When the flooding following Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans a few years back, I decided to follow my students’ interest in the disaster and focus our language arts and social studies content around the event. I figured capitalizing on their interests was the best way to engage them.
The plan backfired a bit.
Although I prided myself on not letting my own political leanings influence our classroom discussions, some strange messages leaked to my students’ parents regarding the study. Parents began approaching me about wild stories concerning then-President Bush’s response to the disaster. Granted, the students came to some conclusions regarding the administration’s slow reaction, but nothing was overtly political either way. Luckily, the stories parents were hearing were so bizarre that there was no way they could be believed. That and I backed up my position citing AP reports in the local paper as our primary source of information.
Still, parents were uneasy with classroom discussion dancing around politics. I was no longer in the classroom for the last presidential election which was particularly heated, but I suspect the issues for parents and teachers was the same. There is a fine line between discussing politics and extolling political belief, particularly involving our president. Of course, ignoring the part the president does play in the government is a political act in itself.
How do you handle presidential politics in the classroom? Do you avoid it all together? How do you insure all perspectives are represented without taking sides?
Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.
Do your students ever ask about how the U.S. President keeps track of all of the information simultaneously occurring in the United States and around the world? He assembles a Cabinet of highly experienced leaders in each of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs. As Presidents’ Day approaches, let’s help students take a deeper look inside the decision-making process of the presidency. Here are a few resources to help you get started:
Students’ understanding of the decision-making process in Washington D.C. typically centers on elected officials and their roles in the three branches of government. They often fall short of understanding that there are many un-elected officials who greatly influence the decisions made in Washington. Taking a deeper look into the members of a President’s Cabinet can reveal a lot about why the President makes certain decisions. Students can gain a deeper understanding of our democracy, the process of decision-making, the impact of decisions, leadership qualities, and the interdependence of each department. Students can also gain a deeper understanding of the impact Cabinet Members have had throughout history. For example, they might investigate and debate the strong criticism the Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, received during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are numerous interdisciplinary units that can be developed around this topic. This might even lead to students reflecting on their own process for decision-making and who they should select to be a part of their Cabinets.
Cara Wylie is an area instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.
With Presidents Day fast approaching, there are some great resources out there to get your week off to a great start!
What better resource for presidential information than the world’s largest library; the Library of Congress? A search can be performed for a particular topic/person or you can go to the presidency page. If you are looking for presidential papers, a large collection can also be found here. There is a portion devoted to the diaries of George Washington. These documents provide a more personal look at George Washington and his thoughts. There is even a section of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library that is housed in the Library of Congress.
For those George Washington buffs, there are several great resources for studying our first president. Take a tour of Mt. Vernon. The History Channel has plenty of videos and other information about the “father of our country.” Discover George Washington has an interactive timeline with lots of information and multimedia resources.
Abraham Lincoln, another very popular president, has just as many great online resources as Wasington. The History Channel covers “Honest Abe” as only the History Channel can. Abraham Lincoln’s Crossroads is an interactive site that explains the decisions that Lincoln was faced with in his presidency. Smithsonian’s new exhibit on Lincoln shows the many faces of the 16th president through a series of portraits.
Interactive sites for the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial also exist hereand there are many more presidential resources at TeachersFirst.com.
H/T to eMINTS Instructional Specialist Terri Brines for the many great resources!