TO: All PS 1 Students


FROM: Prof. John Fraker

 

RE: Course Objectives & Expectations

 

I. Overview

 

Welcome to Political Science 1: Intro to American Government & Institutions. Together, we will be examining the governmental structures, institutions, systems and historical forces that have worked together throughout history to shape our great democracy.

 

The underlying basis of this class will be on Empirical Reasoning: the logical process in which we proceed from particular evidence to a conclusion which, on the basis of that evidence, we agree to be true or probably true. Empirical Reasoning requires evidence (facts, data, measurement, observations, and so on).

 

The opposite of Empirical Reasoning is Conclusive Reasoning: by which a proposition is asserted as true on its face, without facts, data or reasoning to support it. The use of conclusive statements on any of your papers, midterms or finals will have a negative impact on your grade. Conclusory statements are often preceded by the words: "clearly" or "obviously", which merely serve as red flags that the author has no idea what they are talking about.

 

Students in this class will be repeatedly asked to defend their arguments and assertions with evidence.

To this end, you will hear me state repeatedly: I don't care what you think; I care why you think it. As your instructor, you will hear me voice my opinion on a number of subjects. Simply regurgitating my opinions on your papers, midterms and finals will be of no use to you. I will give higher marks to students who argue against my beliefs and support it with evidence than I will to students who parrot my opinions without support.

 

II. Class Participation

 

Class participation is of the utmost importance in this class. In order to develop your empirical reasoning skills, I will often ask a student to give their opinion on a topic in class, and expect that student to state their beliefs (with adequate logical support).

 

Please don't be afraid to participate. The purpose of class participation is to involve each of you in the discussion, and to develop your "on the spot" reasoning skills. If you donít know the answer, we can work through it together. Again the purpose is to involve each of you in the education process, not to embarrass anyone.

 

III. Paper, Midterm and Examinations

 

Throughout all assignments, you will be required not only to be familiar with the relevant definitions, facts and dates, but also their significance within the context of American Government, and the concepts and ideas put forth in this course.

 

Identification questions will figure prominently in both your midterm and final examinations. The key to a high score on these questions is explaining the relevance of a concept. Simply defining terms will only provide you with partial credit. For full credit, you must answer the "so what" of every question: why is this important? Why is this relevant in light of everything we have learned? How does this fit into the broader framework of American Government?

 

Essay portions of examinations, as well as the major course paper, will test your empirical reasoning skills. In addition to researching a particular topic, and analyzing the available issues, you will be required to develop a central thesis (or argument) around which the entire essay will develop. The majority of the essay or paper will consist of reasoning and logic to support your central thesis.

 

Answers must be given in your own words. Please be advised that I spend more time on the internet than is probably healthy for any human being. To wit: if you plagiarize someone else's work from the internet, please rest assured that I will find out, you will fail that project, probably be expelled, your house will be burned to the ground, and you will learn the significance of these all important words: "Would you like fries with that?"