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Lesson IV

Civics and government make up about 25% of the GED® social studies test because understanding the inner workings of our political and governmental systems is imperative for maintaining a democratic system.

Topics to be familiar with:

  1. Modern Government
  2. Foundations of the U.S. Political System
  3. U.S. Politics and the World
  4. The Role of the Citizen in American Democracy

In this lesson you will learn how to:

  1. Distinguish fact from opinion
  2. Compare and contrast
  3. Identify Faulty Reasoning
  4. Re-state information

Skill Exercise: Distinguishing Fact from Opinion

Depending on who you ask, everyone will have a different definition of what the word “fact” really means. Here we use it to define something that actually happened or actually exists. Fact is impersonal. An opinion, on the other hand, is a biased interpretation of fact. An opinion can be influenced by values, assumptions and personal preference, as well as what a person knows about a given subject and his or her experiences. Opinion is personal.

In the political world, we are constantly bombarded with opinions. While these are usually opinions about facts, this does not mean that they are facts themselves. Politicians spend many years learning how to present opinion in such a way that it sounds like fact in order to sway people to think along the same lines as them.

Examine the charts below, read the passage, and refer to the questions that follow:

One form of a democratic government is the presidential system that we have in the United States. The parliamentary system is another democratic form of government in which an elected parliament (legislature) is in charge of directing the legislative and the executive branches of the government.

In the presidential system, the president, who is also called the chief executive, is picked by the voters, whereas in the parliamentary system, the prime minister is the chief executive and must be a member of parliament. In order for the prime minister to choose his ruling cabinet, he must get the approval of the rest of parliament. The prime minister’s cabinet is part of the legislature and can only stay in office as long as their policies have the support of the legislature.

The parliamentary system is the most common type of democratic government in the world right now. Japan, India, and Great Britain are only three of the nations currently using this system.

Question 1:

Which of the following statements is NOT a fact? (Which of the following statements is an opinion?)

1. The parliamentary system is a more common system of government than the presidential system

2. The parliamentary system is a better system of government than the presidential system

3. In the parliamentary system, the legislative branch is given more power than in a presidential system

4. Both the parliamentary and the presidential systems include a ruling cabinet

Answer: 2. This statement makes a judgment which is not directly supported by the information in either the passage or the chart. The rest of the answer options are statements of fact because they are proven by the information given in the passage and the chart.

Question 2:

Who picks the prime minister within the parliamentary system of government?

  1. the voters
  2. the cabinet
  3. the judiciary
  4. the president
  5. the legislature

Answer: 5, the legislature. This information is shown by the chart and implied in the second paragraph of the passage. This is a question testing your comprehension of the material and the question, not your ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. Just wanted to throw that in there to make sure you were on top of it!

Skill Exercise: Compare and Contrast

In many parts of daily life, we find ourselves needing to use our abilities to compare and contrast in order to assure that we make the best choice. For example, when choosing between fruit in a grocery store, you examine two or more pieces of fruit to see how they are the same and how they are different. This search for similarities and differences can aide you in evaluating them. You would not, however, compare the color of a plum with the cost of a watermelon because the categories of things that you are comparing and contrasting need to be parallel. Remember, comparing two things means that you look for ways in which they are similar. Contrasting two things is looking for ways in which they are different.

It’s a good idea to create broad categories in which to compare and contrast, as this can increase your chances of finding similarities and differences.

Read the following passage and answer the question below:

The U.S. federal government is divided into three main branches of power: the legislative, executive, and judicial.

The legislative, or law-making branch, is run by Congress, which is divided into two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each state has two representatives in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, however, the number of legislators is decided by the population of each state. The Constitution allocates main powers to Congress, including the power to regulate trade between states, to raise money and determine how it will be spent, and to declare war. Congress is also responsible for monitoring the executive, or law-enforcing branch, of the government.

