American National Government (POLS 100)
”If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
                                                                -James Madison

Fall 2007
American National Government Online
Tentative Course Outline
Instructor: Amanda Bigelow
Office: 476 DuSable
Office Phone: 815-753-1818
Department Web Page:
Office Hours: Tuesdays 5-6, Thursdays 4-6 p.m. or by appointment.

Required Texts and Materials:
Ginsberg, Lowi, and Weir.  We The People: An Introduction to American Politics, 5th Edition, Norton
Scott, Gregory M. and Loren Gatch.  21 Debated Issues in American Politics, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall

Newsweek, Time, and/or U.S. News and World Report and Chicago Tribune, New York Times and USA Today (latest copies are available in the library’s periodical section and on-line).  Online Newspapers –,,,

Course Objectives:
To prepare the student to become a functioning citizen by becoming more aware of the American system of government, its strengths and its limitations.

To illustrate the inequalities that exist in society, analyze how the American system of government may perpetuate these inequalities, and look for solutions to the problems of inequalities in society.

To give the student an understanding of the nature and scope of political science both theoretically and historically.

To make the student aware of her/his social and cultural biases in order to learn critical analysis skills

To assist students in demonstrating a competent understanding of American government in the following ways:

*Ability to compare and contrast the traditional and modern approaches to the study of American political institutions.

*Ability to describe and compare the philosophies underlying American and other national forms of government.

*Ability to explain factors associated with political socialization and contemporary political activities.

*Ability to describe and analyze the social and political issues besetting American democracy in the 20th Century.

*Ability to describe and analyze contemporary American governmental institutions at Federal, State, and local events.


Class Participation – 15%
Class attendance is required and students should come to class prepared to discuss the materials assigned for that week and to discuss any news items on the United States government they come across that should be raised for discussion.  I hope that students will come to class with insightful questions and/or comments about the assigned readings, and I will also be calling on students at random to answer some questions of my own.  Answers to my questions should show that the student has read and understands the class materials and he/she has the ability to apply critical thinking skills to those materials.  The quality of your contributions is more important than the quantity, but both are expected.

Below are some guidelines that may help you to understand my expectations and how you will be graded on this portion of your grade.

Excellent contributor (A): The student attends class on a regular basis and comes prepared with insightful comments and questions about the course materials.  The student also shows a high level of critical thinking in evaluating course materials.  The class as a whole benefits highly from this student’s contributions.

Good contributor (B): The student attends class on a regular basis and often comes prepared with insightful comments and questions about the course material.  The student also shows some critical thinking in evaluating course materials.  The class as a whole generally benefits from this student’s contributions.

Fair contributor (C): The student attends class more often than not and sometimes comes to class with questions or comments that reflect some insight into the course materials.  The student shows some critical thinking in evaluating course materials but often struggles to see beyond personal biases.  The class sometimes benefits from this student’s contributions.

Unsatisfactory contributor (D): The student comes to class but is unprepared.  Comments are not insightful, are extremely bias or do not benefit the class. 

Non-contributor (F): The student either does not maintain regular attendance or attends but does not contribute to class discussions. 

Study questions – 15%
Under the links for this course are several study questions for each reading assignment; due dates for the questions can be found in the course outline.  Keep the answers legible, short and to the point.  These questions, along with class notes will be the basis for exams.  You will be notified in class of any additional assignments.  

My notes for this class are available online and some answers may be found in there.  Otherwise, you should look to the text or online for the answers.  If you are unable to find the answer to a question, email me.  These questions, along with class notes, class discussions and reading assignments, will be the basis for exams. 

Critical Thinking Papers – 30%  
Since it has been my experience that most students do not begin this course with a clear understanding of what critical thinking is I encourage you to read the information on this website ( before writing your first paper.
Listed in the schedule are several reading assignments from the book 21 Debated Issues in American Politics and due dates for papers.   After reading both sides of the debate assigned for the week, you should write an essay that analyzes the pros/cons of following/not following the advice provided by both sides.  

       The essays should not spend a lot of time summarizing the various arguments. The bulk of the essays should be analysis.

