Edited by John Ishiyama, William J. Miller and Eszter Simon
Chapter 20: Teaching political theory
Not everyone has an opinion about calculus, chemistry or even Congress, but everyone has an opinion about the purpose of human life, whether anyone has a right to rule over others (and why), and the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. Because your students will have opinions about those things, it will be possible to draw them into political theory, and their engagement will make the class fun, for them and for you. But first, you have to know how to draw them in, which is what this chapter focuses on. Because of the history of the discipline of political science, both the definition of political theory and the question of its role in political science are issues we need to address briefly before talking about teaching. What political theory consists of is the source of much debate in the profession. First we need to distinguish between what is often called formal political theory, which involves making mathematical models of political systems, and political theory (also commonly referred to as political philosophy), which concerns texts and arguments that make normative proposals about how government and society should be run.
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