UCCI Course Description

Journey for Justice in America: American Government & Public Services

Overview Course Content
Length of Course
Full Year (2 semesters; 3 trimesters; 4 quarters)
Subject Area - Discipline
History / Social Science (A) - Civics / American Government
UC Honors Designation
CTE Sector
Public Services
CTE Pathway
Legal Practices
Grade Level(s)
9 - 12


Journey for Justice in America provides students with the necessary skills and content knowledge in a standard American Government course, while also allowing them to understand how this knowledge is applied in careers in government services and legal sectors. The foundational American Government concepts students learn in the course also allow them to  become informed, active citizens in their respective communities. In this course, students come to understand the principles on which the United States government was founded, the structure of government at the federal, state and local levels, the individual and civil liberties needed to maintain a democratic society, and the way in which order is maintained through law enforcement and the judiciary.

Course Content

Unit 1 : Unit 1: “We the Students” Creating Our Government

Unit 1 Description

In this unit, students learn the fundamental principles and moral values of American democracy as expressed in the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other essential documents of American democracy, analyzing the influence of ancient Greek, Roman, English, and leading European political thinkers such as John Locke, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, Niccolai Machiavelli, and William Blackstone on the development of American government. Students learn how the U.S. Constitution reflects a balance between the classical republican concern with promotion of the public good and the classical liberal concern with protecting individual rights. Students are able to describe the systems of separated and shared powers, the role of organized interests, checks and balances, the importance of an independent judiciary, enumerated powers, rule of law, federalism, and civilian control of the military.

In this unit, students create a classroom government and system of justice that is based upon the principles and structure of the United States Government. To ensure an understanding of how governments are created and organized, students discuss and analyze founding documents and differing systems of government. They also establish rules and consequences, discuss how those rules are interpreted and how they will be enforced. As a class, students establish a penal code and evaluate theories of justice that they apply to their classroom government. Students then compare and contrast their classroom rights with those found in the Bill of Rights.

“What makes a government?” Socratic Seminar: After becoming familiar with the different systems of government, students address the following questions in a Socratic seminar/discussion: Who decides what the rules will be? Who determines the punishments? Who decides what the rules mean? Who decides what is fair? Who enacts and enforces the rules? At the end of the seminar, students process the ideas that were discussed through a written reflection that both summarizes the various responses to the questions and evaluates the group position.

Social Contract Theory Written Reflection: Students explore philosophies of human nature and evaluate to what extent humans are selfish. Students read excerpts from Rousseauâ’s The Social Contract and Hobbes’ Leviathan. Students respond to the lecture and reading with a written reflection in which they take a stand and defend their position on the two theories. This provides students with a historical understanding of political philosophies that influenced the style of governments in Europe.

Theories of Justice Research Project and Analytical Essay: In groups, students research and create a multi-media presentation on one theory of justice (e.g. Deterrent, Incapacitation, Incarceration, Rehabilitation, Retributive, Restorative). Students are required to take notes on the presentations presented by the other groups.  Students then use this information to write a detailed essay in which they analyze and evaluate the theories of justice proposed by the philosophers they have read in this unit. In the essay, students utilize textual evidence to explain the theory they believe to be the most effective. Students must address both the positive and negative effects of each type of theory in their essay.

Class Constitution and Judicial System: The culminating assignment for this unit is the creation of a classroom government with a written constitution and penal code. After reading about the foundations and influences of a constitutional republic, students work together to determine the principles and rules that they want to see developed to govern their classroom.  Students take utilize their knowledge of the United States Constitution to draft a Constitution that serves to preserve their rights within the classroom. They also examine past and current penal codes in order to create their own system of justice. Students first create a preamble to their Constitution, once they have determined their goals and purpose. Students then organize themselves into branches of government and provide roles and responsibilities of each branch within the class. Students then discuss ways to amend their Constitution and include their amendment process in the Articles of the Constitution. The final phase is the creation of a class Bill of Rights. In addition to the creation of a Constitution, students also create an initial set of laws and establish a penal code. To do so, they must determine the punishments for each violation and work with the teacher and administration to carry out a restorative system of justice.  This project culminates in a student-led “Ratifying Convention” at which students debate the merits of their class constitution and ensure a successful ratification. Each student has a role in the development and implementation of the convention as well as participate.

Role of Law Enforcement Research Assignment: Students research the role of law enforcement in society and present their findings to the class. They then discuss the role of law enforcement in their classroom constitution.

Class Penal Codes: Students compare the Plymouth Colony Penal Code and Salic Codes with current State of California Penal Codes. Students use these examples to inform their creation of classroom Penal Codes. This activity is included in this portion of the unit to give students an understanding of the role of the legislative branch in creating laws, as well as the role of the executive branch in enforcing laws.

