American Government 2008-2009 School Year Course Guide

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American Government

2008-2009 School Year

Course Guide
Instructor: Mrs. Mary Beth Logas

Office Hours: 1:35-2:20 (site TBD), 2:30-3:30 room 06, or by appointment

Message Contact:

Required Text: Magruder’s American Government by William McClenaghan, published by Prentice Hall, 2001
Course Description

This class will introduce the student to the workings of the American system of government. The American system of representative democracy is dependent for success upon the participation of an informed citizenry, which brings ethical as well as intellectual considerations to bear in pursuit of political goals. Students will become aware, not only of the nature and complexity of the American system itself, but of their own role within it. Students will learn to:

  1. Explain the nature of our government and other governments.

  2. Explain the nature and function of the Federal constitution.

  3. Understand how the Constitution applies to specific problems of government.

  4. Know the difference between civil and criminal law.

  5. Understand the role of the citizen in American government, including participation in the political process.

  6. Understand the applications of the Bill of Rights.

  7. Know what natural law is and how it applies and doesn’t apply to the American system.

  8. Understand the workings of the check and balance system.

  9. Know the differences between the Federal and State governments.

  10. Understand some concepts and issues in comparative government.

  11. Use outside resources, print, broadcast, internet, and personal witness to understand the functioning of the American system of government.

  12. Read thoughtfully and carefully, and to analyze and understand the value of different sources of information about the significant topics covered.

  13. Understand that in an imperfect world, not all governmental problems have acceptable solutions, although the search for such solutions must continue.

  14. Apply their own Christian faith to their understanding of citizenship in a representative republic.

Topics covered will include, but not be limited to:

Principles of American government

Review of the origins of the features of American government

The Constitution, as it has been applied in the past

The Constitution, as it is applied to current events and controversies

The origins and nature of Federalism

The differences in government among the states

The two-party system and alternatives

The function of political party organizations and the differences among them

The power of the vote, its limitations, and voter behavior

The electoral process

Journalism, the media, and their role in the American system

Interest groups and other political alliances within the system

Congress: its powers, action, limitations, members

The Presidency: its powers, influence, limitations, role outside the U.S.

Particular presidents


Economics and the American government

Foreign policy

National defense and the military; roles foreign and domestic

The federal court system; its influence, importance, and limitations

State and local courts

Political and legal rights

Being Prepared for Class

The extent and nature of the material covered in this course will require the use of both lecture and prepared discussion formats of instruction. In order for student participation to be productive, students need to be well-prepared for class. Students will be expected to come to class every day unless an absence is absolutely necessary, and be ready to make neat, legible notes on lectures and discussions. Students in this class must also come to class prepared to contribute to discussion and debate from a basis of information. Some major projects in this class involve off-site field trips, and interscholastic work with students from other schools. Students need to be adequately prepared to do this.

Starting Class

Students are expected to be in their assigned seats, quiet and ready for class, when the bell rings. If there is written homework due, it should be ready for collection at the start of class. Class will open with prayer.

Suggested Files

Students are strongly advised to keep a class file of completed work at home in addition to notes and handouts. Material which appears on a quiz or handout is likely to reappear on an exam: students are responsible for anything covered or assigned at any time.


Grades for this class are based on the percentage of possible points a student earns on assignments, tests, projects, and class participation. Each of these will be worth a set number of points. The grading scale below will be used to determine grades for this class.

93-100% = A

85-92% = B

78-84% = C

70-77% = D

0-69% = NC
Important Projects

During the first semester, this class will be participating in the Equal Justice Under Law conference at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago. A few class assignments will be needed, culminating in the conference on November 30. This is a great opportunity for students to represent Fenwick in a forum taking place in the wider community on issues of national interest. Students will participate in discussions with students from other high schools, reproducing the deliberations of the Supreme Court and discussing legislative action. They will then attend a luncheon at the Union League Club where they will have a chance to share proposals and questions with a panel of experts.

During the first semester, there will be a required research paper. The due date will be announced at the beginning of the semester, and there will be no late papers or excuses accepted. During the second semester, Students will participate in the Youth Summit project, also sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation. This will require classroom work, school leadership projects, and there will be leadership opportunities for some students. Second semester, there will also be a campaign video presentation, done in a group. The students will be notified of the due date for this project at the beginning of the second semester.
Current Events

Students will be expected to keep informed of current events. This will be assessed through weekly current events assignments, described separately.