       The analysis should not focus on what the student sees as the weak or strong points of the author’s article (particularly not the writing style, etc). The student’s analysis should be as fair as possible, not favoring one author’s ideas over the other.

       Instead, the student should analyze the benefits and drawbacks of implementing the policy each author is arguing for. For example, imagine the topic is gun control, and author A argues to ban guns, while author B argues to repeal all gun control laws. The student’s essay might look like this:

o       Introduction
         Introduces gun control and briefly summarizes each author’s viewpoint

o       Body Paragraph 1
         Analyzes what good would come of banning guns, as Author A argues

o       Body Paragraph 2
         Analyzes the drawbacks of banning guns, as Author A proposes

o       Body Paragraph 3
         Analyzes the benefits of repealing gun control laws, as Author B argues

o       Body Paragraph 4
         Analyzes the negative outcomes of repealing gun control laws, as author A proposes

o       Conclusion, briefly summarizing the author’s points

       These paragraphs should include both ideas from the articles and ideas the students come up with. They should show that they not only understand the concept of the articles, but also that they can think beyond the articles.

       Students may use a few quotes, but mostly the arguments should be in the students’ own words.

I should be able to tell from your paper that you have read both sides of the argument and that you are able to apply critical thinking skills to fairly evaluate the merits of both sides.  The pros/cons should not be superficial in nature, meaning that you are not critiquing the writing style, nationality or personal politics of the authors, rather you are attempting to put yourself in the position of being both a defender and a critic of the logic being presented by both sides.  The papers should be double-spaced, in 12 point font, in Times New Roman, and with one inch margins and should be 2 pages at a minimum but no longer than 3 pages.  Remember, I am grading you primarily on your critical thinking and writing, not on which side you think is best, so make certain that you spend the necessary time discussing the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. 

If you have questions about the articles, you should discuss them with me during my office hours or through email prior to the due date of the papers so that we have ample time to discuss the issues. You can also receive help with writing your papers through the University Writing Center.  They are located in Stevenson South, Tower B, Lower Level and can be reached by phone at 753-6636.

Exams - 40%
There will be four exams throughout the semester.  The dates and topic materials are listed in the syllabus.  You must bring a blue book with you to class on exam day.  Blue books can be purchased in the bookstore for a nominal fee.  Exams will consist of short answer questions.  Please come prepared on exam day meaning that you have a thorough understanding of the materials presented in the notes, readings, class discussions and study questions.  Make-up exams will only be granted to students who have a valid excuse that can be documented in writing and when I have approved the absence ahead of time.

Academic dishonesty:

Plagiarism or cheating in any form will not be tolerated.  All words or ideas that are not your own must be cited in all of the work that is submitted for this course.  Anyone caught cheating or plagiarizing will receive a failing grade for the entire course.  Additionally, a report of the transgression will be filed with the Chair for the Department of Political Science and the Office of Judicial Affairs.

Final grades:
The grading scale for this course will be as follows:

If you are a student with a cognitive, physical or psychiatric disability you may be eligible for academic support services such as extended test time, texts on tape, note-taking services, etc.  If you are interested in receiving support services, please contact the Center for Access-Ability Resources at 753-1303. 

Any student who is dealing with personal issues that they may find overwhelming or that are interfering with their quality of life at NIU should know that free counseling services are available through the Counseling and Student Development Center located at 200 Campus Life Building.  Walk-in appointments are available M-F from 10-4.   

Finally, academic assistance is available to all students through the Office of Retention Programs.  Students interested in receiving academic support should contact this office at 753-7822.  You are also encouraged to discuss your individual needs with the instructor so that your educational experience is a productive one.

In the event that you must withdraw from this course, you are expected to follow established college procedures outlined in the college catalog.  The final date to withdraw from this course is October 19th. 

1.       Please turn off all cell phones and pagers before coming to class  
2.       All electronic devices will be prohibited from class on exam days, so please
          don’t bring them with you to class.
3.       Do not use tobacco products in the classroom.  
4.       Do not sleep in the classroom.  
5.       Do not read newspapers or other books, magazines, etc. in class.
6.       Do not pack up your things or rustle papers until I have dismissed you from

7.      All rules and classroom policies, as well as assignments and due dates, are
         subject to change or addition at the instructors discretion; changes or
       additions will be announced in class.

