Capitol Hill - American Studies 2019 Week 4 Review - Special Edition; IMPEACHMENT

We interrupted our regularity scheduled lessons to talk about the breaking news regarding impeachment. Minnesota Public Radio visited our classroom on Thursday, September 26th and published the following stories on "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Update" on National Public Radio.

My friend from California, Karalee Nakatsuka, put together a "Wakelet" to showcase some of the tweets regarding how we covered the impeachment process.
Learn more about the impeachment process and also how we broached the topic over our three-day mini unit.

As a social studies teacher, I think it is important to step back from "regularly scheduled programming" when breaking news of significant and historic proportions happen. In the past, I have scrapped lessons when news that a new Pope was elected, when the Ferguson riots broke out, when the tragedy of Sandy Hook was unfolding, the Jamar Clark shooting and riots occured (in Minneapolis), when the Notre Dame was burning down and even when President Ronald Reagan passed away. We took time to watch the funeral in all of my classes and follow the live news coverage. Again, not all break-ins for special lessons are happy, but I feel they're important and my students appreciate that I'm providing them a space to discuss, ask questions, vent, or just internalize.I feel like there is not really much of an opportunity for students to try to but these sort of events into context and that is one of the major reasons I have no problem stopping a regularly scheduled lesson.

All too often, we look at history as these singular events that happened long ago. We sometimes try to connect many of those events to the present... but we fail to realize, sometimes, that the events that are unfolding around us every day are historic too. They are shaping our present and and future and they almost always have some connection to events that happened in the recent past or have deeper roots further in the past.
Impeachment is not a common topic in casual conversations and frankly, is something that in my opinion is not really covered too much in history classes. With that said, so many adults have very little idea about what impeachment really is, what the procedures are, what the limitations are and what the outcomes come lead to.I told my students that after just a couple of days, I think they will know more about those things than most adults.

I told you this would be long. Again, I understand if you don't read the entire thing!

Day 1
I started the lesson Wednesday with this CBS video clip. However, I only showed Major Garret's quote which starts at 1:20 and goes to 1:28. I asked students if they could tell me what "unscathed means" and then what Major might have meant by "or Congress".

Because they are only middle schoolers, I asked them if they have ever even hear the word "impeachment". Most students had at least of the term, but when I asked them how many actually knew what the term meant, most of the hands slowly went back down.

I gave them all a worksheet that had different questions (See attached) and told them that they had to travel around the room to all nine of the "mystery boxes" as each box contained a new piece of information to help describe what impeachment is, the process and some historical information. (All of the answers are at the end of the document. I just cut them up and placed them in individual boxes, so it isn't like it was too intense of information.)

For example, they learned how the House of Representatives acts like a fact at gathering body and if they feel there is enough evidence to convict, they vote on impeachment in pass it on to the senate for a trial of sorts.

One of the mystery boxes contained information from Article 2 Section 4 of the US Constitution. They learned that bribery, treason, high crimes in misdemeanors were all reasons why a President, Vice President, or other official could be impeached. They found out that only 2 presidents have ever been impeached, but that impeachment does not automatically guarantee that the president will be kicked out of office.

Because impeachment is dramatic, I made sure to put on some dramatic music. It's an 8 minute clip, so I played it twice as they made their way around the room. I think high schooler's could certainly move much quicker than my middle schoolers did, but again, my students are only 12 & 13.

At the end of the mystery box investigation, we quickly went over some of the answers and I opened it up for students to ask questions. They had a lot of questions regarding the process the Senate would use, what constitutes "high crimes" or misdemeanors, and who got to decide that interpretation.

I gave them a short article to read (again, they are only 7th graders, so it is just complicated enough, but really doesn't go into much detail about what Trump is actually accused of. I wanted them to understand the processes first, before we could start looking at the possible charges and the personalities involved.) That article is in the document with the questions and answers.

At the end of the class period, I asked them to go home and ask their parents if they could explain impeachment... and the process.


Day 2
As we started day two, I showed them actual newspapers from Clinton's impeachment. I like showing them primary sources and they tend to think the events are more real when I can demonstrate using artifacts. Then, I asked them how many people asked their parents about impeachment. Many said they where watching the news and heard about the potential impending charges.. but only a small handful of students said that their parents could give as much detail as they learned. This made me happy, as it reinforced one of my larger points... but also a little sad... because it reinforced that point!!

After doing that, I showed them a tweet thread of how many times the "threat" of impeachment has happened over time. I wanted them to see that even though this is a rare historic event, it is not unprecedented.

I wanted them to see how common (yet, uncommon) the idea of impeachment is.

I quickly switched gears to show them this tweet from former Minnesota Teacher of the Year Tom Rademacher. He asked "Can you run for President after being removed by impeachment?" As I pointed out to my students, Tom is one of the smartest people I know, but he was willing to ask the question, even if thought others would think it is silly. Seventh graders often don't ask questions because they are afraid they will be mocked. I wanted them to see that it is ok to ask questions and that it ok to show your vulnerability. But, as I pointed out on Wednesday, so many adults don't know what the process is, and either guess or assume. Unfortunately, that is what happened with several of the responses Tom received, and no one was accurate, nor did anyone use evidence to back up their statement. That is why I needed to help my friend :)

I showed this 5 minute video, just to help my students reaffirm what they learned about impeachment. The first video on the page is a bit more middle school friendly, but the second video is more high school level. (I used the first) I also printed off the info graphic and placed it a couple of places in my room and a couple of places in the hallways (near water fountains) so students could see it even if they were not in my class.

