Bringing the Study of American Government to Life in a Diverse Classroom: Internationalization and Individualization

Bringing the Study of American Government to Life in a Diverse Classroom: Internationalization and Individualization

Michael A. Lewkowicz (Georgia Gwinnett College, USA), Laura D. Young (Georgia Gwinnett College, USA), Dovilė Budrytė (Georgia Gwinnett College, USA) and Scott A. Boykin (Georgia Gwinnett College, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2791-6.ch001
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This chapter documents a group of political scientists' attempts to internationalize an introductory course surveying the essentials of American government. This course is a required course for every student at Georgia Gwinnett College (and other state colleges and universities in Georgia). The content in this course, unfortunately, tends to privilege domestic political institutions and political development and does not take the diversity of students into account. The chapter, therefore, starts out with the definitions and a discussion of “internationalization” and “individualization” approaches and how to incorporate them into the course through active learning activities. Next, the authors describe five activities that attempt to shift the focus from “covering the material” to student experiences. They believe that these activities can help students acquire communication and intercultural competence skills and help avoid the unintended consequences of the use of the comparative method which can result in divisions between “us” and “them.”
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Internationalization Of American Government Curriculum

Betty Leask defined internationalized curriculum as the incorporation of material with an international component (2009, p. 209; 2014). Including an international component requires integrating global and comparative perspectives in the classroom, placing emphasis on diverse cultures, social groups, and types of governments. Understanding how these components affect politics is also important for internationalized curriculum because that understanding can help students better analyze their own cultures, social groups, and governments. However, internationalized curriculum is not just about incorporating international elements into course material. Rather, internationalized curriculum should also encourage students to develop critical thinking skills that challenge their own views and help them recognize the merit of alternative perspectives (Crichton et al, 2004; Zimitat, 2008). By engaging alternative perspectives, students can better understand the course material in a twenty-first century context (Hudzik & McCarthy, 2012).

What does it mean to internationalize a survey course in American government? After all, many instructors teach this course from a purely “American” perspective, as they rarely include comparisons with other governments and often leave topics such as United States foreign policy for the end of the semester. In contrast to that traditional approach, we argue that American government courses could benefit from utilizing an internationalized curriculum.

In other words, an internationalized approach to an American government course should help students become familiar with and appreciate the importance of other cultures, countries, and regions while increasing the student’s awareness of their own cultural identity. According to Eric LeBlanc, curriculum should therefore “embody contrasting perspectives and be understood in different ways depending on the context” (as cited in Takagi, 2015, p. 350). Cross-cultural experiences and interactions among students are also critical components of the learning process since they help build international competencies, especially regarding contrasting perspectives (Wamboye, Adekola, & Sergi, 2015). For example, the “Special Places” icebreaker in Activity 1 below helps increase student interactions on the first day of class by requiring students to consider the meaning of a “special place.” Such a discussion helps highlight classroom diversity since even students from similar backgrounds will have distinct places of meaning and distinct reasons as to why those places are special. In addition, through sharing, students are forced to reflect on how their values, as well as the values of others, may shape the selection of those “special places.” Creating a platform for student interactions that enhance cross-cultural experiences such as this is important for increasing internationalization in the classroom.

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