The executive branch is headed up by the president and is responsible for carrying out the orders and decisions of the federal courts. The federal courts are headed by the Supreme Court and have the ability to settle debates over Congressional law violations. The judicial review gives them the power to interpret these laws, as well as the Constitution.

The writers of the Constitution set up a system of checks and balances among these three branches of government to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful.

Question 1

Which of the following answer choices contrasts the House of Representatives with the Senate?

  1. The Senate and the House of Representatives both consist of members from every state
  2. The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the laws and declare acts of Congress to be unconstitutional
  3. States are represented equally in the Senate and by the size of their population in the House of Representatives
  4. The Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate

Answer: 3. This contrast is clearly stated in the passage. The second answer choice and the fourth answer choice do not show any differences between the Senate and the House, while the first answer choice shows similarities between the two parts of Congress.

Question 2

Which of the following answer choices is a fact, not an opinion?

  1. The judicial branch has the most power of all three branches of government
  2. Congress has more power than the president
  3. The commander-in-chief, or president, should not have the power to veto laws passed by Congress
  4. The major governmental powers are divided among its three branches to limit their individual control

Answer: 4. This is the only fact that is backed up by information in the above passage. The first and second options are conclusions that are not factually supported by the passage and could therefore be disputed, as they contain certain judgments. Answer 3 is an opinion or belief which is not necessarily shared by all. This leaves us with Answer 4.

Skill Exercise: Identifying Faulty Reasoning

To be able to identify faulty reasoning, you will need to be able to recognize errors in reasoning. You may be presented with a logical succession of ideas, but then draw illogical conclusions from these ideas. It is easy to be convinced by faulty logic, so it is very important to be conscious of the progression of reasoning in order to be able to reject illogical conclusions.

A stereotype is the most common form of generalization, taken from a broad statement that is based on inadequate evidence. If someone makes a statement that makes assumptions about someone or something based on his or her connection to a larger group, be wary - particularly if this group involves race, religion, gender, or political affiliations. This is very likely to be a stereotype.

Oversimplification is the next most common form of faulty logic. If two things that are not directly connected in a cause-and-effect relationship are linked together, this leads to an oversimplification. This means that certain necessary and logical steps have been left out between getting from point A to point D.

Read the following passage and refer to the question below:

The time for change is here! Vote Peter Mulligan for Senate! Senator Rochester is responsible for raising your taxes. Peter Mulligan will work to repeal this tax increase! Politicians are controlled by interest groups who donate money to their campaigns, but Peter Mulligan will be the senator of the people! Elect Peter Mulligan to the U.S. Senate in 2007!

Indicate the oversimplification in the above passage with an O and the stereotype with an S.

O: Senator Rochester is responsible for raising your taxes.

S: Politicians are controlled by interest groups who donate money to their campaigns.

Saying that one senator is the sole person responsible for a tax increase is definitely oversimplified. Other senators have to vote for a tax increase as well in order for it to be approved. Also, not all politicians are controlled by special interest groups. This is a political stereotype.

Skill Exercise: Restating Information

Restating information - or accurately summarizing - is a skill that we went over back in the first lesson. It’s a good idea to refresh these skills as we go along and within the different subject contexts so that you feel comfortable using your myriad skills, regardless of the topic at hand.

Read the following passage and then refer to the question below:

The United States Constitution is a document that consists of seven articles and twenty-seven amendments and is the basis of American democracy. The purpose of the Constitution, as stated in its preamble, is “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Think about the excerpt above and try to rewrite or restate the intention of the Constitution. What, in different terms, is being said in that one phrase? Use a separate sheet of paper and then check the possible answers below.

Answer: There is no single, accurate answer to a question like this. There is a general level of correctness that indicates your comprehension of what was said and that could read in a variety of ways. One example of the intention is “to improve upon the system from whence we came by establishing a just, peaceful governance through the protection of and regard for the liberty and well-being of every person and generation to come.” Your revision can most certainly sound different, but it needs to include all of the basic tenets proposed in this one dense phrase.

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