Program Syllabus

Youth of the United States (YOTUS) Seminar – Summer 2016


Theme: “On the Presidential Campaign Trail”


Course Information

In-Person Seminars: Saturday mornings, 2 hours, every other week

Online Seminars: Saturday evenings, weekly, 1.5 hours

Office Hours: TBD

Location: TBD


Course Goals

Youth of the United States (YOTUS) had its founding seminar in the summer of 2014 with the goal of helping students understand politics, government, and the importance of civic engagement in the United States through a free six-week Socratic seminar while at the same time promoting critical reading, writing, and speaking skills.

In the summer of 2016, YOTUS aims to continue on the success of our inaugural seminar in a new series that will be based entirely on the 2016 Presidential Election. This year’s election is an historic race that is witness to an incredibly diverse range of issues, candidates, and public opinions. We will try to explore as much of the race as we can, explaining the nuances that govern the rules of the race (including the primary system and nomination process) as well as how the campaigns are affected by and try to affect public opinion.

Our course is a six-week free Socratic seminar with the aim of helping students become more informed about current events, policy issues, and how government works, while at the same time promoting critical reading, writing, and speaking skills. By focusing on the 2016 Presidential Election we hope that we can increase civic engagement of the youth of the Coachella Valley through increased understanding and awareness of the political process. This course is not only a way for students to be more involved and vocal in politics and policy issues, but to develop skills (analytical reading, writing, and debate skills) that will be instrumental to them in college.

Throughout this process, we will also be helping students discover new ways to integrate technology in how they express themselves. The core thrust of this will be in directing students to each blog about a specific topic or area of interest that we cover in the course on a website that we have dedicated to the program. They will write several posts expounding their personal thoughts and arguments on the issue they have chosen and develop their ideas throughout the course based on our theme. We will also hold special events at places such as the Palm Desert Apple Store where we will teach students about other mediums of high-tech journalism such as: Vlogs, Websites, and Digital eBook publishing.


Who Are We?

Alexander Nabavi-Noori – Founder, lecturer of YOTUS. Alexander attended Palm Desert High School where he was a founding member and President of the PDHS Junior Statesmen of American for 3 years. He has a passion for politics and government and during his time at PDHS, he used this passion to help run the biggest scholarly club on campus where students came together weekly to debate politics, policy, and other ideas. After graduating from PDHS he began studying both Political Science and Economics at the University of California, Los Angeles where he was a writer for the UCLA Undergraduate Law Journal. He is now seeking to help high school students become excited about politics and government while also helping them hone essential skills such as analytical reading, writing, and debate skills that will be essential to them in college.

Matthew Levine – Founder, lecturer of YOTUS. Matthew attended Palm Desert High School and was the founder and first President of the PDHS Junior Statesmen of America. He was a member of PDHS JSA for 3 years and during that time helped create a club that gave students an opportunity to debate their thoughts and ideas on various issues. Matthew is very interested in politics and government and has a special interest for foreign affairs and world politics.


Course Topics

Rules of the Game: The Primary System and the Electoral College


  • Chapter 5 “The Campaign as Horse Race” in Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice by Larry Bartels


In this brief section, we’ll talk all about the primaries, the horse race, and the run up to the RNC and DNC. We’ll talk about primary states, how primaries and caucuses work, look at the results from the primaries throughout 2016 to understand how voters evolved and how the candidates were narrowed through the primary season. We’ll also talk about what’s needed to win the general election including a discussion on the Electoral College system. This will be a basic introduction to get us warmed up for the topics ahead in talking about the 2016 Presidential Race!


The Two Parties


  • Take the quiz at and bring results to class. Make sure to answer the additional questions available for each category as well by clicking the “Show more questions” link below each set of questions.


In this topic we will be covering the principles of what “politics” means and what characterizes a “government.” We will start small and talk about our grievances at school and in the local community, and link those to the idea of government and what policy and community leaders can do to address those problems. We will then look to some of the Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke, Voltaire, Hobbes, Rousseau and Montesquieu and what their ideal forms of government looked like. We will also discuss, as a group, our own thoughts of what we think the roles and responsibilities of the government and its citizens are. We will link the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers and our own Founding Fathers with the results that the students got in their iSideWith quiz. We will analyze what these results mean and where they lie on the “political spectrum.

We’ll use these broad topics of the meaning and purpose of government to introduce the two party system. We’ll cover the different ideological moorings of the Republican and Democratic political parties, the party platforms, and what the parties mean for our electoral system. We will also talk about factions within the parties including the libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement for Republicans and the more populist Occupy Movement within the Democrats. We’ll talk about how the two parties have evolved over recent history beginning in the 1950s-60s until today. We’ll briefly talk about third parties as well and their potential impacts, though those will likely be very understated in the 2016 race.


The Candidates


  • Take the quiz at and bring results to class if you have not already. Make sure to answer the additional questions available for each category as well by clicking the “Show more questions” link below each set of questions. We will be discussing the candidates you are most aligned with.


