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The School for Scandal, 1998

October 03, 1998|RACHEL FISCHER

Since her name was revealed to the nation last January, Monica Lewinsky has become the most infamous woman in America. The scandal surrounding the former White House intern's liaison with the president seems to be neverending. How much of the Clinton-Lewinksy imbroglio is appropriate subject matter for the high school classroom? RACHEL FISCHER asked local history and government teachers how they are approaching the topic with their teenage students.

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ANTHONY THOMAS

Teacher, 11th-grade American history, New Roads School, Santa Monica

This is something that needs to be talked about in the classroom. Right now, we're comparing past impeachment processes to the current situation. This scandal has really been helpful for me; it's gotten the students interested in how government works. Kids have been apathetic about history for a while, but we had a debate in class and they had questions like, "How are they supposed to impeach him when anyone would have lied about this?"

It's been interesting to see the two sides between the students. It's very black-and-white with them; either, "It's none of our business," or, "He's the president and has got to have some morals."

One student mentioned, in regard to the Starr report, that the government has been saying that it's trying to protect kids from pornography on the Internet and then goes and releases something like this. I was initially worried about the behavior of the young men in class during such discussions, but they've been surprisingly mature. It's encouraging. They've even asked if we're costing ourselves great leaders because we're so concerned with the skeletons in everyone's closets. One student called what's going on in this country a "morality war."

From this young generation, a more enlightened government. How do you remain critical of your government without being disrespectful of others in a personal sense?

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ROBERT KING

Teacher, 11th-grade advanced placement American history, Palisades Charter High School

I've been using the scandal as a teaser to hook students into past controversies, such as with the Nixon administration. There was more politics surrounding the Nixon scandal, and this issue is of a more personal nature. As far as the details of the Clinton scandal go, I have referred to presidents such as Warren Harding, who had a mistress. Students are interested; it triggers some good questions from them, such as the problem of lying under oath.

It's a standard assignment of mine that students watch a national news program. But I encourage kids to go a step further than the tawdry details as to what it means for our government. They are drawn to the lurid parts of the story, but I always get the conversation focused back to the meaning of it all. I have not been given any directives from the school district as to whether or not I should discuss it, but certain things are too inappropriate. The stained dress, for example, hasn't come up.

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NEIL FITZPATRICK

Oversees 12th-grade advanced placement American government classes at Hollywood High School

They're not showing a lot of interest, although there has been sympathy for the president. Not that they think he's such a great guy, just that we should go on with the business of the country. It's so topical that you can't ignore it, and the sexual nature of the situation is not anything that they don't already talk about among themselves. They snicker a bit but are generally a sharp bunch.

I can't imagine teaching this class in 10 years and not mentioning the Lewinsky situation, but we'll have to wait and see. It's a scandal of major proportions.

If my students were running the country, they wouldn't see that this is worth stymieing the whole government. The majority are students of color and some have said that they think this is a way to get rid of a president who has been sympathetic to the plight of Latinos and African Americans. We're not talking about what actually went on between Clinton and Lewinsky.

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