Examining the Content and Perspective of Introductory Texts in American Politics
33 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2010
Date Written: January 30, 2010
This paper explores the ways in which introductory textbooks portray the complexity of the American political process. Consequently, this analysis serves as an important stepping stone to an understanding of how we as a discipline influence the political education of our students. While previous scholarship suggests that “American government textbooks are more alike than they are different” (Stroup and Garriott 1997: 73), an examination of the market’s most frequently adopted texts suggests that this consistency does not extend much further than the subjects of major chapters. Research in other related disciplines suggests that we as social scientists communicate much about our understanding of the world through our curriculum (Bowman, Berman, and West 2001). Heeding the advice of Adams (1974), we develop the following questions. To what degree do our major texts provide a standardized curriculum for introductory courses in American government? What do our texts communicate about the values of the discipline and the importance of our subject? Finally, how might we understand the implications of this diversity through a focused examination of one core topic across multiple texts? The analysis first uses content analysis to examine the substantive coverage of a core topic, the American presidency across four major introductory texts of American government and politics. In this section, we draw from the approach utilized by Cigler and Neiswender in their analysis of the treatment of bureaucracy in the introductory textbook (1991). The analysis then turns to a rhetorical analysis of the sample set utilizing Kenneth Burke's Pentad as a framework for analysis (1945). Burke provides five fundamental perspectives to disclose rhetorical emphasis: Act, Scene, Agent, Agency and Purpose. Probing an author’s treatment of these narrative elements is an effective means of characterizing an author’s perspective. If political science does uniquely socialize students to democratic citizenship (Esaiasson 2008), then the substance of political science texts as key purveyors of political information is of critical importance to the future of American civic engagement. We would do well to know what content as well as what perspective it is we are purveying.
Keywords: Political Science, American Government, Textbooks, Burke
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