Teaching Introduction to American Government/Politics: What We Learn from the Visual Images in Textbooks

Teaching Introduction to American Government/Politics: What We Learn from the Visual Images in Textbooks

by Marcus D. Allen, Wheaton College & Sherri L. Wallace, University of Louisville

Political science students learn the fundamental principles and values about the American political system from American government/politics textbooks. Most of the major textbooks used in these courses utilize the traditional institutional and behavioral approaches to the study of American government and politics, which examines institutions and processes from a hegemonic perspective with emphasis being placed on the political actors who dominate these institutions. As a result, the struggles of nondominant groups are not treated as integral in American historical development or political experience. Situated in a literature review of similar studies, we use content analysis to examine visualizations of African Americans in 27 circulating introductory American Government/Politics textbooks to ascertain whether these illustrations reinforce or argue against traditional, hegemonic coverage of politics. To test our hypotheses, we sampled 27 circulating introductory American Government/Politics textbooks published from 2004 to 2007. Our findings support previous studies to indicate continued hegemonic coverage of politics, but with lessening concentration.

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This Educate-JPSE collaboration brings together articles published in the Journal of Political Science Education that discuss classroom approaches related to teaching about race, racism, social justice and civic action. Our reading list offers a range of materials – from syllabi, reading lists to active learning assignments – that discuss classroom practices through the lens of identity, gender and power relations. It includes a model for professors who are interested in partnering with local community activists to design civically engaged courses, with specific examples covering research and organizing around affordable housing issues. 

The Journal of Political Science Education is an intellectually rigorous, path-breaking, agenda-setting journal that publishes the highest quality scholarship on teaching and pedagogical issues in political science. The journal aims to represent the full range of questions, issues and approaches regarding political science education, including teaching-related issues, methods and techniques, learning/teaching activities and devices, educational assessment in political science, graduate education, and curriculum development.

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