NIU is an educational institution where opinions of all types, as long as they are sincere, are welcome.  We can learn a lot from each other, but we must conduct ourselves in a respectful manner.  Please be courteous to others in the class and if you disagree with their points of view, please show them respect while doing so.  Also, do not talk when others are talking and remember that the tone of your voice can often say as much as can words.

Undergraduate Writing Awards: The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Department's spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28. All copies should have two cover pages--one with the student's name and one without the student's name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following ye ar's competition even if the student has graduated.

Class Assignment Schedule

August 28th  
Class procedures and policies.
Discussion: Critical Thinking
Reading Assignment:  Read Ginsberg, Chapter 1.  Read the article on the history of the social contract found at  Read chapter 2 from John Locke’s “The Second Treatise of Civil Government” found at  

August 30th
Discussion: The Origins of Democracy and Political Ideologies
Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 2 and The Constitution lecture notes online

September 4th
Discussion: Constitutional History
Reading Assignment: Scott and Gatch Part I: Issue 1, The Constitution.  (Due date for Paper #1 is in class on September 13th). 
Study Questions for Chapter 1 due in class.

September 6th
Discussion: The U.S. Constitution
Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 3 and Federalist 10 and 51 from the Federalist Papers (694-698).  Also, read Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, Katzenbach v. McClung and Dred Scott v. Sanford online.

September 11th
Discussion: Federalism
Study Questions for Chapter 2 due in class.

September 13th
Discussion: Federalism continued
Paper #1 Due in Class.


September 18th
Exam 1 – Materials covered in readings and class to date.
Study Questions for Chapter #3 due in class.

Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 12 and Scott and Gatch Part IV: Government Institutions, Congress, Issue 11. (Due date for Paper #2 is in class on October 9th)

September 20th
Discussion: Congress

September 25th
Discussion: How a bill becomes a law.  
Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 13.

September 27th
Discussion: The Presidency
Study Questions for Chapter #12 due in class.

October 2nd
The Presidency continued
Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 15.

October 4th
Discussion: The Federal Courts
Study Questions for Chapter #13 due in class.  

October 9th
Discussion: The Supreme Court
Paper #2 Due in Class. 

October 11th
Exam II – Materials covered in readings and class to date.
Study Questions for Chapter 15 due in class.
Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 6.  

October 16th
Discussion: Public Opinion  

October 18th
Discussion: Political Sophistication
Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapters 8 and 10.  Scott and Gatch Part III: The Electoral College, Issue 9.  (Due date for paper #3 is in class on October 30th.)

October 23rd
Discussion: Elections and Voting
Study Questions for Chapter #6 due in class

October 25th
Discussion: Elections and Voting continued
Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 9 and Political Party lecture notes online. 

October 30th
Discussion: Political Parties
Study Questions for Chapters 8 and 10 due in class.
Paper #3 Due in Class.

November 1st
Discussion: Third Parties
Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 7 and 11.

November 6th
Free Speech for Sale
Study Questions for Chapter #9 due in class.

November 8th
Discussion: The Media and Interest Groups.
Study Questions for Chapter #7 due in class.

November 13th
Exam III -  Materials Covered in readings and class to date.
Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 4.  Also read Plessey v. Ferguson, Roe v. Wade, Bowers v. Hardwick, Lawrence v. Texas and Texas v. Johnson online.  Scott and Gatch, Part II, Issue 5.  (Due date for Paper #4 is in class on December 6th) 

November 15th
Discussion: Freedom of Religion  

November 20th
Discussion: Freedom of Speech


November 27th
Discussion: Our Civil Liberties
Reading Assignment: Ginsberg, Chapter 5.
Reading Assignment: Brown v. Board of Education and “I Have A Dream” online.

November 29th  
Discussion: Civil Rights
Study Questions for Chapter #4 due in class.

December 4th
Discussion: Civil Rights Continued

December 6th
Discussion: Civil Rights Continued
Paper #4 Due in Class.

December 11th
Exam IV: Materials covered in readings and class to date.
Study Questions for Chapter #5 due in class.