Unit 2 : Unit 2: Knowing, Exercising, and Protecting MY Rights

In this second unit in the course, students examine and analyze the effects of landmark Supreme Court cases in regards to the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendment rights. Students understand and learn to apply due process rights from both an individual perspective and that of a criminal justice professional. They learn how the Supreme Court becomes involved in the appeals process for criminal and civil matters relative to the constitutionality of judicial actions and are able to explain how Supreme Court rulings affect law enforcement personnel during criminal investigations. Students also demonstrate knowledge of the structure and function of legal briefs: facts, issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion and understand the development of Case Law resulting from Supreme Court decisions.

Throughout this unit, students actively participate in all aspects of the judiciary process, including a mock capital crime in which the suspects and victims are community/school members. Projects in this unit involve students in each step of the judicial process, from the initial investigations through the appeals process. Students are assigned roles from different branches (executive, legislative, judicial) and provided with a variety of scenarios that impact individual rights and outcomes throughout the unit.

Legal Brief: Students complete a legal brief of Marbury v. Madison and evaluate the significance of the case as it applies to judicial review. This activity is designed to provide students with an understanding of where the Supreme Court derived its power of judicial review plus provide a greater understanding of the role of the judiciary.

Police Report: The initial phase of the overarching project in this unit begins by defining what a police report looks like and what it should contain. Students, assuming the role of law enforcement officials, use this knowledge to write an initial police report regarding a crime that was committed. (The Street Justice website has a variety of criminal mock trial resources that teachers can consult for ideas for this project.)

Criminal Investigation: Students first understand the responsibilities of law enforcement officers in the collection of evidence through a lecture and/or readings on Mapp v. Ohio and the creation of a Legal Brief on this landmark Supreme Court Case. Students write and serve search warrants, interview suspects and witnesses, and seize evidence relevant to the crime they are investigating for this unit.

Arrests: To gain a full understanding of the rights those accused of a crime are entitled to, students read and discuss the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona. In order to arrest the suspect(s) in the mock crime that is the foundation of this unit, students first obtain probable cause, "Mirandize" the accused in accordance with class procedures  established, affect an arrest, interrogate suspects, and take statements through interview/interrogation.

Trial Field Trip or Televised Trial Viewing: Students take a field trip to witness an actual court proceeding and take notes on the various relationships among the individuals involved (e.g. judge, prosecution, defense, witnesses called). If a field trip is not an option, this experience could be created in the classroom by having students watch a streamed/televised trial). At the conclusion of the trial viewing, students write a reflection in which they carefully detail how their role in the mock trial is informed by what they learned by watching the trial they just observed.

Mock Trial: Students participate in a mock trial for a capital crime. Students are assigned roles from different branches (executive, legislative, judicial) and must research the powers and parameters involved with maintaining and enforcing the rights of the victim and the accused. To do so, they apply the knowledge they have of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments of the Constitution and due process. Students must prepare a briefing outlining their contributions to the mock trial; they are assessed on their ability to appropriately cite the text of various amendments that apply to the given case and to the effectiveness with which they formulate their arguments during the mock trial. At the sentencing portion of the proceedings, students must use their knowledge of issues of sentencing and the impact sentencing has on both victims and defendants in order to then define the sentence and carry out the final verdict.

Appeal: Students respond to the following prompt: Assume you have been incarcerated at the Central Penitentiary due to the crime related to the mock capital crime presented in class, and you are now acting as a "jailhouse lawyer". You review the facts in the case that led to your incarceration. You must write a two-page writ of habeas corpus. In it, you focus on a way to convince the court of appeals that your incarceration is unlawful because of impropriety, if not illegalities, in the investigation at the local level. You must make the best case by remaining focused on what you think is any salient issue which may lead to a re-trial, and/or dismissal of the case.

Unit 3 : Unit 3: Knowing and Protecting Our Liberties and Securities

This unit focuses on helping students understand the complex balance between civil liberties and national security within the context of American government. Students examine the Bill of Rights and pay special attention to the first, second and fourth amendments to the Constitution. They also examine and evaluate how law enforcement determines security risks. Utilizing what they’ve learned about personal liberties and national security, the class works collectively to develop a national security policy.

Emerging Careers Report: Students research emerging careers in criminal justice post-September 11th and choose one that interests them. They write a two to three-page report in which they detail the academic/degree requirements for their chosen career, the necessary security clearances involved, a sample job description, and salary range.

“Trawling” Debate: Students be divided into teams in order to debate government use of Internet and cell phone "trawling" to identify terrorist threats, as well as emergency pre-FISA court searches and confiscations. The teacher determine which side each team represent ("for" or "against"). Students should use a minimum of three resources to research the topic in order to prepare for the debate.

Cyber-bullying Legal Brief:  Using the FIRAC (Facts, Issues, Rules, Apply, and Conclusion) format, students analyze cases on cyber-bullying in an effort to understand how courts have viewed cyber-bullying in the context of the First Amendment. Their analysis of these issues culminates in the writing of a  legal brief addressed to the Supreme Court outlining what rules should guide decisions in this area.

Letter to the Editor: Students write a one-page letter to the editor of a publication that covered the cyber-bullying case for which students wrote their legal brief. In their letter, students should identify biases or slant they observe in the article, clearly assert their own stance on the issue, cite relevant data/sources for support of their stance, and conclude with a call to action to address reducing cyber-bullying.

