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The Solution Down the Hall: How Introductory Courses in American Government Can Engage Students
Unformatted Document Text:  distorts the outcome of the policy process. Indeed, most of us would agree with the conclusion of APSA Taskforce on Civic Education in 2000: “Current levels of political knowledge, political engagement, and political enthusiasm are so low as to threaten the vitality and stability of democratic politics in the United States.” Many of us have also jettisoned the value-free approach to political science instruction (if not also for our research). We are familiar with new research and potential solutions to the disengagement problem. We have numerous opportunities to reach the students. Luckily for us, we are also the ones teaching American Government courses – the ones who have the power to make a significant difference. The issue, we might say, lies at our doorstep. The question is whether we will take up the challenge? There is, of course, no panacea, as the roots of youth disengagement are numerous and deep. Introductory course in American government offer a unique opportunity, nevertheless. Those of use in the youth engagement field are often please when we spend a few minutes with an unregistered voter, filling out forms, talking about the importance of politics. In the AG course we have a captive audience for 45 hours! There numerous, complex objectives for this class, but our survey data does underscore the importance of broad-based political participation, the cultivation of civic skills, and an understanding of the potential of young people to change the policy process are key elements for most instructors. But how can we make the most out of this class? Several studies, many noted above, underscore the importance of quality instruction (see also Englund, 2002). Data presented in this paper suggest many who teach the AG course appreciate its potential to engage students and are anxious to find better ways to “connect,” approaches that help student better appreciate their role in a democratic society. Anyone who

Authors: Shea, Daniel.
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distorts the outcome of the policy process. Indeed, most of us would agree with the conclusion of
APSA Taskforce on Civic Education in 2000: “Current levels of political knowledge, political
engagement, and political enthusiasm are so low as to threaten the vitality and stability of
democratic politics in the United States.”
Many of us have also jettisoned the value-free approach to political science instruction (if
not also for our research). We are familiar with new research and potential solutions to the
disengagement problem. We have numerous opportunities to reach the students. Luckily for us,
we are also the ones teaching American Government courses – the ones who have the power to
make a significant difference. The issue, we might say, lies at our doorstep. The question is
whether we will take up the challenge?
There is, of course, no panacea, as the roots of youth disengagement are numerous and
deep. Introductory course in American government offer a unique opportunity, nevertheless.
Those of use in the youth engagement field are often please when we spend a few minutes with
an unregistered voter, filling out forms, talking about the importance of politics. In the AG
course we have a captive audience for 45 hours! There numerous, complex objectives for this
class, but our survey data does underscore the importance of broad-based political participation,
the cultivation of civic skills, and an understanding of the potential of young people to change
the policy process are key elements for most instructors. But how can we make the most out of
this class?
Several studies, many noted above, underscore the importance of quality instruction (see
also Englund, 2002). Data presented in this paper suggest many who teach the AG course
appreciate its potential to engage students and are anxious to find better ways to “connect,”
approaches that help student better appreciate their role in a democratic society. Anyone who


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