FROM THE CLASSROOM
September 25, 1998
The news out of Washington has become the Number One lesson in many classrooms across the country. In the fourth part of a series, correspondent Tom Bearden looks at how Omaha's schools are handling the Lewinsky matter.
TOM BEARDEN: Every morning at 7:45 am, 650 7th and 8th graders arrive for another day at Omaha's Lewis and Clark Middle School. Up on the second floor teacher Susan Toohey starts her first social studies class soon after.
A Realaudio version of this segment is available.
September 24, 1998:
Omaha's young women discuss Monica Lewinsky's role in the scandal.
September 23, 1998:
Omaha's religious leaders on President Clinton's moral standing.
September 22, 1998:
An introduction to Omaha.
September 21, 1998:
NewsHour historians discuss the president's testimony.
September 21, 1998:
Two former federal prosecutor's discuss how the testimony looked to them.
September 18, 1998:
Shield and Gigot analyze the partisan struggle over the release of grand jury evidence.
September 18, 1998:
How is the world media covering the Lewinsky matter?
September 17, 1998:
A discussion on the videotape debate.
September 16, 1998:
Senator Daschle discusses President Clinton's problems.
September 15, 1998:
Two members of the House Judiciary Committee debate releasing President Clinton's videotaped testimony.
September 14, 1998:
A discussion on the media's coverage of the Starr report.
September 11, 1998:
The Starr report and White House rebuttal.
September 11, 1998:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot debate the potential impact of Kenneth Starr's referral to Congress.
September 11, 1998:
Two former federal prosecutors examine the legal issues presented in the Starr report.
September 10, 1998:
What is the constitutional basis for impeaching a president?
September 9, 1998:
Kenneth Starr drops off his case to the House.
September 3, 1998:
Four former senators discuss whether the president should step down.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Omaha road trip,Starr investigation, the White House and Congress.
The Omaha homepage.
The White House homepage.
The House Judiciary Committee.
SUSAN TOOHEY: How many Clinton jokes have you heard? Jill.
JILL, Student: So many I can't count them.
TOM BEARDEN: The curriculum originally called for these 12 and 13 year old children to study the eastern hemisphere this semester. But Mrs. Toohey has diverted from her normal lesson plan to teach students about the Constitution, namely impeachment.
SUSAN TOOHEY: What has happened that caused the people to say hmmm we might need to impeach this President? Dustin, what did he do?
DUSTIN, Student: He lied under oath about having an affair.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Good. Okay. He lied under oath about having an affair. Who did he lie to? Alex.
ALEX, Student: The grand jury.
SUSAN TOOHEY: What group of people decides there is enough evidence to impeach the President? Who was that?
STUDENT: The House.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Very good.
How far should the classroom discussion go?
TOM BEARDEN: She is careful not to go into too much detail about the sexual aspects of the Clinton-Lewinsky story, but she also believes the matter is too important to ignore.
SUSAN TOOHEY: I think it is important as a Social Studies teacher to always look at current events, and how does that play into our world, and, obviously, we're living a very exciting part of history, and so the 7th graders are also looking into the Clinton situation and how does that play into their lives. I wanted to approach it from an historical background. So, last week we looked at what is impeachment, what does the Constitution say, what other presidents have gone through the process, and did strictly historical background. This week we looked a little bit more into what is going to happen, who is going to be filing these charges, is this going to be a case that's something that's going to play out in the media - or is it something that's going to follow the constitutional amendment.
TOM BEARDEN: Teaching about the subject has been a touchy issue for the district. Administrators issued a general warning against too much explicit information in the classroom. There are some software blocks in school computers that prevent students from searching for certain explicit words, but the Starr report itself is accessible.
PRINCIPAL BEXTEN: The district does not have a filtering software system that blocks out certain Internet sites. They have not done anything with the Starr Report and they have allowed teachers to use the report as they deem appropriate, again, with a caution to be careful as you proceed.
A real-life lesson about the Constitution.
TOM BEARDEN: On this day, the students looked at several articles that pointed out different aspects of the investigation. As the day progressed, students showed a considerable interest in the subject.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Constitutional scholars are saying we are off to a bad start. Why are we off to a bad start? Lauren.
