Presidential Election; a Simulation with Readings

Presidential Election; a Simulation with Readings

Presidential Election; a Simulation with Readings

Presidential Election; a Simulation with Readings

Excerpt

This volume grew out of our experience teaching American government at the University of Illinois. The challenges and frustrations we confronted are no doubt familiar: the large lecture class dutifully attended by the anonymous student who mechanically records the lecture, and the misnamed "discussion section," where a few students ordinarily carry the dialogue, and participation expands only as the discussions become more peripheral. Our response to these pedagogic obstacles was to seek out a means of breaking traditional routines in the classroom through an approach that would vitalize the often ossified setting for learning. Three simple goals guided us in the design of a different approach. First, we sought a method that would improve on our capacity to communicate and integrate the substance of American politics. Second, we hoped to generate increased student interest by means of a more animated classroom experience. The third objective was to make students fuller participants in discovering the meaning and relevance of the subject matter. The several generations of testing that led to this book have demonstrated to us that these goals were not unrealistic. The six hundred undergraduates who participated in the preliminary tests proved to our satisfaction that the techniques of role playing and classroom simulation were eminently suited to our needs and especially adaptable to the pedagogy of electoral politics.

Few political events are better reported or more thoroughly dissected than American presidential elections. There exists an enormous body of popular literature, much of it intelligent, balanced, and highly readable. Similarly, the scholarly output is voluminous and ever-growing. Today, the professional student of presidential elections is overwhelmed by the resources available to him; election statistics are plentiful, pollsters and survey organizations provide a constant stream of data, and the political actors themselves are generally accessible. Thus, each presidential election results in a new collection of analyses, interpretations, and explanations.

The resulting embarrassment of riches creates a paradoxical situation at the level of an introductory course on American government and politics. Increased understanding of the multiple elements of this central democratic institution has placed a new burden on instructor and student alike. The instructor must find a way to cover the ever-expanding territory of electoral politics, and the beginning student must discover a means to digest, integrate, and relate a vast array of material during what is seldom a sufficient period of time. Consequently, both instructor and student are often confronted with an awkward choice between substance and manageability. Presidential Election: A Simulation with Readings is directed to the mutual dilemma of teachers and students; it is an illustration of the instructional potential of simulation techniques and a demonstration of their application to the study of presidential elections.

Simulation offers a unique instructional laboratory where students are introduced to simplified models of complex political processes. Through role playing, students become problem solvers in exercises that approximate political reality. At the discretion of the instructor the game may be deliberately geared to mirror the contemporary political scene, or it may generously admit fictional people and events. In either case, the student will be confronted by the logic and ambiguities of the political process, and forces that are otherwise distant and abstract will be brought closer and made more vivid. The justification of this instructional technique rests on more than the common assertion . . .

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