Our principal even stopped in to a couple of classes throughout the last two days to offer his insight to students, ask them question, etc. He even gave one class a "challenge" - Besides impeachment, what is another way to remove an elected official from office. After he left, that class quickly tried to brainstorm other options. They came up with Assassination... which was not where their principal was going with it at all... and a recall election. When we sent a student down to the office to tell them our answers, he said he was going to need more evidence, especially if we are going to claim a recall election could remove someone from office. About half of the class immediately took to their iPads to find evidence. It was awesome! The next hour, another student came up to me during passing time and said a military coup is another way. Today, a student told me that the 25th Amendment also provided for a way to remove the President. So, we had to take a moment and describe what could happen if the President was to go into surgery, and how the document could remove him temporarily, and then reinstate him later. They were confused and shocked by this concept!

Throughout the rest of the day, we tried to determine what we *think* we know and what we do know. Most of my students, who are in an extremely liberal region (St. Paul, MN), would like to see Trump impeached and removed from office were quick to argue that he has done so many illegal things, but when I asked them to describe the things he has done and how those things violated the law, they slowed down a little. We discussed how emotion and partisanship can dictate our views. That's ok, I told them, as long as they can still research on locate evidence. After all, that is what the House of Representative is going to have to do if they are going to bring forth actual Articles of Impeachment... which they have not done yet. Again, we went back to some newspapers from the past to see how long this process has historically played out.

After bouncing off ideas and questions, I asked them to think back to the questions on the back of the sheet they started with on Wednesday:
What do you think qualifies as “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” as it related to the presidential seat?
What could be some negative consequences on the nation if a president was impeached and convicted?
How do you think this could affect the election in 2020?
What questions or wonderings do you have about the impeachment process?

Day 3
As we started our third and final day on Friday, we started off by listening to a news article that was featured on

On Wednesday, Elizabeth Shockman, a reporter from MPR visited our classroom to learn more about how we would cover impeachment. Her article was featured on the MPR website and was played on NPR's All Things Considered. So, we kicked off Friday by listening to that two minute clip. My students loved that we were featured on the radio.

After listening to that, I wanted to switch gears to talk about perspectives. On of the things students (and most adults) do, when they consume news (if the consume news) is to go to the same typical echo chambers that will usually support the viewpoints they already hold. While I understand  people like the familiarity of things and we like to have information that points out what we believe is "correct", we really should be expanding our news intake and we should be looking for views that are not always completely lined up with our beliefs. This is hard for students to do, but I let them know it is hard for adults as well.

So, I created a series of QR codes and links so they can learn more. One of the links I played for them was an MPR article in which Briana Beirsbach interviewed Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer. I told them that I know it will be tough for many of them to hear Tom's point of view, because it likely will not line up with their own view points, but stressed the importance of at least listing to other people's perspective. We might learn more if we take the time to actually listen to others who don't share the same ideas or view. That doesn't mean we have to like what they say or agree with it, but at least we can better understand where they are coming from. In most instances, I tell them, you can strengthen your own thoughts and beliefs after listing to someone you don't agree with, because it can force you to find evidence on your side... which ultimately could prove their side wrong.

Some of the other links took them to articles from Vox, CNN, NBC, Fox, etc. Even though we are finishing ur official special edition mini-unit on impeachment today, I told them that I am going to continue to post news articles from various sources, so they can have the ability to continue to learn about this crazy historic drama that is unfolding in front of them.

I wanted my students to reflect a little bit this weekend, seeing as I threw so much information at them in such a small amount of time. So, I asked them to revisit those questions, again, and complete it as a homework assignment for Monday.
What do you think qualifies as “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” as it related to the presidential seat?
What could be some negative consequences on the nation if a president was impeached and convicted?
How do you think this could affect the election in 2020?
What questions or wonderings do you have about the impeachment process?

Student reactions (and a couple of mine)
A few things that stuck out to me. It was interesting to see how emotionally attached many of my students became to the idea of removing President Trump. When I gave certain scenarios as hypothetical, they were in favor or convicting Trump, but when I asked if Obama was to be charged with the same things, should he be removed and many of the same kids said no. It was a great way to talk about emotional attachments and how we like to support "our guy" but would like to see "the other guy" be brought down.

I was surprised how many students said that either they or their parents hear our story on MPR when they were in the car Thursday evening. The MPR article has a 5 question quiz at the end, and asks people if they are as smart as my 7th grade students. I was surprised to hear how many of my students said their parents took the quiz, but didn't do as well as them. I reminded them that many of them (my students) probably would not done good on the quiz before the lessons!

It was really interesting listening to students describe the chaos this could cause for the country, how it could really change the face of the 2020 elections, depending on what actually happens to the President, who could gain more power, depending on the outcome, how the markets might react, how our trading partners might react, or even how vulnerable our country might be to our enemies depending on how things play out.

I love how many students asked me if we were going to keep talking about this next week, and if we could break into "special coverage" again if something breaks in the future.

I wondered how differently these three days would have played out if I was teaching in a more conservative district or a district that is split 50/50. I imagine there were be many similarities, but also imagine the debate aspect might become more heated and delicate if the classroom was split more evenly, in regards to political beliefs.