Notgrass Exploring Government: A Curriculum Review

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By Jennifer Smeltser

One would probably be amazed at how little the average individual knows about the functions of our government system. Basic knowledge for many does not go beyond the typical promotion or criticism of active government holders, candidates during election season, or casting a ballot on election day. We could be quite comfortable saying even some of those holding government positions do not really know how government is run and the protocols that are involved.

Exploring Government by Ray Notgrass is a curriculum that was created for high school students. It presents a thorough, but easy to understand definition of government – an entity that manages a state or community – and could also be a great resource for the layman to those seeking office or already holding a position in government.

The Fourth Edition of Exploring Government was released in 2023. The focus of the curriculum is government, and in the introduction, the point is made that government and politics (although many may believe otherwise) are not the same.

Exploring Government & We Hold These Truths

Governing involves defending the nation, building roads, operating schools, collecting taxes, and other practical activities.”

Ray Notgrass

Although decisions made regarding those matters can involve political factors, government and politics are different.

About Notgrass Exploring Government

Notgrass Exploring Government is a social studies and English curriculum. It is one of five in the high school social studies series Notgrass publishes. The course was written for students to complete in the ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grades, so students may complete the course anytime while in high school. Although there is not a Bible component in the study, the curriculum, as are all Notgrass products, is written from a Biblical perspective. Considering “government authority is from God”, it would be a bit difficult to not mention God when teaching someone about government.

God instituted government to carry out two important functions: to preserve order and to provide physical security for those living under it.

Romans 13:3-4

Exploring Government is a one-semester course, and students can earn one-half credit in social studies at the completion of the course. They also have the option of earning one semester of English credit by doing that component of the study.

The Curriculum Package includes two books:

  • Exploring Government is the spine of the study. It includes 75 lessons that are completed over the course of 15 weeks, with five daily lessons for each week. Notgrass textbooks are well known for the numerous and colorful pictures that enhance the study. Truthfully, the study of government by itself (ex: laws, rules, protocol, etc.) may not be very interesting to some, but the pictures enhance the study and make it more engaging.
  • We Hold These Truths is a book of historical documents that are a walk-through history with readings like Twelve Tables of the Roman Law, Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, all the way to a writing by Ray Notgrass about running for office that discusses getting involved in the government process, along with the steps and the responsibility.


open textbook

What’s In Exploring Government

Exploring Government, just as all the Notgrass curriculum, comes with a Student Review Pack of three softcover books – Student Review, Quiz and Exam Book, and the Guide for Parents and Answer Key. The Quiz and Exam Book includes a quiz for each unit lesson and three exams to be given after the student completes five unit lessons. Although the curriculum is written so a student can work through the course independently, I have learned a lot about government from working through the material with my son.

Notgrass Exploring Government: three books in curriculum

Unit 11, Local Government, was of great interest to us. It has been a huge topic of conversation for the past year since we have been attending our local city and county monthly meetings. We have been able to see our local government in action. Before beginning the Exploring Government study, we had many questions about how the meetings were conducted as well as the different positions people hold. Exploring Government has brought a lot of clarity, and we are now more knowledgeable when we attend the meetings.

Some of the things we have learned are

  • We live in a county with a Weak Mayor (vs. a strong mayor) – the majority of the power is with the commissioners and not the mayor.
  • Government can involve managing and marketing of a State.
  • There are 18 positions in order of succession after the President if he dies or becomes incapacitated.
  • Following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the United States had no vice president for 14 months.
  • To be convicted of treason, a person must confess or there must be at least two witnesses that will testify to the actual act (not thoughts or words against the country).
  • Professional medical training is not required to be a coroner, but most medical examiners are physicians.
Notgrass Exploring Government: Chapter 6

Each unit has a project, and students can choose from writing assignments, making videos, taking field trips, watching movies, and more to bring the unit to life.

Some of the projects we did included:

  1. Watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I have never seen the movie from beginning to end.
  2. We had some good conversations about how just one person can make a difference and how to stand strong on our beliefs.
  3. We also took a field trip to our county courthouse and attended meetings in other municipalities in our county to see how the different governments were run.
county courthouse

We did several writing assignments, and it was good to see the prompts were not general or “fluff questions” but instead thought-provoking:

“How should the U.S. engage with other countries whose governments commit human rights abuses or perform other actions of which Americans disapprove?”

Ray Notgrass
Exploring Government textbook

We Hold These Truths (a history book all by itself) really tied the study together. The historic documents, essays, and speeches made it clear how much everything we do is affected by the government. Whether a citizen votes or not, they will be affected by their government from the decisions that are made at the federal level all the way to their local government. Being knowledgeable about government laws, rules, and protocol, no matter how “boring” it may appear, is important. Decisions made by the government at all levels will affect all people in some manner; some more than others.

Exploring Government: Chapter 12

Notgrass Exploring Government is an excellent resource for teaching your child about government. Whether the country is heading into a presidential election, bills are being presented at the state level, or your rights as a citizen are being challenged, your student will have clarity of the processes involved in handling those matters. They may even be motivated to get involved with their local government, stay informed and connected to what is happening, and realize the power they have before they go to the polls once they are able to vote.

One person can make a difference.

Is Notgrass right for your family? Answer five quick questions to find out! You can then enter your email to download the first three units from any Notgrass History curriculum. Take the survey now.

Is Notgrass right for your family? 

Answer five quick questions to find out!

You can then enter your email to download the first three units from any Notgrass History curriculum. Take the survey now.

Read Jennifer Smeltser’s Review of Notgrass Exploring Economics

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