Ezra Klein was kind enough to call me and chat about his recent blog post on the 2012 election. During our conversation, we discussed his visit to APSA this year and his experiences with political science education (he attended two University of California campuses as an undergrad). As he described it, undergraduate political science education comes across like a high school civics class on steroids, and probably only over-the-counter-strength steroids at that. He moved to DC after college because he wanted to really understand "politics," but after a few years there, he discovered that political scientists were the only ones who were actually studying politics systematically, and that we actually had some pretty good answers.
This actually mirrors my own experiences. I was certainly happy enough with my undergraduate education, but I was very rarely inspired by my poli sci classes. I went to graduate school in poli sci largely in spite of, rather than because of, my undergraduate experiences.
I'd like to think things have changed since I was an undergrad in the late Pleistocene, but I'm not sure they have that much. I think we can do a lot more to engage our students. Not just by using more active learning approaches (although that can surely help), but also by conveying the idea of discovery. Learning a series of facts is not nearly as compelling as learning how we learned those facts. Any student can write down "The President's party tends to lose House seats in midterm elections" and probably regurgitate that on a test. Show them a scatterplot, though, and the visual approach grabs them on a different level. Have them make the scatterplot from raw data, and you've got a budding scientist on your hands.
I'm starting my intro class off this year by having the students read Hans Noel's fabulous essay "Ten Things Political Scientists Know That You Don't," which conveys, more than just about any other undergraduate-appropriate article I've read, the idea that some things are knowable. We haven't figured out everything by a long shot, but we've figured out some things, and the areas we're still working on are really pretty fascinating mysteries. I'd love it if one of my undergraduates some day figures one of them out.