Teaching with Tocqueville: Assessing the Utility of Using ‘Democracy’ in the American Government Classroom to Achieve Student-Learning Outcomes: Assessing the Utility of Using "Democracy" in the American Government Classroom to Achieve Student-Learning Outcomes

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2 Scopus citations


There is a debate in Political Science concerning how best to teach American Government courses. We investigate whether students learn more effectively with texts from the great tradition or from textbooks and other secondary sources. Which medium better guides students toward becoming better citizens? We examine how teaching "The Great Tradition" may increase success in student-learning outcomes. We examine four categories of learning outcomes in the Introduction to American Government classroom: general knowledge, knowledge of current events, civic engagement, and civic virtue. These outcomes were pretested and posttested with a quasi-experimental design. The experimental group studied Tocqueville's Democracy in America, while the control group studied traditional textbooks. The purpose of this project is to see if reading Tocqueville increases success in student-learning outcomes over classes that do not. We test two main sets of hypotheses. The first set concerns group/overall class improvement, and the second set deals with individual student improvement. Our results demonstrate that students' mean improvement scores pre- to posttest increase more in the experimental sections than in the control sections for the general knowledge, civic engagement, and civic virtue learning components. This research suggests a return to the "classics" as a pedagogical innovation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-185
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Political Science Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014



  • Tocqueville
  • assessment
  • civic engagement
  • civic virtue
  • pedagogy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science

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