American Government from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

If it's been awhile since you've been excited about an American Government course, please take a look at this one. It's different! It has a lot to offer homeschoolers. First of all, the text is highly readable and engaging with touch-of-humor artwork and a full-color format. Included with the coursebook (i.e. text) is a Skills Handbook section that bridges the gap into civics life skills. Secondly, the activity book is a co-op's dream resource, while at the same time it provides an interesting array of activities that can be done at home. Thirdly, the teacher's guide actually provides a simple, helpful environment for the teacher rather than overwhelming her with education-ese and differentiated instruction. Frankly, I'd call that a win-win-win. There is one problem - it has a 2002 copyright - but I'll talk later about how that impacts the course.

Do you or your student tend to nod off while reading lengthy elucidations (a.k.a. boring text)? You won't have that problem here. The Coursebook is full of features that make it very accessible. There are short previews (with page numbers) at the beginning of each chapter that tell you what is covered where. Vocabulary words are highlighted and defined at the bottom of the pages. Information is often presented in a bulleted fashion - simple and straight-forward. Each chapter has special features: Headlines - current events, vs. - highlighted contrasts between positions, Quotes - great ideas that inspired, e.g. - examples, Then and Now - historical moments, and Timeline - used sparingly to show progression of events. To give you a little bit of an idea how these work, here are some examples from Chapter 18 - Comparative Economic and Political Systems. A brief paragraph details the principle of supply and demand in terms of shoes (e.g.). A pro-con chart discusses whether or not capitalism is a fair economic system (vs.). "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of capitalism." - Karl Marx (Quotes). Examples of socialism in the United States (Then and Now) follow. In between these special features, the text covers five principles of Capitalism, six principles of Marxism, and four elements of Socialism. There are twenty chapters that cover the Constitution and Foundations of Government, Political Behavior and Participation (i.e. civics), Institutions of National Government, Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, Public Policy and Comparative Government, and State and Local Government. As you can see, this scope and sequence is a tad broader than some government courses. An interesting five-chapter section of the coursebook is the Skills Handbook. This bridges the gap between academic knowledge and practical application. Topics covered in this section include studying and writing effectively, reading and thinking critically, doing research, interpreting special sources (original documents, maps, political cartoons, public opinion polls, graphs, charts, and tables), and completing special assignments such as giving a speech or writing a position paper. There is one last section of the coursebook. While interesting, it's the section that is most impacted by the older copyright. Of course, that doesn't affect the copies of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution found there, but it does mean that the most recent election cited is 1998, the latest Congress profiled is the 106th, and Presidential and Supreme Court Milestones don't include anything in the last fifteen years. Frankly, I'm not too troubled by this as there is so much other, non-impacted content to appreciate about the course.

The Teacher Guide provides just what you need - and you will need it. After some brief introductory information, there are 48 lesson plans (three per week for one semester), each of which provide objectives, a list of vocabulary, some background information, a few further resources, discussion questions - both review and critical thinking (with answers/talking points), and several skills development activity suggestions (writing, internet research, or current events). Each lesson includes both a study guide/vocabulary worksheet and a test (both are reproducible for classes/families). There are also lessons coordinated with the Skills Handbook section of the coursebook. These seem to include more worksheets. A complete answer key for worksheets and tests is in the back.

The Teacher Activity Book is based on the idea that students learn best by doing, that you can use the text as a reference and essentially deliver the curriculum through activities. Indeed, there are plenty of activities to provide this type of educational experience. There are least two activities per chapter including Brief Activities (one per lesson) which can be completed in 1-2 days as well as Extended Activities (four per unit) which can take anywhere from 3 to 40 days. There are reproducible worksheets for many of these activities. To give you an idea of what these include, the brief activity for Chapter 18 (Comparative . . . . Systems) is a Constitutional Scavenger Hunt which provides students with the opportunity to analyze our system of democracy and compare and contrast it with others and involves teams of students conducting internet research and reporting back to the group. Interestingly, there are no extended activities for this same lesson, but there are several for the unit, all of which relate to public policy and involve the students in writing position papers and making tax reform proposals. I think this book is an extremely interesting resource, and I can think of a number of uses. First of all, it would be a good idea book for a homeschool course, especially if you like the idea of lots of activities to complement the book work. Of course, you will have to pick and choose and probably modify as most of the activities are for teams or groups. Secondly, I think it would be an amazing resource for a co-op government class - regardless of what text is being used. The course is designed to be infused with activities, but the coursebook and the teacher guide could stand alone and, surprisingly, contain almost no references to the activity book other than introductory information.

We don't have a large selection of secular American Government courses, and this one is head and shoulders above others I've seen. Text - 585 pgs, hb; Teacher - 236 pgs, pb; Activity - 366 pgs, pb, hole-punched. ~ Janice

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