Incorporating the United States into your AP® Comparative Government Course

Ryan DeMarco is an AP® Comparative Government teacher at North Cross School in Roanoke, Virginia. He is also the Global Studies Director and History Department Chair, and additionally teaches AP® U.S. History. He holds a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Edinburgh, with a focus on Russian foreign policy.

What an exciting and tumultuous time it is to be a government and politics teacher! Between contentious elections, border disputes and military skirmishes, economic trade wars, the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise of populism and conspiracy theories, and resurgent nationalism around the world, teachers are never short of material to use in their classrooms. Even within the world of College Board, there has been no shortage of stimulating debate, particularly over changes made to the AP® Comparative Government and Politics Course and Exam Description (CED) in the past few years. Two primary methods exist to teach this class, country-by-country and thematically, and I will not claim one way is superior to another. It is up to the preference of the teacher, along with school and community factors (how long you have to teach, what your school community is like, etc).

Image Credit: Ryan DeMarco

One beneficial aspect of the new edition is the inclusion of the United States as a case study. This change benefits not only American students learning about their own government but also international students who are interested in the U.S. government.

Today, it is more essential than ever that students understand both how government works broadly and how the U.S. government works specifically. The U.S. government structure may or may not be a system with which students are familiar. My seniors come to me from AP® U.S. History, and while the teacher of that class does a fantastic job, he does not have time to teach the ins-and-outs of the structure and function of the modern U.S. government. In high schools across the country, when students select AP® Comparative Government, they have not yet had the opportunity to take a formal AP® U.S. Government course. Each year, I build the United States into my course because I truly believe that this knowledge is essential for the students to be good citizens with a strong level of political efficacy.

The new AP® edition of Essentials of Comparative Politics with Cases by Patrick O’Neil provides me with additional support and resources to teach about the U.S., and it also serves as a guide to students for how I teach the later AP6 countries. In my class, I teach an introduction unit focusing on concepts, followed by case studies of each country. The new U.S. chapter, though, is an exciting addition, because I can now build it into the introduction unit as a grounding example for these abstract introductory concepts. Grounding these concepts not only in examples from the AP6 but also in the United States allows students to understand both abstract political science concepts and the workings of the U.S. government. As I proceed through the course, I am constantly layering new countries on each other like a deliciously rich cake, the foundation of which is the U.S. By the end of the class, we have moved beyond our initial “structural” support of the U.S. to focus on the AP6 in preparation for the AP exam.

If you take a thematic approach in your class, you can easily break up the new U.S. chapter to correspond with different themes. For example, when doing the lessons on the legislative branch, you could begin with the U.S. case study as something familiar to the students, then move to more direct counterparts in Mexico and Nigeria. After which, you could add more complex systems into the mix, such as Russia, Iran, the U.K., and finally China, arguably the most complex of the AP6 cases. 

Now more than ever, informed citizens need to understand the structures and functions of many countries’ systems but also those of our own system as well. No matter how you approach the AP® Comparative Government course by country or theme, you can be excited by the helpful new addition of the United States as a case study in the Seventh Edition of the O’Neil textbook. 

AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

Leave a Reply