Class Participation

In view of the fact that good citizenship in a representative democracy is one of the goals of this course, participation in class is vital to successful learning. On days when the instructional format is class discussion, three points will be given for participation. Students will receive participation credit for asking or answering questions related to the topic under discussion. The use of the student’s own notes on reading and prior discussions is encouraged, but the use of internet note services and other shortcuts will result in the loss of participation points and other disciplinary action. Students who are tardy and/or lacking required materials will not receive participation points. Students who are absent with an excuse will be allowed to make them up, but must see the instructor to do so.


Homework will be assigned regularly. For some assignments, students will have to conduct out of class research.

All written work should use the following heading on the first line at the far left of the paper.

Student’s Name


Class and period

Assignment description

Typing of homework assignments is preferred, and some assignments will not be accepted if handwritten. Students who type their homework should do so on white typing paper, double space, and use a size 12 font. Handwritten work needs to be done on loose leaf paper, neatly written in blue or black ink. All written work must be neat and legible. Work which does not meet these standards will receive no credit. Late work will be accepted only as described in Mrs. Logas’ class policy.


Quizzes will be given frequently on assigned reading and material discussed in class. Although quizzes are usually announced in advance, students should be prepared for quizzes at any time.


Tests based on the readings and on lecture, discussion, and film materials will be given on a regular basis and will be significantly weighted in the student’s grade. Barring extraordinary circumstances, tests will be given on the day assigned for American government. Generally, students will be notified at least one week in advance. Tests will include multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and essay questions.


Cheating and plagiarism of any kind will not be tolerated. Any incident will result in the student receiving a grade of zero for the assignment in question and will be reported to the student’s counselor and parents. Depending on the magnitude of the offense, other consequences may occur.


Consistent attendance is vital to good academic performance. Students are expected to know any material covered in class, including lectures and class discussions. Makeup work stemming from an excused absence will be treated in accordance with school policy. Students will be responsible for making up late work due to an excused absence.


Students are expected to treat the instructor and their colleagues with courtesy and respect. This is especially important in this class, given the often controversial nature of the topics addressed and discussed. Every member of the class has an important contribution to make, and belittling comments and other rudeness will not be tolerated. Sanctions will include being kept after class with no excuse provided, discussion with the student’s parents and counselor, detention, etc.

American Government

Current Events Assignment
Students are required to know what is going on in the news that pertains to the subject matter of this class. This assignment will be due the last day of class each week throughout the school year.
The Assignment

Cut out or photocopy, or print out one article of at least 150 words that discusses a newsworthy event pertaining to American government. You may use acceptable, accredited online sources that are run either by a major news agency or which have a print version. Acceptable sources include:

The New York Times (print or online version)

The Washington Post (print or online version)

The Chicago Tribune (print or online version)

The Chicago Sun-Times (print or online version)



U.S. News and World Report

The Christian Science Monitor

Roll Call

The Hill

Online news centers run by broadcasters such as ABC, NBC, and CNN may also be used. News stories only!
Once you have your article and you have read it carefully, write a summary of what the article says and how it addresses a subject we are discussing or need to discuss in American Government. Then write a paragraph of your own reaction to the article. Do you agree with the author? Do you think there is bias shown? Do you think this is a matter of enduring interest or only temporary importance? When you have finished either writing neatly or typing your response, staple the article printout to the back of the paper.

Each week’s assignment turned in promptly and in the proper form will receive 10 points.

Political Cartoons

No more than once a month, you may use a political cartoon. They take less time to read, but they take longer to write about. Your summary must include an explanation of exactly what the political point is that the cartoonist is making. You must have a complete explanation of the figures in the cartoon. You also, of course, need to include your own reaction. You will need to address whether or not you think the cartoonist intended to be funny, whether or not you think the cartoon is funny, and who you think might not find it amusing.
Stories on state and local government are acceptable and even encouraged. Crime & entertainment stories are not useful unless a connection can be clearly made to a governmental issue. Students who submit such stories without the necessary connection will be required to do the assignment over for a deduction in credit, or take a zero.

Permission to watch films:

The following films are on the list of materials used in American Government. The films with the asterisk are the ones the instructor considers especially important. As some of these films contain language the instructor would not use in a high school classroom, and situations which may include violence or sexual references, parental permission is required.
All the President’s Men *

Runaway Jury*

The Candidate (?)

Primary Colors *

Hotel Rwanda

Wag the Dog

Ghosts of Mississippi

I, _____________________________________________, hereby give permission for my child, a student in Mrs. Logas’ American Government class, to view any or all of the above-listed films.

Signature _____________________________________ date ___________________

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