Of Note: Thoroughly Modern Civics

Submitted By:
Jessica Flaxman, 120 Education Consultancy, Belmont, MA

Teaching Impeachment in Politically Risky Times by Stephen Sawchuck
Education Week, October 3, 2019

The college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for National Social Studies Standards, published in 2013, lays out a curricular pathway aimed at strengthening the civic knowledge and engagement of future generations. By the end of the second grade, authors of the C3 framework assert, students should be able to "describe the roles and responsibilities of people in authority." By the end of the fifth grade, students should be able to "distinguish the responsibilities and powers of government officials at various levels and branches of government and at different times and places" and be able to "examine the origins and purposes of rules, laws, and key US constitutional provisions." Surely, then, whether and how an elected president may be removed from office for "high crimes and misdemeanors" would fall within these elementary and middle school benchmarks. According to Education Week's Stephen Sawchuck, however, teachers are not uniformly prepared or willing to teach the topic of impeachment. The infrequency and complexity of the impeachment process likely has contributed to today's classroom challenge. Says Sawchuck: "Impeachment's rarity means that while teachers do cover the topic in civics and government classes, few have detailed lesson plans on it in their back pocket." Further, "extreme partisanship infecting almost everything about presidential politics" can make teaching social studies in general and civics in particular a fraught endeavor, Sawchuck notes, however, "avoiding teaching the topic is every bit as much a political decision as diving right into it." Sawchuck proposes three lenses through which to view impeachment: a background knowledge and civic underpinnings lens; a historical, comparative lens; and a current lens. Reading primary documents, such as the Constitution, and comparing impeachment proceedings from other times and in other countries, can contribute to meaningful learning and thoughtful teaching in a time of heightened partisanship.

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