UPDATE January 2024: The 2023 edition of Exploring Government is now available!
It has long been established among academics and educators that the best way to teach a subject is through source documents on which the instructor comments. Ray Notgrass puts that method to effective use in Exploring Government, a government and civics course for high school students that has kids reading the Constitution, important speeches, landmark court cases, etc. alongside a textbook by Notgrass that collates and explains the background and structure of the United States government.
The 2023 4th edition features new and updated lessons related to election integrity, decisions of the Supreme Court, and international relations. The curriculum includes updated statistics and many new photographs, illustrations, and charts. The companion volume of readings, We Hold These Truths, includes some new selections.
Please note that none of the components from this edition are compatible with previous editions of the curriculum.
How Does This Work?
Exploring Government is meant for one semester of study at the high school level. There are 15 weekly units, each with five daily lessons. Notgrass suggests you spend one or more hours per day to work through the material, though if you have a good reader it won't take that long. Each unit in the textbook begins with a brief introduction, recommended biographies and a "Project," which in many cases is a 2-3 page essay for students to complete by the end of the week, but can also include things like architectural drawings, paintings of a theme, creating a skit, or planning a menu based on regional foods.
Lessons are fairly short with about 4-6 pages of text to read, with sidebars or illustrations on nearly every page. At the end of every lesson, there are reading assignments for We Hold These Truths, a supplemental volume of source documents. These assignments are not "recommended" reading assignments—in many ways they form the core of the course.
The student text (called simply Exploring Government) and We Hold These Truths are all you need to successfully complete the program, though the Student Review Pack is very useful. The three books in this pack (all available separately) include review questions for each lesson, analysis questions for each of the four recommended biographies, unit quizzes (not just multiple choice any more!), three exams, and an answer key. If you don't use the Student Review Pack, the only written work your students will have are the unit essays.
Notgrass begins with a Christian defense of government, its necessity, and the importance of obeying whatever government you find yourself under (until they try to make you do something un-Christian). He moves on to the nature of government, its purpose and history, and the philosophical and social foundations of the American experiment.
While Notgrass' old-school conservatism (limited government, free market, individual rights) is abundantly clear throughout the text, he is surprisingly even-handed and avoids the civil religion mentality that plagues too many Christian government courses. Because while he's a political conservative, Notgrass is primarily a Christian and approaches each issue as such.
Our Honest Opinion:
This isn't just an old boring government textbook. It is a government textbook, but Notgrass writes in an engaging style and provides plenty of fascinating information so kids aren't just scanning endless bar graphs and dusty concepts. Exploring Government is also incredibly thorough, not just describing the basics of the three branches and the Constitution, but covering everything in between, from elections to issues (like prayer in schools) to the Federal Reserve. If you have a student hoping to become involved in government or study it in college you'll want to go further, but this is an excellent introduction.
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