PS 401 Political Controversy & Political Skills

This course presents a choice between enjoying the sensation of ‘being right’ and the possibility of moving one’s personal and political agenda forward in concrete ways. Lately, political culture has been almost exclusively about the former to the detriment of the latter. In this course, participants will exercise political skills in the classroom and apply them outside the classroom in community service and in political advocacy. This course stresses the radical difference between political skills and political punditry, one requiring practice and application, the other requiring only primitive rhetorical skills.

This course will ask students to develop their civic knowledge, communication abilities, and networks of relationships that will define their role as an active civic actor, providing genuine hands-on experience as an engaged citizen. Despite the recent claims of higher education, the teaching of skills is not a frequent focus of undergraduate education in the liberal arts. Teaching methods involved in imparting skills are necessarily different from those employed in imparting knowledge. As such, participants have to take active responsibility for their own development.

This course will develop political skills discussing and debating—from multiple perspectives—four contemporary controversies, Healthcare in America, International Free Trade Agreements, the War on Terrorism, and Immigration in America. Moving from lesser to greater complexity, from understanding and application, to analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, the each of these four units will ask, Where are we?, How did we get here?, and Where are we going? Participants will read a combination of policy briefs, academic articles, and long-form journalism. Each week students will engage in a discussion followed by a debate. Students will rotate between advocating for a political view, to rebutting that view, to being the ‘Devil’s Advocate’. Finally, complex intellectual and social skills developed over the course of the semester will be contemporaneously applied to a co-curricular activity of either community or political engagement. This class follows a ‘flipped’ format with time in class devoted to discussion and debate—course content, recordings, readings, quizzes, and reflective exercises online. Twice a week, students will also be required to find and submit a reading that they intend to apply to the next day’s discussion or debate. At the end of the course, students will give a presentation of their advocacy work and how they have been able to move their own political agenda forward.