Ray Notgrass created Exploring Government as a one-semester, high school level government course with a narrow audience in mind—either homeschooling or private schooling Christians (Protestant), who prefer a conservative, limited-government perspective. The course can also be used to satisfy a half-credit for English (literature), although the additional work is optional. The course design works best for students studying and working independently, although I think it would 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: the 455-page Exploring Government textbook and We Hold These Truths, a collection of writings by various authors that includes articles, historical source documents, essays, and speeches related to U.S. government. Some are recent commentaries and articles regarding hot 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 also read four additional 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 first unit, titled "The Biblical Basis of Government," sets the tone for a biblical Christian viewpoint evident throughout the course. It seems to draw on elements of the Principle Approach, although it does not require the 4R method of study that the Principle approach advocates. Some readings from the Bible are used in the first unit.
The writing style of the text and some of the articles is more interesting than most government texts 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." Obviously, this follows with a defense of the right to "bear arms." Although Notgrass challenges bloated government programs and spending as well as other government-related issues, he sometimes explains how things arrived at their present state of affairs or justification from other perspectives. His discussion of the development of the Department of Agriculture on pages 197-198 is a good example of this.
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. This introduction includes a very brief overview of the unit's lessons. Additional books to use are listed next. A list of suggested projects gives students choices from essay writing, creative projects, research, and 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 these 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.
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, and a reminder to answer questions in the Student Review and take a quiz or exam if it is the end of a unit.
Daily lessons should take an hour or more depending upon whether or not students are working towards credit for English.
The Student Review pack is supposed to be optional, but it includes questions and assessment resources as well as the literary analysis activities that can be used to provide a half credit toward language arts. There are three small books in the Student Review Pack: the Quiz and Exam Book, the Student Review book, and the Answer Key that covers both.
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. Inserted periodically are lessons on the four books to be read for the literary analysis portion of the course. These lessons include some commentary on the book plus questions to be answered.
The Quiz and Exam Book has fifteen quizzes (one per unit) and three exams. 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 do provide a simple way to ensure that students are learning the material, and they don’t require much time.
As I mentioned, 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. The books raise issues each of them encountered—some in relation to government and public policy, but others dealing 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.