Daily Video

October 19, 2016

How teachers and students discuss the election in the classroom

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Essential question

Why has teaching about the presidential election been a challenge for teachers?


Ahead of the third and final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, educators around the country have found themselves struggling to teach and discuss this turbulent election in the classroom.

Arlington, Virginia teacher Richard House of Gunston Middle School centers the discussion of his seventh grade civics classroom on the candidates’ policies rather than their personal behavior. He uses the example of Trump’s recent comments and personal attacks to show his students how not to behave.

“They know what I expect of them and the expectations that I have when they walk into my classroom,” said House. “This election should be about policy and it should be about the issues and focusing on them.”

Christopher Cavanaugh gives his older government students, juniors and seniors at Plainfield High School in Indiana, a space to discuss both the issues and the rhetoric of the election. He tries to provide context of political mudslinging throughout history while shifting the main focus to policy.

“It’s tough to get the kids to sort through that to get to those policies and to be able to lay those policies side by side to get to see what the candidates are proposing,” said Cavanaugh.

Both educators believe in the importance of allowing students to develop and express their own thoughts about the candidates and the issues, provided they use civil discourse.

“It’s my job to present them with the information they need, but it’s their job to form their own opinion,” said House.


Key terms

civics – the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works (m-w.com)

rhetoric – language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable (m-w.com)

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. Did you watch the first or second presidential debates? Do you plan to watch the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday night?
  2. What are some ways civics and government teachers can discuss the presidential race with their students?
  3. Do you think debates play an important role in how the electorate decides to vote?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Given the appropriateness of some of the topics in the second presidential debate, how do you think teachers should discuss the election with their students?
  2. What may be some differences between how a middle school civics teacher and a high school government teacher approach teaching about the election?
  3. Do you agree with Amanda Eisenhour’s comment that the American people are the ones who have the most to lose if the rhetoric and behavior of presidential candidates do not change? Explain.

Sarah Seale contributed to today’s Daily News Story.

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