By Liza Moore
The impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump is proving to be a helpful teaching aid in schools and universities.
At Lylburn Downing Middle School in Lexington, Amanda Conoway decided to use the Trump impeachment inquiry to help her seventh grade students understand the impeachment process.
“Most students think impeachment equals removal from office so that was one of the first things we talked about,” says Conoway.
Her class recently started its national government unit and Conoway said her students “are asking, ‘how does impeachment falls into this?’”
Each class period, Conoway likes to talk about the news. Since the impeachment has flooded recent headlines, her students are learning about the process as it is happening in real time through class discussions.
Other schools across the country are using similar teaching strategies to bring history to life in the classroom. Teachable moments like this help students understand the course material, and also help them visualize how the material is applied outside the classroom.
At Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School in St. Paul, Minn., Mark J. Westpfahl told the Washington Post he interrupted his middle school history lesson to teach his students about impeachment using the current inquiry.
“All too often, we look at history as these singular events that happened long ago,” Westpfahl told the Washington Post. “We fail to realize sometimes that the events that are unfolding around us every day are historic, too.”
Locally, at Washington and Lee University, Professor Robert Strong is teaching a course called “Presidential Impeachment.” The course studies previous impeachments, including those of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. This term, the class gets to learn as history is being made as the class dives into the Trump impeachment.
“The circumstances of teaching historical background and political concepts while it’s going on just ramps up everybody’s enthusiasm,” said Strong. “Including mine.”
Students in the discussion-based course simulated the Clinton impeachment and had to argue for the prosecution or defense. Strong also asked his students to write a paper answering the question: “Which impeachment, Johnson’s or Nixon’s, tells us the most about the Trump case?” Students also wrote a memo to a person currently involved in the impeachment inquiry titled, “What You Need to Know About Impeachment.”
“The course material has made the current impeachment easier to understand,” said A.P. Smith, a student in Strong’s course, “because it helps students understand what actually constitutes an impeachable offense.”
The process of impeachment is the same for each case, but the grounds for impeachment may vary. Trump is being accused of conspiring with Ukraine’s president to find damaging information regarding Joe Biden, one of Trump’s competitors for the 2020 election.
“Teaching President Trump is especially hard because he’s so unusual,” said Conoway at Lylburn Downing. “But that’s also why people voted for him.”
Conoway’s sixth-grade U.S. history class covers previous impeachments to understand how and why presidents can have these charges brought against them.
In February, when the civics class dives into their impeachment unit, they will simulate a trial with students playing the role of both House and Senate members.
Not all teachers are using the unfolding events in Washington during class, however.
Two Rockbridge County High School teachers said they cover the topic of impeachment in their course, but neither is spending additional class time on the current proceedings. Both asked that their names not be used.