Thursday, January 23, 2020

Teaching Impeachment

 NOTE: Since this is a current event, this post will be updated as more resources become available (and as more information becomes available).

On December 18, 2019, for only the third time in history, the House of Representatives impeached a U.S. president, when they charged Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The basic events outlined in the impeachment inquiry of the Trump-Ukraine scandal (which began with a complaint filed to the House and Senate by an unknown government employee whistle-blower) included Trump's conversation with the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggesting that an investigation of a political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden (who was on the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma) would yield a White House meeting, as well as discussions of a discredited theory that Ukraine was responsible for pro-Hillary Clinton interference during the 2016 Presidential Election (rather than Russian interference that favored Trump-which was a major finding of the Muller Report). Ultimately, Trump ordered the withholding/delaying of military aid to Ukraine (which was not released until after news of the Whistle-blower's complaint broke-and which the Government Accountability Office reported violated the law). During the impeachment inquiry, additional information was revealed about a targeted campaign by White House officials and the president's lawyer Rudy Guiliani to ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.



Above: The Senate Trials of Andrew Johnson in 1868 (top), Bill Clinton in 1999 (middle), and Donald Trump in 2020 (below).

Back in October, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Education Week, where I said, "School is where students are first learning how to do the work of citizenship. If a teacher doesn’t make their classroom a place to unpack, and ask, and answer critical questions about it, then we’re doing a disservice." I had also said, "Many of the social studies teachers I work with, whether they are preservice or inservice, are struggling with Trump in general, and how to maintain a level of fairness, and how to moderate classroom discussion that can get quite emotional, because he is a polarizing figure, and your politics tend to frame how you view him."

The antidote to a polarized and overly-simplified classroom debate over the impeachment trial is to have students root their investigations in the evidence, asking them to make their own interpretations (which presumably will be framed by their political beliefs and values, but also challenging them to consider how their beliefs and values frame their understandings; this is an important activity for students in perspective-taking, where they should be asked to consider how different people may view these events differently).

Today (January 23, 2020), I asked the history teachers whom I follow on Twitter to tell me how they are teaching impeachment, and here is what they are saying (I encourage you to follow their responses-and partake in the discussion): https://twitter.com/chriscmartell/status/1220413285075505153

It is clear that many teachers are asking students to place the Impeachment of Donald Trump within a historical context and take their own stances on the issues in the present. These are great examples of social studies teachers educating their students fro democratic citizenship.

Above: A graphic representation of the impeachment process. (Posted by Larry Ferlazzo, who has an excellent post on teaching the impeachment with additional resources)

Tips for Teaching the Impeachment of Donald Trump

To help teachers to guide students in examining these important current events (and soon-to-be historical events), I also have a few recommendations:

First, it would be helpful to start by teaching the overall impeachment process (see above graphic or this brief Ted video), as students (and citizens) often have a misconception that impeachment means removal from office. Help students see that while a majority of the House is needed to impeach, a very high threshold of 2/3rds majority is required to remove a president (something that has not happened in the past and with the Republicans currently having a 53-47 majority, maybe unlikely in this instance).

Next, I would suggest contextualizing the current impeachment trial, by comparing the issues, charges, and processes of the two prior presidential impeachment trials (and if those impeachments were justified).

Here are some good resources on impeachments in U.S. history:

http://historymatters.gmu.edu/impeachlinks.html

And, the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868:

https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/articles-of-impeachment-of-andrew-johnson/
http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/impeachmt.htm
https://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/impeachment

And, the Impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998-1999:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/articles122098.htm
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/clinton/chapters/5.html
http://movies2.nytimes.com/library/politics/clintonlewinsky-documents.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMwMgaqVxuY

Then, once students have a better understanding of the gravity of a presidential impeachment, they are more prepared to start examining this particular impeachment.

Resources for Teaching the Impeachment of Donald Trump

I suggest using the following inquiry questions with students:  

Was the House justified in their impeachment of the president? Should the Senate remove Donald Trump from the presidency?

To help answer this question, students might use the below sources in conjunction with sources that they find on their own (depending on the students level, this sources should be adapted for their reading levels; I recommend including 100 word excerpts for intermediate elementary, 200 word excerpts for middle school, and 300 word excerpts for high school).

Trump-Ukraine Scandal Timeline:
https://www.justsecurity.org/66271/timeline-trump-giuliani-bidens-and-ukrainegate/

A timeline of the Trump-Ukraine scandal from Just Security at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, which provides a strong overview of the events (it is also routinely updated).

The Whistle-Blower's Complaint:
https://intelligence.house.gov/uploadedfiles/20190812_-_whistleblower_complaint_unclass.pdf

The text of the unknown federal government whistle-blower's complaint to the related committees in the U.S. House and Senate.

Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Trump and Zelenskyy
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Unclassified09.2019.pdf

The White House released transcript of the telephone conversation between Trump and Zelenskyy, which Trump's actions are in question. 

Articles of Impeachment from the House of Representatives
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/10/us/politics/articles-impeachment-document-pdf.html

The articles of impeachment issued by the U.S. House in December 2019.

Donald Trump's Letter to the House of Representatives After Impeachment
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Letter-from-President-Trump-final.pdf

The presidents response letter to the U.S. house after being impeached.