Learning Objectives for American
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
- 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?
- 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.
- Practice conducting meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order,
Revised, playing the roles of chairperson and parliamentarian.
- 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.
- Explain the difference between a property right that is vested
and one that is not.
- 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
- 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.
- What duties are stated or implied by the U.S. Constitution?
- 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?
- 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.
- Practice tracing the logical chain of authority for a criminal
charge back to the provisions of a constitution.
- Explain the concept of jurisdiction, and explain the
difference between kinds of jurisdiction:
- in locum
- in personam
- in subjectam materiam
- 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.
- Explain the elements of criminal liability:
- actus reus
- mens rea
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- Explain the difference between the standards of beyond a
reasonable doubt in criminal cases, and preponderance of evidence in
a civil case.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Discuss alternative voting systems and the advantages and
disadvantages of each.
- 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?
- 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.
- List and explain the various kinds of logical fallacies. Find
- List and explain the various propaganda methods. Find
- 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.
- 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.