High School Course Outline


Civics (American Government)

DEPARTMENT History/Social Science



The advanced placement course in Civics (American Government) is designed to provide students with the analytical skills and factual knowledge necessary for an in-depth study of American government. The course prepares students for intermediate and advanced college courses by making demands upon them equivalent to those of semester length college courses. Students learn to assess political materials - their relevance to a given interpretative problem, their reliability, and their importance- and to weigh the evidence and interpretations presented in political science scholarship. The advanced placement American government course thus develops the skills necessary to arrive at conclusions on the basis of an informed judgment and to present reasons and evidence clearly and persuasively in essay format. This course requires that students read college level works which introduce them not only to understanding facts, concepts, and theories associated with American Government and politics, but also various interpretations of the patterns and consequences of political processes and behaviors. What sets this course apart from an "honors level" course is the extensive reading of college texts combined with a heavy emphasis upon analytical skills that include forming and substantiating various political science hypotheses. Major themes of this course include: the Constitutional foundation of American democracy; the behaviors and beliefs of political participants; political parties and interest groups; the federal system: Congress, presidency, bureaucracy, and courts; civil liberties and civil rights, state and local government.


  1. To introduce the high school student to the academic challenges of higher education.

  2. To develop academic skills in critical reading, hypothesis formulation, analysis, evaluation, and organization.

  3. To develop the ability to analyze secondary as well as primary sources.

  4. To develop the ability of writing essay examinations that are clear and precise.

  5. To complete a research paper which either proves or disproves a particular hypothesis.

  6. To provide students with an in-depth understanding of the institutions and political activities of American government and their interrelationships at the national, state, and local levels.

  7. To develop a respect for the rights and civil liberties of individuals from all social classes, races, religions, age groups, and both sexes.

  8. To develop an understanding of the role of political parties, interest groups, the media, and other institutions as they relate to both federal and state governments.

  9. To motivate positive active citizenship through individual participation in the political process.

  10. To understand the necessity for the American citizen to be informed of both past and present political events.


  1. Lectures and discussion to provide an in-depth study of each area in the course outline

  2. Teacher-guided reading assignments from the textbook and supplementary readings from both primary and secondary sources

  3. Role playing - simulation

  4. Small group study and research projects guided and directed by teachers

  5. Audio-visual materials

  6. Regalia

  7. Guest speakers

  8. Position papers

  9. Current events relative to topics

  10. Model advanced placement exams


  1. Class participation

  2. Quizzes and tests

  3. Oral presentations

  4. Written projects which will demonstrate effective research and critical thinking skills

  5. A comprehensive final exam

  6. The Advanced Placement Exam



I. The American System of Government

    A. The nature of democratic government

        1. Basic ideas of democracy

        2. Theories of the democratic process

    B. The birth of a nation

        1. Declaration of Independence

        2. Articles of Confederation

        3. The Federalist Papers

        4. Formulation and adoption of the Constitution and The Bill of Rights

            a. Ratification - Federalists vs anti-Federalists

            b. Separation of powers

            c. Checks and balances

        5. Other Documents of American Heritage

            a. George Washington's Farewell Address

            b. The Gettysburg Address

            c. The Emancipation Proclamation

II. American Federalism

    A. Why Federalism

        1. Conflicting interpretations

        2. Federal-state relations

        3. Federalism and public policy

III. Organizations Which Reflect Opinions and Interests

    A. American political culture

    B. Public opinion and participation in politics

    C. Political parties

        1. Function of parties

        2. Structure of parties

        3. Fund raising

        4. The two-party system

        5. Minor parties

        6. Comparison of Democrats and Republicans

    D. Elections and methods of campaigning

        1. Political procedures, strategies and participation

        2. Campaign funding and disclosure

        3. Kinds of elections

        4. Use of campaign polls

        5. Analyzing election results

        6. Party realignments

        7. Elections and policy change

    E. Interest groups: funding, functions, and regulating them

    F. The media and its effects upon the political process

IV. American Government Institutions

    A. Congress and the legislative process

        1. The structure

        2. The powers

        3. The procedures

    B. The American Presidency and executive functions

        1. Structure

        2. Role

        3. Powers and problems

        4. Election process

        5. Limits of the Presidency

    C. The Federal Bureaucracy

        1. Function and power

        2. Relationship to congress and the president

    D. The Judicial system

        1. The nature and growth of law

        2. Structure, function, and organization of the federal court system

        3. Landmark Supreme Court cases

        4. Influences on the justices

        5. Court's role in making policy

        6. Checks on judicial power

V. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

    A. Bill of Rights: First Amendment and the rights of the accused

    B. Apply the Bill of Rights to the states

    C. Citizenship

        1. Immigrants, aliens, and citizens

        2. Voting, voting behavior, and voting requirements

    D. Minority Groups

    E. Women's Rights

    F. Affirmative Action

VI. Making Public Policy

    A. The process of making policy

    B. How economic policies and budgets are made

    C. Welfare and social policy

    D. How foreign policy is made

    E. How military policy is made and the role of the military establishment

VII. The Nature of American Democracy

    A. Who governs in America

    B. Why does government grow, and what are its limits?

VIII. California State and Local government

    A. California government

        1. State constitution

        2. State legislative functions

        3. State court system

        4. State executive

        5. Political party organization

    B. Orange County government

    C. Organization of local government (e.g. Garden Grove, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Santa Ana)

IX. Preparation for the Advanced Placement Exam

    A. Multiple-choice questions

    B. Essay questions

    C. Analysis and interpretation of data and documents