Description: A study of the fundamental principles of the American constitution, the workings of the American political and economic system, and an overview of the historical and cultural events that have shaped America's political, economic, and cultural heritage.
Taught: Fall, Winter, Spring
Objective: The purpose of American Foundations is: to identify with students "just and holy principles" on which America's success in government, economy, and society has rested; to explore with them challenges and tensions Americans have faced in understanding and applying those tensions; and to help students recognize, explain, and practice those principles as they fulfill their responsibility to participate in civic, economic, and social life.
Syllabus: The following general topics and outcomes are covered in all sections of American Foundations:
1. Course Introduction:
1. Students will be able to explain the basic concepts and definitions of the three primary principles: Agency and Accountability, Rights of Man, and Rule of Law.
2. Students will be able to cite historical applications of the concepts in the American experience.
3. Students will be able to make application of the principles in their own lives.
2. Independence and Revolution
1. Students will be able to describe the political, economic, and social legacy of British settlement and how that legacy continues to resonate today.
2. Students will be able to explain why and how the relationship between England and the colonies changed between 1763 and 1776 and cite historical examples of that changing relationship.
3. Students will be able to list the key principles embedded in the rhetoric of independence (powers derived from the consent of the governed-representation, unalienable rights-life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, property, conscience, and equality) and be able to explain how the Declaration of Independence embodies that rhetoric.
4. Students will be able to describe the background and content of the Declaration of Independence.
3. Constitutional Development
1. Students will be able to describe the problems associated with the governments created after independence and how those problems led to the calling of a convention.
2. Students will be able to identify and explain the major issues debated at the convention and how those debates were resolved.
3. Students will read and understand the basic structure and content of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and amendments.
4. Students will be able to explain how the constitution both gives power to a national government and restricts the abuse of that power.
5. Students will understand and be able to explain what is meant by the phrase "divinely inspired Constitution."
4. Power in Government
1. Students will be able to explain Madison's view of "auxiliary precautions" as a guard against the tyranny of the majority in democracy.
2. Students will be able to describe how checks and balances were built into the Constitution, including the division of roles and powers and the varying representative links for the Presidency and each Congressional chamber, and explain the institutional relationship between the executive and legislature and judiciary.
3. Students will be able to describe the effects of checks and balances on party government (including the costs and benefits of "united" and "divided" government).
4. Students will be able to describe the relationship between the states and the federal government in the founding generation, how it has changed over time.
5. Religion in America
1. Students will understand the limits of religious freedom in America before the revolution and Constitution. They will be able to describe and evaluate various arguments for religious liberty (such as Williams, Madison, Jefferson).
2. Students will understand the difference between "toleration" and "religious liberty" and how the latter has been implemented in an increasingly diverse American society.
3. Students will understand the meaning of the last clause of Article VI ("no religious Test") and the two religion clauses in the First Amendment-the "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses.
4. Students will understand how religious practice in America compares to that of other developed democracies.
5. Students will understand the persistent role of religious symbolism in an increasingly secular and pluralistic American society.
6. American Economic Development
1. Students will be able to explain how the power, breadth, scope and richness of the American economy are without precedence in the world, and describe the political, ethical and economic structures necessary to produce such performance.
2. Students will be able to compare and contrast the motivating spirit of rational self-interest and unbridled greed and explain how they might operate in the economy.
3. Students will be able to describe the major differences between the American economic system and other systems and how those differences affect the ability of those systems to reach their economic potential.
4. Students will be able to describe how and why America's economic strength influences its role in the world.
7. Market Challenges I
1. Students will be able to describe the factors, some of which we continue to experience today, that caused the Great Depression, the largest economic catastrophe in the history of the country.
2. Students will be able to explain Keynesian economic policies and describe how they continue to influence economic decisions in American today.
3. Students will be able to describe the basic principles of monetary policy and how it is used to regulate the economy in America today.
4. Students will be able to assess how the human misery of the Great Depression continues to affect the American political and economic landscape today.
8. Market Challenges II
1. Students will be able to explain why a capitalistic system can generate tremendous economic power and yet not guarantee that everyone's level of satisfaction or economic opportunities will be equal.
2. Students will be able to assess why at times in our past, abuse or misuse of market conditions by individuals (i.e., greedy, fraudulent, or unfair behavior) or by governments (i.e., over-, under- or inappropriate intervention) have led to a number of socio-economic issues that continue to be debated today.
3. Students will be able to discuss and compare the debates over whether the market system or government regulation can best deal with inequities in the market.
9. Exclusion and Inclusion
1. Students will develop a better sense of the complexity of exclusion, including an understanding of the role of ethnocentrism, economic competition, and hegemony in exclusion.
2. Students will understand when discrimination is appropriate (because of the administrative power of the state, etc.) and when in is not (because of bigotry). They will learn to examine their own beliefs in order to realize what motivates their own views.
3. Students will explore the nature of discrimination and exclusion in our past through specific, selected images and examples.
4. Through a short history of the Civil Rights movement, students will understand the role of protest, the Executive, and the Supreme Court in bringing about legal equality for African Americans.
10. American Politics
1. Students will understand the changing meaning of the labels "conservative" and "liberal" in American politics. They will be able to describe and reflect upon their own political ideology, and apply their beliefs consistently to real world problems related to conserving community order and fostering individual freedom and change. [Alternative issues: human nature, individual freedom and community order, and the role of equality in society.]
2. Students will recognize that political parties were not part of the Constitution. They will be prepared to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of parties as a way of preserving freedom and representing citizens.
3. Students will be able explain why America has been a two party system. They will be able to describe the most likely impact a third party can have on politics at the national or state level.
4. Students will be able to describe the ways that political parties, and the issues associated with them, have changed and developed overtime.
5. Students will be able to describe how voting rights were extended to women and ethnic minorities and young people, and what obstacles had to be overcome along the way. They will be able to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of different ideals of representative democracy.
6. Students will be able to explain what factors influence election turnout in America and other democracies. They will be able to evaluate the merits of voting and other forms of political participation.
11. Technology, Communication, Socialization
1. Students will be able to identify the elements of a consumer culture.
2. Students will be able to discuss how advances in technology have increased both the speed with which businesses and consumers make decisions and the increased number of markets in which they participate.
3. Students will recognize the shift in America from an agrarian to an industrial and finally an information and service based economy.
4. Students will be able to discuss how technology has shaped our national self-identity.
5. Students will be able to demonstrate how technology has changed perceptions of both high and popular culture in America.
6. Students will recognize how information technology has forced reexamination of many basic rights.
12. America in the World
1. Students will understand and be able to explain America's transition from isolation and neutrality to interventionism-militarily, economically, and culturally.
2. Students will be able to describe and explain America's cultural influence in the world.
3. Students will be able to describe and explain why America is both loved and hated around the world.
Requirements: Students are expected to be well prepared, attend class, contribute to class discussions, and develop an understanding of the concepts taught in the course.