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Impeachment Inquiry Becomes A Lesson Plan For High School Government Teachers

How are high schools teaching their students about impeachment? (Feliphe Schiarolli/Unsplash)
How are high schools teaching their students about impeachment? (Feliphe Schiarolli/Unsplash)

While the impeachment inquiry plays out in Washington, the political drama is also fodder for the classroom.

High school civics and government teachers across the country are now wrestling with the material that the impeachment provides. Many must tread carefully around hot-button political issues, while walking their students through America’s founding documents.

John Speicher in Oklahoma City is one of those teachers. The history and government instructor at Putnam City High School says he wants to impart the facts on his high school seniors, and let them make up their own minds.

“I’m there to provide just the information and allow them to make sense of this world,” he says. “Because they are adults next year.”

Speicher says the impeachment inquiry has been a boon for his lesson planning. 

“It’s a great reward for me to know that I’m now teaching them something relevant that’s happening in their lives,” he says. 

(And if you’re a teacher looking for impeachment resources, try this guide from the University of Pennsylvania.)

Interview Highlights

On how he teaches impeachment in the classroom

“I’ll make them look up the word impeachment. That’s where it starts. … I get them a pocket Constitution. They also have a Constitution available to them in the textbook. I make them find the impeachment. Then I make them find out when it’s occurred, for what charges, what was the turnout from the House of Representatives on the indictment, and what was the turnout on the conviction? They’re very good about it, and it’s great when you see 30 students that are really, really into the lesson for 50 minutes. They want to know what’s going on.”

On whether it’s difficult to talk politics with his students

“A lot of people find it difficult. I don’t. The facts are the facts. I try not to [impart] my political biases because we all have them. I try to give them the information. I allow them to think things through. There are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. As a matter of fact they’re brilliant in their curiosity and their inquiry.”

On whether his students will vote in the 2020 presidential election

“I hope so. Last two years I registered 700 voters, and I’ve already had about 120 registered this year. So, yes, I hope they want to do it. They sound excited about it, so I’m excited that they’re going to use their powers.”

On whether they’re hopeful about the future of the U.S.

“At times, they may not appear to be. They may appear to be a little dismal on it. And I understand why. They’re surrounded with pessimistic news. Some of them are like that. But … I have to reassure them, and there’s a lot of great educators out there that do, ‘This is your future. You are a small percentage of our population, but you are 100% of our future. And the things that we can’t solve, from the Baby Boomers or from the Gen X, it’s up to you. And I have confidence you can do it.’ “

On whether Oklahoma should have more mandated civics education

“I think it needs to start about seventh or eighth grade. Just in exposure. Understanding the documents that we were based on. … I think we need to probably do about a year and a half to two years on this and have a test. We have a citizenship test for people who come to this country, but for the citizens that are here, they could not pass that same exam.”

On his experience teaching high school seniors who weren’t alive when President Clinton was impeached in the ‘90s

“We talk about 9/11 or we talk about other things, and how the country has changed over time. I talk to them about a decade ago, ‘This happened a decade ago.’ They were seven, playing with G.I. Joes or Fortnite or whatever was going on at that time, I suppose. But I have to be very careful to keep it relevant and keep it contemporary.”

On what he wishes people knew about impeachment from the civic side

“Allow the process to happen. Allow the evidence come forth, if there is. It’s part of the checks and balances. It’s one of the greatest things that our country created. We separated power from a king. We put into three distinct areas, so he couldn’t create the law, execute the law and then tell you if it was fair or judicial or not. So we had this process to keep overzealous executives and other civil leaders in check. And this is the process that has worked. 

“Believe in it. Allow this impeachment process to occur. It’s keeping our Constitution alive. Without a check and balance, power falls into one area, and that’s always, always dangerous.”

Francesca Paris produced and edited this interview for broadcast and for the web. Todd Mundt edited this interview for broadcast. 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.