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Teaching American Political Institutions Using Role-playing Simulations
Unformatted Document Text:  7 recognizing the organizational aspects of these institutions, we can call attention to the roles that their members play within each organization. Organizational sociologists have long recognized that individuals occupy specialized roles within organizations, and these roles are often shaped both formally and informally by the organization’s rules and procedures (Cyert and March 1964; Simon 1997) and by interactions with actors external to the organization (DiMaggio and Powell 1983). American political organizations are no different from any other organization in this regard. For example, members of Congress play different roles within their respective chambers based, in part, on the party to which they belong, their committee assignments, the constituents they represent, and their own aspirations for higher office (Fenno 1995 [1973]). Likewise, individuals on the president’s personal staff often find themselves caught between the conflicting roles of providing personal policy advice to the president and acting as coordinators of the overall policy process (Hart 1995). The observation that organizational actors can play multiple roles in political institutions is important from a pedagogical standpoint, because these roles provide the basis upon which teachers can design effective role-playing simulations. First, roles provide the essential structure for simulations, in conjunction with one’s learning objectives. If one’s goal is to teach students about the importance of parties in Congress, then one’s simulation should include important roles for party leaders. To that end, a House floor debate or a Rules Committee deliberation might make the most sense, but a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on western water might not be as effective. Second, with adequate preparation time, roles help ensure that students are not just acting on their personal beliefs and preconceptions. In preparing for a role, students are forced to look at the individual whose part they are playing from different

Authors: Gonzales, Angelo.
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recognizing the organizational aspects of these institutions, we can call attention to the roles that
their members play within each organization.
Organizational sociologists have long recognized that individuals occupy specialized
roles within organizations, and these roles are often shaped both formally and informally by the
organization’s rules and procedures (Cyert and March 1964; Simon 1997) and by interactions
with actors external to the organization (DiMaggio and Powell 1983). American political
organizations are no different from any other organization in this regard. For example, members
of Congress play different roles within their respective chambers based, in part, on the party to
which they belong, their committee assignments, the constituents they represent, and their own
aspirations for higher office (Fenno 1995 [1973]). Likewise, individuals on the president’s
personal staff often find themselves caught between the conflicting roles of providing personal
policy advice to the president and acting as coordinators of the overall policy process (Hart
1995).
The observation that organizational actors can play multiple roles in political institutions
is important from a pedagogical standpoint, because these roles provide the basis upon which
teachers can design effective role-playing simulations. First, roles provide the essential structure
for simulations, in conjunction with one’s learning objectives. If one’s goal is to teach students
about the importance of parties in Congress, then one’s simulation should include important roles
for party leaders. To that end, a House floor debate or a Rules Committee deliberation might
make the most sense, but a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on
western water might not be as effective. Second, with adequate preparation time, roles help
ensure that students are not just acting on their personal beliefs and preconceptions. In preparing
for a role, students are forced to look at the individual whose part they are playing from different


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