Pol 166: American political system


How do we do politics in the United States? This is the question which will animate this course on American government. As an introduction, this course will focus heavily on the federal government, its various branches, and its functions; by the end of the semester you should have a solid understanding of the basics of American governance. Yet this is not just a course on the formal institutions of government, but also on the ways that citizens interact with one another and other levels of government, and how those interactions affect policy at all levels.

To that end, interwoven with the discussion of formal politics will be an exploration of a particular moment in American history: the mid-1960s conflicts over civil rights. While there were many actors in those conflicts (and recognizing that the push for civil rights began long before and has lasted long after the 1960s) we will focus on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), how and why they emerged, how those activists organized themselves, and how they related to others both pushing for and against civil rights.

While we are looking at SNCC for many reasons, the main reason is to consider the power relationship between citizens and those who would rule them. Note, of course, that not all who seek to rule are a part of the government—power in a democracy is widely, if unevenly, distributed— and that, crucially, the government that may be used to oppress may also be used to liberate.

Required readings (available at Lehman bookstore or online):
AG: Glen Krutz, et al, American Government 2e. (You can either read it in html or pdf; all references will be to the pdf page numbers)
APP: A Partial Politics, available on Blackboard
FM: Freedom Movt readings: links available, below

Discussion board participation, 30 pts . . . . . 15%
Quizzes, 60 pts . . . . . . 30%
Midterm Essay, due November 17, 40 pts . . . . . 20%
Final Essay, due December 15, 70 pts . . . . . 35%
Note: you will be given a separate handout for the essay assignments.
No extra credit will be available. If necessary, there may be changes to the schedule; these will be announced in class & on Blackboard.

‘Attendance’ is mandatory, which, in an online class, means that you show up for the live sessions and that you contribute to the discussion board. (See BB Collaborate and Discussion board threads, below) I’ll cover course material in taped videos, and extra material and any questions you may have during our live sessions. Make sure you’ve watch the videos and have at least started the readings by the live sessions.

The quizzes will be short fill-in-the-blank tests and cover a chapter or two of the textbook. I’ll announce when the quizzes will be held, although they will generally be available on Tuesdays following the completion of a chapter. The midterm and final essays, on the other hand, are scaffolded papers designed to get you to think about the connection between citizen actions and government functions.

Course Materials: Readings
The readings are all online, and available in Blackboard/Course Materials or below. I’ll provide videos and notes to help you through all of the readings, and will jump in as-needed to any discussion threads to explicate further.

BB Collaborate
Since this is a synchronous course, we are meant to meet “live” for the course. Given how common—and how frustrating—tech issues are, I’ll post video lectures (discussed, below) on Tuesdays of most weeks, and we’ll meet via BB Collaborate on Thursdays during what would have been our class-time, 12:30-1:45. PARTICIPATION IN THESE IS MANDATORY—however, given the aforementioned tech issues, if for some reason you can’t make it to a week’s class, you can make it up by contributing extra to that week’s discussions. This is meant to be used only a few times over the course of a semester: if you miss more than 3 BB Collaborate sessions, you will lose participation points.

Course Materials: Videos and chalkboard notes
I’ll generally post videos before or by class-time on Tuesdays. These videos will vary in type: in some cases, I’ll explicate the readings; in some, I’ll tie together larger themes, and some will be from ‘outside’ sources on topics relevant to that week’s topic. These videos will be in Mp4 format and uploaded to YouTube; you should be able to view them on your computer, phone, or tablet.

I will also at times post “chalkboard notes” (pdfs) in Course Materials: these are meant to substitute for what I would have written on the chalkboard had we been in class, and are provided to help you make sense of the readings and the videos.

The videos themselves are meant to stand-in for in-class lectures, and you are encouraged to ask questions about the readings and the videos in discussion board threads.

Discussion Board threads
About those discussions: I will generally open a single thread at the beginning of each week, in which I post a set of questions and ask you to respond to those or offer your own responses to the readings or videos.

You will be required to post a minimum of FIFTEEN substantive comments in the threads over the course of the semester; these should be roughly divided between 7-8 original comments (either a response to one of my questions or your own response to readings/videos) and 7-8 substantive responses to other students’ comments, spaced out over the course of the semester. In other words, you won’t get the full points if you post all of your comments or responses in one or two threads; plan to contribute to every non-science thread. And, as noted, above, if you miss a live session, you must make that up with additional comments.

For your participation to count, you must post by noon Friday of each week. Given that the point of the threads is to encourage you to engage with one another, I strongly recommend you don’t wait until the last minute to post your comments. Yes, this may happen once or twice, but if you always post a comment/response at the last minute, you may not receive full credit.

What do I mean by substantive? In a word: thoughtful. Generally, this will mean a paragraph or two in your comment; it could also mean a back-and-forth, as in, you ask a question, someone responds, you respond to their response, etc. Again, the point is for you to demonstrate some engagement with the issue and with your classmates.

Note that you are also invited to ask questions to me about the meanings of the readings or videos in the threads. These questions won’t count as “substantive comments”, but I will respond to try to help you to understand the material.

I will read every comment posted, and will actively participate in these discussions. I do try to hang back a bit so as not to stomp all over your discussions, but if you want to know my own views, ask me directly and I’ll respond sooner rather than later.

I have also opened a Q&A Forum on the Discussion Boards. This is strictly voluntary, and is meant to be a place where you can ask practical questions about the course and assignments. Posts here will not count toward your participation grade.


Days 1: Introduction:
Aug 27: A Partial Politics

Days 2-3: Politics, democracy and political culture
Sept 1-3: APP | AG chs. 1-3; Declaration of Independence (Appendix A)

Days 4-5: Foundations
Sept 8-10: AG, chs. 1-3; Constitution, Federalist Nos. 10 & 51 (Appendices B&C)

Days 6-7: Institutions: Congress
Sept 15-17: AG, ch 11

Days 8-10: Institutions: Presidency, bureaucracy, foreign policy
Sept 22-24, Oct 1: AG, chs 12, 15, 17

***Sept 29: Monday schedule: NO CLASS***

Days 11-12: Institutions: The courts
Oct 6-8: AG,  ch 4

Days 13-14: Political society: civil liberty
Oct 13-15: AG, ch 4

Days 15-16: Civil Rights: Freedom Movement
Oct 20-22: AG, ch 5

Days 17-18: Civil rights: Students and the Freedom Movement
Nov 3-5, 10-12: AG, chs 6 & 8, and

Days 19-22: Media & public opinion
Nov 3-5, 10-12: AG, chs 6 & 8, and

November 17: Midterm essay due

Days 23-25: Institutions and political society: Parties and elections
Nov 17-19, 24: AG, chs. 7 & 9; and

***November 26, Thanksgiving: NO CLASS***

Day 26-28: Claiming a right to be free
Dec 1-3, 8:

Final Essay: due December 15