LAUREN, Student: Well they say that Kenneth Starr should not be the only one investigating.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Who should be, do they say?
LAUREN: The jurors.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Okay. And part of this Judiciary Committee -- why do they say that Ken Starr should not be the only one investigating?
LAUREN: Because that this comes from one person's point of view.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Is Clinton going to get a fair trial according to this article? Dan, you're shaking your head.
DAN, Student: No.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Why not?
DAN: Because basically what you are saying is they're only giving one side of the story.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Which side?
DAN: The --
SUSAN TOOHEY: The part that would prosecute Clinton or defend him?
SUSAN TOOHEY: How many of you have family members who watched the videotaped testimony yesterday?
CHASE, Student: I got to watch it because we taped it.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Oh, you taped it. Okay. Clinton tapes? What did you think?
CHASE: I thought he did okay, but it looked like he was struggling to hold back some of his anger.
SUSAN TOOHEY: Did you feel sorry for him, or did you find that he was innocent?
CHASE: I did not feel sorry for him at all. I mean, he put himself in that position.
How do parents feel?
TOM BEARDEN: Later that evening, at the annual open house, students brought their parents to Lewis and Clark to see what kind of work they were doing. 8th grader Neal Bearman's parents agreed this was an appropriate subject for the classroom but wanted to make sure their son was getting both sides of the story.
PARENT: We have talked about as is the teacher being objective, as opposed to expressing opinions on one side or the other, trying to steer the class one way or the other. And Neal seems to think that she is being real objective and weighing both sides equally.
TOM BEARDEN: But Robert Battle says he was shocked when he first learned his son was learning about the Clinton -Lewinsky story. But after discussing it with him, he's comfortable with the idea now.
ROBERT BATTLE: I think that they need to know a lot about what is going on in the world. I think as long as you don't go into a lot of details, it's all right. I like the way they did it here, where they talked about what teaching it means, and you know, I like the idea of just going over the general topic.
The decision not to discuss the issue.
TOM BEARDEN: The story is very different in Omaha's Catholic parochial schools, which educate about 25 percent of the city's children. The diocese has decided not to discuss the issue in classrooms like this one at All Saints Catholic school.
TEACHER: We're going to do just a little bit of review. Culture is everything about a person that they must know to live in a group.
TOM BEARDEN: John Palladino is the principal at All Saints.
JOHN PALLADINO, Principal, All Saints Catholic School: We are at this point choosing to let our parents take the responsibility for addressing the issue at home. Of talking to them at home.
TOM BEARDEN: Are you afraid you are missing an educational opportunity?
JOHN PALLADINO: You can look at it that way, I don't. I don't look at it as us missing an opportunity. In fact, I look at it as we're taking advantage of an opportunity and that is to stand behind the mission and the philosophy of the school that a parent ultimately is responsible for the child's education and all that we do is just compliment what happens at home.
TOM BEARDEN: At South High School, one of the more diversified public schools in the city, teacher Granville Welch says this topic has brought a feeling of excitement to the classroom.
GRANVILLE WELCH: There's an enthusiasm that is there in terms of seeing that government is working in that emotional way, that kind of down to earth way, in a way that involves these type of human relationships, that government is a part of everyday life, that's very evident in this situation that has been there, as compared to many, many other times when it would be much more difficult to see government as a relative part of a young person's life.
TOM BEARDEN: Welch, while teaching the students the process of impeachment, encourages them to express their points of view.
STUDENT: I think that President Clinton should be impeached. He lied to the grand jury. He set a very bad example for our country, and I don't want someone like that running our government.
STUDENT: Who the president sleeps with and who he doesn't is not our concern. It has nothing to do with the country whatsoever. And I'm tired of hearing about it.
GRANVILLE WELCH: Those who think President Clinton should be impeached please raise your hand. Okay. Now you can see that there's eight or nine hands up out of twenty-five students, and that means what in terms of possible impeachment?
STUDENT: That's not more than 2/3. It's 9 out of 25 - 2/3 of kids in the class - so if we were the Senate, we would not be able to impeach.
TOM BEARDEN: Welch plans to continue to use the issue as means of showing how government works.