Government course turns classroom into council
January 19, 2012 By Laura Coleman Pritchard
associate professor of government Benjamin Knoll, students are
participating in a city council simulation that requires them to
govern the fictitious town of Camelot.
The council sat attentively, taking notes and listening while City Manager Jordan Shewmaker ’14 made his case for increasing the sales tax to accommodate projects in the proposed city budget. Small business owners presented strongly worded opposition to the proposal, and local media solicited comments via Twitter and Facebook.
But what could have been a city council meeting in almost any town in the United States was actually a simulation for State and Local Politics, a Centre College government course.
The course, led this CentreTerm by Benjamin Knoll, associate professor of government, is organized in three segments. In the first segment, students discussed the historical context and philosophical arguments of local governments and political organizations. In the second, students examined the organization of these entities, the people who govern and the creation of state and local policies. And in the final segment of the course — occurring this week — students are participating in a simulation that requires them to govern the fictitious town of Camelot.
“The students have taken the simulation very seriously — much more so than I had anticipated,” says Knoll. “Within an hour of starting, they had set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page. And they spent several hours this weekend preparing for the simulation, and many of them are meeting together every night this week to do ‘meet the public’ events. I didn’t mandate or even suggest any of that.”
Knoll says he used the text “Camelot: A Role-Playing Simulation for Political Decision Making” to develop the simulation. Students are assigned roles — and accompanying ideologies — for their parts in the simulation.
“The students were permitted to have some leeway in their role assignments,” says Knoll. “There are about 75 different role options that are included in the simulation manual. They were to give me a list of three to five different roles that they would prefer, but then I ultimately made the final role assignments. I did also ask students to tell me whether they generally tend to be liberal, moderate or conservative. I tried to match up more conservative roles with more conservative students, and more liberal roles with the liberal students. But they are required, at times, to be a little more extreme or moderate than they would likely be in real life if their role description calls for it.”
Mary Tanner ’14 is the mayor of Camelot.
“I was named one of the five city councilors by Dr. Knoll, who additionally asked me to fulfill the obligations of Mayor Pro Temp,” she says. “I was elected by my fellow councilors to serve as mayor for the duration of the simulation — pending results of this upcoming Monday’s election, in which myself and two other councilors are up for re-election. I feel that this confidence was expressed in me because of the moderate nature of my character and the willingness to seek compromise that the role calls for.”
Tanner, who became familiar with parliamentary procedure in high school through her participation in the Kentucky United Nations Assembly, credits Knoll and her classmates for making this experience so valuable.
“I think activities like this one are successful in an academic setting because they engage students so effectively,” Tanner says. “At Centre especially, I think the atmosphere lends itself to activities like these. Our students are driven, motivated individuals who have latched onto this opportunity, and who take the roles with which we have been tasked incredibly seriously. This speaks to the degree of care Centre students dedicate to our studies, especially those so engaging and exciting as this simulation.”
“I am very impressed with my students. Many of them are going above and beyond what their roles call for by investigating relevant real life legal decisions that bear on their issues,” he says. “They are getting a good taste of what local politics are like in the real world, which helps them prepare for future careers and citizenship in their communities. This is the essence of Centre’s commitment to experiential learning and global citizenship.”
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Centre College, founded in 1819 and chosen to host its second Vice Presidential Debate in 2012, is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges, at 42nd in the nation, and ranks 27th for best value among national liberal arts colleges. Forbes magazine ranks Centre 34th among all the nation’s colleges and universities and has named Centre in the top five among all institutions of higher education in the South for three years in a row. Centre is also ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News for its study abroad program. For more, click here.