Teaching Impeachment Amid Polarization

Posted by Kaitlin Smith on November 18, 2019

iStock-1178902724As public presidential impeachment hearings begin in the US House of Representatives, American middle and high school educators face a number of unique challenges. One might ask: How can I address such a polarizing issue in my classroom when my students’ political ideologies are all over the map? How can I ensure that thoughtful discourse prevails over name-calling and hostility, even when emotions are running high? And how can I make this a meaningful opportunity for civic learning?

Here are 4 strategies that can help you make the impeachment inquiry a teachable moment:

  • Cover the Basics

A middle school teacher in Minnesota made headlines after he sent this letter to his students’ parents in which he announced his plans to teach about impeachment and presented a number of basic facts about the process. Consider using his plainspoken description of the impeachment process to get your students (and other community stakeholders of concern) on the same page.

  • Map the Controversy

Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero offers this guide to exploring complex, controversial issues in the classroom and finding common ground amid disagreement. The “Sticking Points: Mapping Messy Controversies” strategy presents 4 key questions designed to invite reflection about competing understandings of the key facts, values, policies, and interests at stake in any given issue. We recommend having students answer these questions from their own perspectives first, and then conduct research on how those with opposing viewpoints would answer them.

  • Foster Civil Discourse 

Discussing highly controversial issues with respect and self-awareness is a learned skill, and facilitating such discussions well is a learned skill, too. Use our Fostering Civil Discourse guide to prepare yourself for the challenges of facilitation, learn teaching strategies to actively cultivate safe space, and respond to diverse learning needs present in your classroom.

  • Use Student Feedback as a Guide
    The story of a Louisiana high school teacher who staged a mock debate on the impeachment inquiry was recently featured in the New York Times, and prompted a follow-up story that asked high school students how they would like their teachers to handle impeachment in the classroom. Check out the comments to get some ideas!

    Please share your thoughts about discussing impeachment in the classroom in the comments!


Access Tools for Educators

Topics: Democracy

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Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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