatly enriched if people with views across the political spectrum voice their opinions on the important and often controversial issues that we will discuss.  Simply showing up for class, while necessary for a good participation grade, is not sufficient.  Additionally, to ensure that students are completing assigned readings in a timely manner, there will be at least six unannounced reading quizzes during the course of the semester.  These should be very easy for those who have read, and very difficult for those who have not.  Together, class participation and quizzes will make up the final 10% of the course grade.

            Grades will be assigned on the following scale:


98-100  A+     93-97  A          90-92  A-

88-89    B+      83-87  B          80-82  B-

78-79    C+      73-77  C          70-72  C-

68-69    D+     63-67  D          60-62  D-

<60      E


Attendance and Student Behavior:Refer to student handbook for attendance policies and rules for behavior. Class policies and rules are posted above the whiteboard.