Second Amendment Debate Analysis: Students write a minimum two page analysis of a debate on gun regulations between Constitutional experts and lawyers representing the NRA. Students’ analysis should include the quality of the reasoning, evidence, and arguments presented, and should conclude with their own position on the debate based on their understanding of what the Second Amendment communicates. (The debate could be framed as whether gun control laws aid communities and law enforcement or diminish liberties of law abiding people.)

Security Structures: Students research the security structures at the national, state, and local levels. They then create a visual representation of these security structures and how they interact with one another.

National Security Plan: The culminating project for this unit requires students to design a Security Policy for the class based on the considerations that were raised in the unit. They write their National Security Plan as a class and also re-evaluate the classroom Bill of Rights.

Unit 4 : Unit 4: Government in Action

Students understand the Federal, State, Local levels of government, law enforcement jurisdictions and the roles they play on each level. This unit focuses on developing and articulating reasoned, persuasive arguments that support specific public policy positions with an emphasis on critiquing the abundance of laws by examining the California Penal Code and local ordinances. Students analyze the processes from which laws are created, the importance of abiding by laws once created and enforcement of the laws. Students understand the obligations of civic-mindedness including voting, being informed on civic issues, volunteering and performing public service, and serving in the military or alternative services. Active Citizens and Interest Groups a. Demonstrate an understanding of sources of conflict among constituents and the governing body of peers 1. Understand civic duties of all.

Optional Assignment, for Students Participating in Explorers/Cadet Program: Students apply for, and participate in, a local law enforcement’s Explorers/Cadet Program. This hands-on experience requires attendance after school and provides "real-world" connections to the course. Students participating in the program deliver a formal presentation of their experiences, including lessons learned. Mentor officers/deputies should provide written documentation to the instructor regarding attendance, performance ratings (if applicable), and conduct during participation.

“Big Brother” Paper: Students write a two to three-page expository essay explaining the interrelated relationship that exists between the citizens, publicly elected officials, and law enforcement. This assignment should demonstrate a deeper understanding, and applications of skills, compared to similar writing assignments in previous units--such as an extension to the Social Contract Theory writing assignment from Unit I, or the Security Police writing assignment from Unit III. Students understand sources of conflict among constituents, constituent groups, and governing-body peers. Students understand the importance of respect for ethical principles to encourage mutual regard. Students understand the appropriate application of laws, rules, and standards and recognize actions in violation of laws, rules, and standards.

“Laws in Action” Debate: Students participate in a formal debate on the Prohibition of Alcohol (the 18th Amendment), in which they must use as support for their point of view their interpretations of the Constitution and various other primary and secondary resources to bolster their claims.

“Laws in Action” Expository Essay: Students write a two to three-page expository essay that demonstrates a comprehension of the reasoning for why laws are created, why a law may be amended, or how judicial review creates law. The topic of the essay must be one of the following: the 18th Amendment, the 21st Amendment, or the Roe v. Wade court case. Students understand the foundation of national and state law and the important elements of trial procedure. Students use state and federal legal codes to research issues. Students understand the appropriate application of laws, rules, and standards and recognize actions in violation of laws, rules, and standards. Students analyze judicial activism and judicial restraint and the effects of each policy over the decades (e.g., the Warren and Rehnquist courts). Students explain how public policy is formed, including the setting of the public agenda and implementation of it through regulations and executive order.

“Research in Action” Essay: Students write a three to four-page persuasive essay that compares and contrasts the benefits of conducting debates without adequate research and debates conducted with thorough research. Students develop and articulate reasoned, persuasive arguments in support of public policy options or positions. Students marshal evidence in support of a thesis and related claims, including information on all relevant perspectives; convey information and ideas from primary and secondary sources accurately and coherently; make distinctions between the relative value and significance of specific data, facts, and ideas.

Media in American Politics Presentation: Students research the influence of the media on American political life and develop an oral or visual representation of their findings. Students must explain how public officials use the media (including social media) to communicate with the citizenry and to shape public opinion.

Proposition Debate: Students debate one of the following topics: California Propositions: 1996 California Proposition 215, 2010 Proposition 19, or 2009 Proposition 8 using published information, legislative analysis, or judicial review of the propositions. Students develop and articulate reasoned, persuasive arguments in support of public policy options or positions. Students use logical constructs to integrate and organize information and anticipate counterarguments. Students use recognized patterns of discourse, rhetorical skills, images and figures of speech, and knowledge of situations and audiences to prepare and deliver compelling arguments regarding issues or proposals. Students then conduct an informal vote to decide whether or not the propositions would have passed in the classroom government.

Current Political Events Multimedia Presentation: Students create a multimedia presentation demonstrating the positional arguments for each candidate in a current race relevant to them (e.g. mayor, governor, president, school board member, board of supervisors member). In the presentation, they compare and contrast the candidates, making use of primary source evidence, including information such as voting record (if an incumbent) and party platform.

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