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Course Expectations and Grading Policy for Advanced Placement Government and Politics

Instructor - Mr. D. Miller

This course is about the American political system. We will discuss political ideology, the development of the political system and our democratic institutions. Students will be able to evaluate the role of the national government and its relationship to the concept of liberty in a pluralistic society. The discussions will emphasize the changing political culture of American society and its effect on voting patterns, trends and the processes of government. In doing so we will examine certain critical elections in American history as well as recent political movements. The main thrust of the course, however, is to be able to apply an understanding of our political system to contemporary events.

The following five major topics will be covered: (1) The constitutional underpinnings of American government, (2) political beliefs and behaviors, (3) political parties and interest groups, (4) institutions and policy development and, (5) civil liberties. At the conclusion of the course students should have a more sophisticated understanding of majority rule democracy, constitutionalism and civil liberties. Students will also be able to see the relationships and distinctions between formal and informal institutions and the public policies that are developed as a result of these relationships.

General Expectations

This is a college level class in Political Science. As such I expect students to behave as college students. I will instruct this class in a method that best exemplifies a college course and I expect students to act accordingly. I will not accept or tolerate late or missing work and absence from class in unacceptable. Due to the short nature of the course and the vast amount of materiel involved student are expected to become learners both IN and OUT of the classroom. This means doing reading when it is required and becoming aware of current events and political happenings. It is expected that students read the New York Times every day as well as a weekly magazines such as Newsweek. Only in this fashion can students begin to truly understand and apply knowledge. Learning, true learning, does not occur in the vacuum of the classroom.

Teaching and Study Methods

Classes will be conducted in a lecture and discussion format. Board notes will be minimal so student note taking is essential. Students might also consider outlining their texts as a study tool. This is optional but highly recommended. Typically, college students will highlight but since you do not own your books, outlining might be a suitable alternative.

In addition to assigned class readings students are expected to stay abreast of current events in national politics. In order to do this, students should read the New York Times every day. The reality is that the Times is the very best newspaper in America. Students should also consider reading Newsweek or another similar weekly news magazine. Newsweek has excellent political coverage. National Review (conservative) and The Nation (liberal) are also excellent sources of political information. This reading will further your knowledge of the subject matter and the articles you read can be included in the clipping file project you will be asked to complete.

Texts and Readings

The class text is American Government by James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio. Copies have been provided to you. It is expected that you will read all assigned chapters prior to class discussion.

Supplementary readings are essential in this class. The acquisition of a supplementary texts has been discussed and as of now has yet to be resolved. If such a text is obtained it will be The Lanahan Readings in American Polity by Ann Serow and Everett Ladd.

There will also be other readings assigned throughout the year. I will make them available in advance. In some cases required readings will only be available online. Again, it is expected that you will read all assigned chapters prior to class discussion.

As discussed, reading of the New York Times and Newsweek is extremely important. National Review (conservative) and The Nation (liberal) are also excellent sources of political information.

The Internet

As the Internet has become a critically important means of communication so has its relevance as a teaching tool. I make every attempt to infuse the Internet with the course. Please visit the class web site at

On the web site you can find links to a variety of helpful sites, readings and class notes. Remember, in some cases required readings will only be available online. In addition, both the Times and Newsweek have excellent web sites. The links can be found on the class page.

I will often communicate with the class vial email if I have found a relevant article or new story. I expect you to check your email regularly. Feel free to email me as well.

Grading Policy

1. Exams (40%): Exams will consist of 60 multiple choice questions within one class period and either one or two essays in another period. Exams will be given after certain topical breaks in the curriculum as I have attempted to link certain chapters together. The class schedule explains when each test will be given. The exams will be announced in advance. Class presentations and activities assigned after the AP exam may be given grades in this category.

2. Quizzes (0 -10%): There might be, on occasion, class quizzes of varying length and format. There may or may not be advance notice given.

3. Homework: The homework in this class is to complete assigned readings prior to class discussion dates. The course schedule contains dates and chapter reading assignments. Supplementary readings as assigned as well as papers and projects are also, in a fashion, considered homework. I expect you to complete readings in a timely fashion so that you may contribute to class discussion. Students not completing the readings will be obviously lacking in knowledge and thus their class participation grade will suffer.

4. Class Participation (15 - 20%): Participation in class discussions is an essential element of this class. I expect every student to come to class and to participate. Participation may be in the form of questions, responses to questions or commentary on a particular subject. I will closely monitor student participation and grade students accordingly. These grades will be assigned in letter grade format. Class presentations and activities assigned after the AP exam may be given grades in this category as well.

5. Papers (15 - 20%): Students will be expected to complete two 3 to 5 page papers this semester. Each paper must use proper citation form and works cited forms. Details of the paper and due dates will be attached below. Each paper will receive a letter grade.

6. Clippings File (15 - 20%) Each student must compile a "clippings file" as described below. The purpose of this assignment is to ensure that students stay up to date with the current political trends and occurrences and so that students start to see the relevance of what they are studying in class.

7. Final Grade: Each marking period will be worth 50% of the students grade. The final exam, per se, is the AP exam.


1. Cutting: Cutting class is not allowed and will not be tolerated. Anyone cutting class should expect a phone call home and a lowering of their grade. I will follow the school's cutting policy to the letter and a cut card will be issued. No excuses!

