Ray Notgrass created Exploring Government as a one-semester government course for high school with a narrow audience in mind—either homeschooling or private schooling Christians (Protestant), who also prefer a conservative, limited-government perspective. The course can also be used to satisfy a half credit for English (with coverage of literature), although the additional work for literature credit is optional. The course design works best for students studying and working independently, although it should also work well for a group class that meets weekly to discuss the reading and writing assignments.
There are two essential course books if you want to use only the government course (without credit for literature): the 455-page Exploring Government textbook and We Hold These Truths. The latter book is a collection of writings related to the U.S. government that includes articles, historical source documents, essays, and speeches. Some are recent commentaries and articles regarding controversial topics such as drones and abortion. The Constitution of the United States is included within We Hold These Truths, and students will also read their own state’s constitution in the unit on state government. (The publisher’s website has links to state constitutions.) Both books are hardcover with full-color photos, drawings, and maps, and the textbook has an index.
An optional third component is the Exploring Government Student Review Pack that includes three smaller, softcover books. In addition, students who want to complete the literature component will read four books: Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough, The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge, Born Again by Charles Colson, and God and Ronald Reagan by Paul Kengor.
The four books and literary analysis lessons are optional. They tie to the government theme tangentially as students read about important figures who were involved in government and the issues they encountered. Some of these issues relate to government and public policy, while others deal with family, personal development, ethics, and faith. Using these books helps students grasp the human dimension—that government is about more than documents, laws, and bureaucracies, and that they have a role as responsible, Christian citizens to be informed and involved.
The first unit in the textbook, titled "The Biblical Basis of Government," sets the tone for a biblical Christian viewpoint that is evident throughout the course. The course seems to draw on elements of the Principle Approach, although it does not require the 4R method of study—research, reason, relate, and record—that the Principle approach advocates. Some readings from the Bible are used in the first unit.
The writing style of the textbook and some articles is more interesting than what I see in most textbooks for government since it includes a significant amount of personal commentary and opinion. For example, Lesson 44 on Amendments 2 through 10 of the Bill of Rights opens with the quote, "If they outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns." This is followed by a defense of the right to bear arms. Although Notgrass challenges such things as bloated government programs and spending, he sometimes explains how things arrived at their present state of affairs or gives justification from other perspectives. His discussion of the development of the Department of Agriculture on pages 197-198 is a good example of this more nuanced type of presentation.
The 75 lessons in the text (one lesson per day) are presented in units of five lessons each. Each unit begins with a one-page introduction that includes a very brief overview of the unit's lessons. Additional books to use are listed next. Then a list of suggested projects gives students several choices such as essay writing, creative projects, research, or movies to watch. While there are always essay options, other suggestions vary from unit to unit. Students working for the English credit should complete at least one of these projects each week. While they might be considered optional for other students, the projects frequently challenge students to think through concepts presented in the lessons and formulate their own opinions, so I highly recommend using at least one per unit, even for students not working towards literature credit.
Assignments at the end of each lesson tie together the components of the course. Here students find the reading assignment from We Hold These Truths, the literature assignment, a reminder to select a project, a reminder to answer questions in the Student Review, and a reminder to take a quiz at the end of a lesson or an exam at the end of a unit.
Daily lessons should take about an hour for those working towards credit only for government. Students working towards credit for English should plan on at least another half hour.
The three books in the Student Review Pack are the Quiz and Exam Book, the Student Review book, and the Answer Key that covers both of the other books. The Student Review Pack is supposed to be optional, but it includes questions and assessment resources for government as well as the literary analysis activities that can be used to provide a half credit toward English.
The Student Review book has ten questions for each lesson. Some questions require brief answers while others require lengthier answers. You can assign these for written work or discussion. Lessons on the four books to be read for the literary analysis portion of the course are inserted at the appropriate points. These lessons include some commentary on the books plus questions to be answered.
The Quiz and Exam Book has fifteen quizzes (one per unit) and three exams, all on government. Questions require multiple-choice or brief answers. If students are engaging well with the weekly questions for each lesson, you might not need to use the quizzes. However, quizzes provide a simple way to ensure that students are learning the material, and they won’t require much time.
Note: You might want to use Notgrass's Exploring Economics for the other semester since these two courses reflect similar points of view.