Social Science Education


Political Science 201 - American Government and Politics - Fall 2003

R.Van Sickel, Ph.D.
Holmstedt Hall 314, 237-2503

Welcome to the wild and wacky world of American politics.  Civic and political life in our country can be alternately inspiring, disheartening, uplifting, comical, disappointing, and just plain weird.  This semester, my goal is to provide you with a broad overview of the many facets of American government and politics.  We will study and analyze the Constitution, American political culture, the institutions of government, campaigns and elections, the impact of the mass media, and the nature of public policy.  Hopefully, you will acquire not only a greater level of factual knowledge about government structure and processes, but will also develop an increased ability to intelligently engage in the civic life of your communities, state, and nation.  Thus, we will also place great importance on connecting class material to actual contemporary events in American society and in the world.  In sum, it is my hope that this course will make you a more informed and discerning citizen.

Required Reading Materials

1.    Patterson, Thomas, We the People:  A Concise Introduction to
            American Politics
, 5th edition (NY: McGraw-Hill, 2004).

2.    Ehrenreich, Barbara, Nickel and Dumed:  On (Not) Getting By In
  (NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2001).

3.    Quinn, Bill, How Wal-Mart is Destroying America and the World   
            and What You Can Do About It 
(Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press,

4.    The New York Times (

Grading Criteria:

Mid-Term Examination                        200 points
Final Examination (Cumulative)            200
Film Review (List to be Distributed)     100       
                                                            500 total points possible

Examinations will consist of multiple choice, short answer, short essay and extended questions.  Final course grades will be assigned based on the traditional "90-80-70-60 scale".  At semester's end, your course grade may be raised or lowered up to 1/3 based on your attendance, class participation, and overall effort.  To earn an "A" in this course, your performance must be truly outstanding.  Similarly, you will not receive a "C" merely for showing up occasionally and performing marginally on examinations.  However, if you make a genuine effort to grapple with the course material in an open-minded manner,  and to keep up with the reading, you can expect to do just fine in this course.

Course Format

Class meeting will consist predominately of traditional lecture and discussion.  There will be a number of outside activities that you will be required to attend this semester.  These will include lectures, films, and departmental events.  A commitment to significant reading (about three hours per week) and to actively participating in classroom discussions is essential to success in this course.

A Word About Attendance

Your presence in class each day is not optional.  It is very important that you attend each class meeting, as there will be much discussion of material no contained in  your textbooks.  I will take attendance regularly, and repeated absences will be strongly noted.  If you anticipate that you will have a problem making it to class, you should probably consider taking the course during another semester.

Overview of Lectures and Discussion Topics

Weeks 1-2        Introduction and Overview of the Course
                         Political Terms and Concepts
                         American Political Culture
                         Approaches to Democracy
                         Economics, Values, and Politics
                         Patterson, chapter 1

NO CLASS 9/1/-03

Week 3            The Founding and the Constitution
                        Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations
                        Patterson, chapters 2-3

Weeks 4-5      Civil Liberties
                        Patterson, chapter 4

Weeks 6-7       Equality and Civil Rights
                        Patterson, chapter 5

NO CLASS 10/10/03

Week 8            Political Socialization
                        Public Opinion
                        Political Participation
                        Voting and Elections
                        Patterson, chapters 6-7


Week 9            Mid-Term Examination (All Week)

Week 10          The Mass Media and Politics
                         Patterson, chapter 10

Week 11           Congress
                          Patterson, chapter 11

Week 12            The Presidency
                           Patterson, chapter 12


Week 13            The Judicial System
                           Film Reviews Due
Patterson, chapter 14

Week 14            Thanksgiving Break
                           Read Ehrenreich and Quinn!

Weeks 15-16     Public Policy
                          Patterson, chapters 15-16
                          Ehrenreich, all
                          Quinn, all
                          "Wal-Mart Wages Don't Support Wal-Mart Workers"
                          "The Wal-Mart Way Becomes Topic 'A' in Business
                            Schools" (handout)

Week 17            Final Examination


This syllabus is definitely subject to change and revision.  You are responsible for keeping abreast of any such changes.  If you require special accommodations or arrangements due to a documented disability, I am happy to assist you, but please consult with me as early in the semester as possible.


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