GOVT. 1: Essentials of Government

Fall 2010


Professor:  Dr. Kimberly Nalder

Office: Tahoe 3121                                                                               


Phone: 278-6693

Office Hours: Friday 1-3, and by appointment



Course Objectives

*This course meets the GE requirement for Area D3.


The primary objective of this course is to familiarize you with the processes and institutions of American government.  You should emerge from this course with a clearer understanding of your own political views and better equipped to serve as an active and informed citizen.  This semester, we will study theories of democracy, ideology, the founding and U.S. Constitution, federalism, California politics, processes and linkage institutions, as well as the branches of government.  We will also focus on current events, which will help to crystallize course concepts and relate them to our roles as citizens.


In addition to the acquisition of substantive knowledge about politics and government, this course should serve to help you to: improve your writing, work on critical thinking skills, learn to work in groups, attune you to current events, and help you to discuss potentially controversial topics in a meaningful and respectful way.  Also, as in any Government 1 course, you should learn the following:


(1) To understand the values that influenced the colonists to separate from England

(2) To understand the purposes of the Framers of the Constitution.

(3) Learn the theory of federalism and its contemporary relevance

(4) Know the basic structure and processes of the federal and California political systems and how the two systems are similar and dissimilar.

(5) Understand the history and importance of civil rights and civil liberties

(6) Explore the different avenues that citizens have for influencing the government


Required Readings


American and California Government, Custom Edition.  Welch, Gruhl, Comer, Rigdon, 2010  (this package includes “California Government and Politics: A Practical Approach ” by Gerston and Christensen, 10th edition)  ISBN 1111067295  .  This text has two books bound together.  It should be cheaper than trying to buy them separately.


 There is also a website associated with the main text.   It has practice quizzes, flashcards, and a glossary of terms:


The New York Times.  Mon.-Fri. edition is required.  Saturday and Sunday editions are suggested. Call 1-888-698-2655 (888 NYT COLL) and mention my name to get the discounted version ($2.00 per week)  Weekdays only are required, though you can also get a discount on the weekend editions.


The NYT is considered the national newspaper of record, so though reading other newspapers (such as the Bee) is always a good idea, no other papers can be substituted for the NYT for course purposes.  The course will have an integrated current events group challenge for each week.  You will sign up to read a particular segment of the paper each day to contribute to your team’s overall knowledge.  There will also be questions from the NYT on the exams. The NYT will serve as a key source for your term paper.


Course Requirements


This course is structured so that you can develop and draw on various skills and learning styles.  Specifically, you will be tested on your ability to digest information from written sources as well as from lecture via a midterm exam and a final.  Your critical thinking and writing skills will be developed and tested through a civic engagement paper, and your oral presentation and group interaction skills will be used during in-class small group work.


Midterm                                                           20%                                         October 25

Civic Engagement Paper                                  20%                                      Nov. 8   

Current Events Quizzes                                   30%                                         Wednesdays

Attendance, In-Class Work, Particip.      10%                                         Every class

Final                                                                20%                                         December 13                                                                                                                                   

1. Exams –There will be a midterm and a final exam.  The format may be multiple choice, short answer, or short essays.  You will be required to bring a scantron and a blue book to class the day of the exam.  Do not write on either prior to the exam. There will be a midterm exam on October 25th The final will be Monday, December 13th .


2. Civic Engagement Paper – You will need to write a 5-7 page report/ research paper exploring the topic of youth civic engagement.  This project will require you to volunteer to work for a political campaign, political party, interest group, or campus organization during the semester.  Your paper will report on that experience and put it in a larger context of democratic participation.  A detailed assignment sheet will be given out later in the semester, and we will discuss the assignment extensively in class.


3. Current Events Quizzes – Each week, on Wednesdays, we will have a team current events/ textbook reading quiz. You are expected to have the readings listed for that week done by class time on Wednesdays.  You will be asked questions as a team and be scored as a team.  I will on occasion, without warning, administer individual quizzes – so you need to be ready with your reading every week. 


4. Attendance, Assignments, Group Work - This course will not rely solely on the old-school lecture method of transmitting knowledge.  Lectures will cover some of the information in your textbook, but will also include additional information.  Also, we will periodically do small group work and short class presentations. In other words, you need to come to class!  I will take attendance.   You will not be docked points for your first 2 absences, but after that, your grade will suffer. 


Class Policies 


Attendance: Mandatory.  Should you miss an in-class activity or be absent more than twice, your grade will suffer.  Being in class is vital to your learning.


No Make-Up Exams: There will be no make-up exams offered unless you bring documentation of severe illness or a death in the family.  The same is true of assignments and quizzes.


Cheating and/or plagiarism: At the risk of being clichéd, you only cheat yourself when you cheat in class.  Just do the work.  The penalties will adhere to University Policy, but at the minimum will result in an F for the exam or assignment in question.  The relevant university policy can be accessed at:  You are responsible for reading and understanding the policy.


Turn off Beeping Things.  Please remember to turn off your cell phones, laptop sounds, etc.  Please use your laptop only for note-taking, anything else is distracting and defeats the whole purpose of being in class.  Please be courteous and refrain from texting during class.


Courtesy.  Please be respectful of other’s opinions during discussions.  Rest assured that everyone will get a chance to express themselves.  Please sit near the door if you have to leave early for any reason.  In short, please show respect and courtesy for everyone in the classroom.  Your participation score can be negatively affected if there are any problems in this area.


Class Disruptions:  It is important that the learning environment be free of distractions and disruptions. Any student who creates a disturbance or otherwise prohibits the class from proceeding smoothly will be ejected from the class.  Further penalties will be imposed if the behavior recurs. The University policy can be viewed here:


Participate!  This course covers topics that are relevant to all of our lives and our futures.  You are needed to help enliven the course meetings and to contribute to the learning environment.  Come prepared to do just that.


Tentative Schedule


The reading listed below is to be done BEFORE the Wednesday class meeting.


I. Introduction

            Week of  Aug. 30        


II. Democracy and Political Values

             Week of  Sept 6          (Chapter 1)

            ***Monday, Sept. 6 is Labor Day – no class****



III. The Founding and the Constitution         

            Week of Sept. 13        (Chapter 2, U.S. Constitution – in Appendix B)

                                                            Quiz will include questions on the Constitution        


IV. Congress

            Week of  Sept. 20      (Chapter 10)     


V. Presidency

            Week of  Sept. 27          (Chapter 11)



VI. The Judiciary

            Week of Oct. 4    (Chapter 13)


VII. Interest Groups

            Week of Oct. 11          (Chapter 6; Gerston Ghapter 4)           


VIII. Public Opinion and Political Socialization

            Week of Oct. 18          (Chapter 4)


IX. The Mass Media

            Week of Oct. 25          (Chapter 5)

            ****Midterm Monday (tentative)*****    


X. Elections and Voting

            Week of Nov. 1           (Chapter 8; Gerston, Chapter 3)

                                    **Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!**

XI. Political Parties

            Week of Nov. 8           (Chapter 7; Gerston Chapter 2)

            **Paper Due Monday**    


XII. California Politics

            Week of Nov. 15                     (Chapters 5,7, and 8 in Gerston)


XIII. Civil Liberties

            Week of Nov. 22         (Chapter 14)    


            **No class on Friday – Thanksgiving break**                  


XIV. Civil Rights

            Week of Nov. 29         (Chapter 15)


XV. Review and Approaching Democracy Revisited

            Week of Dec. 6



Final Exam: Monday, December 13  10:15- 12:15