Wednesday, 11 September 2013

In search of American Voices

It is, perhaps, fitting that on this 9/11 anniversary I've been planning content for my up-coming American Government course. I'll be teaching the L2 undergrad course at Reading University from next month, covering the usual bases - the separation of powers; who does what and how; the Constitution; parties and elections; 'big government'; States' Rights; interest groups; the media; capital punishment; civil rights; social policy and religion.

I have 66 eager undergrads signed up for the course. Most are British; the rest Continental European and very few have spent any time at all in the US.

My experience of teaching US politics over the last few years with similar groups is that they're generally quite liberal and find it easy to be antagonistic towards the US - while admiring its business ethics, much of its culture and many of its individuals. It's an odd mix that's often based on kittle understanding that US culture is quite different from ours in Europe.

I'm hoping to aid the understanding of my students a little more this year by introducing some 'American Voices' into the lectures. Beyond the usual textbook and assigned scholarly reading, I'd love students to hear from 'real' Americans who live and breathe the impacts of US political decision making every day.

I would like them to hear views on the death penalty and gun control for instance from the kinds of articulate, erudite Americans I've spoken to over the years; the kinds who've shared their views with me on both sides of the debate. I'd like my students to understand why the Constitution matters so much, given that in the UK we have no written constitution and seem to have a much more malleable view of constitutionally-based issues politicking.

I would love to know how gay marriage and Obamacare are playing in Peoria. It would be great to find out what being 'libertarian' really means to Joe from LA or Jessie from Idaho and my students would gain a great insight from understanding why and how religion matters if you're growing up in the Heartland.

I'll be putting out some feelers to my own US contacts over the next few weeks - I'd love to collect some audio files, perhaps some very basic videos or even have someone Skype direct into my class. But I'm very open to speaking to new contacts and building a range of real American Voices into my classes.

In many ways there appears to be a widening gap between the US and Europe. It can be narrowed through mutual understanding - and the best people to do the narrowing are the next generation of leaders and influencers.

So, if you're an American willing to engage with some 19-20 year old British students about one or more aspects of US politics, please get in touch. You can email me at

Thanks in anticipation for your help

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