Clinton scandal proves useful in classroom
It’s the cry of frustrated Americans who now know more intimate details of the president’s sexual life than they had ever wished.
Many feel the media and special prosecutor are continually rubbing their noses in the Monica Lewinsky question. But, at the same time this is American history and it’s happening now. Americans watch with a mixture of horror and fascination, and it’s not just adults who are paying attention.
In a telephone survey of 300 kids age 8 to 14, Nickelodeon found that, unaided, 60 percent could identify the Clinton/Lewinsky issue as a recent news story. Kids named it more often than the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race, which came in at 17 percent. The survey was conducted the weekend before the release of Clinton’s grand jury testimony. When prompted 100 percent of kids asked said they were aware of the issue and 90 percent said they learned about it from watching broadcast news. Forty-eight percent of kids said they read about the issue in newspapers. Only six percent said they learned about the scandal from their parents.
Where this issue should be discussed seems to be undecided. While 36 percent of kids said they’d talked about it in the classroom, only 17 percent of parents thought their kids were discussing it at school.
According to several South Shore teachers the subject hasn’t come up.
“The general perception is that most people are very tired of the topic,” said Eric Allmeroth, a South Tahoe High School economics teacher. “It seems everybody, including the kids, don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
Allmeroth said despite the apathy there are issues that need to be discussed.
“My job is to exalt truth. I’m not going to lie to kids. I teach seniors and I try to treat them like adults. I treat them like they’re ready to go into college or ready to go into the workplace,” Allmeroth said. “My class is about economics and international politics. It is very much about current events. Current events drive the course. My bent is to try to get them to appreciate the news and cultivate an appreciation of global awareness.”
Allmeroth said he’s approached the issue in relation to world events and never once discussed the details of the sexual scandal.
“There’s no reason to talk about the graphic details and the students have been very discreet,” Allmeroth added.
Sharon Patterson, counselor at Kingsbury Middle School, said not many kids have posed questions to their teachers on the subject.
“If anything they’d said that they think it’s stupid. They’re middle school children so they will take in the bad jokes that are going around,” Patterson said, adding that fifth-grade teachers have decided they will discuss the process as part of their U.S. Constitution studies if the president is impeached.
“The area that teachers will address is in reference to the governmental and political process,” Patterson said.
George Whittell High School civics teacher Larry Reilly said the topic will probably come up every week.
“Every week we study political cartoons and most refer to Clinton,” Reilly said. “The students handle it in a mature fashion. They don’t make it vulgar.”
Reilly said different segments of the course would naturally follow to discussion about current events.
“One of our units is the presidency. If they go into an impeachment hearing we’ll go right into the impeachment process. It’s a wonderful teaching tool in the sense that you can see how government works.”
Karin Wright, civics teacher at South Tahoe High, said her students haven’t been asking any questions, but she will probably bring the matter up in reference to the impeachment process also.
“It’s quite a lesson in a way, but it’s quite a disgusting one,” Wright said.
El Dorado County Democratic Chairman Pat Frega doubts any of the teachers will get to use Clinton as a living illustration of impeachment at work.
“It won’t go to impeachment. What’s a Republican’s worst nightmare?” Frega asked. “Running against an incumbent Al Gore with a good economy.”
Nickelodeon is airing “The Clinton Crisis” tonight at 9 p.m., with hosts Katie Couric and Linda Ellerbee. The special will offer kids and their parents a discussion of the issues related to the investigation of Clinton. Couric and Ellerbee, host of a Nickelodeon newsmagazine, and legal expert Reid Weingarten will moderate a discussion with a group of children.
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