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Introduction to American Government

Course Syllabus

Instructor: M. Laskowski
Office: Room 292, Upper School
Telephone: 919.847.0900 ext. 2643


This course introduces students to the American governmental and political system. Starting from an historical perspective, it looks at the colonial, revolutionary, and federalist periods of American history, examining the roots of the American system of representative government and the democratic republic. Then it will study the historical basis and development of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—the framework of the United States ’governmental system. It will look at the early implementation of the Constitution system, especially the early development of the party system, and will lay the foundation for an understanding of modern Constitutional government, especially the growth of the Presidency, the change in the role of Congress, the Courts, and the changing role of federalism.

--Ravenscroft School Curriculum and Registration Guide


In a few years, you will be eligible to vote in your first election. The birthright of every American and the hallmark of a democratic society, the vote is both the most strived-for and the least-used element of public life. Revolutions have been fought for the vote; thousands have died; regimes have fallen. Yet, in our own country, voting rates hover at about fifty percent. Why? There are many answers to that question: a distrust of government and leaders, an indifference to national issues, a perceived lack of good choices, or the feeling that one vote cannot possibly make a difference. However, one of the most persuasive arguments for low voting rates is the fact that many Americans, frankly, do not understand their government or their own vital role in keeping this society afloat. Now, more than ever, understanding the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of American citizenship is critical to the continuing success of our government and our way of life. This course is designed to introduced you to the history of your country, the structure of your government, and the implications these things have on your life as an American citizen.


Books: You have two major source materials for this course: Magruder’s American Government, by William McClenagham, and the online packet written by Dr. deTreville, Mr. Pruden, and Mr. Laskowski, entitled From Colonization to Constitution: A Brief Survey of American History. We will also be drawing several lessons from We the People…the Citizen and the Constitution. Listen carefully, and take note of which book, if any, to bring to class.

Website: Assignments, handouts, and other important materials can be found at the class webpage. Make certain that you visit it often.

Other supplies: You will need a notebook, and a folder or three ring binder to hold all of your papers, of which there will be many.


Effort: This will be a challenging course, but do not become anxious or overwhelmed about it. You can do it, and Mr. Laskowski will be here to help you along the way. The most important thing you need to remember is this: DO YOUR BEST! You are not expected to be perfect scholars of government; you are expected to make a real effort and show progress. If you do these things, you will succeed.

Attendance: You are expected in class EVERY DAY, and you must show up ON TIME. Tardiness is a sign of disrespect, and disrespect will not be tolerated. If you are absent from class, regardless of the reason, you must get and complete the assignment by the next class. If you are absent on the day of a test, you must make it up the first day you are back. Special accommodations will be made for students who are absent for a number of days. Please let Mr. Laskowski know well in advance of expected absences.

Participation: As exciting as government is, it can be murdered by endless lectures and rote memorization assignments. To avoid this, you will be taking part in numerous interactive exercises, including: debates, discussions, projects, and role-playing activities. Come to class ready to be an active participant.

Tests: Tests are designed to measure your command of factual material covered in class. You will be given at least one week’s notice on all tests and major papers, but Mr. Laskowski reserves the option to administer a pop quiz on assigned reading or on review material.

Essays: Essays will not have absolute, single, correct answers. Instead, your work will be judged by how effectively it analyses the issues, how focused is your response, how comprehensive is your coverage, how developed are your arguments, how well supported by evidence are your arguments, how accurate is your information, and how well organized is your overall presentation.

Respect: You have a responsibility to be considerate of your fellow students and your teacher. You will be treated as adults with all the responsibility that comes with that. Failure to show respect will not be tolerated and will be dealt with harshly.

Grading: It is hoped that you will do your best at all times. However, do not become preoccupied by grades. No one grade will ruin you or bring you eternal happiness. Instead, focus on learning to love history. It is its own reward. That said, the following factors will be considered in determining your grade: participation, tests, quizzes, homework, essays, and projects. Creativity and ingenuity will also be rewarded. The standards for grading are in line with those set forth by Ravenscroft. Your grade will be determined roughly (and therefore not absolutely) according to the following scale:

10% Class Participation (Subjective)

40% Homework and Projects (Objective)

40% Tests and Quizzes (Objective)

10% Effort and Progress (Subjective)

Extra Assistance: Remember, Mr. Laskowski is here to help you learn. And if you feel you need extra assistance in completing your work or understanding concepts, see him either before or after class to discuss the matter or to set up an appointment.

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