Inside the Classroom: Political Science 5: Problems in the American Political System
A glimpse of a day in the classroom through the eyes of a student
By Kimberly Law
Students enter Wellman Hall at 10:30 am, coffee clutched in their hands as they pull out their notebooks, pens, and laptops. Larry Berman, professor of political science and 2010 Faculty Research Lecturer begins his lecture right at the start of the hour. He begins his class a bit unconventionally; there is no powerpoint, no writings on the chalkboard, just Berman.
Berman begins to speak about the political topic of the day—will the government shut down for a short time due to the federal budget issues? After going through the whys and possible consequences, Berman ties the current events to Constitution of the United States of America and the beginnings of federalism. His enthusiasm is infectious and students are engrossed. This is Political Science 5: Problems in the American Political System.
Berman has been teaching this particular class in political science since 1977, and as quickly as the winds of American politics shift, he adapts the course. In the past, Berman has taught the class surrounding problems with elections, political corruptions and ethics. “This year,” Berman says, “I’m trying to focus on the themes that the Tea Party is using to challenge a power structure in America.”
Berman tells his students about the founders of the Constitution and what their ideology of government was for the United States. Some believed in full government control, while others wanted limited government. He reminds his students that early on, men signing the Constitution had to meet in secrecy. Although some of the men participating in the secret convention disliked the secrecy of it, they went along with it for the betterment of the country.
The men could not speak, print or write anything discussed at the convention in Philadelphia, outside of the convention.
When it came to the topic of the tyranny, the delegates developed the separation powers, the judicial, legislature, and executive. The separations of powers were created as a system of checks and balances, to keep one power from ruling the others. The delegates believe that the majority used their powers to deprive the minorities of their human rights. To ensure that the tyranny and the majority did not become the nation’s greatest threat, a system of check and balances was needed.
From there, Berman launches into a history of the Senate and House of Representatives. He notes that there were two plans presented, but both plans did not go through. Instead it was decided that the Senate would have two representatives from each state, whereas the House would have representatives based on the state’s population.
Although most of us are familiar with the U.S. Constitution, Berman provides an in-depth look at the values our country is based on. Berman furthers his students’ knowledge about the United States politics through his expectations of the class in terms of participation and work. Students are required to attend discussion sections and bring an article that is related to a topic from lecture and the current world. Along with a midterm and final, they are expected to write a paper “on any aspect about America’s approach to democracy,” Berman said. ”It can be on anything – the Tea Party, federalism, birthright citizenship, debt ceiling, or other matters in American government that are interesting to individual students.” It is this openness that students appreciate; they are able to explore topics that intrigue them, but are learning to approach them with a critical eye.
Berman is deeply passionate about teaching. “The whole purpose of this class is to make them more engaged citizens,” he said. “They learn to make the connection between the issues of today with the issues that affect the United States 200 years ago.”
By making those connections, students can see the importance of politics in United States. However, more important than seeing politics work is Berman inspiration to help his students learn. “At the end of the day, I want my students to take the knowledge they learned in class and engage in a political conversation with someone, and do it in an intelligent way.”