Learning Objectives for American Government

The following are some key points and questions which should be included in any high school course in American Government. See also Proposed Amendments to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

  1.  Explain the original concept of the social contract, as set forth by John Locke. What are its terms and the duties it imposes? How are new members inducted into it?
  2.  Explain how the constitution of a society is a deliberative convention, called by public notice and conducted by rules of procedure. Explain how this differs from the constitution of government such as the U.S. Constitution, and why the constitution of government is a law and not a contract.
  3.  Practice conducting meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order, Revised, playing the roles of chairperson and parliamentarian.
  4.  Explain what is a right, and distinguish between constitutional rights and nonconstitutional rights, rights from privileges, and what kind of right is an immunity. Explain which rights arise from nature, which from society, which from government, and which from private contracts. Explain why the Founders did not include rights to scarce resources in the U.S. Constitution.
  5.  Explain the difference between a property right that is vested and one that is not.
  6.  Explain the relation between the social contract and militia, considered both as defense activity, and as one or more persons engaged in such activity. Explain the militia duties to organize, train together, and equip oneself to defend against various threats to the community and its constitution.
  7.  Explain the transition from the original practice of law enforcement by volunteer militia to full-time professionals, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Explain the difference between general militia, mandatory militia, actual militia, and select militia. Explain how a jury is a form of select militia.
  8.  What duties are stated or implied by the U.S. Constitution?
  9.  What powers were delegated or implied by the U.S. Constitution? Are there any practices of government officials that are not authorized by the Constitution and may be incompatible with it, and if so what are some of them? How might the views of the Founders differ from present courts on this?
  10.  Explain the difference between textual analysis, structural analysis, historical analysis, and precedent analysis in the interpretation of law. Explain the doctrine of stare decisis and the limits on its role in making judicial decisions. Practice applying such analyses to the interpretation of provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
  11.  Practice tracing the logical chain of authority for a criminal charge back to the provisions of a constitution.
  12.  Explain the concept of jurisdiction, and explain the difference between kinds of jurisdiction:
    1.  in locum
    2.  in personam
    3.  in subjectam materiam
  13. Explain the differences between the territorial jurisdiction of the national Congress in federal enclaves, on state territory, in non-state territories, on the high seas, on the grounds of U.S. embassies abroad, and on the territories of foreign nations.
  14.  Explain the elements of criminal liability:
    1.  actus reus
    2.  mens rea
    3.  concurrence
    4.  causation
    5.  harm
  15.  Explain the transition from the original practice of criminal prosecution by private parties to prosecution by public prosecutors, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Is there still a role for private criminal prosecutions, and if so, what might that role be?
  16.  Explain the changing relation between prosecutors and grand juries as public prosecutions have displaced private. What has been the effect on the grand jury and the rights of accused persons? Explain the phrase "indict a ham sandwich". How have grand juries sometimes been abused to harrass dissidents and whistleblowers?
  17.  Explain the transition from the original standard of arguing all issues of law in the presence of the jury to the present practice of such issues being argued in written pleadings and decided by the magistrate out of the presence of the jury. Has this practice impaired the due process rights of defendants?
  18.  Explain the transition to the practice of licensing lawyers and penalizing or disbarring them if they displease judges. How might this have an effect on the rights of parties and the costs of litigation?
  19.  Explain the transition from appointing lawyers to defend criminal defendants without compensation, to using public defenders, paid from available funds. Does the public defender system provide adequate defense for persons accused of a crime?
  20.  Practice identifying prejudices that might affect one's impartiality as a juror, and how to put aside bias and emotion to arrive at a fair verdict.
  21.  Explain the difference between the standards of beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases, and preponderance of evidence in a civil case.
  22.  Explain why a unanimous vote of the jury is needed to convict someone of a crime but not to acquit. How does a jury decide whether to continue deliberation and when to return a verdict of acquittal?
  23.  Explain what is a common law crime and why there are no common law crimes in U.S. law. What was the U.S. Supreme Court decision on this?
  24.  Explain how the 12-person jury was not only to decide on the evidence but to decide on whether an act constitutes a crime. What are the mathematics of 12-person juries and what level of support in the community for an act being a crime does that jury size indicate?
  25.  What are the due process rights of persons accused of a crime? How might they be violated, and how might a juror detect such violations?
  26.  Explain who may make an arrest for various kinds of offenses and under what circumstances. Explain the difference between a custodial and a noncustodial arrest. How can one make an arrest while protecting the rights of an accused? What does one do with someone after making a custodial arrrest? Explain what is a false arrest, and what the liability for it can be.
  27.  Explain the various methods of public policy analysis and apply them to several historic and current public problems. Discuss statistical regression analysis, forecasting, simulation modeling, and delphi methods. Explain cost-benefit analyses, long-range and unintended consequences. Discuss laws that didn't work out, and why, such as alcohol prohibition.
  28.  Explain how public choice theory predicts that those most affected by public policy decisions will come to exercise undue influence over such decisions, and how they will tend to do that.
  29.  Discuss alternative voting systems and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  30.  Explain the role of campaign fundraising. How were candidates for public office able to win elections without raising much money in the early years of the republic, and why is so much money needed today? What are the effects of this on public policy, and what might be done to enable meritorious candidates to win without raising money?
  31.  Explain what factors affect the diffusion of innovations, the difference between early adopters and later adopters, and the effectiveness of advertising in furthering the process.
  32.  List and explain the various kinds of logical fallacies. Find examples.
  33.  List and explain the various propaganda methods. Find examples.
  34.  Compare the student constitution of your school with that of others and with those discussed in references on the subject. Draft and support an amendment to it.
  35.  Learn how to read and spot defects in various kinds of comnon legal instruments and simple pleadings: affidavit, lease, deed, promissory note, deed of trust, will, mechanic lien, marriage contract, partnership agreement, articles of incorporation, corporate by-laws, petition and writ of habeas corpus, petition and writ of quo warranto, search/arrest warrant, and others.
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Original URL: http://www.constitution.org/reform/us/tx/textbook/amgov_obj.htm
Maintained: Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 2002 September 2 — Updated: 2002 September 3
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