Enrichment Activities

Follow these instructions to gain credit for enrichment activities that you can use to earn dropped quizzes. You may complete 2 enrichment activities (you can choose the same or different categories of enrichment), but must meet the separate deadlines stipulated in the syllabus.

Choose an activity. I list possible activities below, but you should read through these instructions before choosing an activity.

What to write – part 1: Spend less than half your space describing the activity. If you watched a movie, summarize the plot. If you attended a city council meeting, specify which city you went to, what the date was, and what happened in the meeting. If you read an article from an academic journal, summarize the findings. Write clearly enough that any intelligent adult could understand exactly what you did for your enrichment activity. This summary should be less than half your paper. Write concisely but clearly.

What to write – part 2: The remaining portion of your paper (at least half) should discuss what you learned by completing this activity. Make your reflections relevant to this course. If you watched a movie, evaluate its lessons for politics. If you went to a city council meeting, discuss what you learned about politics by attending. Maybe you learned how a policy is created, or how citizens can be involved, or how public hearings work, or how conflicts are resolved. Whatever you learned, write it here. I would like this portion of your paper to be insightful. It’s not very insightful to write, “I learned that it takes a majority vote of the city council to pass a resolution.” You will not receive much credit if you write banalities like that. The best papers will offer genuine insights into politics.

Topics. There are three categories of topics below: “Things you can do,” “Things you can read,” and “Things you can watch.” Choose a topic from any of these categories. You must choose a different topic each time, but you can choose all your enrichment paper topics from the same category if you wish. Whatever activity you choose, you must complete the activity during this semester for it to count. You

cannot write about something you did prior to this semester.

  • Guidelines. Limit your response paper to 3500 characters (roughly 2 double-spaced pages). That’s a maximum length, not an expected length; still, many of you will find that limitation restrictive. Write in plain text and do not include any tables, figures, etc.
  • Amendments. If there is something you’d like to do that you do not see on this list, contact Prof. McGrath to get permission before you complete the enrichment assignment.

Things you can do

  • Suspend your social media account(s) for half the semester and in lieu of checking Facebook, Twitter, etc., read an actual newspaper (online versions are ok) for at least 15 minutes a day.
  • Watch a major presidential address on television. The State of the Union happens every January/February. Occasionally, there is another major address by the president on television. You can usually spot a major address because it is delivered by the president to a joint session of Congress, or it lasts an hour or more, or both. If you’re not sure whether a particular speech counts, ask. Watch the speech live or within one week of its delivery.
  • Attend a public hearing of a local government body (in person, not on TV). This must be either a city council meeting, a school board meeting, a hearing held by a committee of the Virginia or


Maryland General Assembly, the Council of the District of Columbia, or any public meeting of the state legislature where you live. (To visit another body, ask me for approval first.) This may require some advance planning; most city councils and school boards meet only twice a month, and state legislatures meet for only part of the year. I urge you to visit with me before you go so I can help make the meeting more meaningful for you, but that’s optional.

  • Take a tour of the Virginia, Maryland, or United States Capitol building, or the White House. Check the respective visitor website for information.

Things you can read

You may read any of the works listed below for an enrichment activity.

  • Any recent academic journal article about American politics. Locate a recent issue of a good political science journal and find any research article dealing with something about American politics. Read it. (Don’t pick something marked as a “research note,” a “reply,” a “commentary,” or a “review.” Pick a full-length research article, which is usually 20-40 pages long.) Any of the following journals is acceptable: American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Political Behavior, State Politics and Policy Quarterly, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Public Opinion Quarterly. All of these journals are available online, through the GMU library’s website or while on GMU wifi.
  • Any recent (last 10 years) non-fiction book on American politics or history. The book must not be assigned reading for any class that you were or are enrolled in.

Things you can watch

You may watch any one of the films listed below for an enrichment activity. Most should be available through Netflix or similar services. Sometimes there is more than one movie out there with the same title. That’s why I list the year in addition to the title. Make sure you get the right movie.

You must watch the movie in its entirety during this semester to count it for an enrichment activity. If you watched it in the past, you may not count it.

Many filmmakers are more interested in entertaining audiences than in getting it right. Don’t be too quick to accept their portrayals of politics. Their portrayals are usually either too cynical or too idealistic. In fact, comparing their portrayals to what you learn in class (or in your textbook) would probably be a good angle to take in your writeup.

There are a few films listed here that I have not seen, but I have included them at the suggestion of others. If you watch a film and feel it is inappropriate for this list, please let me know.

  • High Noon (1952). A collective action problem.
    Lord of the Flies (1963). What is the role of government? Could we exist without it?
    Lincoln (2012). Pretty self-explanatory! Abraham Lincoln and the struggle to end slavery.
    Gideon’s Trumpet (1979). Should the state provide a lawyer if you cannot afford one?
    Advise and Consent (1962). Norms and culture of the Senate.
    Mr. Smith goes to Washington (1939). Can a good man stay good in Washington?
    The American President (1995). The many roles one must play as president.
    Dave (1993). A presidential stand-in trying to take control of independent-minded staff.
    The Man (1972). James Earl Jones as America’s first black president.
    Seven Days in May (1964). An executive department considers staging a coup.
    13 Days (2000). Interaction between the president and bureaucracies during the Cuban Missile Crisis. • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). The limitations of judicial power in a changing society.
    Being There (1980). Parody of simplistic public opinion.


  • The War Room (1994). Up-close documentary about the 1992 presidential campaign.
  • Street Fight (2005). Machine politics in the 2002 Newark, New Jersey mayoral race.
  • The Candidate (1972). A candidate struggles to keep control of his message.
  • Inherit the Wind (1960). Interest group politics nationalize a local event.
  • Citizen Kane (1941). A fictionalized story of a media mogul and his political influence.
  • All the President’s Men (1976). How reporters uncovered the Watergate scandal.
  • Dr Strangelove (1964). Legendary satire of U.S. foreign policy.
  • Harlan County, USA (1976). Labor v. management in coal country.
  • Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? (2006). Grassroots campaign for Congress. Be sure to research what happens to the main character after the events of the film.