2. Lateness: You are expected to be in class on time, all the time. Do not enter the class late without a pass. Lateness takes away class time and learning time and is an indicator of how much your care. Chronic lateness will result in a phone call home and a reduction in your class work grade. Remember, three lates equals one cut. This will be enforced!

3. The Pass: Raise your hand to ask permission to take the pass. Use your head when asking for the pass. Do not interrupt important discussions to ask for the pass.

4. Absence: You are required to complete any work assigned while you are absent. There is no such thing as an "excused" absence, only an explained one. Please show me a note to document your absences accordingly so that I know you were not cutting.

Other Requirements

1. Notebooks: It is up to each individual student to determine what system works best for them. I expect students to print out readings made available on line and to place them with notes that relate to that topic. Handouts and readings made available in class should be treated the same way. Personally, I believe that a looseleaf style notebook allows the greatest organizational flexibility.

2. Behavior: Disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. The reading of outside material from other subjects or newspapers is considered to be disruptive behavior. Any actions not befitting the nature of this class will be met with disciplinary action and grade deduction.

3. Getting Help: It is your responsibility to ask for help if you feel it is needed. Help is available before and after school but please ask me for an appointment.

Projects and Papers:

Clippings File (15 - 20%)

Each student must keep a looseleaf notebook in addition to their regular notebook in which they will keep a file of press clippings from news articles they have read. Students must collect articles from each on the topics listed below and write a brief explanation of the article.

  • Collect news articles that discuss US policy, political events, policy formulation, political action or any subject we discuss in regard to the issue topics listed below.
  • Purchase a looseleaf notebook and divide it into the following sections:

    a) Taxes

    b) Health Care

    c) Economy

    d) Gin Control

    e) Campaign Financing

    f) Federal Budget / Government Spending

    g) Social Security

    h) Military Spending

    i) Interest Groups and PACS

    j) Foreign Policy

    k) Environment

    l) Election 2000

    l) Political Party Support and Actions

  • Collect 40 articles, with at least two articles from each topic, from the New York Times, Newsweek or other qualified publication. Only 50% of the articles may be from the Internet. You may not photocopy articles.
  • Neatly paste, tape or insert into a clear plastic insert each article. On the back, include a summary sheet with the following information:
    • Publication
    • Date
    • Author
    • Page Number
    • Topic
    • Brief Summary - Make sure you discuss the relevance to American politics.
  • Categorize your clippings into each section. Articles within each section should be in chronological order.
  • I will collect the clippings file twice and I expect to see 20 clippings for the first grade and 20 clippings for the second. I will collect the clippings file on March 31st and May 5th.
  • I will provide a cover sheet for you to complete as you place items in the clippings file. You must fill out the cover sheet and it must be the first page in the book. You can print out the cover sheet here.

Papers (15 - 20%)

You must complete two papers this term, one for each quarter.

Assignment One - Due Monday, March 6 (3rd quarter)

Choose one of the following paper options.

Option One

Read the following statement and respond to it as indicated in the directions below

Resolved: American politics was inegalitarian and antidemocratic from
the time of the writing of the Constitution, and in the last 200 years the
American polity and economy have become even more antidemocratic
and inegalitarian.

You are to write a 3 to 5 page paper either agreeing or disagreeing with this statement. You should support your argument with references and citations to the readings in this class as well as others from outside the class. You are being given this assignment the first day of class so that you will start thinking immediately about how you will write it. You should read the materials in this class in light of this statement. This assignment is not so much a research project as an attempt to get you to make a reasoned judgment and argument about the character of U.S. politics. This means that the quality and persuasiveness of your argument is the most important factor in the evaluation of your answer. There is no correct answer.

Finally, you are strongly encouraged to work on this assignment and discuss the above statement with others. However, you must turn in your own original work and not copy someone else's paper.

Option Two

Choose one of the legislators that represents you in Congress, either your Representative or one of your Senators. Write a 3 to 5 page paper in which you discuss this legislator and the district or state that he or she represents. Be sure to focus on representation; that is, on the relationship between the legislator and the constituency. In your paper you will probably wish to consider the following questions:

  • What is the general political outlook of the legislator you have chosen? Can he or she be categorized broadly as a liberal? A conservative?
  • Does the person represent the views of his or her constituency?
  • Are there any issue in which he or she is especially interested? To which he or she is particularly sensitive? Are their any issues in which he or she is especially vulnerable electorally?
  • What is the persons electoral record?
  • What seems to be his or her voting ambitions?
  • What kind of legislative role has he or she chosen? How does the person seem to construe his or her responsibilities as representative? On what activities does he or she focus?
  • What are the persons committee assignments? How do they reflect the needs of his or her district? How do they reflect his or her background and interests?
  • What are the economic and social characteristics of the constituency? How are these characteristics related to the political behavior of the constituents?
  • Have their been any changes in the social and political behavior of the district in the past few years?
  • Are their any issues on which voters in the district are especially sensitive?

Assignment Two - Due Wednesday, April 19th (4th quarter)

Interest groups and Political Action Committees have become an increasingly forceful influence on the American polity. Write a 3 to 5 page persuasive paper arguing either in favor of or against the power gained by such interest groups. In your paper you must:

  • Explain what interest groups are and how they have developed over time.
  • Select two interest groups on the opposing sides of a particular issue. Compare and contrast their motives and positions. More importantly, discuss the methods used by each group and evaluate those methods both ethically and from the viewpoint of effectiveness.
  • Evaluate to what extent the existence of these interest groups either furthers or detracts the American democracy.

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