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Clinton Is Real-Time History Lesson

December 18, 1998

Jim Creighton, a history teacher at Seattle’s Garfield High School, found his students particularly attentive as he turned to the post-Civil War period and President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment.

In New York City, Richard Sarcone, who teaches criminal justice and government at Cardinal Hayes High, has spent a good deal of time this semester discussing perjury and the president.

And at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis, history teacher James P. Fadely decided to speed up the democratic process and had an eighth-grade class vote on whether President Clinton should be removed. The students decided 8-1 to oust him.

``It’s a matter of trust,″ said 14-year-old Alexa Planje. ``If we can’t trust him with family matters, how can we trust him with other things, like Iraq?″

Across the country, teachers have seen history made relevant in a way no textbook could ever manage.

Teachers at schools large and small, public and private, rural and big-city have had their jobs made both easier and more difficult by current events.

They have taken up constitutional questions and delved into sensitive issues like sex, morality, character and _ this week _ the use of military force.

``This is a great year,″ Sarcone said. ``I mean, this has only happened three times in the history of our country.″

Indeed, his students are well aware that only three presidents have ever faced an impeachment drive: Johnson, Nixon and Clinton.

As for the sexual aspect of Clinton’s troubles, ``we really tried to stay away from details,″ said Marjane Belomyzy, an American history teacher at Carey Junior High in Cheyenne, Wyo. ``We just looked at the two sides, questions of why he should be impeached and why he should not be impeached.″

Teachers admit that most students know the lurid details anyway, by way of television, the Internet and newspapers and magazines. And many have fully formed opinions about impeachment:

_″It’s his personal life,″ said Cameron Audet, 16, of Bow High School in Bow, N.H. ``It’s almost like he couldn’t say `yes’ and he couldn’t say `no’. What’s he supposed to do?″

_″It’s not a matter of national security,″ said Jimmie Colon, 17, of Cardinal Hayes. ``It’s not like he was divulging CIA information to the Iraqis. He’s a slave to his temptation.″

_″I think it’s pitiful what’s happened to the office of the president,″ said Sanaria Okongor, 14, of Star Spencer High School in Spencer, Okla. ``Now, no one will want to be president.″

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