Now that we have introduce the two party system, we will talk in depth about the candidates for each party in the 2016 race. We’ll begin with the full list of candidates running for the nominations at the very beginning of the primary race and trace down how they were whittled down through the months. We’ll talk about reasons for the success of the current candidates as well as reasons for the failures of the others. We’ll look at issue positions, campaign rhetoric, the demographics that the candidates each appeal to, and their performances throughout the primary race.


Issues of the 2016 Presidential Election



In this section, we will be discussing all of the major issues at play and in contention between the parties in the 2016 race. These will include domestic issues such as: the state of the economy, social issues, the Supreme Court appointments, immigration, etc. We’ll also look at the foreign policy views of the candidates on topics such as: Combatting ISIS, relations with Iran, Obama’s “pivot towards Asia,” North Korea, etc.

The goal of these discussions will be to understand what the American people are most interested in in this election cycle. There are vastly differing views on both sides but with a common theme: Americans feel that the country is not headed in the right direction and are largely unhappy. We’ll try to understand why that is from these issues and compare them to the last election to see how they have evolved!


Public Opinion 


  • “The Media Disconnect: Media and Candidate Messages”
  • “The Message Matters: Candidate-Level Test of the Theory” in The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns by Lynn Vavreck
  • “The Impact of Party Identification”
  • “Development of Party Identification” in The American Voter by Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes
  • “What Americans Know about Politics” in What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters by Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter



In this section we’ll discuss what influences public opinion and how individuals form opinions on political issues. This is a section pretty heavily based in theory so we’ll only cover the essentials and try to link it to the current election cycle as much as we can. We’ll talk about the basics of party identification, attitude formation, the average knowledge of the American voter, as well as how the media and advertising can affect public perceptions. We’ll also talk about the mysterious “independent” or “undecided” voters and how those voters come about, why they exist, and how they behave during an election!

We’ll link this to the 2016 race by looking at public opinion polls. What do people think of the current candidates? Where are voters on the issues? Can we find any identifiable trends in the voters of either of the parties today? This should be a very fun category where we’ll really be able to link what we learned about the current contentious issues of the 2016 race with what people are currently thinking!


Campaign Finance


  • Watch: Colbert Super PAC video (—-secret-second-501c4—trevor-potter)
  • Washington Post Article breaking down spending in 2012 (
  • Vox Article on McCutcheon case (
  • “A New Campaign Finance Case — McCutcheon v. FEC” (


This week will focus on the vast world of campaigns and elections. We will talk extensively on campaign finance issues beginning with an extensive explanation on what exactly the Citizens United case changed in regards to campaign finance law and Super PACS specifically. We will also compare that case to the more recent McCutcheon case which dealt with aggregate contribution limits. We will then take time to track the changes in how campaign finance has worked since the 2000 Presidential Election and specifically note that 2008 was a major shift in previous patterns due to Obama’s decision to turn down public financing. We will end by talking about the effects of different campaign tactics—particularly advertising—on voters, and how these ads, which make up the vast majority of campaign spending, may help sway elections.

We’ll also look a current spending by candidates in the 2016 field. We’ll show how to research FEC filings and what candidates today are spending the most on such as: Ads? Online? Print? Mailings? We’ll talk about the various positions of each party on campaign finance as well.


Student Blog Project

The YOTUS Blog is a project that will accompany this seminar course. The blog will consist of students writing about various topics of their choosing from the selection of themes we cover throughout our course. Students will choose one issue that they are interested in and would like to write about and create an 800-1500 word blog post on that topic. Topics must relate to the 2016 Presidential Campaign and can include (but are not limited to): Articles about the current state of the horse race between the candidates; articles about issues that are being brought up by the candidates; research into a specific candidate, their bio, and their current campaign and issue stances. Students will then post their blog posts to the collective group blog that we have set up ( These posts will provide many useful purposes for the students: students will be able to take the broad concepts, theories, and issues that they have learned about and then expound on those issues with their own original analysis and opinions; students will practice writing political journalism, a fast-growing field of journalism led by such publications as FiveThirtyEight and the NYTimes Upshot; students will develop higher level reading, writing, and debate skills through their work; students will have original content that they can use as writing samples for future work as they make their transition from high school to college.


Online Seminars

In addition to in-person seminars, we will be holding weekly online seminars through Google Hangout. These seminars will be supplemental to the in-person seminars as well as a way for students who are leaving the valley for summer vacation to engage in the program as well. Topics covered will be the same as those in the in-person seminars but will likely be expanded on due to the more intimate nature of smaller online sessions.

These online sessions will be a great opportunity for students to ask questions and get even more detailed discussions of the topics in class.


Integrating Technology in Learning

The final element of our program is ensuring that students are exposed to the most modern avenues for political journalism. In the past decade, technology has completely transformed the landscape of political journalism with all major journalists now using all the resources at their fingertips including Twitter, Blogs, Vlogs, Interactive Data, and other online publishing methods to report on politics.

In addition to our blogging project, we hope to partner with the Palm Desert Apple Store to give students firsthand experience and training on software suites such as iMovie for vlogging, iBooks for eBook publishing, as well as various platforms for web journalism reporting including WordPress.


Download our syllabus Visit our 2014 Syllabus