Institutions and Arguments: Simulating the US Policy-Making Process
By Lucy Britt, Gettysburg College and Ryan J. Williams, University of South Alabama
In US government courses, simulations have been shown to increase students’ engagement and knowledge retention. We present an original simulation that focuses on both the interactions between political institutions that contribute to policy making and the normative ideas underlying politics. By exploring a civil rights or liberties policy area, students learn about the importance of both political institutions and foundational political ideas such as liberty and equality. Students role-play members of Congress, lobbyists for a pro- or anti-natural gas pipeline group, and Supreme Court justices. Although the goal of simulations in many US government courses is to teach students about the ways that institutions shape policy, this is the first (to our knowledge) that also integrates normative reflection on the ideas behind political arguments. Assessment indicates that the simulation was effective in increasing students’ knowledge of and/or interest in American political institutions and eminent domain.