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Teaching American Government w/o a Textbook Revisited
Unformatted Document Text:  thinking as a specific course objective rather than merely an enhancement of other course objectives such as knowing the functions of branches of government or how the electoral process works. West (1994) has postulated that direct – or explicit – teaching of critical thinking is valuable in courses devoted specifically to thinking skills. However, the implicit teaching – or incorporation – of critical thinking is better suited to the political science classroom due to the wide variety of pedagogical methods available to the instructor. In political science courses at least, students learn critical thinking skills better by using such skills in a variety of exercises in the context of learning about government than by having a series of lessons and exercises about critical thinking per se. OUR CASE STUDY We began last semester (Fall 2007) with the goal of creating a course which would somehow engage the students more fully in the study of American government and thereby result in a higher level of academic performance. At the outset we had only a vague idea of how this might be done but, nevertheless felt confident that the use of critical thinking was the tool with which to accomplish our goal. Our course design proceeded from two basic premises. The first is that the majority of students at Idaho State University should have already gained a basic understanding of American government during their high school government courses, that they are aware of such basics as the general arrangement and function of our constitutional system of government, and have at least a rudimentary knowledge of its historical development. Second, we believe that a single specific question can provide the framework around which the course should be constructed. We wanted to focus on a single analytical question because we thought that this

Authors: Steinfeldt, Andrew. and Phippen, Earl.
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thinking as a specific course objective rather than merely an enhancement of other course
objectives such as knowing the functions of branches of government or how the electoral process
works.
West (1994) has postulated that direct – or explicit – teaching of critical thinking is
valuable in courses devoted specifically to thinking skills. However, the implicit teaching – or
incorporation – of critical thinking is better suited to the political science classroom due to the
wide variety of pedagogical methods available to the instructor. In political science courses at
least, students learn critical thinking skills better by using such skills in a variety of exercises in
the context of learning about government than by having a series of lessons and exercises about
critical thinking per se.
OUR CASE STUDY
We began last semester (Fall 2007) with the goal of creating a course which
would somehow engage the students more fully in the study of American government and
thereby result in a higher level of academic performance. At the outset we had only a
vague idea of how this might be done but, nevertheless felt confident that the use of
critical thinking was the tool with which to accomplish our goal.
Our course design proceeded from two basic premises. The first is that the
majority of students at Idaho State University should have already gained a basic
understanding of American government during their high school government courses,
that they are aware of such basics as the general arrangement and function of our
constitutional system of government, and have at least a rudimentary knowledge of its
historical development. Second, we believe that a single specific question can provide
the framework around which the course should be constructed.
We wanted to focus on a single analytical question because we thought that this


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