Short Course: Teaching “Introduction to American Government and Politics” in Turbulent Times

Teaching “Introduction to American Government and Politics” in Turbulent Times

Suzanne Mettler
Half Day, 1:30 PM -5:30 PM
Marriott Wardman Park, Maryland C Room

We live in a tumultuous period for American politics, one that presents great challenges–and perhaps also, vast opportunities–to instructors of the introductory course on the topic. For decades, instructors nationwide have adopted a standard approach to teaching the course, typically offering a “soup to nuts” survey that encompasses topics from the Constitution through Congress, and public opinion through public policy. Yet various developments present challenges to instructors today, both in terms of appropriate course content and meaningful instructional approaches. Rising partisan polarization, soaring economic inequality, and an unorthodox presidency raise fundamental questions about longstanding theories about the political system operates. While textbooks routinely treat the United States as a democracy, scholars of comparative politics observe that the nation’s present politics resembles those of nations around the world in which democracy has suffered deterioration. Instructors also face a transformed student body, given partisan polarization and the rise of social media, for example, and these developments influence the possibilities for class discussions and which pedagogies may prove most effective for student learning.

We will convene several scholars of American politics who teach the introductory course and who grapple with how to do so in the context of these developments. The half-day short course will consist of three parts, addressing: overarching questions about how to structure the course, and whether and how to part ways with established approaches to doing so; mid-level issues such as how to teach particular course topics on which knowledge is presently in flux, including political parties, interest groups, the presidency, and voting; and practical matters of pedagogy, including active-learning strategies, particularly for those who teach large lecture classes, and specific assignments, readings, and simulation exercises. The aim is to help instructors of the discipline’s major service course take advantage of an era of high student interest and teach the course in a manner that fosters critical thinking and civic engagement. Both the Politics and History Section (#24) and Political Science Education Section (#29) have offered their endorsement of this short course.

**All Short Courses will take place on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 at the APSA 2019 Annual Meeting in  Washington, DC.**